TearAway: The Start of Another BIG Adventure: At Sea

August 12, 2016 in TearAway, Travelogue



Nearly a decade and a few lives ago a dream sprouted. The seed was planted years before, as most dreams are, in stories told around dinner tables and in family histories. But, I remember the day it sprouted… I could go back and look up a date, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

We’d taken off on what we’d planned to be a one year trip and secretly hoped would be the start of a lifestyle, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when the stock market collapsed, leaving us reeling.

We spent three months after that living in Tunisia, scraping by on the last we had, trying to figure out the next step. Eventually, it was time to give up, return home, and start over. Leaving Tunisia, we went back to Europe to catch a flight from Paris. Our first stop in Europe was a few weeks in Marseilles, France.


The harbour at Marseilles, Feb 2009

Marseilles & a Dream Sprout

Marseilles is a beautiful city; a place for us to revel in good wine and pork (we missed these in Tunisia), to walk and take in the sights and scents of a different world, and to start to make more definitive plans for our future. At the center of the city, someplace we walked by daily, was the port. Row upon row of floating homes lay out there on display in the marinas. I remarked to Jenn as we passed that, “If we had a boat, no matter where we were, our house would be there.” We wouldn’t have the crisis if we lived on a boat. We would be able to keep going if it had been a boat and not bicycles we’d chosen.

This was the sprouting. Obviously, many things have happened since then. We’d managed to figure out a way to keep going, in different ways. The secret hope of a new lifestyle came, not in the unlikely dream of sudden independent wealth, but in tech-nomad interdependence.

We traveled by four-wheeled motor vehicle, by motor home (a.k.a. caravan), by airplane to become longer-term residents of a single “home” place, and as two-legged (times six) backpackers. But, the idea of making the world’s waterways our home, particularly using as little dead dinosaur as possible, stayed.

Dale (Gramps) on Skoro

Dale (Gramps) on Skoro

Watering the Sprout, Growing the Dream

I watered the sprout, and others did, too. When we had time in Canada, with Jenn’s parents, Dale (Gramps) took us out sailing. Slowly, and in a way that never let us know that he was doing it, he trained us.

He let the kids make use of the boats he owned. My dad talked of his time sailing lakes in Wisconsin when he was young, and of his dreams to do it more. Linda saved and sent the kids to sailing camp on Wolfe Island several summers. I’d hear story after story of them at sailing camp turning boats over and I’d wonder aloud at why they are going to camp to learn to sail if all they’re doing is dumping them over. After all, isn’t the point of sailing to not sink?

For the last two summers, we’ve been on Wolfe Island. We’ve been regulars at family racing night at the Wolfe Island Boat Club. Gabriel (Fitz, as he’s decided to call himself) is now running the club, one of the two instructors of the same classes he once attended as a little boy. And, this year, I’ve seen the reason they spent so much time flipping the boats over as Fitz and his buddy, Josh, capsized in a sudden gust and, in one fluid motion, stepped over the gunwales onto the centerboard, righted the boat, and stepped back into the cockpit without getting wet, continuing the race.

Late last summer, Dale gave me a gift that caused this sprout to bust through the surface. He gave me SKORO, the 26′ Grampian keelboat he’d been enjoying, keeping, sailing, and using to teach us. As I remember the story, SKORO was named by a man who’d been interred in a prison camp. Whenever he asked when he would be able to go home, which he did regularly, the guard would always respond “Skoro.” “Soon.”

Skoro, Hinkley Bay

Skoro, Hinkley Bay


Soon indeed. Last year we pushed ourselves hard to get Gabriel into SeaMester,a semester of university work while sailing across the Atlantic. This was a magnificent program for him, and also provided a moment of clarity for me.

Jenn and I went to Antigua (the island, not the city in Guatemala) to surprise Gabe on his arrival into the final port of call for him on this ship, Argo. While we waited, taking in the beaches and watching all of the lovely sailing vessels moving around the island, it occurred to me that my window with these boys is closing rapidly.

Gabriel is starting university work. It’s been his dream in life to be a sailor and we’d been unable to deliver much more toward it due to expense and out of respect for Hannah who has a fear of deep water. Elisha and Ezra were both working their way toward becoming adults themselves and I’d only have a couple more years with them until they’re on their own paths. If I was going to have an adventure involving sailing and the boys (and, let’s face it, I need a crew), it had to happen soon.

Ez and Elisha on the bow of TearAway

Ez and Elisha on the bow of TearAway


So, the seedling started to bud leaves. Keeping in mind I am not independently wealthy, and that I need to maintain network connection and put in enough hours of work to keep clients and bank accounts happy, I started to look at The Great Loop route.

This is a route that would take us, roughly, from the Great Lakes to Chicago, down the Illinois River, into the Mississippi, up the Ohio, down the Tennessee-Tombigbee, into the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, up the Atlantic coast, in the Erie Canal, and back to the Great Lakes. The perfect plan. But, to do this, SKORO needed some work.

