About the Dream

I do not remember a time when thoughts about a sailing adventure did not seep from the depths of my sub-conscience whenever my mind wandered.  As a child flicking with Mom through the pages of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, I had ideas of "voyaging" just as Max did in the children's book. My playing and fishing as a youngster around the beaches, tidal lakes and marshlands of the Charleston's "low country" also lent itself to daydreaming about chasing birds, fish and shells on boats. These ideas of voyaging under sail were possibly planted when my father whispered, "See the boat, Jack?"  in my little ear every time we crossed the Ashley or Cooper River bridges.  

Mom and I moved to the Ashley House in downtown Charleston when I was 5 and my living there, next to the Charleston City Marina, and going to its sailing camp left me permanently imprinted to the water. I spent afternoons and most Saturdays walking along the docks, throwing my cast net, selling bait to the sport fishermen or just fetching seafood for dinner, per mom's request. Up there, from our 12th floor condo, our view spanned from Fort Sumter at the harbor's entrance all the way up the Ashley River to the Charleston City Marina. Mom and I kept constant surveillance on the comings and goings of all the boats along the Ashley River. Over breakfast, on the balcony before school, we discussed the seasonal movements of the shrimpers and sailors alike. I have always felt a draw to boats and sure I often dreamed of them as a boy, but never truly believing that one day I would sail across every ocean!

My teens and 20s offered no sailing experiences but I always dreamed of adventure. The long ago planted seed of a dream lay dormant until I went out on a triple date, a sailing adventure in a rented sailboat in the San Diego harbor. That following year, 1998, I found myself working as a biologist on a Pacific Cod long liner fishing on the Bering Sea. After 72 continuous days working offshore, on the F/V Lilli Anne, I returned safely to Seattle. Then I rode south on my 1983 Honda Magna, back home to San Diego. By November, after 4 months working in Alaska, I had a notion of what life at sea was like and a pocket full of cash. After a week sleeping on my buddy Tom Zitrides's couch, I bought my first sailboat. She was a sky blue 1971, Cal 27 Sloop. I had paid only 1500 USD and finally, the long dormant seed of a dream was germinating at the ripe old age of 24.

I named her SNUZ after my families pet name for my second youngest sister Suzanne. I bought 3 books on sailing; The Idiots Guide to Sailing, Sailing Dummies and some fancy sailing book with great pics.  I went back to the boat and got to work cleaning! I was a boat owner, and proud one at that. No one at Sea Forth marina, Mission Bay California, could believe how much someone would clean an old Cal 27! I truly loved that boat.  I learned to sail her after a week of arduous preparation. First, I replaced every line on Snuz . Not that she needed it, but where else do you start? This helped me learn the "entirely to nautical" terms, required to be a sailor. Then on the calmest weekday morning possible, I backed Snuz out of her marina slip. I drove her around, the then empty, Mission Bay. I practiced maneuvering under power at first by side tying the bait barge, then over to a mooring ball  and on to the fuel dock pontoon. I practiced by tying up to every unoccupied wharf and marina slip in Mission Bay. After a morning of repetitive maneuvering I finally felt comfortable parking her, free of drama, in her slip at Seaforth Marina. That first week I also was practicing at the dock by pulling up sails and dousing them. I folded them with such pride, just like those silly books described. I went through raising, lowering and reefing the sails like a determined athlete, training relentlessly. I fearlessly monkeyed up the mast, surveying it and every other thing on the boat that seemed important! And of course I cleaned and polished some more.
I promised myself I would only sail inside the bay for a month.  I spent an evening studying a diagram showing how to adjust the sails for a given wind angle.  That night, I went to sleep on Snuz hoping that by sunset the following afternoon, I would be a sailor! The following morning, in anticipation, I awoke before sunrise. At first light, I tied cassette tape in the rigging to indicate what direction the wind was coming from. I copied the diagram out of one of the books to guide me on sail trim. With my hand drawn diagram taped to the companionway I excitedly motored out into the bay early on a windless morning. With “Idiots Guide to Sailing”, book marked in the cockpit, I hauled on the halyards to raise the sails. The wind built slowly and the bay was empty except for me and my ear to ear smile. I had Snuz moving along under sail before noon and that silly grin never left my face. Sometimes I even sailed in the direction I wanted to go! I was hooked! After a week I was carving in and out of the moored boats and even sailing back into my slip. The learning curve was steep, in spite of teaching myself. Going at it “solo” allowed me to develop more than just boat handling skills. I gained the self confidence and independence that would eventually guide me across oceans.

