When I heard Jessie and Luke would be bringing Desiree through the Erie Canal and Buffalo area on her way home to Michigan, I had to make a meeting. It’s not everyday that Buffalo, NY is on everyone’s cruising paths. I have been following their adventure for two years and to say that it’s inspirational would be an understatement. You also may remember Jessie from last year’s Women at the Helm feature where she talked about sailing with Luke. Here is the continuation of that story.
Their journey started in April of 2017, when they sailed Desiree from Jessie’s home in Michigan to Luke’s home in England. The path took them from the Great Lakes, to the St. Lawrence, to Newfoundland and out to the North Atlantic.. In April of 2018, they sailed Desiree from England to Portugal where she then stayed on the hard for the next 8 months. After a couple of months of repair work in a Portuguese shipyard, Desiree set sail again in January of 2019 with a destination of Morocco. Following Morocco, they sailed to the Canary Islands before embarking on a 25 day passage to Antigua. From the Caribbean, they sailed to the Bahamas in April of 2019.
That brings us to now. Last month, Desiree made her way back to the East Coast from the Bahamas. With wedding photography season upon us, Jessie left the boat in Miami to make her way back to Michigan. With a crew in tow, it has been up to Luke to bring Desiree the rest of the way home. They sailed up the East Coast to NYC, up the Hudson where the mast was unstepped and down the Erie Canal to my neck of the woods.
Desiree is temporarily docked at the marina I sail out of while her mast gets stepped and repairs to her forestay are made. Not to sound totally fan-girlish, but it was a bit surreal to see her in person. I’ve only seen her in pictures and read about her story from the screen of my phone. Now I am boarding her and meeting 1/2 of the couple who made this journey.
“The boat is a bit of a mess right now” Luke said. I wouldn’t say it was a mess. Were there clothes and sails and equipment laid about? Yes. But it’s not a mess. It’s a boat who has been well loved, well lived in and well sailed for the last two years. There are photos of Luke and Jessie on the walls of the cabin. It’s more than a home, it’s a home that has travelled thousands of miles. You can feel that Desiree is a special boat, especially after hearing many of the stories Jessie has shared.
I had many questions. I had already read about their crossings, but I wanted to hear about their crossings. Luke and I talked about the icebergs in Newfoundland. They were on constant watch with close to 10 icebergs being reported in their area. The thing about icebergs is that once you realize you are upon one, it’s often already too late. And then Luke says “Jessie said she smelled ice.” I didn’t think that was possible, but the more I thought about it I realized it was. I would imagine it smells a lot like the smell you get when you open the freezer. It’s high anxiety onboard. Jessie’s eyes are glued to the horizon during night watch in pitch black…sailing through the iceberg zone practically blind. Luke says “we see something on the horizon that looks like a cloud.” They take precaution. When they reach the ‘cloud’ they realize just how deceiving ice bergs can be. “It wasn’t a cloud, it was a four-story piece of ice” Luke said. Read more about the iceberg zone here.
You read that right. En route to Portugal, a rogue wave strikes Desiree. She doesn’t roll over, but she goes into the water. “Her keel would have been out of the water” Luke said. “Did you shit your pants? Because I would have” I said to Luke. It happened very quickly and Desiree righted herself immediately after. Luke has been in ‘knockdown-like’ situations before, but none as violent as this. Luke is at the helm. He is thrown over the wheel and lands on the leeward side of the cockpit…fully submerged. Jessie, who had only tethered herself 30 minutes prior, was launched over the side of Desiree and into the Atlantic. It’s the middle of the night and it’s cloudy. There is no moonlight.
Jessie is hoisted back into the cockpit. The two embrace and are miraculously uninjured. “Jessie was definitely shell-shocked” Luke said. But even after the ordeal, the two are able to resume work and continue to sail despite the damage to the boat and the violent shock they felt. I told Luke I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that. I have a hard time letting things go. But in that situation, you can’t just stop and fall apart. You do what you have to do. I give them both loads of credit. Meanwhile, below deck, everything went everywhere. Luke said, “If anyone had been down here when it happened, they would have been bludgeoned.” Read the full knockdown story here.
Jessie, Luke and Desiree have been through it. They have come far. She’s in the homestretch now, just days away from being back in her home port. When I arrived at RCR, Luke and Tyler were rebuilding the forestay after it broke en route from Miami to NYC. One of the things that has deterred me from buying a boat at this point, is the fact that I don’t know anything when it comes to maintenance. I wouldn’t know how to fix shit. Luke is a sailmaker by trade and has been sailing since he was 11. He knows boats, although he did say that when it comes to the engine…that’s all Jessie. Yes girl!
Luke pulls out an instruction manual for the forestay. He tries to ease my mind and tells me that things come with manuals so even if you don’t know something, you can learn it. He says “It’s nice because you have a manual, there are instructions.” I respond “Are they like IKEA instructions? Because I’m gonna need pictures.”
Jessie phones in and we all chat on speaker phone. I am bummed that she is not there. I have admired not only her sailing, but her incredible photography as well. In a way, we live almost parallel lives. I have yet to cross any oceans though. It’s on my bucket list. Since Jessie isn’t onboard with us, we conspire to meet. A trip to Michigan will hopefully be in my near future. I left the boys to work after a couple of hours of great conversation, learning and a surreal boat tour. I feel very lucky to have had this day. I have a feeling this is the start of a beautiful friendship.
Check out the video below of part I of Jessie and Luke’s Atlantic Crossing and be sure to check out www.onaboat.net and @jessiebrave on Instagram!