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Sailing Away: Making Our Dream a Reality

Ken Gillstrom

Voyageur 10.10
45' Custom Aluminum
March 19th, 2015

The Beginning

I can’t remember the exact moment that the “sailing away” dream was formulated in my head. Having started to sail at an early age, I do remember lying in the small cabin of our 16’ day sailor reading an issue of Popular Mechanics about building a sailboat out of plywood. I think it was one of the Glen-L original plans. Maybe it was formulated while at a truck building plant, working a summer job in the mid 70’s. I watched one of the owners of the company working diligently to finish off his Westsail 32 kit in pursuit of his dream.

Either way, I do remember the exact moment when I shared that dream with my wife. The dream had been put aside when I got married at an early age, started a career, and children followed soon afterward. Years went by quickly and all of a sudden, I was 40 and the children were 10 and 13. That latent dream jumped into the forefront of my brain one day as I passed a broken-up sailboat hull, deteriorating in the back 40 of a parking lot of a small town. My truck seemed to brake all by itself, and I could hear a voice coming from the direction of the boat. It was calling my name, getting louder and louder. So loud that I exited the truck and headed toward the boat to have a talk with my new friend (demon). The discussion was somewhat one-sided, but I promised my friend that I would return the following week.

The following week I did take Carol for a drive in the country, taking an expectedly unexpected detour. I introduced Carol to the unseaworthy vessel. She looked at me very perplexed, as if to say “you’ve gone mad.” After a few minutes we left to continue our drive, Carol still wondering what could possibly be going through my mind. After a second detour, we found ourselves at a marina in Picton, Ontario. It was a beautiful sight of Bristol sail and power boats, a far cry from what we had witnessed an hour earlier. Then I cleared my throat, swallowed and for the very first time in my life, I verbalized my dream. “Hey Carol, how about we build a boat and sail around the world when I turn 55?” Well, that beat up old piece of junk of a boat must have been silently getting into Carol’s head too, because she immediately responded “OKAY.”

“Seriously?” I said, giving her that same “you’ve gone mad” look that she had given me earlier in the day. “Absolutely,” she said, reassuring me.

Carol had only sailed twice in her life, with one of those experiences being life threatening, when she got caught in a violent storm in a Hobie 18 on Lake Simcoe in Ontario. Nevertheless, on that day I verbalized my dream for the first time and the two of us made a commitment to it.

Carol started sailing at the age of 40, taking courses on Lake Ontario. She enjoyed being at the tiller of this 24’ Shark. These experiences helped solidify her love for the sport and the cruising life to come

Carol started sailing at the age of 40, taking courses on Lake Ontario. She enjoyed being at the tiller of this 24’ Shark. These experiences helped solidify her love for the sport and the cruising life to come.

Maybe being somewhat naive to the grandeur and complexity of the upcoming task was a good thing. Our first step was to find out if Carol actually liked sailing, let alone travel the world in a new home that never sits level. We signed up for some formal sailing courses, which helped to seal the deal and catapult us on a very new journey.

Totally committed now, we thought we should start to share the dream with family. First we let our two young teenagers in on the plan. They seemed interested, but gave us a little bit of a “whatever” attitude, as their social life was much more important at the time. A couple of weeks later, we realized our daughter didn’t get it at all. She arrive home, after spending the afternoon at a friend’s house, saying “Don’t worry about me, Tawna’s mother said she would look after me when you leave to go sailing around the world.” She had a sad look on her face, which reflected her true feelings of being abandoned.

So some explaining was in order. Carol sat down with her, saying, “We will be leaving in 16 years…do the math…you will be 27 years old. Whether we leave or not, we expect you to be out of the house long before then.” As it turns out, our daughter left us six years later at 17 to go off to university, long before we abandoned her. Oh yeah, we met the neighbour that offered her refuge – in the Caribbean 17 years later! Having been inspired by our project, they too abandoned their 28-year old child to go sailing.

Project is in full gear, and time to find a boat. Over the years, I have presented many seminars on boat design and choosing a boat. These seminars cover the intricacies and details that make up a good cruising boat. When it came time to select our vessel (home), I took an interesting approach. Carol was a complete newbie to this yachting thing, but an equal partner in the project, and it was incredibly important that she would be happy in her new home.

I went skiing for the weekend with our children, and sent Carol on a mission to the Toronto Boat Show. The plan was to let Carol get a feel for things without my influence or interference. She spent the day “kicking tires”, talking to salesmen, and attending seminars on cruising. Back together on Sunday evening, Carol enlightened us on what she had learned and had decided on a boat design. Her new home would be 45 feet long with a center cockpit, giving us a front yard and a back yard.

“Wow that was quick!” I exclaimed. I guess I should be thankful that the biggest boat at the Toronto Boat Show was 45 feet. Had she gone to the Annapolis Boat Show, our home may have had to be much larger.

The project is really starting to materialize. We have a time frame, an idea of the size and type of boat, and best of all, Carol has come to love sailing as much as I have.

Ted Brewer’s design #218, originally designed for steel construction. Many of Ted’s designs have sailed to every corner of the world.

Ted Brewer’s design #218, originally designed for steel construction. Many of Ted’s designs have sailed to every corner of the world.

We scoured through sail magazines and even browsed on the new phenomena known as the internet, trying to decide on a boat or boat design that would best suit our needs through the upcoming years. This vessel was to be capable of taking us anywhere in the world, on a very aggressive schedule. We came across one of the best “blue water” designers of the time, Ted Brewer. Many of his designs had proven themselves by visiting all corners of the world. We chose one of his designs…yes, forty-five feet and center cockpit, meeting Carol’s requirements to a “T”. The original design called for steel hull and deck; however, we commissioned Ted to reconfigure the scantlings to be of aluminum construction.

Model of Voyageur 10.10. Ken and Carol were originally going to paint the boat as per the model, but later decided to leave the aluminum unpainted. The model was displayed in the entrance hall of their previous home, and provided motivation throughout the construction phase of the project.

Model of Voyageur 10.10. Ken and Carol were originally going to paint the boat as per the model, but later decided to leave the aluminum unpainted. The model was displayed in the entrance hall of their previous home, and provided motivation throughout the construction phase of the project.

Now, with preliminary plans in hand, we built a 3’ scale model of the boat. The model helped confirm our choice of design and proved to be a great motivator throughout the project.

With most decisions finalized, the dollars began to flow out quickly. Final drawings are in hand, a large tent erected to construct the boat in, first order of aluminum delivered and some of the best welding equipment we could get our hands on.

“Well, no turning back now!”

 Sidebar

The first step in making your dream a reality is to share it with someone. Verbalizing and sharing may bring some negative reaction. Dealing with the negative reactions confirms your commitment to the dream

Before you get in over your head, you need to test your commitment and keep reaffirming it. Take formal sailing courses in varied and challenging conditions. The seamanship skills learned are important, but you will also build leadership and communication skills. You will also develop the special skills required to live aboard a small vessel.

Going from dream to reality can take anywhere from a couple of years to a dozen or more. It will be important to keep the motivation up throughout this phase. Get involved in sailing organizations, take additional, formal courses related to cruising, or charter a vessel to keep the dream alive.

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  1. Yvonne Harwood says:

    Ahoy, you two…. Thank you for sharing your ‘beginnings’, I enjoyed the article…..May the wind always be abaft your beam…..Yvonne.