Many a yacht drama includes a deckhand, a stew and a boat. This one started on M/Y Limitless, the 316-foot Lurssen where Deckhand Jordan Wicht and Stew Desiree Golen met.
But the set has changed. Instead of working on one of the world’s largest private yachts, the couple will sail the world on a 30-foot sailboat. The stage was set when Wicht, 27, and Golen, 28, fell in love about a year ago.
“We’re dating two or three weeks and Jordan said, ‘I have a dream to sail around the world’,” Golen said. “He said, ‘I would like you to come with me. Is it too early to ask?’.”
Golen said she would. They put their plan to paper and left the yacht for Project Atticus.
Friends and sailors say the challenge that awaits Wicht and Golen suits them. They are dreamers with the ability to make it real, and the sea is an inspiring backdrop.
Jolene Geil was chief stew on M/Y Limitless when the three worked together.
“The work came natural for Desiree and that is hard to find,” she said. “She took anything and rolled with it. … [Jordan] would absorb everything he could from the first mate, the bosun, everyone. He’s wildly intelligent.
“They can conquer anything, I feel in my heart,” Geil said.
Deckhand Tylar Murphy worked with Wicht as deckhands on M/Y Apoise (now M/Y Titania) and again on Limitless.
“Jordan is passionate about things he goes after, and it’s contagious,” he said. “Being around him I became a more confident person.”
But being on Atticus is much different from being on a yacht, said Capt. Veronica Hast of M/Y SoTaj, a 139-foot Abeking and Rasmussen. She grew up on a sailboat.
“You’re not looking at varnish to see it shine, but looking at it thinking, ‘Are all those screws in well to hold the rigging?” Hast said. “For us a yacht is a shiny toy that belongs to someone else, but for cruisers the boat is a tool to get you there safely. They will be looking with different eyes now.
“It’s their liferaft, their home, and maybe every penny they own,” she said. “They’ll learn fast.”
Although in different lifestyles, the couple’s yachting skills will serve them well, said Capt. Rob Messenger. He and his wife, Mary, spent most of their lives together on sailboats but now run yachts.
“From their work on yachts, they can already take care of people and live in close quarters,” Messenger said. “During long ocean passages the first thing they’ll learn is if they can live together like that. You get to know each other really well.”
Messenger expects the couple will learn about themselves, as he did.
“I am always impatient, but you can’t fight the ocean,” he said. “I’m still impatient, but I learned what I can influence. You don’t lose your characteristics during something like this; you learn to make them work for you.”
Wicht and Golen’s view of the world will have a new focus, Hast said.
“They will find themselves suddenly living in the moment, well, thinking a little ahead,” she said.
“Faring for yourself does change you. They need to know everything about the boat.”
Both Wicht and Golen’s smiles broaden when they talk about Project Atticus. At the beginning of this year, they bought and moved aboard the 51-year-old boat, preparing to refit as much of it themselves as they could. Buying it was the first time Golen had ever stepped on a sailboat.
But they know they can learn as they go. Golen grew up traveling and is comfortable navigating new languages, and Wicht likes to learn new skills. The couple hiked, biked and toured together in remote settings during time off from Limitless.
“We travel well together,” Golen said. “Jordan always has a smile, he asks interesting questions. I like traveling with him. Our philosophy is to meet as many locals as possible.”
The couple recalled when they first moved onboard Atticus in the Florida Keys and began the refit. Golen was not a mechanic; her background is in business at Airbnb and an Internet startup.
“Initially I was embarrassed, but then people began helping us,” she said. “This was the first time I used a screwdriver.”
But their extensive research has empowered them.
“We realize we are getting better because we bump into sailors buying the same things,” Wicht said.
Refitting Atticus on their own is a good thing, Hast said.
“I’m glad they’re knee deep in it,” she said. “They need to know the entire aspect because when you’re between Samoa and Fiji, there is no one to call.”
Wicht knows how to sail, and he is teaching Golen. He first learned to sail in college in California where he became an instructor and raced J24s and Olsens. Although she works on yachts, small boats are new to Golen.
“I learn as I go, I figured if I can learn to re-core a boat, I can learn to sail,” Golen said.
Yet there are people who question the sanity of such a trip.
“Non-sailors say, “What, are you crazy? A 30-foot boat?,” Golen said.
Wicht responded to naysayers with a blog post of statistics on the safety of sailing. For sailors who are skeptical, they cite the couples’ lack of experience and naivete, Golen said.
Both Wicht and Golen realize the potential dangers. Wicht recalled an offshore sailboat race from California to Mexico when a wave lifted him off the foredeck.
“In one moment, everything that could happen flashed across my head,” Wicht said. “I could be in the ocean at night in Mexico. I realized how not casual sailing is.”
“I am nervous about storms,” Golen said. “But it’s like the risks you take on the highway in a car. I want to be cautious and adventurous. You can’t live in fear or your opportunities will pass you by.”
There is no script for the rest of this tale; it’s improvisation from here on out. But Wicht and Golen are building their audience for opening day and beyond. And they hope to inspire others.
“Take your yachting mentality and use it to open doors,” Golen said. “It is empowering, an alternative lifestyle. Push yourself, find your next ‘yachting’, your next adventure.
“Why not?” Golen said. “The world is huge and it’s ours.”
The couple agrees with William Shakespeare’s words, “all the world’s a stage”. So far they have documented the buying and refit of S/V Atticus and will keep the cameras rolling as they travel. They share their adventures of the world with the world through videos, photography, blogs and social media full of self-made graphics and catchy music.
“We want to share stories from places the average person will never travel to, off the beaten path,” Wicht said.
They hope to gain sponsors to help fund their trip as well as occasional freelance yacht jobs.
“Much of sailing is an older group; they are not as versed in social media so we’re bringing a younger generation into it,” Golen said. “It’s cheap, fun and a community.”
Named Project Atticus, the couple is inspired by the ideals of Atticus Finch, the lawyer in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
“Self-education is a powerful tool and with it comes the responsibility to be prudent and just,” Golen said of Atticus in a video on their Web site.
Time is nearing for the couple to set sail. Atticus is more seaworthy than she was at the beginning of the year, as is her crew.
“Desiree’s excited about sailing, she’s learning quickly,” Wicht said. “The way she’s been introduced is opposite of most people. She learned to mix epoxy before trimming a jib.”
And Wicht said he can’t wait.
“My favorite moments in yachting were being away from land and realizing where I was. It will be even better when we do it with a boat built with our own hands,” he said. “Plus, between fiberglass and Facebook, my head’s pretty full.”
Although the leading man and woman have not had a dress rehearsal, the sea and its shores await them.
“The world is such big fabulous place, they will always find someone they have something in common with,” Hast said. “I’m sure they will do well.
“If they’re determined to do what it takes, to pay attention to detail, and are willing to listen to others, there is always room for green sailors,” Hast said. “Because you blink, and they’re not green anymore.”
Follow their trip online at www.projectatticus.com.
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.