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Were You Ever Afraid?

The Tug Cable -- Sailing in heavy fog off Newport, RI, toward Block Island, we encountered a tugboat pulling a barge – actually, we encountered not the tug but the half-mile-long, two-inch thick wire cable pulling the barge -- off our port bow (the left side in front of the yacht). Winston’s quick reaction U-turn evolved into a petrified circular route in the fog for five more revolutions, keeping the yacht clear of the tow, the line and the barge, and us safe. Had we plowed ahead oblivious to the danger, the cable would have cut the yacht in two and never even noticed… We don’t know why we weren’t warned by radar, but whether it was our inexperience or the radar’s settings or simply operator error, but for whatever reason we did not see that traffic and learned an invaluable lesson: Constant lookout pays off!

Crossing the Pacific -- In a 54-foot sailboat with a captain, three other crew and no guests, we sailed from Oahu to San Diego. To make best use of the currents and winds, we had to sail north toward San Francisco and then make one tack (turn) to the south. Right before that turn we encountered the worst weather of the 27-day trip. For several days the sailboat rode the huge waves like a bucking bronco, white-fisted sailors smothered in bright red foul weather gear, shackled to the secure life lines, holding on to the helm for dear life. We could just barely keep the sailboat on course as it fought the seas. (I must admit, in my naiveté, I was having the time of my life, oblivious to the real danger.) Then the weather passed and we experienced the other dreaded weather pattern for sailboats crossing the oceans…dead calm. We’d traded one adventure for another…but that’s another story.

The Water Spouts -- This was probably the most fearful I’ve ever been on the water. One hundred miles off the east coast of the U.S., the sky turned black in all four directions, though blue sky shined right above the lovely 45’ sailboat we were helping deliver to the islands with a captain and his wife. That was odd-looking, we thought. Then we spotted a perfectly formed waterspout in the distance, identical to the shape of huge tornados featured on CNN. Just as we were snapping pictures of this phenomenon and oohing over its formidable breadth, we witnessed the birth of a second waterspout. Wide-eyed, we were absorbing our situation when a third and a fourth sprouted, ominously. In all, five waterspouts joined sea to sky and encircled our sailboat, closing almost every escape route we tried. This was no laughing matter. Putting on life jackets, we prepared the life raft for launch. We knew we didn’t have enough power to outrun the spouts and, notably, didn’t have the foggiest idea which way to turn anyway. We were surrounded. We hunkered down, the sobbing captain’s wife huddled in a corner almost frozen with fear, the rest of us bracing ourselves for the worst. We alerted the Coast Guard and the boat’s owner, then just sat there in the cockpit, holding our collective breath, staring at the sky, ready to launch the lifeboat at a moment’s notice. Then, unexplainably, the danger passed. After what seemed like hours, we watched all five waterspouts dissipate into the atmosphere, as if they had never existed at all, just a figment of our imagination. Shaking our heads in disbelief, we assured each other that, indeed, we had just witnessed horror and, indeed, we must be living right.​

May the winds always be at your back!​

Winston Hovey and Cynthia Zvanut Hovey transformed their desire to simplify their lives and be free of all their “stuff” into a mutual second career in paradise, first running a pirate bar and then as crew on megayachts. Their new book, "There's a Yacht More to Life," spans 25 years of their adventurous career makeover. For more information contact Winston and Cynthia at

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