Last year, I came across Amy and David’s incredible adventure while killing some time on YouTube. Their sailing trip around the world immediately caught my attention and I’ve been hooked ever since, following their journey to magical spots and learning about life at sea. In fact, they inspired me to learn how to sail and to some day journey from my home in Israel some 18,000 km away to Tahiti. Maybe it’s their candid way of sharing their story that got me hooked, maybe it’s the incredible photography and awesome video footage (a drone makes all the difference), or maybe it’s the catchy theme song that accompanies every one of their awesome YouTube videos – you be the judge. This guest post comes to you from somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean. Take it away Amy and David!
Meet the Star Chasers
When Amy and David Alton met in 2008, David worked with Shell Oil, in their finance department negotiating commercial contracts, and Amy was an engineer. Amy’s family has always had a long history with boating, and it didn’t take long before the sailing bug captured David. Nine years later, we’ve made it halfway around the world, sailing over 25,000 nautical miles (just under 30,000 miles or nearly 50,000 km!) in our boat, Starry Horizons. This is our story!
Why We’re Cruising
David was first introduced to sailing by Amy’s family, and the bug took off from there. He quickly found sailing blogs and dreamed of ditching his 9-to-5 job and long commute for the cruising lifestyle.
Meanwhile, Amy’s Dad passed away from cancer at 50 years of age. Amy took over and bought out the family business. After five years of running the company, she decided to sell the business. This seemed like an opportune time to take a break from working and head out to sea.
Where We’ve Been
Starry Horizons – a 44-foot Fountaine Pajot sailing catamaran – was launched from the factory in La Rochelle, France in October 2014. Leaving France, we sailed pretty quickly to Florida, where we finished outfitting our boat for cruising. In Florida, we added solar panels, a cockpit enclosure, and even some toys, like our kayak. Want to see what our “house on the seas” looks like? Here’s a virtual tour of Starry Horizons.
From Florida, we cruised the Bahamas, then sailed up to Nova Scotia in Canada, back down to Maine and Bermuda, before spending three months in the Caribbean. We then went through the Panama Canal and have spent the last 15 months in the South Pacific.
Overall, we’ve sailed 25,000 nautical miles and visited 22 countries. The end of our trip will be over 50,000 miles (80,000 km) and 35 countries!
Where We’re Headed
We are currently in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the heart of the South Pacific (check out our live location on Google Maps). The plan is to keep sailing west and spend the cyclone season in Australia. In 2018, Starry Horizons will head up to Thailand, and in 2019 we will make our way across the Indian Ocean. Then the new year will have us saying goodbye to South Africa before heading up the Atlantic to finish our circumnavigation in the Caribbean in the spring of 2020.
Dictated by the Wind
While living in Houston, one of Amy’s boats was a 30-foot catamaran. Learning from experienced friends, we took the boat out frequently and learned a lot by reading online and watching videos. We also chartered a boat twice in the Caribbean, but despite all that experience, leaving La Rochelle on Starry Horizons was our first overnight sail together.
It sounds very romantic to think we can just travel wherever we want, but in reality, we have a lot of limitations on where we can go sailing. We have to plan ahead for every cyclone or hurricane season, deciding where we will spend it and what we will do with the boat during that time. There are optimum times of year to sail in certain places, so you have to plan in advance and know where you will be going. There is a standard route, and fortunately, there are resources to help plan. In case you’re wondering, Jimmy Cornell’s book – World Cruising Routes – has maps with the best circumnavigation routes and details on each leg of the trip.
Getting our spinnaker up is always a cause for celebration
The Best Parts of Cruising
One of the biggest perks of sailing your way around the world is getting to see places that are really off the beaten path. A lot of places we go to are extremely hard to get to without renting or owning your own boat. Beveridge Reef is 150 miles from the nearest land – the tiny island of Niue in the Pacific Ocean – and isn’t even an island – it’s just a reef in the middle of the ocean with amazingly clear water and lots of underwater life. It’s a popular stop for cruisers like us while sailing between French Polynesia and Niue. It’s amazing that we are one of the very small percentage of people in the world that have been there.
Starry Horizons all alone at Beveridge Reef
A huge benefit to this lifestyle is that we bring our home with us as we travel. We don’t venture further than walking (or swimming) distance most of the time. It’s nice that we can bring so many things with us. Starry Horizons is full of clothes, personal electronics, and sentimental items with us to make us feel at home no matter where we are.
We live in the outdoors. A majority of the time, our boat is open to the breeze and elements. So much of our time is spent outside, although we do stick to the shade and slather on lots of sunscreen. Getting energy out is so easy. A walk through town, a walk on the beach, a snorkel, or a hike are always right out our back door.
Hiking Dravuni in Fiji
Cruisers tend to be pretty self-sufficient. We have a reverse-osmosis desalination system (a watermaker), solar panels, and sails to propel us using the wind. We aren’t totally sustainable like some cruisers are – we use diesel for our engines and generators. As for staying connected, we also regularly buy SIM cards in the countries we go to to keep up with the world and a satellite phone helps us keep in touch with family while we are out at sea.
Sustainable eating – pole fishing for tuna!
