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A Serious Ocean
You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by the salt-worried faces,
by an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It's a serious ocean.
North Sea off Carnoustie by Anne Stevenson
Tomorrow will have an island
by William Stafford
Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.
Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island,
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.
So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.
The Poet's Obligation
by Pablo Neruda
To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to who ever is cooped up
in house or office, factory or woman
or street or mine or dry prison cell,
to him I come, and without speaking or looking
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
and a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
a long rumble of thunder adds itself
to the weigh of the planet and the foam,
the groaning rivers of the ocean rise,
the star vibrates quickly in its corona
and the sea beats, dies, and goes on beating.
So. Drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the sea's lamenting in my consciousness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
and gather it up in a perpetual cup
so that, wherever those in prison may be,
wherever they suffer the sentence of the autumn,
I may be present with an errant wave,
I may move in and out of the windows,
and hearing me, eyes may lift themselves,
asking "How can I reach the sea?"
And I will pass to them, saying nothing,
the starry echoes of the wave,
a breaking up of foam and quicksand,
a rustling of salt withdrawing itself,
the gray cry of sea birds on the coast.
So, though me, freedom and the sea
will call in answer to the shrouded heart.
The 2019 Schedule is posted now!
If you are looking for travel planning advice and/or private guiding services, visit my wife Tadji's new site, travelswithtadji.com.
Check out an article about this past August's Gulf of St. Lawrence voyage: Northern Wanderings by Dallas Murphy, with photography by Nick McKinney
and Refit for the Next 100K Miles" from the December/January
2015 issue of Sailing magazine
On August 22, I was interviewed about
my new book by CBC Radio in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Click
here to listen to the podcast.
An excerpt from Sailing a Serious Ocean, titled "John
Kretschmer's Darkest Hour at Sea," was posted on Sail
magazine's website in July. It's sure to fire your imagination
for the adventure and potential peril of a blue water passage.
A SERIOUS OCEAN: Sailboats, Storms, Stories and Lessons
Learned from Thirty Years at Sea
My new book is widely available. All humility aside, I am
proud of it. It's an exciting mix of sea stories and seamanship.
It's personal, humorous and at times terrifying. Learn what
makes a boat blue water capable and how to handle it and
the crew when the ocean turns angry. The book is filled
with anecdotes and hard-won advice. I think you will like
it. You can order an autographed copy from my online
Thank you for venturing into the far flung world of John Kretschmer Sailing. If this is your first time, welcome, otherwise many thanks for dropping by again. We just keep sailing, crossing oceans, and exploring coasts and islands. 2018 is just over the horizon. It was more than 33 years ago that we beat around Cape Horn in the brave little sloop Gigi, seems hard to believe. Last summer I was able to sail Gigi once again, in the rugged Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It was a magical experience. Gigi is a time machine. The experience frames the first chapter of my new book, which will be published next year.
I have been sailing professionally, if that's what you call what I do, ever since. I have lost track of how many offshore miles I've logged. When my sailing odometer ticked over 300,000 I stopped counting. It seems absurd to keep tallying miles, I have nothing to prove and I am not convinced that miles matter very much. They define sailing as the distance between landfalls, as if land's edge defines the ocean and our relationship with it. That's crazy, it's the in-between that matters, the voyage, the journey, the interlude of being "at sea," that's where the magic lurks.
What amazes me is that I am more passionate about what I do than ever before. I think I am old enough and maybe wise enough finally, to realize that I have a great gig. I love being aboard Quetzal, driving her through whatever conditions come our way. The people who track me down and sign aboard are always intriguing, they get it, they know that sea time is valuable and we usually end becoming friends and frequent shipmates. I remain devoted to providing unique, honest and challenging sailing and travel opportunities for my clients.
I am also committed to sharing useful information and hard-won opinions about blue water and coastal voyaging, and more to the point in these interesting times, living life on your own terms. Deep ocean sailing in small boats, and at 47' Quetzal still qualifies as a small boat, offers a powerful blend of promise, challenge, freedom and self-discovery. Joseph Conrad titled his sailing ship memoir, "The Mirror of the Ocean," and I love that phrase. There is nowhere to hide at sea and the image that reflects back at you from the face of a steel blue wave is brutally honest. To thrive at sea you must take stock of who you are, not who you want to be. There's no pretending out there.
