Southbound: Winging Away from the Chesapeake

Geese are already winging away from the Chesapeake. Days are noticeably shorter. And cruisers are walking to the grocery store with their hand carts along the streets of Annapolis. It must be fall, and the southward migration of beast and boater has begun. The Martel/ Toth family has already made the trip south once before, but a new season means a new boat for the Canadian natives. Along the way Baccalieu, their Niagra 35, started to feel small as their nine-year-old daughter Abbey grew and grew. So Brad Martel and LeeAnn Toth sailed to the Chesapeake, bought a new boat in Annapolis, and plan to head south again on their Valiant 42 with the winter flock.


LeeAnn, Abbey, and Brad made their way from the St. Lawrence River and down the East Coast to the Bahamas last season and plan to head down again with the winter flock this fall.

“The luxury we had of owning our boat for many years before leaving was that we knew what she was capable of and where her shortcomings were. We had full confidence in her for what we were undertaking: coastal cruising,” says LeeAnn. “Now with the new boat we have some new systems to learn and be comfortable with. It has been a steep learning curve to go from a boat in which we knew every bolt and wire into one for which we have to pull out the manuals and diagrams to figure things out.”

Brad, LeeAnn, and Abbey sailed 5500 nautical miles in their first season out. Starting in the St. Lawrence River, they made their way down the East Coast throughout the 2013-14 season ending up in the Bahamas before turning north again. LeeAnn says even though they are both experienced sailors and knew their boat well before casting off, there were still rough passages and bouts of seasickness and homesickness. Those are the sorts of things that no amount of preparation can make easier, but the smiles and miles balance it all out.

Matt and Deanna Sansbury have been preparing all year long for their first journey south, and they hope to ease into cruising as smoothly as possible. Deanna says that everything has been a challenge from their first day of moving aboard. 

Setting anchor in a calm lagoon with just our boat and no one else there...that sounds like paradise.

“We quickly learned that living life aboard wasn’t always smooth sailing, pun intended. We had to adjust to living in a much smaller space, figuring out how the many complicated systems on the boat worked, how to actually sail, and then there was this past winter. That was probably the toughest part for us so far, surviving one of the worst winters in years all while trying to adjust to life on a sailboat. I’m betting Jimmy Buffett hasn’t written a song about a Polar Vortex yet,” jokes Deanna. The couple bought their 1999 Lagoon 410 in June of 2013, and their first sailing experience ever was bringing her up from North Carolina to the Chesapeake Bay. Even though the hands-on experience of cruising is new to them, they have been hatching this plan for a while now. After reading some cruising blogs from their comfortable life in the suburbs, they decided they wanted to take the plunge. They’ve documented their journey from suburbs to sailing on their blog (, and they’ve come a long way in learning, downsizing, and planning for their voyage south this fall. [caption id="attachment_14704" align="alignright" width="372"]

Matt quit his day job and took one in yacht repair to learn more about boat systems and build confidence.

 “I think the thing we’re going to have to work on the most to prepare to head south this fall will be to relax! We’re big into planning, but even the best laid plans can all go to the wayside if the weather doesn’t cooperate or an unanticipated boat problem pops up. We’ll need to throw out the schedules and work on just going with the flow. That is, after all, the whole reason why we’re doing this,” says Deanna. Matt decided not just to change his lifestyle, but his career too. He quit his day job in the suburbs as a commercial electrician and started working for Annapolis Yacht Sales. He dove right in with on the job training in all things yacht repair and helped with several boat deliveries too. 

Such moments balanced out the rough patches with seasickness and homesickness.

“The more he learned about the different systems on a boat and about the boating industry in general, the more confident we became in our ability to actually take the plunge,” states Deanna. “Since then, AYS has become like a family to us. They’ve been so supportive and encouraging, which has helped us tremendously by giving us confidence to keep going, especially when other people, like our friends and family, doubt us. We were really lucky the way it all worked out."

Luck, skill, and preparation are essential for any cruising sailor. And despite not being able to avoid the challenges and pitfalls in paradise, the reward on the southern horizon makes it all worthwhile. “Setting anchor in a calm lagoon, with just our boat and no one else there,” dreams Deanna. “Putting on some Buffett or Bob Marley, cracking open a bottle of wine and eating the freshly grilled lobster or fish Matt caught earlier in the day. That sounds like paradise.”

by Cindy Wallach