Finding your doppelgänger means finding someone else in the world who looks like you. Is there a term for finding someone whose story is similar to yours as well? If so, that is how I feel about today’s feature, Jessie Zevalkink. Jessie is an incredibly talented photographer and sailor whom I discovered on Instagram. While Jessie’s sailing experiences far exceed mine, I recently learned just how similar our stories are in regards to building our photography businesses. I am super excited to share her story with you today.
Zevalkink is a 29 year old Grand Rapids, Michigan born and bred girl. After growing up in the midwest, she was curious to explore other parts of the world and try new things. After leaving Michigan, she spent seven years exploring California and Colorado, as well as dabbling in art school AND an aviation program. How cool is she?! Zevalkink also had a job on a whale watch catamaran out of Santa Barbara. At 23, Zevalkink says she was making money as a waitress in Lake Tahoe, when she and her best friend Katie got a wild idea. They bought a Cal 27 sailboat for $3500 and moved back to Michigan to fix it up. Although the pair came from families with sailing backgrounds, they were green to the whole sailing thing. After five months of fixing up the boat, the two took off on a journey through “Americas Great Loop.” This consists of a 6,000 mile around the eastern half of America….at 4.5 knots, Zevalkink adds. Jessie and Katie spent two years living aboard and earning their income as waitresses all while taking in the sights of the country.
During that journey, Zevalkink photographed, blogged and shared the journey on Katie and Jessie on a Boat, where she continues to write and share her experiences. Social media and blogging can open up a wide variety of opportunities for people, and because of this, Katie and Jessie both landed jobs at Cruising Outpost Magazine. In an even better twist, this also led to Zavalkink to meet her now husband, a “handsome British sailor, Luke” at the Annapolis Boat Show. When Jessie and Luke got engaged, they set off across the Atlantic together, which was a “pre-marital” test according to Zevalkink. The couple sailed from Michigan to England aboard Zevalkink’s father’s 1962 Pearson Invicta 37. And guess what? They passed the test. I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone, the good and the bad, than on an Atlantic crossing! They married six months later and clearly are made for each other!
PHOTO BY JESSIE ZEVALKINK
PHOTO BY JESSIE ZEVALKINK
Zevalkink’s photography business has also taken off the past few years. She has grown quite the following organically; an extraordinary feat in this day and age on social media. Like myself, Zevalkink didn’t think she could earn a living as a photographer and maybe wasn’t initially confident in her work. She states, “It was my favorite hobby, I knew I loved it, but I genuinely didn’t think I was all that great.” Well Jessie, I can tell you that you most certainly are great and incredibly talented. I often look at many of her photos as they appear on my Instagram feed and think to myself, ‘damn, I wish I had taken that photo (ie: see photo below…FAVE).’ Aside from photographing her sailing adventures, she began photographing weddings a few years ago as well. Zevalkink said with most of her friends getting married in their late 20s, it wasn’t hard to get into. Once you book a few gigs, word of mouth starts to spread, and your business begins to grow. She said once strangers starting contacting her well in advance to book her, it terrified her at first, but soon after realized she was finally able to call herself a photographer. I concur! Zevalkink said that “I finally write that as my occupation on those immigration cards they hand out on the airplane, it’s been a wonderful journey.”
It certainly has been quite the journey. Recently, Zevalkink and her best friend Katie captained a Catamaran in French Polynesia as a part of Cruising Outpost’s “Share The Sail.” Rumor has it she will be passing through the Erie Canal later this year, which runs right through my neck of the woods, so hopefully I get the chance to visit! In the meantime, read my interview with Jessie below and be sure to check out her website, www.jzevalkink.com and follow her on Instagram: @jessiebrave.
When did you first get into sailing?
I was a kid, on Lake Michigan. Sailing the boat that I am now crossing oceans with, with my husband. I wasn’t a sailor kid. I didn’t care about sailing. I loved being on the boat, but as far as wanting to learn, helm, adjust the sails etc, I was un-interested. I just wanted to play, swim, dance, find the best place for a fire pit and run around naked. It wasn’t until I was 23, that I out of the blue, bought a boat, and took off on it, very much inspired by my father. That will make you learn quick. I’ve made every mistake in the book.
What was your experience like the first time at the helm?
Oh boy. My first real experience, was on Northport Bay in Northern Michigan when I was 23. Aboard S/V Louise, the cal 27 I bought with my bestie. Before she had moved home, my Dad was teaching me to sail up to the mooring ball. Then he made me sail solo out to Gull island, just 2.5 miles away. I sailed around the island by myself. To be honest, it really scared me. I questioned every thing I did. I wanted someone to be there so badly to answer my questions. I sailed it back to the mooring ball and caught it solo on my first try. Shaky and excited. I wanted to try it again.
What has been your most memorable/rewarding sailing trip to date?
Every single one. Honestly. They are all so different, incomparable. There’s a part of my heart that is stuck with the Rivers that run through mid-America… (more of a motor boat trip as we had un-stepped our mast) I’ve never seen to many Eagles than on the Illinois River, so much brown water rushing down the Mississippi, alligators basking in the sun on the Ten-Tom in Alabama. But then there was the clarity of the turquoise Bohemian waters, fishing, swimming, sweating, no-see-ums, and solving boat problems where you can’t get help. Next thing you know I’m sailing to Newfoundland, seeing my first iceberg at 3am and it’s a quarter of a mile away. Just about shat myself. Am I allowed to say that on here ? Okay I do have an answer – Luke and I got knocked down 25 miles off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the night. We got chucked over board, but were tethered in. The boat righted itself within seconds. Rig still in tact. I actually have not told this full story publicly. But coming back up with a floating boat, an uninjured husband, and an uninjured me, was rewarding as it gets. Of course, it doesn’t feel rewarding until you make it safely to anchor. But when you do something switches. You go from terrified to proud. Proud of your boat, proud of the work you did to your boat, proud of your team work, proud of the steps you took to stay safe, and the steps you will further take to prevent it happening again.
What are you future sailing plans?
We left out boat in Portugal. When we borrowed it from my dad, we promised we would bring it back. We will cross the Atlantic again over Christmas, 2018, bounce our way up the Caribbean, East Coast, and into the Erie Canal eventually returning her to Lake Michigan. It will take us a big chunk of the year. Back to photographing weddings come June 2019. We will have eyes and ears open our whole way home for “the next boat”… for you know… the next “big trip”.
If you could give one piece of sailing advice, what would it be?
There is no way around being scared. I get scared every time we prep for a trip. I get scared to ask questions I feel like I should already know. I get scared going into every night watch. My greatest moments in life were those in which occurred while petrified. Those are the stories I will tell my grandchildren, if I live to see that day. It is a powerful way to learn about yourself, your capabilities, your strengths and definitely your weaknesses. I mean, our kind gives birth for god sake. We are tough as they come. We just forget when it seems out of context. My advice would be to remind yourself. Go for it. Being scared is a beautiful thing. Trust your ability to make the right decisions.