Our Favorite Places (… So Far)
The Kingdom Tonga – an independent island nation in the South Pacific Ocean – is the only place in the world where it is legal to swim with humpback whales. It’s one of those remote places where it’s hard to get around unless you are on a boat. Thankfully, in the island group of Vava’u, you can charter a boat with the folks at The Moorings or other certified tour companies for the thrilling experience. You can feel how intelligent the whales are; watching the calves play and show off for their audience is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Three whales swimming with Amy
The calf breached many times for us
The calf also got very close to us
One of our favorite anchorages – Port Maurelle. You can see why!
Port Maurelle on a still morning
Vaka Etu with a photobombing turtle!
The diversity of French Polynesia made it Amy’s favorite. Americans can stay a full 90 days, but it is easy to see ourselves spending a year there! We only spent two weeks in the Tuamotus – the largest chain of coral atolls in the world – but one of our favorite anchorages was Kauehi, and the best reef we’ve ever seen was at Fakarava – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. I loved to see manta rays, and French Polynesia has several opportunistic to see them. In the remote archipelago of the Marquesas Islands, there was a bay where small manta rays swam backflips in our underwater lights over and over again. In Bora Bora, full-grown manta rays visited feeding and cleaning stations while gliding through the water. Bora Bora has a reputation for being too touristy, but it lived up to the hype – the water is the clearest we’ve ever seen.
Manta rays in the Marquesas Islands
Manta rays in Bora Bora
Starry Horizons visited the Galapagos for 10 days in 2016. A bane to all cruisers who visit is the sea lions. Sure, they are adorable, but they leave a huge mess on your boat when they decide it looks like a nice place to nap. We woke up several times in the middle of the night or in the morning to find a cute (and stinky) sea lion on our deck. It took us a few tries before we figured out how to keep them off for good. Another fantastic reason to visit the Galapagos is the land formations. Lava tunnels and chasms make for excellent adventures!
Cute but smelly!
Lava tube in Santa Cruz
Probably 99% of circumnavigating boats pass through the Panama Canal. Check out our video to see what it was like to experience crossing the Panama Canal firsthand. Seeing an engineering wonder like that up close was astonishing, but there were many other parts of Panama we enjoyed as well. Panama City is a bustling place and surprisingly historic, and the Caribbean coast is full of untamed jungles.
Howler monkeys in the nearby jungle sound like dinosaurs!
Our first leg of the Panama Canal
Exploring the Maritimes of Canada was a unique cruising ground where we found ourselves alone more often than not. Halifax ended up being an amazing city to explore; it’s got a well-developed water-front full of museums, restaurants, and shops.
Starry Horizons in the Bras d’Or Lakes
Amy on the western shore of Cape Breton
A calm sunset in the Bras d’Or Lakes
The Bermuda Triangle
Cruising forces couples to spend SO much time together. Thankfully it works pretty well for us, but we’ve seen it make-or-break plenty of couples while out sailing. We’ve spent up to 26 days alone, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to Miami and barely speaking to anyone else. That’s a pretty intense way to spend a marriage. In the beginning, we don’t spend much time together – someone is constantly on watch, and whoever is off is sleeping. After a few days, we sleep better and get into a routine that allows us to spend the afternoons together. It’s important to keep yourself busy. While there are certainly horror stories about bad weather and sailing gone wrong, the reality is, if planned correctly, most offshore sailing is extremely boring. We’ve never felt like our lives were in danger but you can see for yourself what life was like during our roughest trip – sailing from Fiji to New Zealand.
That being said, there have been some inconveniences. Less than 24 hours out of Bermuda, while sailing down to the Caribbean, our autopilot stopped working. Your autopilot is basically a third crew member who never gets tired and doesn’t have to be fed – one of the most important pieces of equipment we have on the boat. We worked to troubleshoot the issue while hand steering, even hailing a nearby sailing yacht to look for help. They weren’t able to help us though, as they were dealing with their own issues – they were taking on water! Fortunately, we figured out our issue (a cracked connector on a sensor) and the sailing yacht stopped their leak. Needless to say, we firmly believe weird things happen in the Bermuda Triangle.
26 days of this view gets a bit old
Side trips have been a big part of our year in 2017 so far – we’ve almost spent three months living out of suitcases and away from Starry Horizons. Traveling via sailboat limits you to visiting shoreside destinations, unless you venture off in a car. We used the Pacific cyclone season to store Starry Horizons in New Zealand and road trip for 35 days. It’s rewarding to see so much of a country, but it’s also tough to live for so long in an even smaller space than we are used to and not have the comforts of home with us all the time. Starry Horizons spoils us!
A 35-day road trip in New Zealand took us on all kinds of adventures
Travel via sailboat is pretty dang slow. What takes a few hours to fly takes days to sail. A lot of planning is involved, we have to have spare parts and supplies, there’s no corner store when you run out of milk!
At this particular time, we are so far away from home. That can be hard for us, especially when things back home go wrong. In April, David’s grandfather passed away. Fortunately we were just a few hour’s bus ride from Auckland, where one can easily fly back to the States. Most places we plan to visit in the next few years would not be as easy to fly home from.
Is it worth it?
Undoubtedly, yes. We love our boat and enjoy visiting new places. We expect this won’t last forever; we do plan on going back to work someday. In the meantime, Starry Horizons will be our home for as long as we can afford to cruise, while still enjoying it.
Follow Our Adventures!
Join us on our sailing trip around the world and visit remote places while seeing what it’s like to live life on the water. Visit OutChasingStars.com, where you can subscribe to our mailing list and read frequently-posted blog posts mostly written by Amy. We also post regular updates to our Facebook Page and David is always busy making videos for our YouTube Channel.