You can take the couple out of cruising, but I can guarantee you that you won't take the cruising out of the couple. After having the opportunity to get to know sailing dreamers and achievers, Jenn and John, I can say with confidence, once a sailor always a sailor.
The ridiculous idea
It all started as most great stories do. Wife has a crazy idea, husband agrees to said idea to keep wife happy. Jenn explains, "In 2005 I did a bareboat charter in the Grenadines on a Leopard 45. It was the most incredible experience of my life and it really stuck with me. Of course that was only a week long vacation and then went back to work life. And years later John and I had bought 5 acres and we were planning on building a home. And it became this stress that seemed unnecessary. We were at a point in our lives where we didn’t have kids, and we had found success, so one night I looked at him and said 'Let's just sell everything, buy a boat, and go.” and he told me I was crazy." She continues, "I'm the dreamer and John is the doer."
"I’m good at breaking things down and figuring out how to accomplish our goals. I spent a week thinking about the costs, and what kind of skills we'd need, what are the challenges, what are the dangers, what kind of boat would be comfortable to live on. And after doing all this research we said, yeah this is something we can do. If you break it down systematically, it’s something that we can accomplish, so we just started downsizing our life, getting rid of anything that’s nonessential, and we moved to Florida shortly after we bought our boat and just started implementing our plan," reveals John.
In search of the almost perfect vessel
Their boat of choice was a Leopard 46, owner's version. John explains, "I did a lot of research into what type of boat to buy and there aren’t a whole lot of choices for cruising—you’ve got Leopard and a handful of others. Ours was a Leopard 46 owner's version and that is what we loved about the boat. Also, in my research I found that the design and the construction was far superior to the French made boats. Everything on this boat was just more robust. Everything was accessible. Leopard Catamarans are very good like that, you can access everything through panels. We have friends who had other catamarans and nothing is labelled on their boat, nothing is accessible, they would have to cut holes to access components. And the manual for the Leopard 46 was excellent, it had wiring diagrams, plumbing diagrams, mechanical diagrams, and the parts were available. So it was an easy choice for us to choose that boat, I don’t think there is anything that really comes close. We absolutely loved our boat."
It's sailing, plans change
The destination of choice was the South Pacific by way of Bahamas and the Caribbean. But, as most things go when it comes to sailing, things did not go exactly as planned. "Our original goal was to circumnavigate the world, so when we started the process our intention was to make it to French Polynesia, that was the dream. So we fitted our boat for circumnavigation- water maker, solar panels, ground tackle, life raft, EPIRB, all those kinds of things and we took ASA courses and we were also working with a captain who would take us on the boat, supervised, and allow us to learn the boat. It took us about six months before we felt like we were comfortable to cross the Gulf Stream into the Bahamas by ourselves. But at the end, right before we left, we found out Jenn was pregnant, so we had to scale back our circumnavigation a little. But it still didn't stop us from sailing."
Jenn agrees, "Of course everyone thought we were crazy because I was pregnant and willing to cast off the lines and go into the unknown. And my thoughts were that people have been delivering babies in rice fields for thousands of years, I think can figure this out!"
So after one crazy idea, that turned into a 'Is this possible?' that turned into uprooting a life in Michigan, that turned into buying a Leopard 46 and six months later getting ready to set sail, a baby was not going to stop Jenn and John, the baby will just have to earn those sea legs! John explains, "It was an interesting departure, not really how we planned it, but that’s just how cruising goes. For me, being the captain of the boat, safety was our number one concern. We had multiple systems and a lot of redundancies, we were in communication with the doctor and after sailing the Bahamas, and the Turk and Caicos, we ended up in Puerto Rico and decided that was going to be the best place for us to have the baby. So we had him in San Juan, and when he was about six months old we set sail again. We also had our Doberman Pinscher on board, he made an excellent security system in the Caribbean."
After a few years of living their nomadic lifestyle, it was time to make the call. Where would the next anchor drop be? The couple decided that the pacific could wait. "From Grenada, it was, do we cross now and head to Panama and cross through to the Pacific, or do we head back to Puerto Rico? Out of all of the islands Puerto Rico was probably our favorite, we loved the people and the culture there. And because it’s a US territory we didn’t have to get visas to stay there or work permits to work. So from Grenada we slowly sailed back to Puerto Rico and hit all the islands again on our way back north."