Our passages are rarely easy and at times downright miserable, they're all too real. And they're rewarding. The people that sail with me buy, sell, invent, teach, build, cure, protect, in short - they shake the world when ashore. But at sea, aboard Quetzal, they feel refreshingly small and profoundly alive. Time slows down at sea and somehow matters more, and what can be more important than managing your allotment of time?
I began my book, Flirting With Mermaids, "I make landfalls for a living." It's a good line but as I get older I have come to realize that making landfalls is easy. Making departures, pushing off the dock, unplugging the electronic handcuffs, subverting the shore-side guilt, that's the hard part. And that's where I can help. Take a good look at the site: the schedule of training passages, the workshops, the pictures, videos, books and even the poems, then send me an email. Let's communicate. Sailing dreams are too important to leave for another day. It's time, time to go sailing, time to go to sea and I look forward to welcoming you aboard Quetzal.
Looking Back - Looking Ahead
I am writing from Hawaii, overlooking the trade wind whipped seas of the Pacific. We are preparing for a long passage, 2500 miles at least, back to Seattle aboard Lady B, a handsome Hylas 49. Our much loved and well-traveled Quetzal, is taking the summer off, she's earned a break. Quetzal has logged a lot of sea time since I last updated the site, alas. It began with a voyage that took us across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, along the Labrador coast, and around Newfoundland. It ended when we arrived at Spring Cove marina in Solomons, MD after a fast passage north from St Martin. In what was the perfect confluence of wind, current, and a breaking wave, Quetzal touched 16.8 knots in the Gulf Stream. Yes, I was whooping and hollering.
In 2016 and into 2017, Quetzal laid down tracks all over the Atlantic. We completed two heavy weather passages, one from Nova Scotia to St. Martin and one from Annapolis to St. Thomas. We sailed to Bermuda 3 times and visited just about every island in the Eastern Caribbean, including far-flung Barbados. Tadji and I recently completed the Med Summer Expedition that included charter passages in the Aegean, around Mallorca and along the Amalfi Coast. We also completed our first On-Site workshop in Antigua. Held at Nelson's Dockyard it was great fun as we discussed the ins and outs of Caribbean cruising. Tadji is now working with me full time, and there's been a big improvement in the logistics, to put it gently.
In October of 2017, after a round of workshops in Solomons, Quetzal will head back to sea. Sporting a new hard dodger and completely upgraded interior, she will head for St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, always a challenging passage. Then we will continue around the Caribbean with breezy passages from Grenada to Cartagena and then up to Isla Mujures, Mexico. In 2018 we will cross the Atlantic, again, Quetzal's 7th crossing and her skipper's 22nd. We will carry on to Ireland and Scotland before making our way back to the Canary Islands. While most trips are booked, check the schedule and my Facebook page for updates. Clients book well in advance and it's difficult to predict what fate holds, so cancellations do happen.
The 2019 schedule is now posted, and includes a nice mix of blue water sailing and island passages. In July and August, we've scheduled the South Pacific Summer. Similar to this year's Med Summer, we have arranged charter boats in three classic South Pacific destinations. Each leg is 7 days and berths are available by the cabin, per double occupancy.
July 6-13, Leg One: French Polynesia
July 20-27, Leg Two: Tonga
August 3-10, Leg three: New Caledonia, Australia
One couple has already signed on for all three legs and is planning land travel between legs, so don't delay if you're interested. Email for more information.
As always, many thanks to you, our shipmates and friends, you make all of our voyages and projects possible.
French Canal Boat Trips 2017-19
Our canal boat business is growing steadily and Tadji and I are offering three trips in 2017, two in 2018 and two in 19. The 2017 trips are sold out, however there are still openings in 2018 and 2019, when we've included a Venice trip. We charter 50' canal boats that I skipper. Tadji does all the real work, organizing the trip, planning the route and most importantly, the gourmet cooking. I am in charge of the wine and we never run out. We have bikes for each person and there's plenty of opportunity to ride along the canal or into nearby villages. The trips are relaxing and great fun. Email Tadji using the contact form at travelswithtadji.com for more information.
Offshore Training passages are the heart and soul of John Kretschmer Sailing. These trips are unique and so are the people who find their way aboard. I am not a sailing school, there are plenty of those around and many do a fine job of teaching offshore sailing skills. What we do is different. We make passages, we make voyages. They're real, sometimes all too real, you are part of the crew. Each passage is comprised of crewmembers with varying levels of experience and we learn from each other. I learn something new on every trip. And you learn by doing, life aboard Quetzal is the epitome of 'hands on' training. You will stand watch in fair weather and foul. You will reef the main when it's blowing, maybe even blowing a gale. You will help with repairs, meals, and the dishes. You will revel in landfalls, especially because everyone shares the navigational responsibilities. There is nothing like navigating when it really counts to instill confidence. You can draw as much from a passage as you're willing to put into it. You may master celestial navigation and you may learn to bake bread. Or you may be more interested in learning how to pace yourself through a long voyage. Passage making requires a mix of philosophy and skills. And one thing I know from experience, you will have a lot of fun and laughs and make profound friendships.
But don't take my word for it; listen to some of the folks who have completed passages aboard Quetzal:
Rob Schlosser: "Hi John, I really wanted to thank you again
for the great sailing experience and for the wonderful trip to
the Bahamas last month! The two trips that I have taken with you
have done a tremendous amount to bolster the confidence I have
in myself, as a sailor and otherwise. And the difference in Patty
is truly amazing. She has gone from being scared to even talk
about sailing to planning our next trip. And eventually even trying
to sail full time for two or three years! I wish I had a million
dollars to send you to show my appreciation, but alas, all I have
are these few words of appreciation. I hope you will accept them
for what they are, heartfelt appreciation."
Dirk de Haan, Corpus Christi, Texas: "Susan and I had a great
time, I know you know. You've seen the picture of her with Lady
Liberty. Wow, what a fantastic trip THAT was. So nice to be able
to do. It was really something, also, for our son Dirk, who sailed
with us, because he had never seen Manhattan. The time of day
we would arrive there, and the tides were all in our favor, coming
in with the rising tide and leaving through East River on a falling
tide. That canyon, by the way, can pack some serious winds. 20
knots, on a quiet, foggy day. Wow. Sailing Long Island Sound was
very beautiful. What great scenery!! Entering Newport as well.
There I took over the helm form Susan to do a lap in Newport Harbor.
It was my 'victory lap,' a closing circle of sorts, since I started
there with you on Quetzal. I will always remember that,
and be grateful for your teachings and coaching."
Jerry Polly, Madison, Wisconsin: "I would highly recommend a passage
with John. I have done two. One from Key West to Isla Mujures and
back and one from Bermuda to Newport. He is absolutely skilled in
every conceivable way with respect to sailing. He takes safety very
seriously but expects you to know your way around a boat. He does
not mother the crew by telling them how to do everything. He is
congenial all the time, almost to a fault. John is good humored,
flexible, a great story teller, somewhat of an entertainer. You
will have great fun with him. You will be left with other crew members
on watch and it will be your job to make that work; he does not
really referee, nor should he. You can pull as much learning as
you want from John. He will not push it on you; ask and he will
talk. Be quiet and enjoy the sea, and he will as well."
Barry Chessick, Chicago, Illinois: "I sailed with John from Annapolis
to Antigua, a passage of 1500 miles that took ten days. For me,
it was an experience of a lifetime. Besides bonding a lifetime friendship
with John, a truly unique, capable and magnificent individual, the
sights, scents, sounds of being 500 miles offshore are tattooed
on my psyche forever. I experienced all the delights I had only
read about before: the night sky glowing with millions of stars,
dolphins playing, awesome sunsets and sunrises. Was it worth the
cost? For me, and the memories that it brought, it was worth many
times the cost, of course I wouldn't tell John that."
Joanne Matthews, Pensacola, Florida: "Regarding a long ocean passage
on Quetzal with John as skipper? I can say without a doubt
- go for it. We met John at a book signing a few years back and
then signed aboard for a passage from Annapolis to Antigua. There
were four crew members and we all got along wonderfully. A highlight
was Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the trimmings, hundreds
of miles from land. A couple of topics, politics and religion, were
not discussed, but otherwise everything was on the table: books,
boats, weather, sailing, cruising, travel, relationships. We laughed
for 1500 miles over his crazy sailing adventures. He is clearly
the captain but we all shared equally the shipboard duties. I have
not doubt that in a time of distress, he would maintain a clear
head. He also truly enjoys sharing his knowledge, stories, and love
for the sea. He's an avid reader, and unfortunately, also sings
Gordon House, Kansas City, Missouri: "Considering a trip with John?
