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Continued: Anderson: Taking on the big sea

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 26, 2013 - 5:36 PM

Midway on a 2,000-mile bicycle trip through Europe, Vicki McEvoy had an epiphany: Boaters, she realized, had it better.

That was in 1999.

"Everything we had, we carried on our bikes," McEvoy said, "our clothes, our tent, everything. At night, we'd either camp or stay in a cheap hotel.

"But when we'd ride though marinas, I'd see people on their boats, and they had everything they needed. Beds, kitchens. ... They were comfortable."

So it was that McEvoy, 60, and her husband, Paul Boschert, 55, of Minneapolis, came to own a 37-foot, 1981-vintage sailboat, which they bought in Chicago in 2002.

So it was also that they decided last summer -- this part is more complicated -- to sail their craft, Nokomis, across the North Atlantic through what alternately were calm seas and gale-force blows.

Destination: Ireland.

Which they reached in 16 days.

"And seven hours," Boschert said.

The two boatmates -- and lifemates -- will spin their tale of adventure Thursday to help christen the 2013 version of the Minneapolis Boat Show, which runs through next Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

That venue aside, theirs is a story as much about undertaking, and overcoming, challenges as it is about staying afloat, and on course.

• • •

Why Ireland -- specifically the harbor at Cork?

"That's where my ancestors left from to come to America in 1833," McEvoy said.

Ireland also is the centerpiece of a grand cruising vision shared by McEvoy, a marketer, and Boschert, an engineer. (They take sabbaticals from their jobs to travel.)

When they set sail to cross the Atlantic last July from St. John's, Newfoundland, their intent was to leave their boat in Ireland and return to Minneapolis for the winter.

Which they did.

In May, they will return to Ireland to prepare Nokomis for still more summertime adventure, this time to sail northward, along the west cost of Scotland, to the Shetland Isles and ultimately to the fjords of Norway, where the boat again will be left for the winter.

"In a few years, we'll bring the boat back, after sailing to southern Europe and crossing to the Caribbean," Boschert said.

Neither Boschert nor McEvoy had big-boat experience prior to purchasing Nokomis, though Boschert had raced small and mid-size (J-22s) sailboats on metro lakes.

"To prepare ourselves for the crossing we took a series of classes," McEvoy said, including accredited coursework through the American Sailing Association, which gained them international sailing proficiency certification.

They also took first-aid and marine weather classes, and both hold U.S. Coast Guard "six-pack" captain's licenses.

Frequent voyaging in recent years on Lake Superior also burnished their seaworthiness and their confidence in their boat.

"Nokomis is rigged as a cutter, meaning it has two foresails, a Yankee, or larger sail, and a staysail, or smaller one," Boschert said. "Many times in recent years we've crossed Lake Superior and sometimes we've gotten into bad weather. But our boat can handle it.

"Still, we don't like to sail through storms if we can avoid them."

Especially not alone.

Early on, the pair decided they could handle the voyage from Duluth to Newfoundland, which they began in July 2011.

But crossing the North Atlantic would require a couple of extra hands.

"You have to have someone at the helm at all times," McEvoy said. "At night, we do that in two-hour shifts. With four people on board, that means we could each sleep six hours at a time."

Recruited were Boschert's son, Gibbs Maynor, and a friend, Al Olson, of Mendota Heights. Both, like Boschert, had raced small sailboats.

Last summer, in early July, the four rendezvoused in Newfoundland to stock Nokomis with supplies and secure her anchors below decks, standard procedure for a major crossing.

"We all understood the boat," Boschert said. "But I don't think any of us knew exactly what we were getting into."

• • •

Navigating by GPS, electronic charts and paper charts, the four also benefited by an automated system that received identifying signals from nearby commercial vessels.

"One night I was on deck and picked up the signal of a ship that was on a collision course with us," McEvoy said. "I called them on the radio and they said, 'Ya, we just saw you [on radar] and we're changing course.' "

The first big storm hit three days out, followed by a week of good weather. Then three consecutive gales smacked Nokomis, forcing her crew to furl the Yankee and sail on with the staysail and three reefs in the mainsail.

"Some winds pushed 50 knots, but most were in the 30- to 40-knot range," Boschert said.

Finally, the Irish coast appeared.

"People are amazed when we say we crossed the North Atlantic," Boschert said. "But by itself, that was never the objective. We wanted to do some coastal sailing in Europe, and making the passage was the means to that end."

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

THE TRIP IN DETAIL

Paul Boschert and Vicki McEvoy will speak about their trip at the Boat Show at 5 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Friday.

Admission: $11 (age 16 and older), with youth 15 and under admitted free. Thursday is Senior Day, with those age 62 and up, $8. Active military are admitted free.

Hours: 2-10 p.m. Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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