And on the way back to Puerto Rico, another surprise! Jenn was expecting baby #2. Once the couple arrived to Puerto Rico, John got his USCG Captain's License and the couple geared up for a new baby. They bought a condo and intended on running charters on their catamaran. That was until Irma and Maria stepped in. John remebers, "Our lives changed over night." The couple stayed in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Irma but when they saw that Maria was approaching, the decided to head back to Michigan. Jenn was 7 1/2 months pregnant so the couple decided it was the right decision. Luckily, the Leopard 46 survived both storms and the couple was able to sell when they were ready to part ways. Jenn explains, "It’s not that we wanted to go back to life on land, it’s more so the hand that we were dealt. We had a good set up in Puerto Rico, where we could go sailing with the boat when we wanted and make money chartering it too. But it didn’t work for us, and then having more children we’ve had to shift our focus."
The right way and the wrong way to end your sabbatical
The couple admittedly made a mistake when they decided to head back to Michigan. Going from tropical island life to the cold tundra of Michigan was not exactly easy, Jenn advises, "Moving back to Michigan was not a smooth transition. We bought a bar and nightclub in Michigan and ran that for a while, and it really exposed why we left Michigan in the first place all over again. It reminded us that being on the water was greater than our love of being successful in other areas. So I think for us, it was like we need to at least get to Florida. We need to get where we can see the water and where we can get on the water, and that’s been so much better for us." John adds, "We have a new boat now, it’s a 1968 Formula 233 it’s a vintage powerboat. We really like being able to get back on the water."
While leaving a life of living in paradise would not be easy, this couple has found balance, and they are keeping the dream alive. "The best advice I can give is to never stop dreaming and transition to something where you have a happy medium. For us, going from Puerto Rico to Michigan was the hardest transition ever. Having lived through weather where it was colder in Michigan than it was in Siberia, we were like, we are done, let’s go to Florida. So I think it’s all about finding the happy medium. In the islands everything is 'tomorrow, mañana' and then you get back to land life and everything is going a million miles a minute. And so you have to really adjust your mindset," Jenn explains.
Living on land does have its benefits, but life at sea is still more fun
Moving back to land does have its perks, as John explains, "I would say the best part about not living on a boat is not having all the boat work. People view living on a boat as a vacation and you have no idea how much work it is to maintain a 46 foot catamaran. There is so much work that is required to keep a boat safe and seaworthy while sailing the Caribbean. When you are living on a boat and cruising it basically comes down to one question: is it mission critical? You always have a never ending list of things to do, but you can’t do it all. If you wait around for everything to be perfect you will be sitting at the dock all day. For us, perfect is the enemy of good enough, if it’s good enough, go. Jenn adds, "If you are going cruising as a couple, it will absolutely test your marriage or relationship 110%. I would equate it to the current quarantine where you are in small spaces together all the time, with a lot of pressure."
But for all the hard work, you can ask any cruiser out there and they will tell you that it is ALL worth it to be able to experience seeing the world by boat. "What we miss the most is the freedom to just pull up the anchor and go," Jenn recalls. "Especially if you don’t like your neighbors," John adds. "Just the ability to feel like you are the only people on earth in that moment is such an incredible thing to experience. We loved just having the whole anchorage to ourselves," Jenn reflects. "That’s what we loved about the southern Bahamas is you get spectacular beaches all to yourself. We would go days without seeing another boat, and that was the experience we were looking for—the challenge and the isolation. And the freedom," John recalls.
"But also the community too. There is a huge cruising community too, with a lot of like-minded people. People who aren’t willing to conform at that time or at all. It’s a very unique community. It’s all of you vs. the ocean and mother nature. We’ve had to rescue people at sea, we’ve had countless mechanical failures. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the cruising community is that everyone is more than willing to lend a helping hand if something goes wrong. And that’s what the lifestyle is all about."
What are they up to now?
The couple now resides in Miami, Florida where John and Jenn run a yacht and property management company. They have finally found their happy medium. "For me, having the captain’s license and having my charter operation taken out from under me, it was important to get back on the water. And doing boat deliveries is just the greatest feeling ever. To get paid to take a boat out on the water. For us, that was the key to finding happiness again, was finding a way to incorporate yachting and sailing and the ocean and be able to make money while doing something that we love," John explains.
As for what the future holds for John and Jenn? They are keeping the dream alive and their hands full. With three little ones at home, the timing isn't right, but when they are a little older, all three will make excellent crew members. "We will 100% go cruising again. We’ve never stopped dreaming. Our intention is to cross the Pacific Ocean and I want to do it with the children when they can be proper deckhands. I’m looking forward to them being old enough to help with the crossing. Its something we want to do, but we want to share it with our kids when they can really appreciate it." So while cruising is on pause for the time being, away they will go to far off, exotic islands as soon as the time is right.
Follow John and Jenn on Instgram!
To learn more about the couples adventures, head over to John's Instagram page, and peep the pictures. Jenn is an artist with the camera and you are sure to enjoy the browse.