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04/12/2007

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Scott and Susan Ueland circled the globe in their sailboat.

Two by sea

Couple successfully sails around the world

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The Uelands' boat, Quixotic, at anchor in the Spanish Virgin Islands.

TRAVERSE CITY — Scott and Susan Ueland have recently joined an elite group — those who have successfully circumnavigated the world in a sailboat.

Only about 200 boats per year finish the extended voyage. Now theirs is one of them.

The Uelands' adventure began when they were living in Chicago and looking for a recreational outlet without having to drive miles out of the city.

Both had sailed before, but never together. They decided it might be fun to buy a sailboat with Lake Michigan so close. Since it had been years since either had hoisted a sail, they immediately signed up for American Sailing Association classes at the Bay Breeze Sailing School in Traverse City, Susan's hometown.

"Then we took every class they had to offer,” said Scott.

In the summer of 1996, they found a boat in Toronto and in the process of bringing it back home decided that what they wanted to do was take a longer journey by boat.

"We had the idea that we could take sabbaticals from our jobs, first we thought a quarter and then we decided we needed at least a year,” said Susan.

Their bosses couldn't guarantee jobs when they returned from their travels, so the Uelands, at age 37, quit their high-powered day jobs, sold their house, put everything in storage and moored their boat in a Traverse City marina.

That was the beginning of a decade of life as cruisers, during which they would sail more than 50,000 miles of water and visit 32 countries.

Scott and Susan began their odyssey on the sapphire blue waters of Lake Superior. They spent two years sailing the Great Lakes, East Coast and Bahamas.

"By now we were firmly convinced that we wanted to continue, so we took two more sailing courses in Florida that we needed, like celestial navigating, and we realized we needed a bigger boat,” said Scott.

They found a 43-foot boat in Fort Lauderdale, sailing it up and down the East Coast a couple of times and down to the Bahamas.

"We didn't start out thinking we would sail around the world, but then it was like, 'Panama here we come,'” he said.

Careful planning ensured a successful journey.

"You have to be prepared to be very self-sufficient and solve your own mechanical problems,” said Susan.

"Like they say in the military, 'Two is one, one is none,'” added Scott.

In 2000, they began the circumnavigation portion of their trip, cruising to Bermuda, Nova Scotia and Panama. In the spring of 2001 they began the next leg, across the South Pacific to the Galapagos Islands to French Polynesia, where they spent five months. Eventually, they landed in New Zealand.

"Our longest single passage was from the Galapagos to French Polynesia, 2,950 miles and 24 days at sea,” said Susan.

The Uelands were fortunate that they were not on a tight timetable and could stay at a particular port as long as they wanted, with no less than a week at any one location. Many times they had no choice because they were at the mercy of the weather or the country they were in.

"We spent our time in port repairing, restocking, provisioning. We also had to figure out how each country worked,” said Scott.

"We had to figure out things we take for granted here, like how to get mail or make a long distance phone call,” added Susan.

They also visited countries where filling up their boat with fuel literally took days. Even finding the right kind of food could be a challenge.

The pair stayed in New Zealand for six months to avoid cyclone season and then set sail for Australia with a number of stops along the way.

They remained in Australian waters nearly a year and then set sail across the South Indian Ocean en route to Africa.

"This was very different, the water was rougher and there were many fewer places to stop. We would go 12-14 days between stops,” said Scott.

There were also far fewer boats and stops were often very rustic.

In November 2003, the Uelands dropped anchor in South Africa and stayed 14 months.

"It was a fabulous country, just stunning,” said Susan.

While there, the couple bought a car and criss-crossed the country several times, going on photo safaris as well as a four-day beach walk where they were handed off to different tribes along the way.

When they left, it took them three months to get around the southern end of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope, also known as the Cape of Storms. They sailed across the South Atlantic and spent six months in Brazil, celebrating Christmas 2005 in Trinidad.

From there it was a six-month jaunt through the eastern Caribbean and back to Florida last June. Mission accomplished. They sold the boat in December, literally removing one ton of gear. Since docking, the pair is still finding their land legs and deciding what comes next. They recently bought a house near Traverse City and are giving remodeling a try.

"Our trip gave us an appreciation for the United States, for those things that we take for granted,” said Scott.

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