© 2020 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Iowa Adventurers: Vagabonding Under Sail

Today on River to River, we catch up with Denise and Grant Stejskal. Native Iowans from North Liberty, they pitched their lives overboard a year ago to sail the Pacific Ocean. We sit down with them to find out what it's like to trade your house for a sailboat, what fish you should avoid eating, what to do when your boat is in the coordinates of a live missile practice, and what it's like to live on the sea with your significant other.

For more information and to follow their adventures, you can visit the Stejskal's blog, Vagabonding Under Sail.

Bonus video feature: The Stejskals sail with dolphins beneath their bow.

Here are some excerpts pulled from their blog, written by Denise:

August 2 2013, Santa Cruz

I don’t know if it was because it was our first overnight with our anchor in this boat, or if it was because I actually figured out a pattern to the swell that was rocking our boat forward and backward, then side to side in sets of threes, but I couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was because our first overnight came with the introduction of new noises to the boat.

The stove was rattling, halyards inside the mast echoing and books on bookshelves thumping. About once every couple hours I’d poke my head out and check our position in regards to the other boats and our GPS. Every time the result was the same, so what was my deal? We hadn’t budged an inch. We fixed the noises as best we could, and after some convincing I was able to trust that the boat, its 45lb anchor and chain were fine.

August 12 2013, Santa Cruz

The next morning it was foggy and 62 degrees. Many boats around us had already left. The rest, about 15 boats, had formed a ring, fishing just at the edge of the anchorage. The fish must of been active because we saw an overabundance of birds, dolphins and possibly our first whale sighting!

As we made our way back to California it was apparent what makes the Channel Islands so special. There is something that beacons us to travel over the rhythmic motion of the water on an adventure to explore these deserted beaches and appreciate the overabundance of wildlife that lives there. The islands and the water that surrounds them are home to over 2,000 species of animals and plants of which, 145 are found nowhere else on earth.

September 10 2013, Channel Islands

The wind was variable with 1-2 ft. waves. We motor sailed for a bit until we felt the wind build, then we brought out the jib and turned off the engine. Ahh! I’ll never get tired of experiencing that exact moment where we turn off the engine and let our sails do the work! Our speed? 4 knots. Not too bad for the light winds.

During my turn at the helm I saw something shiny floating in the water.  A look through the binoculars confirmed they were a set of happy birthday mylar balloons. As you kid you often wonder what happens to balloons when those slippery strings manage to get away from you. Well, wonder no more! Unfortunately, looks like this bunch found their resting place in the Pacific.

December 9 2013, Bahia Santa Maria

Everything we had seen of Mexico up to this point was dry and dessert like. Imagine our shock when we arrived at this huge anchorage and we started seeing green! Bahia Santa Maria was a very minimalist place. Fisherman live there in very small shacks for 3-4 months at a time. There are no services. The people were once again friendly but very shy.

The fisherman’s wives served a traditional seafood meal and the band played for tips. I found a small niña sitting outside the food line. Of course I had candy! The fleet was advised to bring donations to this village since they didn’t have much. Some of the fleet asked about donating straight cash but were advised against it since monetary donations have a way of just vanishing in Mexico. Other vessels brought school supplies, clothing, and baseballs as donations.

We mingled around and met some new people including a crew member on another boat from Northern Iowa. You never know where you might meet someone from Iowa! Proper etiquette for meeting another Iowan in a foreign or abstract place includes shrieking, jumping up and down, followed up with a big bear hug!

December 15 2013, after leaving Bahia Santa Maria

I took the fish down below to continue with its carving. Let’s see what you’ve been eating for dinner fishy! I sliced open its belly and reviled the contents. Ewe! Then, to the best of my crippled ability (it was my first carving) I cut fillets, wrapped them in paper and put them in plastic zip locks inside the coldest part of our refrigerator. We decided to hail our friends on Cake to see if they knew anything about the fish we had caught.  We were advised that if this fish was a skipjack not to eat it if we ever wanted to like fish again. Darn! I remembered Sea Otter’s crew saying they had also caught a mysterious fish (possible skipjack) and after filleting it and cooking it, something just didn’t taste right.

As a crew of two doing a long passage together there are times when life is not always a cushy fairytale. What am I saying? Even other boats with two and three crew reported moments of utter annoyance. Varying conditions, repairs, responsibilities and lack of sleep can make both a captain and crew cranky. Later that evening, we had one of those moments that resulted in me throwing some what of a minor temper tantrum. “And, to top it all off, we can’t even catch the right kind of fish!” was how I ended my rant. All of a sudden the engine started making a series of erratic noises. The RPMs were dropping erratically as if the engine was about to die.  “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” I yelled,  “I take it all back! I love this boat! Thank you for this boat!”

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River