Introducing SAIL’s New Columnists

Over the course of the past 56 issues, we’ve brought you “Windshifts,” a reflective collection of pieces written by a host of different sailors on sailing, sailboats and life lived among them. However, in 2014, we’ll be taking a slightly different tack with “Waterlines,” a column in which Amy Schaefer and Paul VanDevelder take turns using this last-page space to fill you in on their unique whereabouts and reflections. Amy and her family are currently cruising the South Pacific, and Paul and his family sometimes-race, sometimes-cruise in the Pacific Northwest. Beyond that, well, what could be better than letting them introduce themselves in their own words:

Amy Schaefer
Coming February 2014

Cruisers embrace the unexpected—and sometimes, they find themselves in the back of a Colombian police van. 

Oh, you thought cruising was all about tropical breezes and sipping piña coladas? Not so much. Mostly, cruising is about problem solving. How will I repair this pump without a manual or any spare parts? How do I use my six words of Spanish to explain to the guy who fixes stuff on his front stoop what is wrong with my sewing machine? How will that front approaching from the west alter our sailing plans? Forget Sudoku: cruising is a puzzle-solver’s paradise.

Cruising is also about grabbing opportunities as they arise. Every season we make a plan…and every season we change it. Aside from the ever-popular repair-related delays, we may stick around for the local conga festival; we may carve a watermelon and have a Halloween cookout on the beach; a friend may invite us to camp out on his coral island and two days somehow turns into two weeks. When something interesting crops up, we jump at it, schedule be damned. Our girls can finish their math lesson any time—they won’t always be able to swim with sharks on a pristine reef.

I look forward to sharing our life aboard with you, the SAIL readers. I will keep you up to speed on where we are, what we are doing, and especially, what surprises crop up along the way.

As for that Colombian police van, it’s completely acceptable, when cruising, to be choosy when deciding how to get from point to point. But if you somehow make friends with the vice-chief of police on a small island, and he offers to tour you around on his day off, you’d be a fool to sail away from a chance like that.

Paul VanDevelder
Coming January 2014

I recently read a survey that found 90 percent of all “cruising sailors” do 95 percent of their sailing within 50 miles of their homeport.

The numbers make sense. Within 50 miles of my homeport in the San Juan Islands, we boast a sea and landscape ecosystem that rivals any in the world for beauty and diversity: from ring-of-fire port cities like Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, to the soaring wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula and the sublime harbors of the Gulf Islands. It’s an aquatic wonderland that runs for a thousand miles—from Puget Sound to Glacier Bay, Alaska—and inside that 50-mile-radius circle, lucky sailors find a lifetime of cruising without ever crossing the line.

We too easily think of “cruisers” only as a select fraternity of intrepid bluewater breakaway artists who disappear over the horizon with our dreams in their hip pockets: next stop, paradise. But if that were true, marinas, chandleries and toy stores would have gone belly-up when the last Westsail came off the line 30 years ago.     

More than the distance I sail from my home port, cruising, for me, will always be a state of mind, a willful throwing of myself into ineffable wonders and perils of the unknown and unpredictable. To expand on Amy’s axiom, this cruising deal is about managing the unmanageable in order to find comfort in the uncomfortable. Those of us who pull it off, willy-nilly, get to be the freest of the free. 

I’ve had the good fortune to cruise waters all over the world; curiosity and wanderlust have drawn me across imponderable expanses of blue to step foot on many distant shores. But the starry nights and first-day-of-the-world mornings that came with those adventures were only exotic stagecraft for the real rewards: the people. 

The people who animate my memories—the grizzled rogue at Squirrel Cove who rowed out every morning with fresh cinnamon rolls; the sultry dark-eyed islander who took me snorkeling in her secret coral cathedral on Bora Bora; the sweet gal behind the counter in Hvar, Croatia, who gave my wife and me an extra 10 minutes in the hot shower, with a wink—those are the prizes worth chasing, whether it be around the planet or across the bay, and they always make the price of getting there seem like a bargain. Ultimately, what you get out of the cruising is a life on a wake less travelled, and a chance for the little voice in your head to say, over and over again: “I’m free.”


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