No doubt you heard about the ill-fated young Colorado couple who sold all of their worldly possessions in order to buy a boat in which to sail about the world, only to watch it capsize and sink two days into their voyage. Capsize and sink in a well-marked navigable channel within sight of the bars and restaurants of Madeira Beach, Florida.
If you’re like me, you read the sad story about Tanner Broadwell and Nikki Walsh, and said something to yourself along the lines of “those morons never should have left the dock.” That was pretty much my initial thought process when I first read about the incident earlier this month. All I had to see were descriptions about their limited sailing experience and purported methodology for attempting to navigate the channel to determine that they were complete idiots perhaps even deserving a Darwin Award. Absent this recognition, I felt that the couple should return to Colorado from whence they had reportedly come, and perhaps take up snowshoeing or some other mountainous activity to keep them away from the water.
My judgmental side is often a bit too harsh when first invoked in situations involving apparent human folly, especially when the folly concerns activity on the water. Thus, I am glad that I did not immediately put my keyboard into action upon hearing this tale of woe. With further reflection, and by learning more details about the couple’s doomed voyage, I have a touch of newfound respect for them, and am now of the opinion that they should follow their original dream of sailing, whether “the Caribbean,” “around the world,” or wherever the fair winds take them. Not that I don’t believe that they may have been a bit boneheaded in their initial pursuit, but they deserve a touch of leeway due to their youth, and, at the same time, some kind of accolade for the bravery shown in actually setting off on their voyage.
Plenty of people make plans to sail around the world or otherwise embark on a grand sailing voyage, but few actually ever leave the dock. The previous owner of my sailboat, an Ontario 32, bought her with the intention of sailing around the world, according to local rumor. She certainly came equipped to tackle such a voyage, but I’ve been told that she spent the two seasons during his ownership moored in the harbor, and that witnessing wind in her sails was an exceptionally rare sight. Perhaps the previous owner determined that he didn’t really like sailing after all, or maybe he figured out that he’d be missing out on too much golf during his retirement. Whatever the case, it appears that his sailing dreams hit reality.
Leaving shore and heading off into the vast expanse of the wide open ocean can be daunting, to say the least. Not only is the voyaging sailor leaving behind many of the comforts and conveniences of modern living, but is embarking on a changed mind set in which hourly and daily focus is primarily attuned to the reduced environs of the boat and surrounding seas. For some people, this latter zen-like notion might sound like heaven; but for others, it would be more akin to hell.
Consider that in the first round-the-world, nonstop solo sailboat race—1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe—competitor Bernard Moitessier became so attuned to his life on board that he failed to turn left towards the finish line, and instead tried to sail around the world again. On the other hand, another competitor, Donald Crowhurst, never left the Atlantic, and apparently drifted the ocean aimlessly while descending into madness that culminated in his suicide.
No telling how the ill-fated Tanner and Nikki would have fared had they pulled far enough away from shore, but the fact that they tried shows gumption. And yes, their experience may have been a bit limited, but you don’t learn to sail from books, and you’re not going to learn a whole lot about the art while tied up at the dock. So, given this initial gumption, I now fully wish this couple the best in their efforts to come up with the money to buy another boat and try again. From what I understand, they’re making out pretty well in their crowdfunding efforts. I would advise, though, that they spend a bit more time sailing with experienced sailors, and/or serving as crew on other people’s boats, prior to departing on their next voyage.
—Originally published by Slidemoor, Feb. 22, 2018.