Profiles

The Liveaboard: Gus Hancock aboard his aluminum sloop

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Gus Hancock, 73, of Chicago, began sailing with his father in an Old Town canoe in 1950. A deserted beach, a tarp and a campfire were their accommodations during early cruises on Barnegat Bay before they garage-built a 16-foot wooden daysailer. Offshore adventures followed, including Newport-Bermuda races and cruises to the Bay of Fundy in the 1960s. In 1970, Gus crewed on a Cal 37 in the Los Angeles to Tahiti Transpac Race and spent the summer cruising Tahiti, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas and Hawaii. He stopped racing in 1977 and bought a Cheoy Lee 36 with his wife, Carol, which they cruised extensively on the Great Lakes before upgrading to a Nordic 44 in 1990. However, it was Indigo—their custom-built 52-foot aluminum centerboard sloop—that convinced them to move aboard full-time in 2002 and really start cruising.

What was the Bay of Fundy like in the ‘60s?
 
There were big tides and lots of fog. It was pretty wilderness stuff, and it was all celestial navigation with a Radio Direction Finder. We listened a lot for bell buoys.
 
How would you compare your 1966 and 2007 transatlantics?
 
They were totally different. Now we have GPS, AIS, satellite communications, watermakers, EPIRBs and freezers. Back then we lived on the barometer and watched the seas, the wind and sky—now, there are accurate weather reports and commercial weather-routing services.
 
What was the South Pacific like in 1970?
 
We’d go weeks without seeing another ship. Positions were determined using celestial fixes and the South Pacific British Admiralty charts referred to Captain Cook’s land positions. Locations could be off by miles. We’d always make landfall at midday so the sun was above or behind us. In short, you had to have a lot more guts back then than with GPS today.
 
Was living aboard full-time always your retirement plan?
 
It evolved. I was 61 when 9/11 happened. That was a big event—a big psychological event—and I thought we were in for a five-to-10-year downturn in manufacturing. We already had the boat. We cruised down to the Caribbean from Chicago and really liked it, so we decided to retire to something, not from something. We sold our manufacturing business and a year later we sold the house. It’s been far healthier for us—both physically and mentally—than retirement in Chicago in the winter.
 
Where have you cruised Indigo?
 
We cruised the Caribbean for five years, and the Eastern Mediterranean for five years. Now we’re in the Western Med.
 
What’s your cruising and traveling program?
 
I run the boat and Carol plans all of the land travel. We take public transportation and eat the local foods. We get involved with the locals. 
What’s the cruising scene like in the Middle East nowadays? 
 
It’s fascinating from a historical perspective, but the people are the best part—interacting with non-Americans, with sailors from all over the world, with locals. You meet people with all different perspectives—cultural, political and religious. It’s been a hugely expansionary experience. 
 
Any advice for other would-be world
cruisers?

 
I would encourage people to do more and reach farther than they think they can. Cruising is not for everyone, what with the occasional gales and long anchor watches, but we see people do it with a lot less money than most Americans think they need. Beyond the money, you’ve got to really want to do it—there’s no reason more people can’t. 

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