I loved the sensation; it was part art and part science. I was in heaven when on the water under sail. I worked as a hair transplant technician (another story) and was free by mid afternoon once the NE wind had filled in. I would prep Snuz in the morning before a case so I could power the motorcycle home, storm down the dock and jump aboard after untying. I would change cloths once I was out sailing! 30 seconds and I was free to ride the wind! I was steadily becoming a sailing junky! Within a few weeks I was in open water and a dream was budding!

Perhaps prematurely, but it was not long before I began to push Snuz and myself. I loved the jetty entrance. When the wind blew against the out flowing tide and the swell was large the entrance could be almost, ah… dangerous! I loved to play in the big waves! After several months of daily sailing practice I made a big overnight trip, out 80 miles offshore to San Clemente Island. I felt very capable onboard alone. The fishing was great! Over the next year I made several trips out there as well as up to Santa Catalina. Eventually I worked the coast everywhere from Point Conception down to the Coronado Islands in Mexico with that little baby blue Cal-27! I loved it! Multi-day sailing and fishing trips were a bonus between contracts in Alaska and surgeries in San Diego! All I thought about was sailing and was beginning to learn what was needed to really go offshore!

My time observing on fishing boats allowed me to begin planning a great sailing adventure. I kept sailing books in my bunk and when not working, I daydreamed! Powerful stuff daydreaming! I knew I needed a bigger boat. The waves in Alaska were monstrous. All I had known was the inland waterways of South Carolina and the mellow swell and easy wind of Southern California. I planned out a few seasons work and made a timeline and budget. 10K USD for the boat, 10K for the outfitting of the boat and 10K for me! I was 25 with no idea what I was getting into but I set my mind to it and “The Adventure Began”! I stopped going to restaurants to eat and bars to drink in order to save money. I had dock parties on Snuz with mako shark, yellowtail and rockfish I caught myself! I brought the fish and everyone else brought booze! It was the first time I realized how good it was to be the captain! All in my life revolved around my boat and my dream!

In August of 2000 I had the $ to start shopping! For 18 months I sailed, focused, daydreamed and saved. I had my heart set on the Yankee 30. The Yankee 30 is a Sparkman and Stephens designed sloop with a keel stepped mast and full skeg hung rudder. It is a sturdy little cruiser but small for 30 feet. There were others on the short list but really the Yankee 30 was the one. Dad flew out and we rented a car to drive the So-Cal coast for a week looking at boats. I worked with a broker in Newport Beach occasionally and after a Y30 was sold from underneath me he wanted to show me a Ranger 32. The Ranger 32 was perfect! I fell in love! This one had damage to the keel joint and a split in the skeg. The broker said “Cheap!” But I was scared of fiberglass work. Little did I know how familiar I would become with these two repairs. With that R32 burned in my mind dad and I kept looking. I had time and again a pocket full of blood money from Alaska. A very good boat shopping combination!

