Andy Stephens was a young Coast Guard veteran, college student and sailboat owner when he noticed something that changed his life. While working at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Marina, he saw boats — big boats — that rarely set sail.
“There are so many boats that never leave the dock,” said Stephens, a 33-year-old Everett native. “I made a point not to let that happen.”
On July 12, with family and friends waving goodbye from an Everett Marina pier, Stephens left on a round-the-world solo voyage. So far, his 30-foot Cape Dory sailboat has carried him across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and the Philippines.
His boat, named Cascadia, is now at Cebu, in the Philippines. But Stephens recently flew home with its transmission, which needs repair. Once that fix is made in Everett, he’ll fly back to the Philippines. By the end of March, he hopes to be at sea again, and sailing on to the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
“The biggest thing is hurricane season. In our summer, I have to be in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Stephens, who so far has gone about 8,200 miles.
His planned route — to Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, South Africa, across the Atlantic to the Panama Canal, then home — would cover roughly 14,000 miles more. With port stops, Stephens figures he’ll be traveling another year and a half to two years.
“I just wanted to do something extraordinary with my life,” he said. “With so many things, people say you can’t do it. I can do it.”
Long before his current adventure, Stephens racked up accomplishments. He attended Everett schools, Whittier Elementary, North Middle School and Everett High School, before transferring to Stanwood High School, where he graduated in 2002.
At 18, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. He served in Oregon and Washington, and was aboard a 225-foot buoy tender. After leaving the military, he was helped by the GI Bill to attend Seattle University. He studied business economics, and graduated in June.
He bought his sailboat with money saved during his Coast Guard years. During college, he lived aboard it at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle’s Magnolia area. With a job working nights at the marina, he didn’t pay for moorage. To sail the world, he left a job as a financial planner.
For now, his work is sailing, navigating, fishing — and surviving.
Cruising the ocean, as well as on land, he faces myriad dangers. “People always ask, ‘Is it scary?’ Every day,” said Stephens, who is single.
From the start, sailing from Everett to San Francisco, he met with gale-force winds. “There are tons of storms,” he said. “You fasten everything down, go below and wait for it to pass.” His first two long passages, California to Hawaii and Hawaii to the Marshall Islands, each took 19 days.
At 30 feet, Cascadia wouldn’t be the smallest boat to circumnavigate the world, but it’s not as big as most vessels that do. Fiberglass with a sloop rig, it is a cruising boat that handles open ocean, Stephens said.
His boat carries 60 gallons of water, which rains help resupply. He has had just one bad bout of seasickness, and keeps his menu simple. He eats a lot of fish, bananas and ramen noodles.
Sleep is tricky aboard Cascadia. Stephens sets an alarm for every half-hour or so to check the horizon for shipping traffic.
Blistering heat, rather than solitude, has been the toughest part of his trip so for. As for being alone, he said, “it’s time to reflect and think about life.”
Unlike voyagers centuries ago, he is helped by technology. He has a GPS device, although at one point it stopped working and he resorted to a compass and paper charts. A satellite communicator allows him to send text messages or email.
Sailors traveling the world have been targeted by kidnappers. Late last month, there were news reports that a German sailor was beheaded in the Philippines by an Islamic terror group, Abu Sayyaf, after a ransom deadline passed. And two Canadians were killed by the group last year in the southern Philippines.
“It’s scarier now than when he started,” said Stephens’ mother, Kathryn Requa, who admits to being on “pins and needles” when her son is away. Yet she is confident in his abilities. “His Coast Guard training is invaluable, and also the strength he draws from himself. He’s very ingenious,” she said.
Stephens said any risks have been outweighed by the wonderful, welcoming people he meets. “They are all really friendly. The islands are so different, but we all kind of want the same things,” he said.
He has a brother, James Stephens, and two sisters, Elizabeth Kennedy and Sarah Wilmes. His sisters both teach at Everett’s North Middle School. While voyaging, Stephens has been in touch with Wilmes’ math classes at North.
“And in Micronesia, he was invited to some classrooms to tell about his travels,” said Requa, who may go to Thailand to meet with her son.
With so many miles left to sail, Stephens isn’t sure what he’ll do after the trip. He would love a family, and perhaps a business introducing others to the joys of sailing.
“I’ve already done what most people want to do when they retire,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Everett native Andy Stephens is sailing around the world in his 30-foot boat, Cascadia. See photos, videos and blog posts or donate to support his effort at www.sailingwithandy.com.