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 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.