DC graduate lives life at sea while embarking on a 35,000-mile voyage around the world
By Kristen Miller
Few people can imagine giving up their careers, home, and earthly goods for a more simplistic lifestyle aboard a 35-foot sailboat, much less spending four years sailing around the world.
“There were a lot of people who said, or thought, we couldn’t do that,” said Kelly (Faust) Waterhouse, a 1988 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate, of her and her husband’s adventurous undertaking.
Having grown up in Dassel, Waterhouse graduated college and relocated to Seattle, WA, where she met her husband, also named Kelly (which is why she goes by Kelly Girl).
As their last name implies, the couple was destined to experience living life at sea in a “waterhouse.” Sailing was something her husband grew up doing, and he helped teach her the ropes later on.
In her recent book, “Sailing the Waterhouse: Swapping Turf for Surf,” Kelly Girl provides a glimpse into what went into giving up their urban life for the marine life.
“My husband and I started to seriously question what we were working for. Looking at our car payment, cable package, high mortgage, new clothes, and a lifestyle that focused on the material goods we acquired,” Waterhouse wrote.
“We wanted something more, like a real challenge and yet, it was more than having a challenge,” she continued. “It was also understanding our mortality because our life experiences taught us how fragile humanity really is. We have no guarantee of walking this earth tomorrow.”
She and her husband soon became accustomed to a much more simplistic lifestyle.
Two years before they set sail, they sold their home and its contents to live on their sailboat, Moorea, named after a French Polynesian island (it was a French-built boat, after all). They became “live-aboards” at a marina in Everett, 30 miles north of Seattle. This would allow them time to save money for their journey.
In 2005, the couple set sail. They made their way, navigating the West Coast, which they found would live up to the name “The Graveyard of the Pacific,” by the seafaring community.
Fog can be one of the worst conditions for sailors to pass through, and Waterhouse described a scary moment on the first leg of the trip in her book.
The West Coast, however, would be the worst weather they would have to endure in their four years of circumnavigation.
While weather played a big part, it was also important to know their own boat and how to work together as a team, Waterhouse noted.
A stop in California allowed them to outfit Moorea with solar panels and other equipment. “You’re never not working on the boat,” she said, adding that her husband’s mechanical skills came in handy.
Because the couple opted out of buying an expensive watermaker (turning seawater into drinking water), they would have to seek water when and wherever they docked. This was not the easiest task, Waterhouse said, explaining they would have to work with the locals to find the nearest water supply.
“[Water] is something we take for granted in our country,” she commented.
From California, the couple sailed to Mexico, where they spent some leisure time waiting out the cyclone season for six months.
“You have to leave at certain times of the year to get good weather,” she noted.
Eventually, there was a “weather window” and the couple crossed the South Pacific, making stops on the islands of Fiji and Vanuatu. For Kelly Girl, Vanuatu was the most exotic and unique place the couple visited, with much of its population still living in tribal communities.
She really enjoyed mixing in with other cultures. “Every experience is different in every country,” she commented.
“Growing up in Dassel-Cokato I never though I’d have this lifestyle,” Waterhouse said, adding that she really enjoys the freedom that comes with sailing and being able to do things on your own time.
“There’s something really neat about that type of travel,” Waterhouse said, adding that it’s also important to stay in tune with the weather and become self-reliant.
Though the West Coast’s weather conditions were the worst they endured, Waterhouse told of another scary moment while sailing along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
The couple had been sailing close to shore, heading toward the marina, when a squall (sudden sharp wind) came through along with a brief downpour of rain, forcing the boat to tip to its side. The rocky jagged land was quickly creeping up on them. Luckily they were able to reduce the sail and alleviate any danger of striking land.
As far as dangers outside of Mother Nature, Waterhouse said there really wasn’t any, not even pirating.
This was due, in large part, to the “cruiser network,” the other sailers they would talk with on shore. “It’s like a small town,” she said.
The network shares information, such as places to avoid.
“We did not lock our boat at night . . . only one or two places,” Waterhouse commented.
Being closed in, they would likely suffocate in the boat from the tropical heat, and besides, they felt really safe in most cases, she commented.
Also, while sailing at night, the couple would take turns on deck three hours of sleep in between shifts, to keep a lookout.
The total voyage took four years and included 35,000 nautical miles, with visits to more than 30 countries.
Near the trip’s completion, Waterhouse’s father and stepmother, Dan and Sheryl Faust of Dassel, flew to meet them in Panama, where they took a two-day journey through the Panama Canal.
Faust said he was relieved when she safely returned from the voyage.
Though he was surprised to hear of their nautical intentions, Faust said, “My first reaction was, ‘You’re going to do what? How’s that going to work?’” he was able to ease fears by being able to follow their movements online through GPS. “That was fun for us to do,” he commented. He also knew how mechanical his son-in-law was and that his daughter was in good hands.
Out of this experience, Waterhouse said she feels fortunate for everything she has, particularly being an independent woman growing up in the US. She noted that women in other countries don’t have the opportunities that are available here.
“We are blessed with so much wealth compared to what is beyond our borders,” she said.
It was also a very peaceful journey, giving her plenty of time to reflect without everyday distractions like TV and the media. “We had a lot of time to think and be human,” she commented.
Upon their return in 2009, the couple sold Moorea so that they could have money to live on land, even though they have downsized their lives considerably.
Since then, they have also purchased a larger boat (42 feet long) named Trini, after her husband’s late mother, in hopes of setting sail on a similar journey in the near future. This one will also be faster since Moorea would only go about 5 knots, or just over 5 miles per hour.
“Life really does slow down when you’re on a sailboat,” she said. Trini has two masts where Moorea only had one. “Both are good boats, but we can see retiring on Trini since she has a few more creature comforts,” she said, including a larger state room, galley, and room for a watermaker.
The couple currently lives in Phoenix, AZ, but they are ready to trade the desert for the water.
“It’s so cool,” she said of sailing the world. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but we’re hoping to make it a second-in-a-lifetime thing.”
For more on their adventure, visit their website, www.SailingtheWaterhouse.com.
‘Sailing the Waterhouse: Swapping Turf for Surf’
To read more about Kelly Girl Waterhouse’s sailing adventure, her book “Sailing the Waterhouse: Swapping Turf for Surf” is available at The Grounds on the Green in Cokato, Latté Da in Dassel, or Amazon, for $9.95.
Waterhouse is working on a sequel to the book, set to publish in the fall, chronicling more of their experiences at sea and the 30-plus countries they visited.