For This Sailor Oceanbound Is Homeward Bound

Steve Bracken

Many months ago, while sailing through the Strait of Messina, our little boat was hit with an unexpected 50 knot scirocco, which shook each and every fiber and nerve in our bodies, catching us by surprise just a few miles before the peaceful open sea. It stole some cushions and caused Captain Davi to spill coffee, which is unforgivable. But I am digressing…

The brilliant idea Davi had was to turn our Old Wake right around to run with the wind and find some shelter back the way we came. We found it in the port of Reggio Calabria. The port isn’t exactly gorgeous, very close to the center of the town, but the personnel were very nice. The sirocco died down the next day, but we didn’t leave–just and only because of the scare we got in the strait! I am not going to lie, we were all shaking in our panties to go back out, so we stayed on for a full week in possibly the ugliest town any of us had ever seen. 

But even in the most unlikely places, gorgeous things can happen if you let them. In this case, a gorgeous person appeared, sailing out of the same storm that had caught us, and parked beside Wake.

As per usual, Davi and I would sit and wait for boats to come into the marina (you have to do something to kill the time!). Davi would help to dock and I would offer a beer and start making friends. One of those days, we met the melancholic Steve’s eyes, yet his smile was a happy one, radiating like sun from his native Australia. He had come into the port with a crew of several ladies that got so scared of the wind in the Strait of Messina that they decided to proceed by busses and trains further in their vacation rather than get back on the water, leaving Steve to helm his near future single-handed. But for him it wasn’t going to be a problem. He loves being solo on his boat, rarely needing ground under his feet and always ready for a long and nice conversation.

My perception of encounter with Steve is that of a short meeting, quite by surprise but creating a lifelong friend. Oh, and one of our cats, the chubby black eggplant called Katinka, got a treat when we boosted her over to his catamaran to painstakingly explore from stem to stern, on deck and below, while we took beers out back 🙂

 – What is your age, or age range?

I was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1958.

– What was the occupation before becoming a sailor/liveaboard?

Truck driving was my primary occupation.

 – Talk about your background and where you come from (what’s your story, in the way you want it to be known)?

The way I started sailing, sums up my approach to life. Around 1982 I had returned to Perth after traveling to Europe, USA, and Mexico for 2 years. It was summer, always windy in the afternoons, so I thought windsurfing would be fun. I bought one and taught myself. A few years later, a friend asked me to go into partnership in a (windsurfer) boom manufacturing business. One day I was frustrated with the lack of enough wind for windsurfing and saw a yacht sail past. It looked like a good way to be on the water when the wind was light, so I bought a 27-foot racing yacht. Luckily, my partner knew how to sail dinghies, so she helmed and I was the foredeck hand. A few years later, we were anchored off a small island near Perth, when I saw a 40-foot cruising yacht nearby. I had bought out my business partner but had become disillusioned with the windsurfing industry, so I was restless for something new. 

 – What kind of a boat do you own and what kind of boats have you had previously?

We rented out our house, sold the business, and set out across Australia to find a 40-45 ft cruising yacht. After looking at everything available, we couldn’t find our “dream” boat so I bought a Beneteau Oceanis 390 charter boat in the Whitsunday Islands, Queensland. It was with a large charter company, so I got to learn a lot while maintaining “Cafetier” and sailing her when she was not chartered.

After about 1 ½ years a friend told us about the perfect boat for us, a 53 ft yacht called Chimere. We went to look at her and bought her immediately. We got married on board just after buying Chimere. We sailed along the East Coast of Australia and to Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia for the next 5 years, living onboard. We sailed around the top of Australia to Perth in 2001, then decided to go our separate ways. Carolyn kept Chimere. 

– Who do you sail with?

Until 2012 I had no boat until I bought a Beneteau Cyclades 43 in Croatia. I sailed her back to Australia via the Panama Canal over the next 1 ½ years. I had various crew until Martinique when I decided to try single-handed sailing. I sailed Pepite from Martinique to Australia solo, except for a short leg between Tahiti and Tonga. I sold Pepite in Australia in 2014.

In October 2017 I bought Catbaloo,  a Fortuna 40 ft catamaran, in Greece. The name was from the first owners. There was an American film by this name. 

Sometimes the crew onboard were three plush animals

 – Where is your boat’s name from? (previous owner story? Or why did you pick this name?) 

I have been lucky with the names of boats I have bought being OK except the first boat was called “Effort” so I changed it to “Wildcard”.  I have sailed Catbaloo solo most of the time, except Greece to Sicily. 

 – What do you love and hate most about your boat?

The best thing about Catbaloo is she is very easy and comfortable to sail solo, and reasonably fast. The worst is the very small bridge-deck clearance, so the waves bang violently on the saloon floor when the sea is lumpy.

– How do you make money while cruising?

I don’t work, just live from my savings. 

– What is your dreamboat?

I don’t have a dreamboat, as the boat I have at the time is the one suited best for me.

 – If you could pick any fictional character to sail with as crew, who would it be?

The chicken in the movie Surf’s Up would be a great crew to sail with, because he is not scared by anything and is very relaxed.

 – What’s the best thing about sailing and your favorite moment while sailing?

The best thing about sailing is purely being with nature, good and bad. Favourite moment was having some pilot whales playing around the boat in the Mediterranean. 

– What are the most memorable anchorages and places you sailed to?

Most memorable anchorages were in the Solomon Islands. Some villages had not seen a yacht for 10 years, and the people were so connected to their simple island life. Everyone was always smiling and friendly. The diving was also the best I have ever had.

 – What is the one county that you would most want to (and can) sail to that you almost certainly won’t get to, and what’s stopping you? 

Antarctica is the one country I would love to sail to, but it is too cold.

 – What is the craziest thing that happened while sailing? Scariest moment?

The craziest thing would be with Chimere. Carolyn and I were sailing over some coral reefs in the Solomon Islands in light winds and decided to both jump overboard and hold onto a rope while the boat sailed on autopilot. Luckily we did not let go of the rope.

I have never felt scared sailing, I just get a big adrenaline rush and find it exciting when things are crazy at sea. Maybe not a good thing!!

 – What are the plans for the future?

I don’t have any plans at the moment, but that is normal for me. The only time I had a plan with a boat was with Pepite, to sail her to Australia and sell her. 

 – What is your personal dream?

I don’t have a personal dream at the moment, I have been very fortunate in life to have turned any “dreams” into reality by just going ahead and doing it and not worrying about the future. This would also sum up my idea of freedom.

 – What’s your ocean “anthem”? 

My ocean “anthem” would be anything by Santana.

Steve thinks of it as a good insight into human nature.

 – What is your idea of freedom?

I enjoy the freedom that solo sailing gives me, without any responsibility for the crew. 

I will always hope to meet Steve again, I know he always has a cold beer in his fridge for his friends and hours of best conversations and life experiences to share. Someday we will meet somewhere unexpected, maybe the most gorgeous anchorage or port or the weirdest place on earth, I know it’s gonna be awesome!

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