Cruising

Catching Up with Wendy Hinman

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Some cruisers wait for the perfect boat; others simply go. Wendy Hinman (48) and her husband, Garth Wilcox (52), of Seattle, Washington, paid off their mortgage early and just went. Velella, a 1979 31-foot light-displacement cold-molded cruiser designed by Tom Wylie, reeled off 34,000 miles in seven years, calling on 19 Pacific Rim countries en route. Impressively, the couple thrived on $1,000 a month ($33 a day, not including Velella’s purchase price)—their income coming from odd jobs and renting their home.

While Velella didn’t offer Garth (6ft 1in) standing headroom, her simplicity, her light working loads and her performance-minded design safely delivered the couple home in 2007. They’re now debating their next boat (likely a 38-footer of Garth’s design) and their next voyage (Europe, via the Horn). In the meantime, they’re racing Thunderbirds on Puget Sound, and Wendy recently published her first book, Tightwads on the Loose.

How did you guys get into sailing?

I moved to Hawaii when I was 7, and my parents bought a Cal 27, which we sailed all over the islands. Later, we cruised the Chesapeake on a Catalina 30. It was our family thing—it was a good life. Garth sailed around the world with his family as a teenager and was shipwrecked on a Pacific Island for a year. It was always an unspoken thing that someday we’d have a big adventure on the ocean together.

How did you start off? 

We did a shakedown cruise around Vancouver Island, and then we did the Milk Run [to the South Pacific]—we were usually the smallest boat by at least nine feet. It was fun to [retrace] Garth’s [previous] voyage and to see where he was shipwrecked. 

By the time we got to New Zealand, three-quarters of the people who crossed with us were selling or shipping their boats home. 

You really cruised 34,000 miles on only $33 a day?

Whenever we ran short, we just sailed to an anchorage and went snorkeling for food. If we couldn’t fix our gear, we just found a way to go without it. At one point, we were sharing one light bulb to read. We bought some bad fuel in New Zealand that kept clogging the fuel filter. Even with a new filter it would only run for 10 minutes, so we sailed in and out of most anchorages for months. 

What electronics did you carry?

We had two handheld GPS units, a battery monitor, a laptop and an SSB radio. We had a terrible time with our electronics—they got fried twice, once in the Marquesas and once in the Solomon Islands. So we borrowed a GPS and kept sailing.  

Did you have a watermaker?

No. We carried 45 gallons of water, which was good for about three weeks—that’s about one gallon of fresh water per-person per-day. 

Worst experiences?

We were approached by some menacing-looking people in the Philippines, and we also heard and saw some weird stuff at night in both the Philippines and the Solomon Islands. We survived gales in the South China Sea—a nasty patch of water—and several typhoons in port, but the worst storm was the last one, mostly for psychological reasons. We were 18 miles off of Estevan Point on Vancouver Island’s west coast after 46 days of nonstop sailing from Japan, but we were forced to spend three more days at sea. 

What’s next for you?

We plan to venture in the new boat through the canals of Patagonia and Europe. I’d be happy to go again on Velella, but Garth wants to stand up this time!

Photos courtesy of Wendy Hinman

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