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Gave in to wanderlust

Many dream of sailing around the world. A few do it. Even fewer make the escape last 11 years.

Published June 13, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - In Guam, they dropped six anchors, watched wind-driven Dumpsters fly and rode Typhoon Paka until its 220 mph gusts dwindled to breezes.

They made Molotov cocktails and kept ready a shell-shooting 12-gauge flare gun in case pirates attacked in the Strait of Malacca.

Bellowing howler monkeys kept them up in Guatemala. A cuddlier primate insisted on sharing their groceries in Madagascar.

"All you've got to do is walk around the jungle with bananas and it will rain lemurs," said David Santos.

He is a salty mariner just back from the adventure of a lifetime.

David and Jane Santos left the St. Petersburg Marina on Jan. 31, 1993, aboard a 42-foot catamaran David built in a Pinellas Park warehouse.

On May 26 - 11 years, four months and one week later - the couple returned to the same dock after sailing around the world.

They spent months getting to know some of the 26 countries they visited. They spent four years in Guam, restocking supplies and working to fund the rest of their trip.

While they were away, Bill Clinton won a second term. George W. Bush moved into the White House. The Internet exploded. Cell phones sprouted from every ear. The Bucs won the Super Bowl!

They were in Malaysia when terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The Malaysians, many of whom are Muslim, opened their hearts.

"One girl came up, crying, and embraced me," Jane Santos said.

Veteran sailors, the Santoses had logged thousands of nautical miles before their circumnavigation. Figuring St. Petersburg would be a mellow, nautically friendly spot, they moved here about 1985 after selling a boat in San Diego.

Jane taught school at Woodlawn Elementary and took a second job as a server at Gigi's Restaurant in Treasure Island so David could work full time building their new wooden boat.

It took him four years. The Santoses launched the Blue Moon in 1990. They took a few years to get to know it and save more money. Circling the globe remained their grail.

"The natural thing is to venture further and further. Among the cruising set, it's a goal to circumnavigate. It's a sailor's curiosity to see what's over the horizon," said David, 57.

After looping east around the Keys and through the Bahamas, the Santoses headed west, going ashore to visit Mayan ruins in Guatemala. In the Ecuadorian Andes, they slept under llama-skin blankets.

They used their 8-horsepower Yamaha engine going through the Panama Canal - one of the rare times they resorted to any power other than wind.

Then came the journey's longest leg - 3,900 miles to the Marquesas Islands in the middle of the South Pacific.

The Blue Moon's living space is compact; three or four big steps take a person the length of either the galley or the captain's quarters, where there is a bunk.

The compartments are narrow enough so that those aboard can extend their arms and grip something on either side. "You won't get thrown around" as one might during bumpy seas on a larger craft, David Santos said.

He had a radio and a GPS, and used "about a thousand" nautical charts during the voyage.

The couple cooked on an LP gas stove. They had grain to grind for bread. The mariners caught rainwater off an awning to keep their 120-gallon water supply topped. Sometimes they used a colander to dip shrimp out of the ocean.

They caught tuna, wahoo and mahi. They harvested conch, lobster and crab.

Ashore, in Asia or the East Indies, street vendors sold inexpensive food. The Santoses bought bananas for a penny apiece. A basketball-sized cabbage cost the equivalent of 20 cents.

"We ate healthy. Fruit and vegetables right out of the earth, grown by farmers," David said.

Even the black and white cat ate fresh food. Kuching, which the Santoses adopted in Malaysia, liked it when flying fish couldn't clear the boat and smacked on the Blue Moon's deck.

"He'd eat the entire thing," Jane said. "There'd be just a couple of scales left on the deck."

Back home, the Santoses quickly noticed the cost of store-bought food. "A couple of plastic bags costs you more than a month's worth" of food on the trip, David said.

On the voyage, the couple intended to spend about $350 a month for all needs. Sometimes the average turned out to be more like $500.

Art objects tended to break the budget, although the sailors found they could barter items for art: clothing, tools, glass jars, even a plastic dinosaur.

In the Solomon Islands, David traded chisels and knives for a representation of a crocodile god hand-carved from wood and inlaid with mother of pearl. Rarely docking saved them fees. Instead, they simply anchored where convenient. They had no need of hotels, although they did spend $4 for a Bali "resort" inside an extinct volcano that blazed with tropical flowers cascading down its sides.

About halfway through the voyage, the sailors took their extended stay in Guam, an island in the western Pacific.

Because it is a U.S. possession, citizens can work there. David conducted charter boat tours - including a submarine trip around ocean reefs - and Jane taught Korean and Japanese children in a private school.

Despite riding out Guam typhoons and encountering seas up to 50 feet off Africa's Cape of Good Hope, near New Zealand and in the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Africa's east coast, the Blue Moon completed the trip in good shape.

But the sailors' life wasn't easy. Watches went on around the clock; one partner slept a few hours while the other made sure nothing went awry. Safety, security and the boat's physical well-being were huge issues.

The golden-eyed Kuching proved to be a calm sailor, said Jane, 48. "He'd keep me company when it was my turn on watch," she said.

Reports of pirates between Sumatra and Malaysia made the Santoses suspicious of several groups of "shady characters" they saw in boats, but none threatened.

"It's a lot of hard work. Sleepless nights. Anxiety. It's tough," David said about the marathon voyage.

He advises would-be circumnavigators to plan carefully and throughly develop navigational skills and general seamanship.

The past few days, the Santoses have been getting reacquainted with a more mundane life. They bought a year-old Kia. They're looking for jobs. Jane had a dental appointment last week and there is talk of a root canal.

For now, they - and Kuching - are living aboard the Blue Moon. They plan to sell it.

They will get away from long-distance cruising. And they aren't bored.

"I'd like a bed that doesn't move around at night," said David. "I'd like to sleep seven nights a week all year. I want a refrigerator filled with beer. Ice cream. I want a newspaper.

"The grandest thing we could ever do was sail around the world. Ho-hum is what we want now."


How long it took: 11 years, four months and one week

Nautical miles sailed: 40,442

Countries visited: 26

Number of anchorages: 309

Expenses: About $500 a month.

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