She’s seaworthy, but she’d need a new outboard motor, electrical upgrades to maintain juice for work, etc. So, while researching these needs, and costs, I also looked for other boats that would be more ready, require less time to set up, and cost roughly the same as the estimated costs for what I’d need.

Enter TearAway

I found a boat, roughly the same size, well equipped, for sale within the price range of the parts I’d need to assemble for SKORO. We drove to Toronto to have a look and fell in love. Actually, it was a pretty good sign when the owner wrote to me and said that he’s not as interested in the money as to having the right fit of person and wanted to be sure the boat would be used for proper adventures and not just put in the club for a few weekend outings a year.

TearAway was owned by the Commandeer of the Alexandra Yacht Club in Toronto for 25 years. He has taken her to the Bahamas, taking the harder, longer route right out the river to the Atlantic, not cutting corners by using the Erie Canal. When he found things he didn’t like, he improved them. So, TearAway was, essentially, ready to go.

Within a few weeks, the deal was done. Because she’s a Canadian citizen and I am not, Jenn officially took ownership of TearAway, a Canadian Sailcraft 27′ sloop (a CS27 if you care to Google it). Gabriel, Ezra, and I sailed it home from Toronto the weekend of May 8, Mother’s Day weekend. That is a full set of harrowing stories in itself I’ll save for another time.

TearAway in Brakey's Bay

TearAway in Brakey’s Bay

A Wrinkle in the Plan

TearAway is a great vessel. She’s made long passages. She can be largely handled by a single person. She’s good for open ocean passages. But, she’s got a big bottom.

To be fair, Dale pointed this out when we originally looked. “She’s a lovely boat, and well cared for. But, I don’t really like that keel.”

With a draft (the depth of water needed to float the boat and not hit the bottom) of 5’3″, she’s fully double the draft of SKORO. But, I’d checked everything and all of the documents say that doing The Great Loop can be done with 6′ draft. Until I started looking into things like stopping along the way. Yes, you can make the length of the channel, but if you want to anchor, you have to get out of the channel. If you want to refuel or re-supply, you have to stop at a marina. And these have shallower water that we’d have to deal with. Plus, the issue of river bottoms changing naturally throws additional risk into the mix. The Great Loop would be difficult to navigate and have too many places too close for comfort.

Elisha at the helm

Elisha at the helm

Bahamas Here We Come!

So, the plan has morphed into going south via the Atlantic. The boys and I have been making plans and working steadily this summer toward going to the Bahamas for the winter.

We can go to the Erie Canal (something I’ve been intrigued by for a long time) to the Hudson River, past New York City, and down the Atlantic coast, to the Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay, using the Intracoastal Waterway all the way to Florida where we can find a group of other vessels with some captains experienced in this passage to make the roughly 90 mile jump to the Bahamas.

Fitz, up the mast in the bos'un's chair

Fitz, up the mast in the bos’un’s chair

A Boat Will Tell You What You Need to Know..

Dale has told me this for years, and I believe it. In fact, this is one of the things I LOVE about sailing. It’s all about the physics, and you can see and feel the affects of physical laws so distinctly. When something gets out of balance, if you’re paying attention, you’ll feel it. How early you feel it all depends on how familiar you are with the feeling of balance in that particular vessel. So, we’ve been working on getting experience with TearAway and learning what she tells us.

We’ve gotten the certifications we need. I’ve upgraded some things in the electrical systems and enhanced the navigation systems. And we’ve been reading as much as we can manage to in preparations. Before we take off, we’ll have a full survey (the boater’s equivalent of a car’s safety inspection) and mechanic’s review of the engine. We’re doing everything we can to be sure that we are not putting ourselves in danger. But, we’re not going to be hindered by the paralysis of analysis.

So, if you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, why there hasn’t been much activity on the site, or what’s been going on, this is it. Things are coming to a head, and there’s been a lot of activity as we get prepped for departure. We’ve been unsure (and still are) of a departure date, but it’s likely going to be early- to mid-September, so we haven’t been posting much about it other than Facebook or Instagram posts about the boat in general. Of course, if something horrible shows up in the survey or engine work, it may delay us to the point we have to hold off. If we can’t get things going soon enough, the weather and other factors may make it impossible or imprudent to go this winter. But, we’re moving forward with the preparations as if it’s all a “go for launch.”

TearAway afloat in the stars, photo credit: Richard Decal

TearAway afloat in the stars, photo credit: Richard Decal

This is a Boy’s Trip

Also worth noting, if you haven’t picked up on it already, Jenn is not going to be on this trip. Hannah is in university. This is a boys’ trip. Life on a 27′ sailboat is going to be tight enough with 4 men/boys that are all approaching or have surpassed 6′. Instead, she’ll be joining us at points of interest along the way.

So, this means that instead of having beautiful stories painting intricate word-pictures capturing moments or days in such clarity and humor as you’ve become accustomed to on this site, you’ll have my attempts. I’ll post stories periodically about what we’ve done or are doing when I can manage to wrangle the hours it takes me to write. But, I’ll try to post photos or videos from my GoPro (a gift from an ever-loving wife, knowing my propensity to take pictures rather than write) more often to Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.

Let’s go sailing, shall we?