Can we agree on the premise that sailing into the ocean blue when a hurricane’s coming after you is probably a bad decision?
For you and me, maybe. For the Gieschens it isn’t. Wasn’t. It wasn’t a bad decision and they’ve been there, done that, and survived unscathed.
Alison and Daniel (Dan) Gieschen left their nine acre Repaupo horse farm late in May and drove to New Bern, NC, to pick up their new home and sail it up the coast to the Chesapeake Bay. That’s right. Sail. They are trading their horse farm past for their retirement dream future of sailing around the world.
They went to get their new boat, a 43-foot Taswell ocean-going sloop, just a day before the second named storm of an extremely early hurricane season was announced. Tropical Storm Bonnie was forecast to drive up the coastline north from South Carolina just as the Gieschens were taking that very path from North Carolina to Maryland.
Happily, the weather and the sea favored the Gieschen’s maiden voyage in their new home. “We did not get one single thunderstorm even though they were predicted every day,” Alison wrote in an email. “Only rained two out of the nine days. We got very lucky!”
It was an auspicious start for what is planned to be a 10-year journey or more. The Gieschens, Dan, recently retired as a marine engineer, and Alison, retired as a substitute teacher for the East Greenwich School District, have a life-long history and heritage of loving the water and sailing. Both their families enjoyed sailing and it is how the couple met.
“We actually met at a sailboat race,” Alison recalled. Dan, a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy, “was an avid sailor and I was a weekend sailor,” Alison said. “We met at a race in North Carolina.
“He said to me, ‘My dream is to sail around the world someday.’ I said, ‘Me, too. Let’s get married.’” She may have been flirting, but he was seriously smitten. “Four days later he proposed,” Alison said.
In their 30 years of marriage the couple built a thriving horse farm, concentrating on the rare (for this area) skill of vaulting. This is a sport in which the rider, on a specially trained horse, flies through the air in various gymnastic moves on the horse’s back while the horse moves at different gaits around a large ring. It takes skills in horsemanship and athletic ability and Alison built up a vaulting club that successfully competed at the national level. The club now meets at the Dream Park in Logan Township.
Alison, author of several self-published books, wrote one for children to introduce them to vaulting, Julia’s Vaulting Dreams, and another, Heart of a Champion, about her vaulting horse, Janyck, who fell into the ice on a lake in Swedesboro, and the efforts that resulted in his successful rescue. The books are available at Amazon.com.
Meanwhile Dan, who “wasn’t a horse person,” according to his wife, “discovered polo one day and he became a horse person.” Dan formed and managed the area’s only polo team, which played at Cowtown Rodeo for 15 years until it moved a few years ago to Lancaster, PA.
The couple raised three children in the house they built. “We literally built it ourselves,” Alison explained. “I was seven-months pregnant and up on the roof hammering in nails.
“We loved life on the farm.”
But they never forgot their original dream, sailing around the world on their very own boat. As retirement neared, they realized it was time to face their future. “I had planned on going out to sea when I enrolled in Merchant Marine school,” Dan said. “I wanted to sail and study the oceans marine biology.”
The couple began planning their journey at least five years ago, and insisted that the key to successfully changing a lifestyle so drastically is exhaustive research, learning, training.
Early on they spent hours going over finances. “We did the math,” Alison said. “We figured if we both worked another 10 years or if we sold everything and lived on the boat, we could live on the boat and go where we wanted for 15 years.” So they decided to sell the farm sometime this summer.
It’s tempting to describe the decision as a metaphor, as no longer riding a horse into the sunset but riding the waves into the sunrise, because that’s the essence of the choice they made. But it involved much, much more than a decision.
“A change like this, absolutely you have to be (in tune) with each other,” Dan said. “There’s going to be two of us on a 40-foot boat so you have to know what you’re getting into. You have to be close.
“Basically you need to find out as much as you can, read what other people’s experiences were, decide what you can stand, what you can’t. You need to do your homework.
“And communication is key. Talk to the people going with you, (discuss) what you’ve learned, what provisions to have.”
As part of their homework, the couple went to boat shows and signed up for training sails with expert sailing instructors to hone their already hefty skill set.
They pored over ocean maps and navigation charts, deciding to follow the trade winds route around the world. “It’s very researched,” said Alison, who quickly listed too many names and places to recount here. Essentially, their route will start from the Caribbean up the U.S. coast to Nova Scotia, across the ocean to the Azores and a “leisurely exploration of Europe.”
They will eventually get to “Australia and up to Thailand,” she said, “That’s where you have to worry about pirates.”
Pirates? It was not a misstatement. There is a real, if minor, threat of pirates, but the Gieschens have done their research on minimizing that possibility, too.
“You go with a bunch of other boats in a convoy and it’s harder to attack you,” Alison explained, matter-of-factly. “Boats congregate and communicate along this part of the route and it’s easy to find (a convoy).
“Or you can hire mercenaries to stay on board and protect you from attack.” Ah, mercenaries. Now that’s the value of research.
Their planning includes first-aid kits, provision lists, detailed ocean maps, advanced technology devices to keep in touch with other ships, land rescuers, weather stations, etc.
“Our goal is safety consciousness,” Alison said. “We believe if you have a suspicion something is wrong, you never ignore it. If you keep horses you know what I mean. You check it. Any little suspicion you check it twice.”
The Gieschens have a website, www.sailmates.org, where friends and family can check in to watch their progress around the world. They have announced a goal of “before Christmas” to set sail.
But first there is one final item that must be taken care of. At a date not yet set, the couple will rename their new home. The boat formerly known as Fox Sea will become “Equus,” and thus join their past life with their future one.
The renaming will come in a special ceremony well-known to most ocean sailors. As Dan light-heartedly explained, “We have to appease Neptune (god of the sea). We have to remove the old name from every part of the boat, get champagne, and ask Neptune for help and blessing as our boat sails his seas.”
Alison and Dan look forward to sailing into the proverbial unknown. It’s part of the appeal.
“We consider ourselves adventurers,” they said. Paradoxically, and on purpose, it’s an unknown that, because of their planning and preparation, will be familiar.
But as any horse rider will assure you, familiarity does not guarantee safe passage. With a little luck, however, it can help put the “bon” in the “voyage.”
— By Jean Redstone