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East Bay family’s 10-year sailing adventure to the Southern Hemisphere

Planning an afternoon sail with the kids can be hectic. Note the weather, choose the clothes, what to eat, how long to stay out. Planning a 6,000-mile sail with the kids that includes moorings in seven countries might take, oh, a decade or so. That’s how long East Bay parents Bruce and April Winship prepared before finally setting sail with their young daughters on their 33-foot catamaran, Chewbacca, for a 10-year sailing voyage that included treks with Kuna Indians, hikes at Mayan ruins and a transit of the Panama Canal.

“Set Sail and Live Your Dreams” (Seaworthy Publications) 

The Winship’s new book — “Set Sail and Live Your Dreams” (Seaworthy Publications, $20) — is part intimate memoir, part sailing odyssey. It tells the Clayton family’s tale, from the trauma of miscarriage to the births of daughters Kendall and Quincy — now grown and living in Carson City and San Jose — and the metamorphosis of the Chewbacca from sleek racing boat to a floating home.

Naturally, we had questions.

Q: April, you and your husband crewed on sailboats for a couple of years before taking your long sail. What are the differences?

A: When you are crew on someone else’s sailboat and things don’t work out, you have the choice to jump ship or fly home. But when things got tough aboard Chewbacca, we couldn’t just pack up and leave. Living on someone else’s boat and doing things their way and on their schedule can be challenging, but it was a great introduction to the cruising lifestyle without the huge financial investment of buying our own boat.

Bruce and April Winship’s new book, “Set Sail and Live Your Dreams,” recounts their decade-long sailing adventure aboard the Chewbacca. (Courtesy April Winship) 

Q: Tell us about the factors — endurance, patience, cooperation, privacy — at play when four people are at sea for endless stretches of time?

A: Traveling and living on a sailboat is both mentally and physically demanding. Passage-making means standing watches 24/7, handling stressful situations when the weather turns foul or mechanical problems arise. Trust and teamwork kept our boat and family safe. A sense of humor, patience and cooperation helped make for a harmonious family life even on 33 feet. There is a saying among cruisers: My boat may be small, but look at the size of our backyard.

Q: How difficult was it to home school your kids on the voyage?

A: We used an accredited “school in a box” curriculum and made it a priority to keep our homeschooling consistent. The world around us complemented the book learning with fascinating places, people and nature. Each day was filled with real-life lessons in science, politics, history and diverse cultures, in addition to the work and lessons that come with living and maintaining a sailboat in foreign lands.

Q: Tell us about your ship library.

A: Kids’ series — Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Herriot and Brian Jacques. (And we) read aloud Delia Owens’ “Cry of the Kalahari,” Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” David McCullough”s “The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal.” And we ended up trading books with other cruising families.

During the 10 years the Winship family sailed the North and South American coast, their boat was transport, home and school for daughters Kendall, left, and Quincy. (Courtesy April Winship) 

Q: What was the most striking thing you experienced on your voyage?

A: Transiting the Panama Canal was a highlight. Experiencing this engineering marvel with all its history up close was something we’ll never forget.

Q: Does the sea still call to you and your family for another extended venture?

A: Yes, we’ve been lured to the water again. This time we hope to explore the 6,500 miles of rivers, canals and waterways in the United States and Canada dubbed “The Great Loop.”


Meet the Winships

The Winships will be discussing “Set Sail and Live Your Dreams” at Bay Area REI stores in October from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in Concord, Oct. 9 in Berkeley, Oct. 15 in Dublin and Oct. 24 in Fremont; www.rei.com/events. 

Read an excerpt from the book and browse photos at www.setsailandliveyourdreams.com.

Favorite Bay Area sail

The Winships sail in San Francisco Bay, as well the tropics. Their favorite route starts in the Oakland Estuary and includes an easy reach along Jack London Square. Once into the bay, they plot a counterclockwise circuit, taking them under the Bay Bridge, past Alcatraz and around Angel Island. Then they tack up Racoon Straight, continuing into Richardson Bay to take in the Sausalito waterfront.

From there they head out under the Golden Gate Bridge to explore the Potatopatch Shoal for some bumpy sailing. Heading home, they hoist the spinnaker for a picturesque downwind run along the city front.

Adventures in Mexico, Panama and five other countries were part of the itinerary when Clayon parents Bruce and April Winship took their daughters, Kendall and Quincy, on a 10-year sailing voyage. (Courtesy April Winship) 


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