Voyaging as an adventure in risk management


Baxter and Molly Gillespie met in Atlanta, Ga., and decided they wanted to explore the world together. Baxter was an adventure seeker, having already competed in the Hawaii Ironman, skydived and BASE jumped around the world — including jumps from cliffs in Europe, caves in Mexico and the Petronas Tower in Malaysia — and Molly was eager to experience new perspectives. Professionally, Baxter is an attorney and has partnered in several technology companies, while Molly has worked in human resources and website administration. However, those titles don’t define who they are; they only provide income for a lifestyle they love. Baxter and Molly moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, for 11 years, enjoying hobbies like skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, motorcycle riding, skydiving, road biking, running marathons, racing in triathlons and exploring the vastness of the American West. Yet the freedom of the ocean and the simple but challenging life of living aboard a sailboat was too enticing, and they decided that a house in the suburbs was unfulfilling. They have come to realize that life is a lesson in risk management, and together they enjoy exploring limits and experiencing new adventures. Baxter and Molly spent a season in the Bahamas on their first boat, Stella Blue, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Tartan 37, which they sold, and subsequently purchased Terrapin, a 1982 Valiant 47 designed by Bob Perry and one of only 17 Valiant 47s built. The 47 was replaced by the 50 a few years into production with the addition of a 3-foot bowsprit. After several seasons in the Caribbean, Baxter and Molly crossed the Atlantic via Newfoundland, visiting Spain and Ireland and wintering in the U.K.

The Gillespies’ Valiant 47 Terrapin.

The Gillespies’ dog Kala is a border collie/Labrador mix who adopted Baxter and Molly when she was 6 months old. She has a thirst for adventure all her own. Her hobbies include hiking, swimming, playing with sticks, chasing balls and surfing. Kala is extremely communicative and has no problem interrupting a conversation to let you know it’s time for dinner or telling a strange dinghy they are just a little too close to her boat. Kala has a European passport that currently includes over 27 countries, and has been to 38 states in the U.S. Kala’s dreams are pretty simple and parallel those of her Mom and Dad: find new places to roam, find new friends and toys to play with, and always be surrounded by love.

Baxter and Molly keep a weekly blog and video at SailingTerrapin.com, or on their YouTube channel “SailingTerrapin.”

The Gillespies and their dog Kala at Norman’s Cay in the Exumas.

ON: How did you get your start in voyaging?
B&MG: We have always enjoyed traveling as a way to find adventure, whether the traveling is by motorcycle, van or trekking. Cruising had been something we’d always thought about in the back of our minds but didn’t have the time or resources to pursue while living in the mountains in Utah. Baxter read Dove when he was younger and sailed growing up, so he was excited about the wind taking a person across oceans. Molly was not exposed to sailing when she was younger and had limited knowledge regarding the mechanics of sailing. One winter when we were living in Utah, we were deliberating about the newest powder skis. We took a step back and decided to go to San Diego instead and do a 10-day ASA course for their Bareboat Charter certification. Within two months after that, we had our first boat — Stella Blue, a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Tartan 37 — and two months later spent a month with Mahina Expeditions in the South Pacific learning the finer details of passagemaking.

ON: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned while voyaging?
B&MG: The biggest lesson we have learned while cruising is our entire life on the boat is connected to weather. As such, there will be high highs and low lows, and you have to moderate your reactions to each.

Kala, a border collie/Lab mix, on board Terrapin.

ON: What is the most important skill for live-aboard voyagers to cultivate?
B&MG: One of the most important skills for live-aboard cruisers is flexibility. A person must be flexible about where you are going, flexible about the weather, flexible about issues that go wrong with the boat and flexible with whoever you go with.

ON: What marine electronic gear do you have in your nav station?
B&MG: The marine electronics gear at our nav station currently includes a Standard Horizon VHF (with GPS and DSC), iPad Pro with Navionics charts and Raymarine RayControl app (allowing us to use the iPad as a repeater from the Raymarine chartplotter at the helm), Raymarine Tridata, Iridium GO with PredictWind subscription, Icom SSB, ship’s clock and barometer.

The pair doing some underwater voyaging.

ON: What is your most useful piece of marine electronics gear?
B&MG: There’s not one piece of marine electronics gear that is independently more important than another, as most devices are connected and integral to our passages. That being said, if I had everything taken away and could only use one electronic gauge, it would be the VHF for coastal cruising and AIS for offshore passages.

ON: Do you have a life raft? If so, in a valise or canister? How often do you get it serviced?
B&MG: We have a Winslow four-man life raft in a canister mounted on deck. We debated the valise or canister in that we liked the ability to stow the valise out of the weather and to also keep our deck clear, but we eventually decided against the valise since the raft is almost 100 pounds, and in an emergency Molly might need the ability to quickly bring it on deck and deploy it by herself, and we may not reliably count on that ability with the valise. We had the life raft serviced at LRSE in Tiverton, R.I., last year. We watched the inflation process and went through all the features of the raft with the tech, including how to use the Winslow patch kit, which is not self-explanatory. Watching the service process at LRSE was an incredible learning experience, and we would encourage anyone having their life raft serviced to participate.

Terrapin is a rare Valiant 47, seen here at anchor in Brigus Bay, St. John’s, Newfoundland.

ON: What is your routine for voyage planning?
B&MG: For voyage planning, our routine includes identifying a location that is interesting to us — whether it’s the scenery, people or culture. Then we review Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes or Route Planner and understand the concerns or the best time of year for that route. Further, we review pilot charts for expected wind patterns as well as consulting Noonsite for updated information about the location and route, customs and immigrations, and pet import requirements. We also review charts regarding available anchorages, draft restrictions and alternative destinations en route in case there is a required change due to weather. Once we have a general idea of where we want to travel, we watch videos and read sailing blogs and cruising guides to help us refine our exact travel plans. Lastly, we look at all primary and alternate destinations on Google Earth.

ON: How do you get your weather info?
B&MG: We download grib files using PredictWind. While we are in port, we use the Internet to download the information. Offshore, we use Iridium GO in conjunction with PredictWind to obtain grib files. When we crossed the Atlantic in 2017 from St. John’s, Newfoundland, our intended destination was Cork, Ireland. As we received weather information from Iridium GO, we were able to change course to avoid the worst of the gales and head more south than east, eventually arriving in La Coruna, Spain. After watching the weather patterns, we left Spain 10 days later and sailed north to Cork. We used PredictWind to make those decisions and the forecast provided always seemed to actualize as predicted.

ON: What are your future voyaging plans?
B&MG: Our future voyaging plans include sailing north from the U.K. to Norway this summer. From there, we will turn south and stop along the way at the Canary Islands, eventually crossing to the Caribbean in winter 2018. However, as indicated in our Atlantic crossing, sailing destinations are flexible and we have to remember that the wind and waves will ultimately dictate our plans.

By Ocean Navigator