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Some Americans retire to Florida to relax in the sun. Carol and Gus retired to the open sea to experience the world. In 2002, they sold their home and left Chicago, their two children and three grandchildren. Their address since then: the S/V Indigo, a custom-built, 52-foot, aluminium sailboat, currently docked in Marina Port Vell.
Throughout their 40 years of marriage, they have always taken sailing vacations, seeking different adventures in new parts of the world. Even for their honeymoon, the couple sought an adrenaline rush by staying in a jungle safari camp on the Amazon in eastern Peru. The trip consisted of falling asleep to the noisy layers of the jungle below their tree hut, then waking up for target practice with blowguns, and floating down the river in dugout canoes, fishing for piranhas. Now that they have moved aboard the Indigo, their chronicle of adventures continues to grow.
During their first few years at sea, Carol and Gus spent summers cruising around the Caribbean, and winters in South America to avoid getting caught in the path of a hurricane. “People would constantly ask us what we did to prepare the boat for hurricane season,” said Gus. “Our prep? Don’t be there!” Even when Mother Nature isn’t a factor, they routinely choose a safe harbour that will protect the Indigo throughout the winter, stay put for the season and use it as their base for excursions ashore. Because, as Carol stressed, they’re “on the boat”. It’s their home. They don’t cruise for the summer then pack up and go back to life in the States.
In 2007, they crossed the Atlantic and spent the next five years in the eastern Mediterranean—always wintering in Turkey. During that time, they journeyed inland through Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. “With the way the area is today, a trip like that wouldn’t be possible,” said Carol. “We feel extremely lucky to have been able to travel to places that the majority of Americans will never see.” They have also witnessed camel wrestling, weaseled their way out of a licence dispute at a border crossing by bonding with the customs officers, who happened to be Chicago Bulls fans, and photographed an endless number of world wonders. Gus still says that the greatest thing is the people they meet; the personal stories they hear and the local perspectives on culture, politics and religion. “When the culture is very different from your own, that’s when you learn the most. It’s the most fascinating part of what we’re doing right now,” he said.
They finally made it to Barcelona in September 2014—a city “bigger and better than its reputation” according to Gus—and have the Indigo to thank for their incredible, successful voyage thus far. The Indigo is the third boat the couple has owned together. “We bought it with this specific lifestyle in mind—travelling across oceans and seas, living on it nonstop,” said Carol. Gus used to race—across the Atlantic, to Tahiti, etc.—so it was important to him that the boat actually sails well. They also wanted a sailboat that would feel like a home, look attractive and had a cockpit in the aft. “You don’t need a boat this nice to do what we’re doing, but we had the means to buy something elegant, beautiful and comfortable, as well as reliable,” explained Gus. Right now, the Indigo is in winter mode. Framed family photos line a slim shelf behind the couch in the galley. Colourful, woven rugs from Turkey cover the gorgeous, rich wood floors below deck. “But in summer, when we’re cruising, these would be a hazard,” Carol pointed out.
The Indigo can function while heeling, or leaning, 30 degrees to either side so there are some unique features to the sailboat. A gimballed stove, which swings back and forth on two pivot points, keeps any simmering pots and pans level as the boat sways. Designated compartments in the fridge keep food from rolling about, and when their cabinets start to run low on cans and boxes, Carol blows up wine bladders to fill the empty spaces. A lee cloth can be pulled out from under the couches and fastened to hooks on the shelves above, forming a sort of cocoon, to keep you from rolling onto the floor while you’re asleep in rough water. The Indigo also has a saltwater tap, a freshwater tap and a foot pump at the kitchen sink. In recent years, technical developments, such as water makers, have made a huge difference for sailors. “It used to be whatever freshwater you brought onboard was what you had for the entirety of your voyage,” said Carol. “If you ran out, you were in trouble.” With a water maker, now they even get to shower in freshwater. Communication has also improved greatly since they left Chicago with their Motorola flip phones in hand. And the Kindle has proven to be the perfect invention for them—people without a TV, who have no space to stockpile paperbacks.
As much as they love their lifestyle, Carol and Gus have decided that within a year or two they will head back to dry land, back to the United States and their family. Gus, 75, said, “Life on a boat keeps a person physically active and prolongs ‘old age’ in a way. However, you start to feel the things you’ve always done, the things that come naturally to you when you’re sailing, get a little harder with each passing year.” They will miss the excitement of pulling into an unexplored port, of feeling the wind propel them towards their next adventure, but they have plenty of memories and photos to keep them company when they say goodbye to life at sea.