It was a voyage originally planned to end in B.C. after two years. But the siren song of the sea — and happy hour in the Bahamas — kept Pat Powell and her husband ship-bound for five years.“It was a heck of an adventure,” said Powell, who told her tale to the Parksville Probus Club on March 20.
The club is a group of retired and semi-retired professional and business people, who get together the third Monday of every month to hear a speaker present on a topic. Powell herself is a member of the club, which also holds various social meetings and outings, said the club’s president, Len Winter.
“I felt like a star,” Powell said of sharing her story. “Well, at least a flaming comet,” she added with a laugh. “You know, brief flame and then out.”
Her tale began in the 1980s, when Powell and her husband, Dave, caught the sailing bug in their mid-thirties while living in Ontario. They worked their way up from sailing dinghies to larger boats, and soon got the idea to go on a multi-year trip. But they didn’t rush into it, she said.
They did a charter boat sail to the Virgin Islands first. “We didn’t know if we would like being in salt water,” she explained. “It’s a different sort of living challenge.”
It turned out they were up for the challenge, so they sold their house, quit their jobs, purchased a 26-foot, sea-worthy vessel, named it Kerry Dancer, and weighed anchor.
“We headed off in May of ’81,” she said, after extensive preparations.
The original plan was to spend two years travelling through the Great Lakes out to the Bahamas, visit Cuba, Jamaica and the Caribbean, then head through the Panama Canal and travel north up to Vancouver where Powell’s family lived.
If they could live on $10 a day, the pair figured, they could pull it off.
“Looking back on it, I think we were more nervous after we had taken off,” said Powell. “We sort of (wondered), ‘what the heck have we done?’ But it was an exciting adventure, and we thought, ‘If we don’t do it now, would we ever do it?’”
The pair quickly found that part of long voyages is equipment inevitably failing when it’s most needed. Leaded gas caused issues for them, and living in such cramped quarters took some getting used to.
The pervasiveness of salt was also frustrating. “Salt gets into everything,” she said, noting the limited availability of fresh water meant you couldn’t just wash it off. “That was a constant struggle.”
But the good times came in the Bahamas.
Upon arriving, the pair found a solution to their $10 a day vow of poverty.
“There were a lot of wealthy Americans, typically, that had big sailboats they wanted taken care of,” said Powell. “And you also had to leave Bahamas every six months and get a new stamp on your passport, and same with vessels. So they would hire people to take their boat over to the States and do a turnaround.”
That, and other local sailing jobs, became the couple’s occupation for five years.
During that time, Powell gave birth to a daughter — flying back to Canada briefly and then returning to the sea. The couple learned to fish the reefs of the Bahamas with nothing but snorkel gear and a Hawaiian sling spear, hosted relatives who probably questioned their sanity, met sailors from all over the world and made lifelong friends.
But perhaps Powell’s favourite memory is stuffing more than a dozen fellow sailors onto her 26-foot boat to celebrate its one-year anniversary with shared food, cheap rum and a birthday cake. There were so many people aboard, she said, water was coming in the through-hull valves and into the cockpit.
But, by 1986, the trip would end.
Dave had been diagnosed with cancer. So the family sold their boat in Florida, drove back to Ontario, and then continued on to B.C. “We got there in time for Expo ’86,” said Powell, adding that Dave made a good recovery.
So the journey that began with B.C. as its destination eventually did end up here, and Powell retired to Parksville in 2009.
Winter said the story was “about what most of us dream but never do,” adding that the club was impressed and delighted with the tale.
Asked what it was like to tell her story to the Probus Club, Powell said, “I ran over my allotted time, but nobody left and I didn’t see anybody falling asleep. So I felt like a star.”
Upcoming speakers will include a chiropractor from Nanaimo discussing what he believes to be a highly effective treatment, and a doctor speaking on fentanyl, said Winter.