Outside of Oceanside Dad spotted a R32 for sale. It was early and the brokerage was closed. We strolled chatting along the breakwater like a couple of old hens, excited to see the good sailing boat DANCYN. The broker was a prick and obviously turned off by my goatee and shaggy hair. After a year on the market, DANCYN was still stuck at 28 thousand dollars! A guy on the dock knew the # of the owner. I called him a few days later. He was bored and wanted to go for a sail! Dad and I were there within the hour! David was a great guy! He loved Dancyn and always dreamed of sailing her down to “Margaritaville” someday. David’s two girls Dana and Cynthia were moving to Colorado with their mom and he needed to be close to them. Sadly DANCYN was on the market. DANCYN was a race boat, empty but clean. I loved her and I knew she could make it to Margaritaville even if I could not afford to take her! I continued to look at other boats, Alberge 35s, a Pearson 32, Ericson 35s, Cal 34s and many Yankees. I finally settled on a Yankee up the So-Cal coast. It was a long drive so I saved her for last. I knew she was more than I wanted to pay but she was ready to go and I figured that made up for it! I called David and asked if I could stop by. When I got there I said “David I have 15 thousand dollars with me. There is a Yankee up in Oxnard and I’m going to pick her up. I want Dancyn but all I have is this $. If you want, we can do this right now and you will never have to think about this boat again.” Dave knew I would continue what he started. He knew this shaggy headed kid was going sailing! After a pause he took the money and gave me the pink slip. I hugged him and Dad was very proud! Now all I needed was to get rid of Snuz!

That weekend my good friend Steph Ellis and 2 of her girl friends drove Dad and I up to Oceanside. I stepped onboard to unlock her and DANCYN seemed huge to me. I remember being worried about trying to slip her width into a marina berth. Standing in the cockpit looking forward I thought, “This boat can do it”! The five of us boarded Dancyn with a cooler of champagne, beer and sandwiches, and then sailed out the harbor on a perfect sunny day! The six-hour broad reach down the coast to Mission Bay was smooth, fast and fun! The girls laid out in the sun and Dad and I just sat back enjoying the scenery and good weather. A beer to celebrate right! Why not just open the first bottle of bubbly! And so it began! By late afternoon we had Jimmy Buffet cranked up and were way past the1st bottle! What is it about champagne? After hours of the sun and fun we made it to the harbor entrance. I had somewhat sobered up by then even if no one else had. I took Dancyn down the same channel to Seaforth Marina that I had run a thousand times. Dad and the girls seemed very nervous. Perhaps their faith in my drunken navigation was justifiable. I placed Dancyn in her new slip as if I had done it every day of my life. I calmly stepped off and tied the stationary sailboat in her slip. It was the proudest I have ever seen my Father! There was nothing to do but finish the champagne!

I was ready to rebuild and outfit my new lady and prepare her for extended cruising! Back to Alaska. I returned 6 months later with some cash. I put 4 months into the boat’s outfitting working full time. Then in December of 2001, my dream bloomed and I started a voyage that would change my life forever.  I never imagined how much.

The adventure began!


  1. Hey John. Super cool stories. I'm a friend of Gillian's from Davis. She sent me a link to your blog the other day after I said something to her about sailing from Cartagena to Panama and doing a lot of diving around Central America this winter. She asked who I was going to sail with and I said, I don't know, as a passenger probably. She said she knew you, that you were maybe going to be around South America this winter, so I thought I'd drop you a line. Anyhow, I've enjoyed reading your blogs. Maybe we'll cross paths somewhere warm and blue this winter. Jim

  2. Hey bro ... where are the current articles? I was out with Giana last night and she asked how you were .. and I realized I didn't know. By the way .. you have the best article layout around. Excellent work. Hope you're well. Anne and I are hitting the road for Denver to see her sister's family. Merry Christmas.

  3. John!!!
    Ive been looking for your blog forever. Im so glad I finally found it.
    Not sure if you remember me. I met you on the Northern Victor last summer. I was that silly girl that would bug you to tell me stories during breakfast. I want to know what you are up to and if you sailed up the amazon!!! I think about you and your adventures all the time! you should email me back.
    I hope I hear from you.


  4. Hey Jack,
    Love the skibbies!! Hope you made it to Atlanta safely.

  5. Yo John,
    Dancyn, Dancyn this is Tiny Bubbles, you copy? Another big old congrats on your journey. We just ran across your name while boat shopping. Give us an email if you get this. mammoth_lakes@hotmail.com

  6. Truly amazing ! Sounds so cool. Ah I wish I had such an opportunity... sigh
    I have traveled to 3 continents, none by sea. I still have a list of places to check.
    If you'd like to swap stories... 2maildeepa@gmail.com

    wishing you more adventures :)