by Lisa Borre
In June 2011, Annapolis sailors Robert Holden and Cindy Fletcher Holden and their two cats set out on a two year sailing voyage. “Robert and Cindy’s Big Sailing Adventure” took them across the Atlantic to Portugal and back.
Cindy, an artist and owner of Fletcher Art, brought art supplies with her. She painted, set up her art gallery in the cockpit, and even taught art classes to children. Robert, a sailmaker, achieved what few in the marine industry do by taking a “sailing sabbatical” of his own.
Liveaboards since 1989, the couple returned to their slip on Back Creek this spring with memories to last a lifetime and more than 12,000 photos to show for it. Both in their 50s, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in June. Still beaming with excitement for having fulfilled a dream, Robert and Cindy talked with me about their voyage aboard their 47-foot ketch Tenacity.
Robert: In 1976, I sailed across the Atlantic as crew to Spain in the Mediterranean. We stopped in the Azores alongthe way but were there for less than a week. I totally fell in love with it and always wanted to go back.
Cindy: A bunch of years later, I took a trip with a friend to Mallorca, Spain. While there, I visited the village of Andraitx. I looked around, saw a harbor with all these boats and ancient European architecture and said, “That’s it. We’ve got to sail to Europe.” I didn’t care where. It just had to be Europe. The day after I returned, Robert bought the pilot charts for the Atlantic. We both wanted the experience of crossing an ocean. The idea of sailing to Portugal evolved as we researched and planned for the trip.
What was the most challenging part of getting organized to go cruising?
Cindy: It was crazy in the final weeks before our departure. Packing was hard, but figuring out how to do banking while we were away was definitely the most challenging part. We were lucky to get really helpful advice from M&T Bank. We gave my sister-in-law Power of Attorney and had to figure out all of this before we went. We also had to sort out health insurance and the logistics of keeping both cars, including withdrawing them from use for insurance purposes. There were so many little things to do.
Robert: The easiest part about leaving was untying the docklines (Cindy added that this was also the most difficult emotionally, too). The most challenging was having some of the lousiest weather of our trip on the Chesapeake Bay.
What did you do about your work and business while away?
Cindy: I wanted to keep the landline for my business, but this was a real hassle. I finally found a VOIP company (Eight by Eight) to host the number while we were gone. Finding a tenant for my studio in Eastport was a challenge. I didn’t want to lose my studio sign on Fourth Street. Facebook helped me get the word out about our trip. I did quite a bit of work while we were cruising and even sent paintings back to Annapolis for the Art Between the Creeks show.
Did you have to make any changes to Tenacity for your cruise?
Cindy: We had been working on the boat for years with the idea of going cruising. We upgraded everything from the engine and fridge to latches and grab rails in the cabin. The biggest and most important project was a complete re-rig by Eastport Spar & Rigging. We replaced all of the rigging and hardware except a couple of winches.
We added solar panels and a wind generator and replaced sails, canvas, lifelines, and the mainsail track. We installed a water-maker, but with a 550-gallon water tank, we never used it. We looked into all the options for onboard communications, including SSB radio and satellite phone options. I really liked having a sat phone with e-mail capabilities. I’m glad we went with the latter. For me, having reliable e-mail while at sea was key.
Robert: We used a lot of “inch worms” (eye straps) to tie-down everything onboard. This was really important in storms, rolling at anchor in Madeira, and coming back across the Atlantic with a northerly swell and an easterly wind.
Cindy: My favorite thing was crossing the ocean. I really fell in love with steering this boat on the ocean. I treated it like a sport and especially loved it when the wind was behind us. Steering down waves was like riding horses standing up. It was like I had a horse under each foot. Being on the ocean was magical for me. I also loved crawling into my bunk after a three-hour shift at the helm and eating dinner in the cockpit every night. Onshore, I really enjoyed taking “walkabouts” to explore our surroundings.
Robert: I most enjoyed meeting people. We met so many wonderful people. The Portuguese are so friendly and helpful.
Did you have any mishaps or scary moments?
Cindy: My scariest moment was when I called the bank to get the balance of our account. That was scarier than a storm. We were hit by a tornado when leaving the Bay, but this wasn’t scary at all because it happened so fast. It spun us around like a top and broke a bronze steering arm. We got towed in and everything got fixed. We also got hit with a bad storm off Cape Henry. The storm lasted all night, but when I awoke in the morning, nothing had even fallen over. It gave me new confidence in the strength of our boat. We had some things break during our cruise, but they were all fixable mechanical things.
What was your favorite port-of-call?
Cindy: Horta in the Azores. This was the most magical because it’s where you first make landfall after crossing the ocean. I had an ear-to-ear grin almost the whole time we were in Horta. Every place we went to, I fell in love with.
Robert: It’s too difficult to pick just one place. We really liked the area around Lisbon and Ferreguda on the southern coast of Portugal and also the River Guadiana on the border of Portugal and Spain. Each place had new character. I liked them all.
What did you learn about yourselves while cruising?
Cindy: In addition to gaining a new appreciation for how smart Robert is with mechanical fixes, I gained a new perspective. When we had a problem with a leaky fuel gauge on the way to Bermuda, I said, “It’s only 400 miles.” I did the same when we had engine problems 900 miles from the Cape Verdes. I never would have said that before our trip. I also learned to adapt to whatever the situation is. My dad used to say, “Just roll with it.” I’m more like that now.
Robert: I learned that I had more patience than I thought.
What advice would you give others interested in taking off on a cruise like yours?
Robert: Be sure to check all of your through hull fittings carefully before departure. Bang hard on each one with a mallet just to be sure. Ours were inspected out of the water but one broke when we were fitting a new hose onto it after we re-splashed. We almost sank at the dock.
Cindy: If you wait until you have enough money, you’ll never go. We’re not wealthy people, so we just had to figure out a way to do it. Don’t be afraid.