The Self-Taught: Distance Cruiser David Tunick

Rather than junior sailing lessons, David Tunick, 68, of New York City, learned sailing by “on-the-job” experience. While his family drove powerboats, he and a friend bought a Lightning in 1966 and started “sleeping-bag cruising.”
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Rather than junior sailing lessons, David Tunick, 68, of New York City, learned sailing by “on-the-job” experience. While his family drove powerboats, he and a friend bought a Lightning in 1966 and started “sleeping-bag cruising.” In 1977, he purchased Thunderbolt, a 1961 40ft Sparkman & Stephens wooden yawl, which he sailed to Bermuda, the Bras d’or Lakes and Maine. In 1984, he bought his current boat, Night Watch, a 55ft 1967 Sparkman & Stephens aluminum yawl. In 2001, after many crewed and singlehanded cruises to Bermuda, the Caribbean and Down East, Tunick ventured transatlantic alone for two years of what he calls “commuter cruising.” Now, after extensive European cruising and racing, Tunick is considering Night Watch’s homecoming.

How did you start offshore sailing?

I had a friend who had an S&S Loki yawl, and I sailed a few times with him around Nantucket and the Vineyard. I fell in love with it. As soon as I could afford it, I bought a boat and started exploring the waters off Maine and Canada. I never hesitated going offshore to get places. I remember crossing the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod in 1977. We found Mohegan Island right on the bow—exactly where it was supposed to be. That was such a thrill and gave me confidence.

Did you have any other important

self-affirming experiences?

On my second singlehanded passage to Bermuda, my autopilot and engine both died. I struggled with the fix, but both were irreparable. So, I heaved-to and went to sleep, figuring I would regroup in the morning. The next day dawned bright and beautiful with the wind from abeam, so I set a course for Bermuda, tied off the wheel and used the mizzen to steer. We went straight as an arrow and four days later sailed right into St. George’s.

How have newer technologies 

changed cruisi
ng? 

Before GPS it was really exciting, especially in the fog. Every cruise felt like a passage of discovery. Newer technology makes cruising a lot safer, but you still have to be the backup. I regularly plot courses on paper charts—it’s important to keep these skills sharp. 

What are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned sailing?

Don’t force things—some things are bigger and more important than schedules.

Have you ever been scared for the safety of yourself or your vessel?

I think it’s foolish not to have some healthy fear every time you go out. Anything can happen. The ocean is in charge. You need to work with it. 

What are your sailing goals?

I want to [sail] into my 90s, and I have no reason to think that I won’t. Sailing across the Atlantic singlehanded had been a goal since I was 22. Then, I wanted to circumnavigate alone without stopping. Now, I’m not sure. I’d love to circumnavigate, but work and sailing goals occasionally conflict.

Any advice for younger cruisers?

Don’t just talk about it—do it, especially while the kids are young. Buy the biggest boat you can afford, keeping in mind the economics and the kind of sailing that you want to do. And keep it safe.

Photo by Dan Nerney

Related

210913-11HRT-SKIPPER-PORTRAITS-VC-122

11th Hour Christens Two IMOCAs, Hits a Snag

This week has been a big one for the American-founded, sustainability-centric ocean racing team 11th Hour Racing. In addition to christening their two new boats, the team also took them out for a quick test ride—against some of the most intense IMOCA 60 skippers in the world. ...read more

01-LEAD-DSCF3091

Clewless in the Pacific

Squalls are well known to sailors who cruise the middle Latitudes. Eventually, you become complacent to their bluster. But squalls vary in magnitude, and while crossing from Tahiti to Oahu, our 47ft Custom Stevens sloop paid the price for carrying too much canvass as we were ...read more

Nigel

SAIL’s Nigel Calder Talks Electrical Systems at Trawlerfest Baltimore

At the upcoming Trawlerfest Baltimore, set for Sept. 29-Oct. 3, SAIL magazine regular contributor Nigel Calder will give the low down on electrical systems as part of the show’s seminar series.  The talk will be Saturday, October 2 at 9am. Electrical systems are now the number ...read more

5ae5b8ce-3113-4236-927b-f795be4ae091

Bitter End Yacht Club Announces Reopening

Four years after being decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Bitter End Yacht Club is set to reopen for the Winter 2022 season. Hailed as one of the best anchorages in the Caribbean and built by sailors, for sailors, this island outpost in the BVI has been a favorite with ...read more

01-LEAD-'21.05.01_Jay-&-Mira

Cruising: Bluewater Pollywogs

Bluewater sailing is 25 percent actually sailing and 75 percent learning how to live on a boat at sea, in constant motion and with no chance to get off the roller coaster. I cannot over-emphasize how difficult normal daily functions become at sea, even on nice, calm days. ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_0078

Refurbishing Shirley Rose: Part 2

If you missed the first installment, click here. Thankfully, the deck and cockpit of my decades-old Santana 27, Shirley Rose, were in pretty good shape. The balsa core, in particular, was for the most part nice and solid. Nonetheless, there was still a fair bit of work to do. ...read more

orca

Orca Encounters on the Rise

This week’s confrontation between a pod of orcas and the Nauticat 44 ketch Tuuletar which left the boat rudderless is just the latest in a string of encounters with orcas off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, over 50 of these encounters have been reported, half of ...read more

01-LEAD-Project-complete

DIY: an Antique Nav Station

Ever since the advent of GPS, I have not found much use for the chart table on my schooner Britannia. Most of our passagemaking navigation is done on a Raymarine multifunction display on the helm pod, which is then transferred to a paper chart on the saloon table roughly every ...read more