There’s always something new to learn about boats and boating. In this issue alone, I picked up anchoring tips from Dan Parrott, a better understanding of the engineering in a new outboard system and a history lesson in disasters at sea. But perhaps most interesting was the enlightening conversation I had with Bruce Halabisky a few weeks ago.
Bruce and his wife, Tiffany, who live on Orcas Island in Washington, received the 2018 Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America. They were recognized for their 11-year circumnavigation in a gaff-rigged cutter with their two daughters, both of whom were born during the cruise. Their voyage began and ended on Vancouver Island, and included three Atlantic crossings, 30 countries and over 50,000 ocean miles.
In my mind, the Halabisky family seemed ideal candidates for the medal, which the CCA established in 1923 to reward meritorious seamanship and adventure by amateur sailors. Bruce wasn’t such an easy sell.
“We flew to the East Coast to accept the award at the New York Yacht Club, which was incredible,” he said. “And we wanted to know why we were chosen, so we asked the committee. They said it was because our 34-foot wooden boat is so simple. They couldn’t remember anyone in recent times going around the world in this type of vessel.”
John Atkin designed Vixen, which launched in 1952 from the Joel Johnson yard in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “Some might say it was a poor choice, if not reckless, for this trip, but my experience suggested otherwise,” Bruce said. “The boat was first taken around the world by her original owners in the 1950s. I found this comforting. She has been through all this before, I would think to myself when setting off on a long passage. It is only a new experience for me.”
Bruce’s advice for anyone who dreams of doing a similar adventure is to keep things simple. That’s a mantra his family followed in many ways. To finance the voyage, for instance, Bruce and Tiffany eliminated all debt before casting off, and while underway, they spent money only on essentials such as food and upkeep for the boat. The discipline enabled them to cruise for over a decade.
“We were working each day, but the work might entail procuring a supply of drinking water,” he said. “When you carry water cans on your shoulders all the way down to a boat, you come to appreciate it more. Now that we’re back home, we’re more like average Americans, earning more and spending more. That happened pretty quickly, but if it all went south, we’d be happy to go right back to the cruising lifestyle.”
Bruce said he is grateful for the opportunity the boat gave him to live life at a much slower pace, a sentiment that resonated with me. “It might be argued that we jeopardized our future by not paying off a mortgage or saving for retirement during the years we were away,” he said. “But when I think about the incredible places we’ve been, I can’t imagine time could have been better spent.”