Wendy Hinman and Garth Wilcox circumnavigated the Pacific, sailing more than 34,000 miles and visiting 19 countries for seven years. Their mode of transport was a 1979, Tom Wylie-designed cold molded custom cutter, Velella. The 31-foot boat fit their budget better than it fit Garth’s tall frame. Though he couldn’t stand or sit up straight in their floating home, they lived aboard for nine years. As Wendy says, “She’s like the little boat that could … and did.”
Tell us about your boat’s name.
Velella is the Latin name for a sea creature, nicknamed “by-the-wind-sailor,” that floats along the surface. They have a blue plane with a vertical sail and are related to the Portuguese man-of-war, though they are not poisonous. They are actually made up of colonies and sail on a different tack in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere. We caught many during our voyage.
Have you owned other boats before this one?
We owned a Thunderbird, Atomic Salsa, that we raced heavily for 10 years.
Tell us the story of how you found your boat and what makes it special to you.
I remember when Garth said he wanted a cold-molded boat, I thought, “Yeah, right.” There aren’t too many of them. We searched far and wide for a boat we could afford that was capable of bluewater cruising. Garth finally found Velella on the Internet. “It’s a little small, but it looks like a perfect boat,” he’d said.
So we drove up to Anacortes to take a look. But someone had made an offer on it. We couldn’t get that cute little boat out of our mind and noticed it was still listed weeks later. As I left for race week aboard the Olson 30, Splash Tango, I told Garth, who couldn’t take the time off from work, “Call and find out what’s going on.”
The moment he drove in the parking lot at Oak Harbor Yacht Club as race festivities came to a close, I knew that we were going to buy a boat that day. As we waited for the final signatures, the second owner stopped by and brought us photos of the boat and shared some stories. Clearly they still loved the boat and we are still in touch today.
What’s the history of your boat? Tell us its story.
Velella is a Tom Wylie-designed 31-foot cutter-rigged light displacement cruiser. She was built in 1979 by a boatbuilder for himself to sail to the South Pacific. It has a shallow canoe body and no IOR distortion, and a transom-hung rudder on a skeg and a fin keel. Velella tracks beautifully and surfs easily. She is strong, light, and very seaworthy. We should know. We put her to the test.
Weighing only 8,000 pounds, she carries 45 gallons of water and 10 gallons of fuel — though with jerry cans, she sometimes carried 17. Clearly, space and weight-carrying ability are very limited. Hence our life aboard was all about living simply and adventurously. And what an adventure it was. You can read about it in my new book “Tightwads on the Loose: A Seven Year Pacific Odyssey.” It was featured twice in a glossy Japanese national sailing magazine. Those articles, which feature many photographs, can be viewed at my website, WendyHinman.com.
What do you like best about your boat?
It sails beautifully — even in the lightest of winds — and it is very well-built, with a lovely varnished overhead that is integral to the boat itself, rather than a head liner. It doesn’t sweat or leak like most fiberglass boats do.
What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
We didn’t know when we bought her that we’d spend nine years living aboard — seven of them adventuring 34,000 miles. I don’t know whether it would have changed our minds, but perhaps because it was so capable and affordable, we went for longer than we ever expected. We felt like we could leave her unattended because she was so simple. Also, we weren’t as nervous leaving her unattended as we would have been if she’d represented a greater financial investment.
What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
I have so many stories about that boat, it is hard to pick one. I’d have to write a book to do her adventures justice. In fact, I did. Still, many great stories are missing.
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
We had many challenging situations in seven years of sailing in some tough cruising grounds — hairy reef passes, close encounters with ships, storms and typhoons.
We had a period of time when we had engine troubles because of some bad fuel we bought in New Zealand. The filters got munged up pretty quickly, and during that time, the engine would quit. Because the boat sailed so well, we sailed into and out of anchorages for quite a while until we got to the bottom of the problem.
One time, we anchored in a remote reef in Fiji and when the wind direction shifted, the waves swept around the top of the island, producing a huge fetch. We decided to move, but just as we got the anchor off the bottom, the engine died. Garth dropped the anchor quickly, just in time to grab the bottom before we drifted back onto the reef. With our backs up against the reef, there wasn’t enough room so we could sail out of this situation. We spent an anxious hour flirting with that reef until we could change the filter and get going again. But we made it intact.
Tell us a little about your boating background.
Garth sailed around the world as a teenager. (We came across the boat on which he circumnavigated while we were in Mexico.) Garth has built several dinghies and is a MIT-trained naval architect (in plain English that means a boat designer and marine engineer). I’ve been sailing nearly all my life. I grew up sailing in the Hawaiian Islands and the Chesapeake Bay and I taught sailing in college.
Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
We’ve taken Velella about as far as we could. We’d like to visit some cold places where we’d need to spend more time inside and need a good heater. Since we returned we’ve gone cruising regularly in Puget Sound and the Gulf/San Juan Islands. One of our favorite local places was Hot Springs Cove and we’d love to cruise there again.
If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
I would probably have it completely painted and varnished so it’s as perfect as it could be.
If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
We would probably buy a slightly larger version of Velella if it existed and we could afford it. Garth has not found any other boats that can quite measure up to Velella‘s standards, so our next boat will be a 38-foot version that he’s designed and we will build ourselves.
What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
Q: What boat recommendations would you make to anyone who wants to do this kind of voyage?
A: I’d suggest considering a smaller, simpler boat. If you try to recreate your life onshore, that complexity can introduce the same pressures to cruising life that we’re often looking to escape. You’ll find you’ll must turn into expert mechanics or carry a lot of money to keep up with all the complex systems aboard that often keep you from enjoying life’s simple pleasures and the places where you are.
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