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World adventure has homemade start

Jozef Lovec and his wife, Ann, go on a two-year voyage on a boat built as a family project.

By KYLA K. WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


SEMINOLE -- Not many people accomplish the long and difficult task of building their own sailboat. Even fewer take a two-year trip sailing across the Atlantic.

Jozef and Ann Lovec of Seminole recently returned from a two-year voyage in a boat Lovec built with his own hands.

"A lot of people go sailing, but this was an adventure," said Mrs. Lovec.

The voyage took the Lovecs to three continents and dozens of islands.

Lovec's accomplishments with boats started when he was just a teenager in Slovenia. From 1956 to 1961 he was the Singles Rowing national champion of Slovenia. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Lovec placed fifth in Doubles Rowing.

"We hoped we would do better. We were happy we made it to finals though," said Lovec, now 61.

The Lovecs came to the United States in 1968, when the Tupperware company transferred Lovec to its plant in Auburn, Mass. An injection molder, he had worked for Tupperware in Slovenia and Australia. In 1979 he started his own molding business in Auburn. In 1984 he began building his sailboat as a hobby. Since he was a boy he had wanted to sail around the world.

"It has always been a childhood dream of mine to build my own boat," said Lovec.

Over the next 10 years, Lovec spent $200,000 building his 55-foot boat, equipped with two bathrooms, a living area, bar and kitchen.

The boat is made of fiberglass and weighs 68,000 pounds. Lovec purposely made the bottom of his boat 6 inches thick because he knew he eventually would try sailing across the Atlantic. He bought all the supplies and did all the work himself in the back yard with little help.

"My son worked with me, and my wife," Lovec said.

Mrs. Lovec said she was indifferent about the project at first. "I only fed them," she said. "From the beginning I really didn't care for sailing. Since we have come (to the Tampa Bay area) I appreciate it more. I had enthusiasm for him to build it, but I was never thinking that I would really go sailing one day."

Oliver Lovec said helping his father with the boat created a strong bond.

"It was a dream he had, and I was going to help him the best I could. A friendship developed through all the hard work," Oliver said.

When the boat was completed, the Auburn, Mass., media gathered in Lovec's back yard as he loaded the 68,000 pound sailboat onto a trailer. He named the boat Sokol, which means falcon in Slovenian. Reporters compared the boat to Noah's Ark as it made its way to the Massachusetts coast to set sail for the first time.

Lovec said he was not the slightest bit nervous about his boat touching water for the first time.

The Lovecs sailed off the coast of Massachusetts for a year and a half but decided to move. In Massachusetts it's too cold, and the sailing season is too short for optimum sailing. In 1995 the Lovecs sold their house, and Lovec sold his business. They joined their son in Seminole. Three years later Lovec decided to make his childhood dream of sailing around the world come true.

On April 30, 1998, the Lovecs left Madeira Beach for a trip that would take them across the Atlantic and back. They visited Bermuda and the Azores. They sailed through the Mediterranean, stopping at places such as Sicily and Sardinia.

They sailed through the Adriatic and visited Greece. After stopping at the Canary Islands and Cape Verde along the coast of Africa they sailed back across the Atlantic to Barbados. They visited Venezuela and Colombia, Costa Rica and other countries in Central America. After stopping in Mexico, they finally sailed back to Madeira Beach, ending their voyage on Memorial Day.

In all, they made about 70 stops at islands and on various coasts, spending two to three days at each place. They would buy fresh bread, fruit, milk and postcards, which they sent to their son, his wife Michele, and their grandsons, Michael, 6, and Matthew, 4.

Oliver Lovec said he didn't worry about his parents being away for so long. The boat had a satellite phone and a radio that Lovec used to communicate with him. Oliver also didn't worry because he helped his father build his boat and knew how sturdy it was.

"He built it extra heavy. It's not a racing boat, its very strong and rigid, and he has good sailing skills," Oliver Lovec said.

The callsto family back home kept the Lovecs from growing too homesick. However, Mrs. Lovec said, they couldn't help missing their grandchildren.

The longest time the Lovecs spent at sea without stopping was 17 days. They had no problem keeping themselves busy.

They would wake up around 7 or 8 a.m. and eat a breakfast of coffee and toast. Then they would spend time fishing, cleaning the boat, washing clothes, bird watching and admiring the dolphins that would swim and jump around their boat.

"There was always something," Lovec said. "We would sleep, play cards, talk on the radio. Sometimes we would see a boat and talk to them."

Added Mrs. Lovec: "People were happy to talk to us because they had been at sea a while also."

The Lovecs say they had no dangerous moments. However, they did sail through a storm with 60 mph winds and 30-foot waves that lasted a day and a half. But the Lovecs didn't fret.

"I knew my husband was capable of handling the boat," Mrs. Lovec said.

The Lovecs agree that the best place they visited was the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. A total of 365 islands are inhabited by the Kuna Indians. The women there are known for their blue cotton-wrapped skirts, red and yellow head scarves, arm and leg beads, and intricately sewn mola panel blouses. Because the Kuna Indians worked with Americans in the building of the Panama Canal, most are fluent in English.

"They were nice people and easy to talk to. They are still living the way they did 200 years ago. They're not spoiled," Mrs. Lovec said.

The Lovecs now plan another two-year sailing trip to more southern parts of South America.

"In a year and a half we plan to go back to Panama and the San Blas islands, to Costa Rica and other places. I have to fix everything on the boat first," Lovec said.

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