For 25 years I dreamed of captaining a sailboat to the Bahamas and back. This is the story of that sailing adventure which would take us down the Chesapeake Bay, through the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), stopping in Florida before exploring the Abacos in the Bahamas, then back home. I’ll begin at the beginning.
After passing the Coast Guard “Six Pack” Captain’s License in June 2016, John, my partner of 24 years, with six years sailing under his belt, said he was ready to be my first mate. Our Hunter ’39 named Forte Vento, Italian for Strong Wind, was in the hands of new owners. We were ready to buy the boat to take us on this sailing adventure.
I had lived aboard and traveled to the Bahamas in 1989, giving me enough experience to know know what I didn’t know, but not know everything I should have known. After two months of climbing up and down ladders inspecting boats “on the hard” and hopping on and off floating offerings, we found her – a 15-year old Tartan 4600. We became her owners in October 2015, naming her Dolce Vento, Italian for Sweet Wind. I fell in love with her navy hull and John fell fell in love with her wide decks and electric winch for managing main sail hoisting.
We took her sailing for the first time in October 2016, moving her from the Severn River south on the Chesapeake Bay to Herring Bay on a very brisk, sunny Sunday afternoon. She did 8.5 knots on a beam reach with 15-18 knot winds — not bad for a heavy cruising boat. She sliced the water with authority and minimal heel with the mainsail and Genoa full out. She had the feel of a solid yacht.
Although she appeared to have been well cared for over the years, Dolce Vento was not without her problems. For example, we lost the GPS and autopilot when the marine mechanics literally butted up against the mechanical guts while replacing the cockpit drains scupper hoses . Her water, electrical, plumbing, sanitation, navigation, HVAC, power generation and engine systems were definitely more complex than we expected or had experienced on our two previous smaller boats. But we chose not to care because below decks her living quarters were larger than some NYC apartments we’ve seen and she sailed so very, very well.
We spent two months discovering what we needed to repair and what we wanted to add. In other words, we were looking at spending buckets of money, and there was so much to learn because everything about her was bigger and more complex than expected. It was like renovating an old house, signing on to a contractor’s proposal that seemed doable and made sense at the time; but once started, you find hidden problems behind the “walls”. We were guaranteed to spend at least 40% more than planned.
The problem with boats, unlike houses that appreciate in value over time, is that boats depreciate in value over time. Going into it, you know you will never recover your original price or improvement costs. We took the plunge anyway because we had the a thirst than had to be quenched. Luckily, had the money to do it if we left land completely and lived aboard. Our attitude was, and remains to this day, “What the hell, we are only living once, so we might as well do it!” And, we dared to do it!
No matter the plethora of books about living abroad and cruising I read or people I talked to, the adventure in front of us was just plain overwhelming when the fantasy became a reality. But, there was time. We gave ourselves nine months to complete the modernization and repair work and settle into living aboard before jumping off. Our goal was to leave the slip by October 2016. Little did we know what was ahead of us.