Greetings! My name is Erick, In 2009 I purchased a 35 year old cruising sailboat with aspirations of one day sailing around the world. The boat needed a complete rebuild/restoration, and I am currently in the thick of that process. I started off only a few years ago with little to no boating experience or the money to just dive into it, only a dream and hard desire to see it come true. This blog/website (previously Erick's Wanderlust Blog) documents how I came to wanting to do this, how I bought the boat, how I am rebuilding it, and how I plan on cruising it. If you would like to read about my background and the summary of this whole project to date, please continue to read below...
The Quest for Wind and Waves
It all starts with surfing. I began surfing when I was around 10 years old and stemmed from a family who loved going to the beach. We never really lived near the beach, but we were always within an hours drive and went to the beach every year for vacations in the summer. I never had the greatest time just hanging out on the beach, so I looked to the water for entertainment. Long story short, I fell in love with surfing, and it has stayed with me to this date. Surfing has and will probably remain the biggest passion in my life. There is so much to say about surfing and what it has done to influence the person I am, so I will keep that for another time.
Sometime around high school I decided that the one goal I would like to pursue above anything would be to sail around the world in search of surf, sights, experiences, and seeing what this place has to offer. Why take a few trips overseas with my two weeks of vacation a year, when I can sail all 7 of them and see the entire world on my own as a dedicated adventure?
Back in high school I used to read Surfer Magazine religiously. The walls of my room were always completely covered with Surfer Mag pages, posters and photos. And yes, I actually read the articles too.
Some time in the mid-late 90's they printed a story with a preface written by one of the editors; and he wrote that the following story was found as a journal in a glass bottle picked up by a boater in the Pacific. What he had found was a story of a man who sold everything he had, quit his job, said goodbye to loved ones and just sailed away. He sailed across the the Pacific to Polynesia in search of surf. This is, in essence, every surfer’s dream: to surf private, perfect waves on your own time without any other worries in the world. The guy eventually went insane and was lost at sea…but we will ignore that for now.
It was easily one of the greatest stories I have ever read. I don't even remember how it went exactly, but it had me captivated. It was his full journal about the journey and it detailed the voyage, the surf, the islands and his eventual insanity. The story planted a seed, and I vowed to eventually have my own boat and search for surf in some tropical sea.
The thought remained with me ever since and has evolved over time. At first I thought it would be a neat thing to do for retirement, and whenever I bought a lottery ticket the sailing surf trip was always on my mind for the winnings. The sailing dream kept moving up in my life's timeline, and dreams of starting a surf charter business popped in my head for a mid-life career change.
I went to school in Orlando, Fl at the University of Central Florida and stayed in town to work after graduation. Since school and joining workforce, the sailing dream found itself in the forefront of my head more and more often. A few surf trips to Costa Rica and Jamaica kept making me realize that what I wanted most in the world is to do explore places like those, eat their great food, fish their beautiful waters, and most of all: surf exotic and quality waves. As a person who's number one passion is surfing, but has never lived on the coast...the wanderlust for good surf grows strong. I soon became more determined than ever to find a way to make the Endless Summer a reality for me. As a friend once told me while soul searching, "Lots of people have cool lives, why can't we?"
In 2007 I decided if I wanted to do this sailing thing eventually, I needed to learn how to sail. It was an easy first step, particularly to see if I actually liked sailing in the first place. My family has never owned boats, and the most experience I have on them is through small day trips in Boy Scouts. I've been on a boat here and there, but probably less than most other Floridian friends I know. If it weren't for my desire to go on an ultimate surf trip, I probably wouldn't have cared to learn more and even consider my own boat.
Over a long weekend, I took the American Sailing Association 101 (basic keelboat) and 103 (basic coastal cruising) courses in St. Augustine, where my parents live. You can read about these courses and my first experiences on a cruising sailboat here. After that weekend, I was hooked. The clear green water, dolphins playing off the bow, quietly gliding along the water propelled by the wind...it was pure bliss and a feeling quite close to surfing. I loved learning everything surrounding the courses: sailing itself, navigation, boats, history and seamanship. If I didn't already know before, I knew this was definitely for me.
I spent a few more weekends that year renting small J-24's in St. Augustine with friends to keep my skills up. Hardly enough time on a sailboat to really gain experience, but the mistakes we made and learned from more than made up for the lack of time (first sail as skipper: The Storm; second sail: Grounding and Running out of Gas.) Someone once said that an expert in a subject is someone who has made all of the mistakes and learned from them.
Since I could only muster up enough friends to split the cost of boat rental a few times, I dedicated my spare time to learning all about what it would take to do an extended sailing cruise. For the entire time I wanted to do this, I that it would be too expensive to bother trying for until I had saved for a lifetime. I soon learned the reality of an attainable cruise after reading books such as The Voyagers Handbook by Beth Leonard, Lin and Larry Pardley's Self Sufficient Sailor, How to Sail Around the World by Hal Roth, and There Be No Dragons by Reese Palley. I am not rich by any means, and while the trip would be feasible, it would take a lot of sacrifice to save and I would have to travel frugally.
