Just us on board…
Writer and photographer Ellen Massey Leonard first dreamt of crossing an ocean when she learned to sail at age 7 on a little island in British Columbia. At age 20, after only a month of dating(!), she set off with Seth aboard a very old and primitive sloop in need of some serious TLC. 32,000 nautical miles and a circumnavigation of the planet later, they’d fulfilled both their childhood dreams, fostered new dreams, and learned an immense amount about themselves, each other, and the world (and boat restoration!).
Prior to the voyage, Ellen attended Phillips Exeter Academy and taught sailing for five summers in Maine. She earned her BA in the Classics from Yale University in between sailing Heretic around the world (just as big a challenge as the circumnavigation!). She’s at work on a memoir about the experience.
Ellen’s writing and photography appear regularly in many sailing magazines, including Cruising World, Classic Boat, Ocean Navigator, and Blue Water Sailing. She is a Guide on the popular classic boat site Off Center Harbor.com and she recently received the Cruising Club of America’s Vilas Literary Prize as well as Sailing Today magazine’s Best Photo Award.
As a teacher, Ellen has been lucky enough to instruct history, writing, and Latin to bright students at boarding schools in Switzerland and the United States, and as a speaker, she appreciates great audiences at yacht clubs, universities, schools, and boat shows. Ellen has sailed 40,000 nautical miles and is honored to be a member of the Ocean Cruising Club as well as one of the first 40 female members of the Cruising Club of America. She’s also an avid hiker, having back-packed since childhood, and as recently as 2009 she learned to ski and loves it!
Seth Leonard holds a Masters in Economics from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland and is currently completing his PhD, specializing in computational macroeconomics and data analytics. Outside of work he enjoys offshore sailing, photography, telemark skiing, and hiking.
Seth first dreamt of sailing around the planet as a teenager growing up in Downeast Maine. He taught sailing for seven summers, including as Head Race Coach at Annisquam Yacht Club in Massachusetts. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from St Lawrence University with a BA in Economics and Government. A year later he purchased Heretic and began to outfit her—rebuild would be a better word!—for a journey around the world. Soon after, he met Ellen, and within a week they’d decided to sail together! Both he and Ellen had everything to learn, having never sailed offshore before, but by mid-Pacific they were much more humble and experienced than at departure. After four years, three oceans, one ‘great cape’, and 26 countries, Seth and Ellen came full circle to Heretic‘s home port in Maine. Seth was honored to be elected to the Cruising Club of America and the Ocean Cruising Club .
Seth then sold Heretic in preparation for a life ashore in Switzerland where in 2010 he entered the Economics program at the Graduate Institute. In addition to coursework and thesis-writing, he taught review sessions for Masters Macroeconomics courses and gave seminars on time series econometrics. In his (extremely limited) free time, he’s an avid skier, having raced in high school and taught at two East Coast mountains before moving to Switzerland.
Since moving to Switzerland in 2010, we’ve spent more time in the mountains. Ellen, who grew up backpacking on the West Coast, has been the impetus for our 600km trek across the spiky bits of the Alps: their highest and steepest part from Lake Geneva to Lake Maggiore in Italy. We’ve climbed multiple 10,000 foot passes, camped at the foot of a glacier, hiked unmaintained trails, and spotted lots of wildlife. Neither of us can name a favorite part, it was all so wonderful!
Seth has been the impetus for our winter adventures: backcountry skiing and glacier touring in the same immense mountains. On our multi-day trips and many day tours, we’ve descended 50 degree slopes, hiked and skied 6,000 continuous vertical feet in a day, and negotiated all kinds of snow and terrain. These adventures were at first complicated by the fact that Ellen only learned to ski in 2009 (with Seth as her teacher), but now both of us can’t get enough of it!
So this blog will sometimes also be about hiking and skiing!
- Designed in 1985 by Francis Kinney.
- Built in 1986 by Bent Jespersen in British Columbia.
- First 27 years spent voyaging around the Pacific and back in BC with her original owner.
- Adopted by us in 2013 after over a year of searching for the right boat to replace our former beloved old thing Heretic.
- Huge refit (think respirators!), winter of 2013-14 to make her fit once again for long voyages.
Some technical stuff for the boat people out there…
She’s a classic with 40ft LOA, but only 28ft LWL and toothpick beam of 11.5ft. But she points beautifully with a 6ft3in fin keel! Her cold-molded construction is light and strong: she displaces 17,500lbs and almost 39% of that is lead in her keel. She’s a Bermuda-rigged cutter with tiller steering.
- Stripping, drying, and re-barrier-coating the entire hull to prevent osmosis down the line (cold-molded boats are prone to the same problems as fiberglass boats);
- Adding a strip of Kevlar to her waterline as ice protection (under the guidance of Stewart, a classic boat expert experienced with sea ice – there’s lots about the project in this Ocean Navigator magazine article);
- Replacing her diesel engine (which belched a disturbing amount of blue smoke and which, it turned out, we couldn’t even sell for parts…);
- Installing a stove-type kerosene heater to supplement her forced air one.
The projects we did entirely ourselves in spring 2014 included:
- Re-wiring her electrical circuitry;
- Re-doing the plumbing;
- Installing two new Rolls AGM batteries;
- Installing a Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E watermaker;
- Upgrading Celeste‘s ancient radar and inoperative VHF radio with modern GPS, chart plotter, digital radar, VHF with AIS, autopilot, and satellite communications from OCENS and MVS;
- Installing solar panels;
- Installing a new compressor for the small fridge;
- Varnishing everything topside.
If there was so much work to do, why did we choose Celeste? The short answer is that we love classics. After circumnavigating aboard a half-century-old Sparkman & Stephens cutter, we couldn’t bear to have a home that, well, looks ugly! But it’s very difficult to find a beautiful classic that can handle the voyages we like to do.
We searched for over a year and finally settled on Celeste. She needed the “25-year-refit”, but we’re both experienced with boat restoration after rebuilding Heretic. And the “25-year-refit” was more about upgrades and preventive measures than repair – her first owner had taken good care of her, and her design was thoughtful and seaworthy. Our belief that her rugged construction could withstand gales and even ice has proved accurate. We also liked her more modern underwater profile, which makes her weatherly (she points close against the wind) and fast. Finally, we liked the familiarity and versatility of her cutter rig, tiller steering, and simple – if we can’t fix it, it’s not on board! – design.
All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2016, All Rights Reserved.