BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER – As a kid, Curtis Jazwiecki read his dad’s sailing magazines cover to cover, devouring accounts of the Whitbread Round the World Race and the Vendee Globe Race – and imagined himself racing across the ocean.
Now, the 1998 Anthony Wayne graduate is sailing around the world, following a route similar to one used by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first to circumnavigate the globe 500 years ago.
In July 2019, Curtis, his fiancée Kate Gladieux and their dog Roxy boarded the Sweet Ruca, a 2000 J/46 sailboat, and began their journey from Jamestown, R.I. By the end of last month, the trio had made a steamy crossing of the equator and were sailing along the coast of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, close enough to see the famous Christ the Redeemer statue that rises 2,300 feet above the city.
“The sail down was beautiful. We saw phosphorescences that lit up the water and dolphins that swam around in it, making trails that looked like something out of a Disney movie,” Curtis said. “And the stars far offshore are magnificent.”
Sailing around the world isn’t something attempted by the inexperienced. Both Curtis and Kate, a 2008 Monroe (Mich.) High School graduate, have years of sailing under their belts and prepared for this adventure with research and input from experts before selling their Ohio home and planning to live off the grid for two years – a plan that has been stretched out due to COVID-19.
Curtis’ father Dennis had a few smaller boats that he sailed in western Lake Erie, and Curtis went along on some of those adventures starting at age 2. He later took classes through a city of Toledo sailing program, but it was basketball, jet-skiing and travel that stoked him as a teenager and young adult.
While at AW, Curtis played tennis and was on the NLL championship basketball team. While studying marketing at Bowling Green State University, Curtis started his first business, selling personal watercraft parts online. He sold that business and operated a chain of his father’s convenience stores, then worked as a Nationwide Insurance claims division leader before starting a Maumee software company in 2006.
“Our goal at the time was to help small retailers compete online with big-box stores in the burgeoning world of e-commerce,” he said. “We were at the beginning of a software-as-service revolution.”
That small team put out some impressive software, he said, but didn’t have the capital to compete with ever-increasing large companies that are well-traded. He sold the company in 2017.
During the past 20 years, he traveled often, visiting most of the states as well as Mexico and Jamaica. At age 25, he got the sailing bug again and started crewing during local races on a friend’s boat. A few years later, he bought his own boat and dove into racing at the national level. He sailed to the Bahamas and Cuba as part of three sailboat racing teams.
“Those trips really opened my eyes to international sailing,” he said.
He met Kate when his national racing crew was looking for a lightweight person. She was a Junior Sailing National Champion and a college soccer player who shared Curtis’ love for sailing, mountain biking and adventure.
Until he met Kate, Curtis’ mother Jan would often joke that his boat took precedence over having a girlfriend. His first boat was the Gnarly Ruca. The Sweet Ruca is Mexican slang for “wonderful girlfriend.”
While Curtis took two years of Spanish at AW, Kate is a world language teacher specializing in Spanish. A University of Toledo graduate, she was teaching for Sylvania Schools before the two quit their jobs.
One of her goals during the trip was to expand her knowledge of South America. While she had studied in Spain, she wanted to learn more about the cultures of South America.
Both are able to speak enough Spanish, Portuguese and the language spoken in Carriacou, a small island in the Grenadines, where they spent a lot of time.
Because of the pandemic, the couple’s plans were altered, spending more time ashore in one place – including lockdown in the British Virgin Islands – and less time island hopping
“This has been a blessing in disguise, as some places we never thought we would spend a lot of time in, we really got to know,” he said. “We have gone behind the scenes and had a local experience.”
On the Bahaman island of Eleuthera, they were invited to two Christmas parties and a family reunion. In the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands, they befriended those running a charter yacht fleet.
“We ended up scuba diving with them and they relayed to us fathoms of yacht industry insider knowledge,” Curtis said.
They spent eight months in Carriacou. No mail service was available, and the ferry ran just twice a week. The local fishermen use small wooden boats and entrepreneurship is rampant, as every business is family-owned and operated.
“We really embraced the local culture and the people there were incredibly welcoming,” Curtis said. “We found the same warmth in the Azores. We now have many friends there as well. There was something magical in those islands that words can’t describe.”
On their website www. sweetruca.com and on YouTube and Instagram, Kate and Curtis detail their voyage, from how to sleep and eat aboard a boat to navigation, power supplies and getting along while always just 46 feet apart from one another.
“Our goal is to share our knowledge and experience to return the favor of those who inspired us and inspire others to accomplish their dreams,” Curtis said.
While sailing around the world and meeting new people in exotic locations seems like fun, co-captaining a boat is a 24-hour job that requires a lot of attention.
Sleeping is done in shorter cycles, and it’s all weather-dependent. In good weather, they may get a lot of sleep – going days without changing a maneuver or a sail. In bad weather or changing conditions, it’s all four hands on deck. The biggest challenge is sailing long distances close to shore, where there are many things to run into, like ships, land, buoys and oil rigs.
“A boat is continually moving and noisy. Imagine sleeping in a car driving down a bumpy dirt road,” Curtis said.
Having good radar and setting autopilots and alarms provides alerts to obstacles or weather.
Technological advances have made sailing much safer. The main improvements are weather forecasting, GPS positioning and communication.
“We can avoid storms and have a better idea of exactly where we are than sailors could in the past,” Curtis said. An automated vessel identification system allows larger ships to see the Sweet Ruca on a screen and vice versa. This is one of many tools that didn’t exist for recreational boaters 10 years ago.
Safety is still a concern, as the Sweet Ruca can be well out of range of help, and it can be days without seeing another ship. If something happens, the couple has to deal with it alone. Basic safety comes down to staying on the boat, thinking and planning ahead, and doing it right the first time, Curtis said. Still, some incidents can’t be avoided, like a collision with an unidentified floating object (UFO) such as a lost container, pirates or a lightning strike. The Sweet Ruca has equipment to mitigate potential dangers, like a life raft and emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).
All of the work on the boat is done by Curtis and Kate – from engine repairs and bottom cleaning to splicing ropes, polishing, taking care of the fiberglass, obtaining provisions and cooking.
“The boat is continually moving, so wear and tear builds up quickly,” Curtis said. “We have to really stay on top of maintenance, constantly checking everything on the boat. Some say that sailing around the world is nothing more than working on boats in exotic locations. There is a semblance of truth to that.”
Living off the grid means the couple must be fully prepared to support themselves for long periods without plugging into local utilities. Batteries, solar panels and a wind generator help keep them powered.
Without unlimited cash flow, everything is done on a budget, but the couple won’t be cutting short their plans even though the two-year goal was derailed by COVID-19.
“We really enjoy what we have learned living off the grid with less cost and environmental impact and can foresee using that knowledge in what we do next,” Curtis said.
Argentina, Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, Chile and rounding Cape Horn are next.
“We will spend a few months exploring the fjords of Chile’s Patagonian Pacific coast, which is so remote that some of it is still uncharted,” he said.
From northern Chile, the couple will cross the South Pacific Ocean and visit the islands of the Marquesas and Fiji, then New Zealand and Malaysia. After crossing the Indian Ocean and rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, the Sweet Ruca will head north along the coast, stopping at St. Helena and Ascension Island before crossing the Pacific back to the Caribbean and the United States. That could take another one to two years.
“With COVID, we are keeping our options open and just going day to day,” Curtis said.
When they finish their trip around the world, there are other places that they would like to visit: Alaska, Japan, Europe, Russia and the Middle East are just a few.
To follow the Sweet Ruca, visit Facebook, YouTube or www.sweetruca.com.