Off Watch

Imag­ine win­ter­ing over in places like Lon­don’s St. Katharine Docks, with quick and easy ac­cess to some of the world’s best mu­sic and theater, much of which is free.

Cruising World - - Contents - Herb Mc­cormick is CW’S ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor. HAR­BOR Hop­pers

Imag­ine a life­style of in­ter­na­tional cruis­ing and full-time liv­ing aboard where you might visit up­ward of a dozen coun­tries and 60 or 70 har­bors in a given sea­son yet rarely make a pas­sage longer than a sin­gle night or two. Imag­ine win­ter­ing over in places like Lon­don’s St. Katharine Docks, with quick and easy ac­cess to some of the world’s best mu­sic and theater, much of which is free. Imag­ine do­ing all this not for a cou­ple of years but for well over a decade and count­ing, with 50,000 nau­ti­cal miles be­hind you — and who knows how many still ahead.

If you’re Dick and Gin­ger Steven­son aboard the Valiant 40 Alchemy, you needn’t spend time imag­in­ing such sce­nar­ios. You are al­ready liv­ing them.

Last spring, I met the Steven­sons in the dis­tant Faroe Is­lands (which in it­self is a story for another time). The cou­ple had just ar­rived from Scot­land’s Outer He­brides isles and were bound for Ice­land, Green­land, New­found­land, the Cana­dian Mar­itimes and back to the United States. It would be the first time Alchemy was state­side since 2006. The Steven­sons’ sail­ing story be­gins in 2002, shortly af­ter Dick took an early re­tire­ment from his work as a psy­chother­a­pist. For the first cou­ple of years they sailed back and forth to the Ba­hamas and the Caribbean be­fore spend­ing another two years in Cen­tral Amer­ica. By then, they’d done “an aw­ful lot of palm trees and sandy beaches,” which they thor­oughly en­joyed, but were par­tic­u­larly drawn to the Mayan ru­ins “and cul­tures that are re­ally es­tab­lished and have been around for a while.” And where would they find more of those? Europe. En route, they stopped in the Azores and spent two de­light­ful months there, mind­ful not to treat the place as a “fuel de­pot,” as so many transat­lantic sailors do. They con­tin­ued on from there and spent the win­ter in La­gos, Por­tu­gal. The be­gin­ning of a pat­tern was es­tab­lished.

As Amer­i­can sailors have to worry about both value added tax (VAT) and Schen- gen — the Euro­pean Union visa that al­lows vis­i­tors to stay in most coun­tries only three out of ev­ery six months — they spent the next sum­mer quickly tran­sit­ing the Mediter­ranean to win­ter over in Turkey, where they were based for the next three years. One sea­son they went south, to Syria, Le­banon, Is­rael and Egypt, and another they sailed north, to Greece and the Aegean. Avid hik­ers, they es­pe­cially en­joyed their time in Turkey. “You’d be on this trail no­body knew about and the next thing you’re walk­ing through th­ese an­cient ru­ins,” says Dick.

The next sev­eral years ran to­gether. One of their kids landed a job in Lon­don, which led to three win­ters in the city’s St. Katharine Docks, where they were happy to once again live in an English-speak­ing land. From there, one year, they ranged up the coast to Scot­land, the Cale­do­nian Canal and the Irish Sea; another sea­son brought them to the Baltic and Ger­many, Poland, Lithua­nia, Es­to­nia and St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia. “Most of our pas­sages are day­sails,” says Dick of their har­bor-hop­ping ways. “We rarely do an overnight sail.”

Then there were the two win­ters in Nor­way, which they de­scribe as “phe­nom­e­nal, the most beau­ti­ful place we’ve sailed. All th­ese fjords and great hik­ing and rock walls, and then you re­al­ize there’s 600 or 800 miles of it, and all in pro­tected wa­ter.”

Their string of 12 straight years on the boat fi­nally ended in the Shet­land Is­lands. “Four hours of day­light and 100-mile-per­hour winds,” says Gin­ger. “They de­feated us.” In­stead, they re­turned home, pur­chased an SUV and a camper, and headed for the desert for a brief hia­tus be­fore re­turn­ing to Alchemy. And that’s been the drill the past few years.

The plan go­ing for­ward is to do the Cana­dian Mar­itimes and con­tinue on to the Great Lakes and the western end of Lake Su­pe­rior, where they’ll haul the boat and ship it to the Pa­cific North­west. That should take a cou­ple of sea­sons. When asked which way they’ll head, they say, “Both!”

But the Steven­sons are also noth­ing if not re­al­ists. “Sta­tis­ti­cally, we’ve got about five years left [to cruise],” says Dick. “We’re in our mid- to late 60s, and we’ve al­ready had a cou­ple of health things. If we’re do­ing this in our early 70s, we’ll be very lucky, I think. So, we’ll get the boat out to Van­cou­ver, that area, and see where we stand.”

They’ll also do it on their terms. “Ba­si­cally, we’ve been mak­ing it up as we go along,” says Gin­ger. “By now, we know what’s im­por­tant to us, which means go­ing slowly, meet­ing peo­ple and learn­ing about the places we visit. We love it.”

Dick and Gin­ger Steven­son spent the past decade on the other side of the pond aboard their 40-footer Alchemy.

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