A Couple from the Landlocked West “Circumnavigates” the USA in a Year

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Il-Nostro-Sogno

Il Nostro Sogno. Photos courtesy of Diana Doyle

It’s funny how the bug bites. In January 2010, my husband, Kirk, and I were vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when we signed up for an excursion on an old America’s Cup boat from Australia. Kirk grew up sailing around the Great Lakes; I had never been on a sailboat. The excursion included a race against another ex-America’s Cup sailboat from New Zealand, also crewed by tourists. We had a great time.

Several weeks later I found Kirk at the computer searching the internet for sailboats. Soon we were spending hours researching boats and talking about little else. The problem was, we live in southeast Idaho, not exactly a sailing Mecca. Then we read a blog by a couple in Washington state who had a MacGregor sailboat that they were trailering across the country and to the Bahamas. We dreamed of someday being as courageous as them.

In the summer of 2012, we placed our order with Blue Water Yachts in Seattle and picked up our brand new boat in April 2013. After that we set off over Snoqualmie Pass in a blinding blizzard, heading home to Idaho with Il Nostro Sogno (Italian for “This Dream of Ours”).

Kirk and Melba contemplate their next journey from the dock in St. Augustine, Florida

Kirk and Melba contemplate their next journey from the dock in St. Augustine, Florida

From Dream to Reality

After spending the summer of 2013 practicing on local lakes, in 2014 we decided to take our boat onto the “big water” at a MacGregor rendezvous in the San Juan Islands. We arrived in Anacortes, Washington, and watched as the dockhands hoisted our boat in the slings and placed it in saltwater. We felt terror-stricken taking that first ride; we turned the corner down the fairway to our slip hoping we wouldn’t run into anything or anyone. But the rendezvous was a huge help in building confidence—and our sailing skills. Once back at home, we determined it was time to branch out from the small waters and see some new sights.

Kirk and I both retired in 2014 and were keen to travel and see the sailing sights we were learning about in SAIL Magazine. We read about the Trailer Sailer Association’s rally in the North Channel, faithfully followed the blog about SAIL’s Snowbird Rally down the ICW, and marveled at the daring of those who crossed over to the Bahamas. We also started planning in earnest to take part in some of those adventures. First, we loaded up our truck with camping gear and drove to Mackinac Island in Michigan to check out the passage across to Drummond Island and into the North Channel. Then we drove to Annapolis and down the coast to North Carolina to get a feel for what the ICW was like. We pulled over at a rest stop and noticed some sailboat masts beyond the parking lot. Curious as to what they were doing there, we walked over and discovered the Great Dismal Swamp Welcome Center. We remembered reading about the swamp as a stop along the ICW in SAIL Magazine. We took it as yet another sign that we were on the right track.

Hitting the road

In June of last year, we once again attended the MacGregor Rendezvous in the San Juans, but decided to make a big trip of it this time and arrived early so that we’d have an opportunity to also explore the islands. We stopped along the way to savor the scenery and hike the paths on Sucia and Stuart Islands, mixed it up with the big boys at an Ocean Alexander rendezvous in Roche Harbor, and linked up with another couple on a MacGregor and sailed with them for five days.

Two weeks after returning home, we were on our way to the North Channel, staying in RV campgrounds along the way. The Trailer Sailer rally included 30 boats of all kinds, sizes and shapes from all over the country. This two-week trip took us east to Heywood Island, MacGregor Bay, Killarney and Covered Portage. We regrouped in Little Current and then went west to Hotham Island, through Little Detroit Channel to the Otter Islands, Long Point Cove and finally, The Benjamins, before sailing back to Gore Bay. What a magical place. We could sail the North Channel the rest of our lives and not see all the wondrous sights it has to offer. We had sailed a total of 575 miles from Michigan through the North Channel and back.

