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The trip of a lifetime

High: The author’s first double-handed offshore outing aboard this Valiant 40, Worksitetook him to the Caribbean.

SDeparting from Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 2018, Jeff Bolster and his wife, Molly, hoped to circumnavigate the globe in their Valiant 40. After stops in the Caribbean, Panama, the Galapagos, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and the Kingdom of Tonga, they were in New Zealand awaiting the end of the South Pacific cyclone season when Covid-19 broke out, interrupting their journey. Dealing with lemons, they made lemonade, sailing the north coast of New Zealand for 19 months, until they left their ship and returned to the United States. Jeff and Molly plan to return to the ship in November 2022. Jeff’s thoughts on making the trip a success will appear in a few episodes. It’s the first.

When we untied our snowy moorings in November 2018, leaving for the South Pacific, we had long dreamed of circumnavigating the globe. Yet, like many people, we had careers, kids, mortgages, aging parents – all sorts of reasons to keep imagining it rather than doing it. For 20 years, on two different ships, we contented ourselves with summer cruises in New England, an east coast delivery and four stops in the Caribbean, always stuck between work and family obligations. Wonderful in many ways, it was not the fulfillment of our fantasy of living barefoot for years with the sun still setting in front of the bow, relishing the landings as towering volcanic islands rose from the sea ​​at dawn, or sailing in the wake of the captain. Cook and other legendary navigators.

Molly and Jeff Bolster (below) spent decades sailing and sailing before setting off to circumnavigate the globe.

Molly and Jeff Bolster (below) spent decades sailing and sailing before setting off to circumnavigate the globe.

Suddenly it was now or never. A husband-wife team, aged 64 and 57 at the start, understood us that it was time to leave. Put careers aside. Prepare the boat. Get rid while you’re still fit. We expected magic, serenity and satisfaction. We have all three, and more. But we knew there would be challenges with just the two of us, to watch and watch, in a small boat on the deep blue sea. Traveling requires strength and endurance. If you really want to go, don’t wait too long.

Before going around the world, we went to the Caribbean four times, learning a lot about double-handed offshore sailing.

Our vision of the circumnavigation embraced the astonishment it aroused and the seriousness it seemed to require. Bora Bora? Could we actually sail one day through the pass into its fringing reef and drop our anchor? We thought so, knowing there could be some crazy nights along the way, with the tiller strapped on, boat sailing like a duck with its head under its wing, as well as languid days eating juicy mangoes on tropical islands. We fantasized about the trip, but eventually learned that long distance cruising forces you to go with the flow, experience higher highs and higher lows. Your wonder at the nesting of waved albatrosses in the Galapagos or a flash of green as the sun sets in front of your bow wave will be tempered by times when your marine toilet is indisposed or your engine won’t start, when there’s no no plumber or mechanic for 1,000 miles.

At the crossroads of the Pacific such as the Galapagos and Tahiti, we encountered cruisers whose inspirations differed markedly, as varied as the nations from which they came. While we all shared the kinship of the voyage, there were builders whose primary satisfaction had been building their boats and installing systems; adventurers whose wanderlust drove them to the sea; refugees from the business world; and cruise stragglers determined to have a great achievement in life. Like us, many were inspired by cruise stories. Other than casting off your own moorings for the voyage of a lifetime, nothing beats a stint as a wheelchair sailor experiencing these tales.

The books inspired the author and his wife to set sail.

The books inspired the author and his wife to set sail.

From childhood, my wife and I were irresistibly drawn to travelogues, sailing magazines and seductive images of ships in rough seas. Molly fondly remembers browsing her grandfather’s bookshelves, full of authors who sailed around the world such as Francis Chichester and Irving and Electa Johnson. I am always impressed by tales such as Joshua Slocum’s heroics Sail alone around the world, his memoir of doing something no one thought possible then. In elementary school, I fell under the influence of David Putnam David goes to Greenlandrecounting how the boy-author sailed north from Long Island Sound in 1926 aboard the famous schooner Effie M. Morrissey. I never imagined that 62 years later, Molly and I would be sailing the old Morrissey from New Bedford to Newfoundland as deckhand and mate. For us, crossing the Pacific culminated decades of longing for the written word, reinforced by coastal cruises and ocean crossings.

During our Caribbean getaways and our trip to the South Pacific, we chatted with cruisers on all kinds of boats. Most were sailboats, although capable motorboats crossed the world’s oceans. The eye-catching FPBs (Functional Power Boats) designed by Steve and Linda Dashew stood out for their wide range, good seakeeping and range of comforts unimaginable on small sailboats, as well as their stealthy appearance. In New Zealand we spent time with the owner of a Nordhavn 52, a capable trawler. He too had crossed from Panama. Motor yachtsmen need to have as much confidence in their propulsion engines as sailors have in their rigs. In the isolated reaches of the distant oceans, search and rescue services are scarce or simply unavailable. Autonomy once supposed to be part of the repertoire of every yachtsman has become relegated to long-distance cruisers, for whom it is often a source of inspiration.

Repairs are part of the journey.

Repairs are part of the journey.

A capable sailing yacht costs considerably less than most powerboats capable of performing equally ambitious passages. And that’s before the fuel bill. Traveling is a paying game. Nonetheless, the cruise community includes the haves and the near broke. Budget cruisers are the most determined do-it-yourselfers, often unable to afford technical services, but impressively resourceful. We met a few who had given up promising careers at a young age, bought simple boats, refitted them, and embarked on the journey of a lifetime planning to watch every dollar, eat rice and beans and constantly cutting corners. Their inspiration drew on the lure of a simple life.

We occasionally encountered cruisers that were on their way overhead. A few had been completely reprimanded, a young captain had nearly fallen overboard through negligence, a story he and his wife told in horror in the presence of their
children.

Several crews were downright scary, like this couple of Kiwis who explained to Tonga that they had recently bought their big catamaran in Tahiti, and that “after our departure, a rope from the top of the mast to the end of the boom broke , and we didn’t know if it was important. We called the broker to ask him what he was doing. True story. They had traveled 1,600 miles downwind without knowing how to raise their mainsail. The aphorism that God has a special providence for fools and drunkards came to mind.

Such negligence is rare. With preparation and practice, long trips are within reach. Buy a suitable boat. Test the waters with coastal voyages. Talk to experienced cruisers. Count on the unexpected, because that’s always part of the market. You will need to read technical manuals. But don’t neglect to indulge in classic and contemporary travelogues, the siren song. The dreams they spark are likely to propel you on the journey of a lifetime.

This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue.