Home on the pond

A family’s adventures aboard ship
Fri, 07/26/2019 - 9:00am

Imagine selling your house, divesting yourself of things that don’t allow you the freedom to go where you wish, and realizing your dream of sailing off on exciting adventures aboard your new sailboat.

That’s exactly what the Wetsel family did, and is doing, including spending their first adventure on Block Island. The Wetsels spent the month of July aboard their sailboat, a navy blue-colored, 47-foot long Beneteau 473 named Beyzano, anchored on the Great Salt Pond.

They purchased the boat, its fourth owner, in December of 2017 from a British couple who cruised the Caribbean for seven years while blogging about their adventures, keeping maintenance records, and generating an online following. The boat comes with 440 watts of solar power, a water-making system, a three cabin layout, two bathrooms, a kitchen/eating area, and loads of storage room.

As Erin and Mark Wetsel tell it, their life on the boat was first conceived when it was added to their “crazy dream list.” At the time, Mark had just completed his stint serving in the Army, and Erin was working as a teacher. They have two daughters, Mollie, who is two-and-a-half, and Abby, who is six years old.

“Number one on the crazy dream list was living on a sailboat,” said Mark with a smile. “This is our first big adventure. It’s like RVing on the water.” 

“This is our house now,” said Erin, referencing the sailboat. “It’s been a big change for us.” She said the family does things on the boat that are typically done in a home, such as laundry, cooking, etc.

The big change, they said, also involved selling their home in Richmond, Virginia, and property in Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. The family will soon be moving into a new home in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Erin is originally from Newport News, Virginia, while Mark was raised in different parts of the south, spending most of his time in Asheville, North Carolina. The couple met while Mark was in military training at Fort Lee, Virginia.

The reason for moving to Tennessee, Mark said, is because they have friends who live in Signal Mountain. “We visit several times a year, and each time we leave, we ask ourselves why we don’t just move there? Deciding to do this sailing adventure kind of taught us if you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen. So, two months ago, we found a piece of property adjacent to our friends.”

As is noted on their blog/website, the Wetsels explain why they made the life-choice of buying a sailboat and sailing off for adventures on the high seas. “Why is a very important question that we may not ask ourselves enough,” wrote Mark. “I think Socrates said it well: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’”

Some of the reasons are: spending quality time with family while living close to nature; living a simpler life; having an extended adventure with the kids; seeing parts of our planet that are in danger of disappearing; living more cheaply; living unconventionally; and giving the children a topic to write about for their college essays.

According to their blog, the Wetsels set sail on June 19 from Deltaville, Virginia to Solomons, Maryland. They then made stops in Delaware and parts of New Jersey. After a stop in Port Jefferson, New York, the family sailed up the East River past Manhattan, and headed for Block Island.

The couple said it was exciting when they first caught a glimpse of the island, while sailing on Block Island Sound. “We were trolling, and Mark caught a fish about three miles from the island,” said Erin, noting that it was a large bluefish. “That was our dinner that night.”

After their 10-day trip sailing from Deltaville, Virginia, the boating capital of the Chesapeake Bay, to Block Island, Erin said, “It was nice to drop the anchor in the pond, and relax. This is such a magical place. We were really excited to come here — our first time coming here. We had no idea how beautiful it would be.”

Mark said they learned about Block Island from the Hillios family, who they met on a sailing excursion in Annapolis, Maryland. The Hillios family, he said, has been coming to the island for the Fourth of July for the past four years.

“It was their idea, coming for the month,” said Erin. “Jacki Hillios put the itinerary together.”

The itinerary has included all that Block Island has to offer, enrolling their children in the Block Island Club, visiting the Chamber of Commerce and various landmark sites, eating at restaurants,  checking out books and movies from the Island Free Library, and taking their trash to the Transfer Station. “There are nice amenities on the island — great options to have,” said Erin.

Mark echoed Erin’s sentiments, and said the one thing he loved doing on the island was spearfishing. “I think I was underwater for about two hours,” he said. “The water is so clear. I saw so many fish, and sea kelp. I felt like I was looking at an underwater meadow.” He added that he did not catch any fish.

While the Wetsels said it’s been an incredible experience visiting the island, their adventure has not been without its challenges. Erin said Mollie broke her arm while playing at the Block Island Club. “The staff at the Medical Center was great,” she said. They had to go to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, where Mollie received an air-cast, which doesn’t seem to have slowed her down.

The family writes about their adventures and experiences on the Beyzano on their blog/website. Mark said it’s a way to chronicle their journeys, so their children will have a scrapbook to reference.

“We’re not the youngest of parents,” said Mark. “It feels like gloom and doom about the future of the environment. So we want to enjoy it while we can.”

For the Wetsels it’s all about enjoying the journey, respecting nature, and leaving a legacy. In the end, Mark said, the most important thing is that the family is “making memories.” The Wetsels plan on returning to Block Island for the 2020 summer season. 

To learn more about the Wetsel family and their adventures, go to: www.beyzanowithkids.com.