I then began to make many necessary changes in my life to start saving for a boat and the cruise. I cut back on a lot of my spending, put myself on a tight budget, and started piling away as much of my paychecks as I could to inch towards my goal. I kept studying books, online forums and websites on sailing and cruising to hone my knowledge and gain more understanding of the undertaking ahead of me.
Somewhere around that time in 2008 I started this blog to keep track of this whole project and I began to search for boats. I decided to seek an older model, full keel, heavy displacement cruising boat in the 30-40 foot range. I knew that the bigger boat I wanted, the worse shape it would be in for me to be able to afford it. I looked all around Florida and kept up with frequent searches on yacht brokerage sites. I eventually found Windsong, a 1975 Downeaster 38' Cutter docked along the Withlacoochee River in Inglis, FL. She had all the characteristics I was looking for in a boat, but she needed a LOT of work to bring her back to life after years of neglect.
I decided to go ahead with the purchase, fully knowing that a complete rebuild and refit would be necessary. The boat had been sitting at the dock for near a decade without much use or upkeep. Most of the damage on the boat was due to deck leaks leading to rot in almost all plywood cabinets, floors, and bulkheads in a good amount of the cabin. Lots of restoration work would be needed, and nearly every system on the boat would need to be replaced or repaired. My skills working with my hands were honestly limited, and I had no idea how to repair or restore a boat. But I was completely dedicated to the project, and it was necessary for me to learn everything I could to repair, maintain and use this boat. If things were to go wrong offshore, self sufficiency and the ability to repair my boat would be extremely important. Also, if I am to be able to pay this cruise, I cannot afford to pay much for any repairs or maintenance so it will have to be DIY all the way. I dedicated my time to learning everything I could about boat systems and how to maintain, repair, upgrade, and use marine: plumbing, electrical & electronics, mechanical, rigging, canvas, diesel engine, fiberglass & epoxy work, and all methods of boat refinishing.
I can't lie, the project ahead of me was terrifying. But the fear of immediately what to do with the boat I just bought was far greater. Not only did it need some work to even get going, but I had no place to take it and very little experience in boating to move it anywhere. The previous owner was kind enough to let me keep Windsong at his dock until it was ready to go. I had planned on getting Windsong to Canaveral or St Augustine on the East coast of FL, but I had no idea how to get it over there. I had thought about trucking it across the state, but to even get it hauled out I would need to take it some 60 nautical miles down the coast to Tarpon Springs. The coast around Inglis is shallow and there were no facilities closer than Tarpon Springs that could lift a boat of Windsong's size onto a truck.
So regardless, I would need to sail Windsong at least that far down the coast. I lived in Orlando at the time, and ended up driving the 2 hours each way to Inglis nearly every weekend for about 6 months to work on her. I began to get her in shape by doing maintenance on the engine, replacing all running rigging, and ensuring the boat was in good enough working order to sail. The very first time I tried to take the boat out for a ride on the river, the engine's water pump impeller broke and caused it to overheat. I knew the engine ran fine from our sea trial, but the old impeller was bound to break and it kept me at the dock for many months while I learned how to diagnose and repair it. It was an unfortunate first experience with Windsong, but nothing compared to the months that would come.
Soon after the engine was fully repaired I took my first sail on Windsong and felt comfortable enough with the rigging to take it down the coast and have it hauled out for trucking. However, after some prodding by the previous owner and my own sense of adventure, I decided to just sail Windsong around Florida via the Okeechobee Waterway and bring it up to Canaveral myself. I had enough confidence in the rigging and engine to keep the boat moving, and the hull was sound. If I needed to go at least 60 nm to get it hauled, I might as well keep on going. I purchased a handhold VHF, GPS, and some other needed safety equipment to be well prepared.
In January of 2010 I was laid off of my job in Orlando, but quickly found a new one in St. Augustine and had until April before they needed me to start. I used that time to take Windsong around FL, and the trip was an incredible experience. There were many intense moments, a few scares, breakdowns and injuries. All in all it was the greatest adventure of my life so far, though just the beginning with Windsong. You can read my narrative trip log here:
Leg 1: Inglis to Gulfport- offshore, overnight sail Leg 2: Gulfport to Ft Myers - offshore, overnight sail Leg 3: Ft Myers to Stuart via the Okeechobee Waterway Leg 4: Stuart to Canaveral via the ICW Leg 5: Canaveral to St. Augustine via the ICW and offshore sailing
Windsong has been on land in a boat yard since April 2010, and remains there as I continue to make progress on her rebuild. While there is no way to tell when I will be finished with the major work, but I hope to have her in the water and sailable by the end of 2011. From then on, it will be mostly interior refinishing and adding new systems and equipment to prepare for my cruise. I plan on becoming a full time live-aboard as soon as it is practical and really start to pack away the savings. If all goes well, I will be able to go on my cruise in a few years and live my dream.