The journey

Kirk and Melba covered more than 10,000 miles between the Pacific Northwest (1), the North Channel (2), the ICW (3), the Gulf of Mexico (4) and their Idaho home

Southbound at last

After that, we stored the boat in Michigan with Kirk’s brother while we readied our home in Idaho for the winter. Then on September 25, 2015, we drove back to Michigan to pick up the boat and towed her to Annapolis in time for the sailboat show and SAIL’s Secrets of the ICW seminar. From there it was on to Hampton, Virginia, for the official kickoff of the 2015 Snowbird Rally. I have to admit I was feeling completely unprepared and ill-equipped for the task at hand. But with the expert advice and counsel of our rally guides, Mark and Diana Doyle and Tom Hale, we were ready and willing to launch with our new-found friends on October 23. The first day of the trip landed us at the Dismal Swamp Welcome Center where we had first seen sailboats in the rest area the year before. It was a dream come true. We were actually going to do this!

Our only mishap was losing our daggerboard, which had been damaged on a rock in the North Channel while crossing the Albemarle Sound. Thank goodness for Blue Water Yachts, which shipped us a new one within 24 hours. Tom Hale hooked us up with Zimmerman Marine in Southport, North Carolina, who received the new daggerboard and had it sanded and prepared with anti-fouling paint by the time we arrived at their marina. Talk about coordination and cooperation!

The Snowbird Rally was an amazing adventure down the most enchanting 800-mile stretch of the East Coast. This was a huge undertaking for us, being the smallest boat and the least experienced in the fleet. We soaked up all the information we could and made lifelong sailing friends. Those eight weeks were exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating and inspiring—and I would do it again in a minute.

At times it felt like we had been slogging down the ICW forever and then suddenly it was over. We arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, on December 1, and one by one our sailing companions headed off for home or other sailing destinations.

We shared a rental car back to Hampton with some newfound rally friends to pick up our truck and trailer, which we had stored there during the rally. Our plan was to pull the boat out and be home for the holidays. Then it dawned on us—we were in Florida, where the weather was warm and there was no snow. Why would we drive back to Idaho now? We decided to complete what we have coined “the Quadfecta;” we would take the boat across the Lake Okeechobee cut and launch on the Gulf Coast, thereby sailing the waters of all four U.S. coasts in one year in our little sailboat.

Heading for the Gulf

We pulled the boat out at St. Augustine and drove down the coast for short visits with some rally friends, then drove across the cut to Sanibel, where we launched the boat on December 19.

Leaving the harbor at Fort Myers and heading up the Gulf Waterway was somewhat intimidating. We no longer had our expert guides from the ICW trip. No more daily briefings with detailed weather reports. And we no longer had 20 other boating friends accompanying us as we sailed the waters. We stocked up on charts and guides and off we went. We anchored in some beautiful spots off Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, Cabbage Key, Siesta Key and Cayo Costa and stayed in marinas when it was time to provision and rest our sea legs. Each day our confidence was reinforced as we went through the many bridges and dealt with currents and locks.

We had about eight weeks to explore the gulf until family from Michigan were going to arrive in Fort Myers, so we took our time exploring along the way. We left Sarasota for Venice, spent a week in Punta Gorda, and rode out some nasty January weather in the Caloosahatchee River.

With two weeks left before our scheduled haul-out date, we headed up the Caloosahatchee towards Lake Okeechobee. Our first stop was the W.P. Franklin Lock, which has eight boat docks and a large RV campground run by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is a nice spot to hang out for a few days. It was chilly after the weekend storms, and the manatees were in full force basking by the dam to stay warm. There were several other boats docked and we met some awesome people in boats of all flavors—sailboats, tug boats, powerboats and trawlers. We enjoyed sharing stories and taking tours on each other’s boats.

It turned out to be a great spot for a mini Snowbird Rally reunion, too. Frank and Carol Schubauer on Hakuna Matata arrived from the east, sailing through the Okeechobee canal en route to the Keys. The next day another Rally couple, Rich and Jayne Johns on Ecola2 with their faithful poodle Hurley, arrived. What a great way to spend our last few days on the water, with people we started the whole journey with four months prior. We had just covered 958 miles on the ICW between the East and Gulf coasts.

On February 1 we hauled the boat in Fort Myers in the middle of yet another Florida downpour and then headed back to Idaho. We were feeling jet-lagged for days. Looking back, we realized we had traveled over 8,500 miles across the country with our boat, more than 1,600 miles on the water. Who else gets to do that in their lifetime? People have remarked how difficult and challenging it must have been. Looking back, all we remember is a great adventure, the wonderful sights and amazing people we met in our little dreamboat.

August 2016

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