Bottom line, GO FOR IT! A passage with JK may be the high point
of your life, not to mention that it will make you the star of all
the cocktail parties for years to come. John is an excellent skipper
and has the uncanny ability to magically appear on deck just when
you need him to assess a situation that you may be unsure of. You
will never hear him raise his voice, even during the most trying
Amy Stapleton, Huntsville, Alabama: "Before sailing with John, I'd
never been on an offshore passage or sailed overnight. I wasn't
sure I'd like going offshore, but my first passage on Quetzal
sailing from St. Pete to the Dry Tortugas exceeded all my expectations.
It was an awesome experience and although it was challenging, John
made me feel very comfortable. He's also a great story teller and
provides for lots of entertainment. These passages are not comfort
cruises. They are hard work, but for me they have been a great confidence
builder and have helped me get a lot closer to my personal sailing
Ron Sorenson: "Sailing with John on one of his passages is simply
a great open water learning experience. I've been on two trips so
far (with more to come), and both were on Quetzal, John's
boat. One was from Panama to Florida, the other was a Trans-Atlantic,
and both were great. The Panama to Florida Trip was very relaxing.
For me, the trans-Atlantic was the best. It gave me an outstanding
exposure to open water sailing and what that can entail in both
good and bad weather conditions. John's experience showed when we
had some rough seas and his concern with the crew's safety was readily
John promotes a relaxed atmosphere on his passages. There's no rigid
daily lesson plan that one must follow but there are learning opportunities
galore. John works to make everyone feel that they are part of the
crew and spends time with each person answering questions or helping
them bone up on their navigational skills. And when he's not answering
questions from the crew, John has terrific stories that he loves
Lastly, sailing on Quetzal in the Atlantic during a heavy
weather period proved to me just how safe and solid that boat is.
She is truly passage proven. And I understand now why John is so
fond of her."
James Leonard: "I've sailed with John on two different passages.
Both involved some rather 'nasty' weather. Besides learning navigation,
seamanship, problem solving and how to fix things, I gained a confidence
from John that you won't get in a lot of other 'sailing schools.'
He's a pretty good cook and he tells a great story.
I look forward to going out with him again."
Rick Thomson: "I have known John Kretschmer for several years and
in that time, we have sailed many nautical miles together! We have
sailed in Greece, Tahiti, Australia, Thailand, the Caribbean, the
Pacific Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and have crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
We have been becalmed, knocked down, broken down, braved storms
in winds of 60-plus miles per hour, but we have also witnessed unbelievable
sunsets, breaching whales, green sea turtles, dancing dolphins,
deep blue oceans, and brilliant white beaches, not to mention the
beauty of the galaxies, moonlight on the water and shooting stars.
That being said, I feel totally at ease when sailing with John.
John is the ultimate sailor. When the going gets tough, John can
cowboy-up, or I guess I should say sailor-up. I've never personally
known anyone physically stronger or more determined to achieve his
objective. John totally immerses himself in the sailing environment.
Celestial navigation, course plotting, and understanding charts
are second nature to him. John is perfectly at home on any vessel.
He knows boats and what to expect from them. He's a sailor's sailor!
On the personal side, John is the most personable guy I know. I
have always said, "If you can't get along with John, you probably
aren't going to get along with anyone." He is also an outstanding
cook. I have seen John cook delicious hot meals in very rough conditions,
when other skippers would be handing out peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches. You must try his Mayan spaghetti!
Captain John Kretschmer is truly a one-of-a-kind sailor, who will
show you a journey that you will share with others for the rest
of your life."
George Archibald, Commodore of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron:
"Hi John. Just wanted to thank you again for coming to RNSYS last
Saturday. For the last week everyone who attended has been singing
your praises.You were a great sport to drop in for our special night.
I have been watching the weather and wondering if you got away,
if you did I hope it has been better than the weather ashore. All
the best, George"
Kretschmer Sailing fleece jackets and long-sleeve t-shirts are available