Solo Circumnavigator Jeffrey Hartjoy Tells How He Discovered the Sailing Lifestyle

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It seems that we all struggle to make our start in life, searching for something that we would enjoy doing, something that not only challenges us today but will stay that way year after year, all the time giving great rewards along the way. Most things we are introduced to early on in life don’t meet those prerequisites.

For me in the early days, it was just finding a way to earn an income sufficient to put a roof over my head and food on the table. I tried many different lines of work for the first eight years of my working life, finally becoming a power company lineman, a trade that provided my family and me with a decent and secure income.

Nothing I did, though, made me feel what my purpose in life was. It seemed there was no super-challenge that I could apply my passion to or any reason to think I needed or wanted to. I wanted to find a door that my family and I could open to escape this mundane lifestyle.

Fortunately, I discovered that door soon after a good friend, Daniel Boon Kelly, invited my family and me to come sailing with him on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We had never sailed before and thought what the heck, let’s try it.

There was just a light breeze blowing on a beautiful summer morning. Once out on the boat, we found ourselves enjoying a great downwind sail on Dan’s Blanchard 26. On the way back, as we pounded to weather in a much fresher breeze, Dan said to me, “Isn’t this cool, man? Feel the power of the wind, it can take you anywhere in the world, it’s free and they can’t tax it.”

Sailors Run has proved a tough and capable bluewater boat;

Sailors Run has proved a tough and capable bluewater boat;

During the long drive home to Tacoma, Washington, I was reliving the day’s events when suddenly an old memory surfaced. One morning, while sitting at the breakfast table with my mom, a true adventurer at heart, I had asked her, “If you had all the money you needed and could do whatever you wanted in this world, what would it be?”

After several long minutes, she said she’d travel the world, see beautiful places and learn about the cultures of the people who lived there. I was just 12 years old at the time, and I remember thinking that seemed like an adventurous and bold idea. Now, that decades-old memory and my first-ever sailing experience suddenly came together, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. The passion for living a dream began to take root, and from that day on I never looked back.

Suddenly my life and work all made sense. To have a goal also helps you move beyond trying times, making strides toward a freedom that, in turn, will allow you to live the life that only a few can dare dream about, all the while giving you the strength and perseverance to forge ahead. I can tell you from personal experience the kind of focus that comes into your life when a long-term dream becomes viable. In short, you will allow nothing to jeopardize that dream.

As it was, it wasn’t till August of 1999, some 30 years after that first sail, that my wife, Debbie, and I cut the mooring lines at our marina in Longbranch, Washington, and sailed away to live our dream aboard our Baba 40 ketch, Sailors Run. I was now 53 years old, had quit my job, and felt confident that with the money I had saved and invested over the years we would do just fine for the rest of our lives. We had also sold our home to pay off the boat and finish adding the extra gear for offshore cruising.

Once underway, we found Sailors Run to be a fine yacht designed and built to very high standards, definitely a true bluewater vessel. We also learned rapidly about the new lifestyle we were embarking on. It was often a challenge, and many times we had to draw on our experience as well as our physical strength to deal with the sometimes harsh sailing environment. But nature brought our way many more magical and wonderful experiences than tough ones.

I also remember going to an ATM and hearing the sweet sound of that machine sorting out a bunch of cash, with no need for me to answer the call of the alarm clock to go earn more. Many people wonder how much money is enough to live on. The answer to that is simple: you will spend as much as you can make available to yourself each month. It is also important to understand that happiness while cruising is not dependent upon how much money you spend. As a matter of fact, I believe that if you have too much money, you will soon be dragged from the anchorages and find yourself marina-hopping. (Although this is good for the rest of us, as the anchorages do tend to become overcrowded!)

Jeff and Debbie have cruised together for tens of thousands of miles

Jeff and Debbie have cruised together for tens of thousands of miles

Living aboard a sailboat, cruising and anchoring out, can be a very inexpensive way of life. At one point Debbie and I cruised for five years spending just $800 a month, and that included light maintenance on the boat and a flight home each year for Debbie. On such a budget we were restricted in terms of inland travel and some of the other more costly fun things to do. Yet our quality of life was always far better than I had ever known before. Some of the reasons for this are as follows:

• You are surrounded by many people who share all the same interests and problems that you have. Thus you have a lot in common with all those you come in contact with while out cruising and you soon become good friends.

• You tend to know or care very little about a person’s past life or how much money they have or how big their boat is. Seldom do you know a person’s last name; you’re more likely to know them by their boat’s name.

• Politics are left astern and current news comes from your local environment, spread throughout the area by the coconut telegraph.

• The more you can disconnect from your life ashore, the easier it will be for you to tune into nature and the new cultures you will have the opportunity to experience.

• The bond between the couples that live this lifestyle, where you depend on each other in times of need and spend glorious days discovering the beauty in your new surroundings, tends to grow very strong.

• “Time is the currency of life,” and when you find that you have copious amounts of it to spend with a loved one, it doesn’t take long to realize that one year of cruising time is equal to a lifetime spent together in the workaday world.

Debbie and I have sailed over 85,000 miles together since setting out in 1999. During our travels, we have spent three and a half years in Mexico having returned there four different times in our travels together. We’ve also spent nearly five years in the South Pacific, getting as far west as Australia, and visited Samoa and Fiji three times each. We also visited the Marshall Islands while in the Pacific and have sailed to Hawaii twice, spending six months there each time and visiting many of the Islands. We circumnavigated South America over a period of four-years. We spent over two years in the Caribbean and visited many of the island groups there. We’ve also spent several years in several Central American countries.

Our current cruising life has evolved through many compromises, a key to keeping it all together. Debbie, for example, wants to be with our grandchildren, as she wants them to not just know their grandma, but also help raise them to be good citizens with a future. I therefore now find myself often sailing solo, something that I have come to enjoy. I have even begun taking on some more grueling adventures, such as my solo passage from Lima, Peru, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 45 days, nonstop around Cape Horn. More recently, I become the oldest American to sail solo, nonstop, unassisted around the world via the five great capes.

Bottom line: I have now had nearly 20 wonderful years of cruising and feel very strongly that I wouldn’t trade the life I live for anything else. 

No Turning Back, Jeff Hartjoy’s book about his epic solo circumnavigation, is available through Amazon.com or directly from sailorsrun.com

Photos courtesy of Jeff Hartjoy

February 2019

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