On Watch - Carole Heller

Carole HellerHaving sailed across the Atlantic five times and delivered countless boats, expert navigator Carole Heller is a self-described sailing addict.

“I grew up in New York City in a non-sailing family,” says Carole, who lives in Fairfield, Connecticut with her husband Warren. “I went to summer camp in Vermont for many years, and when I was 12 they bought two sailboats. There was only one sailing counselor, and within two weeks I was running the second boat. My attraction to sailing was instantaneous, although I had to make my own way. I graduated from college in 1961, and a couple years later a camp friend called and said, ‘How about we buy a Lightning? We can get one for $900.’ We daysailed the Lightning out of City Island that summer, learned a lot and had some excitement. Then I met Warren and got engaged, so we sold the boat.”

“Warren was in the Navy, and after we were married he got stationed in Newport. The Navy had a nice fringe benefit: For fifty cents, I could sail a Rhodes 19 for half a day. For another fifty cents, Warren could take lessons. We did lots of sailing, and it was fabulous. I saw a sign for the Newport Sail and Power Squadron, and took as many of their boating courses as I could. Those were the America’s Cup days, and a friend would get us tickets to go out on a destroyer for the races. One day, I met a couple on board and discovered something amazing – ordinary people could afford boats they could sleep on! They invited us out on their boat, and the hook sunk even deeper!”

“We moved to Fairfield in 1969. Warren’s uncle gave us $1,000, and we bought a Rhodes 18. Our son Eric was three when our daughter Robin was born in 1971. I told Warren, ‘We’re using whatever we have in the bank on a boat that I can put this baby on, because I am not spending the summer on land!’ We bought a 27-foot Pearson Renegade.”

“I’d taken lots of classes with the Penfield Power Squadron, including celestial navigation. I knew I wanted to go offshore, and needed a boat in which to do it. I saw a Pearson 323 at a boat show, and a month later we visited the dealer. It had what I needed to sail to Bermuda, and Sublime was delivered the following spring.”

“In 1979, Warren and I and three friends sailed Sublime to Bermuda, using celestial. Eric flew down and sailed back to Connecticut with us. At age 10, he was a total sailor and could do anything on the boat. We did it again three years later, when Robin was 10. I said, ‘When we leave the dock I am your captain, not your mother.’ They’d both done well in the sailing program at Cedar Point Yacht Club, and every college application essay they wrote was about sailing to Bermuda. Those four legs were the roughest I’ve ever done, including a norther in the Stream with 25-foot waves. The book said that with a storm trysail and storm jib the boat would take care of us, and she did. Now I was really in trouble…I had offshore disease!”

“I started getting calls asking for help bringing boats to Bermuda or back from the BVI,” says Carole, who holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-Ton Masters license and served as Penfield Power Squadron’s Education Officer for many years. “At a Squadron dinner a member asked, ‘Would you like to take a boat to England?’ My immediate response was, ‘When?’ There were four of us, and they asked me to be captain. The boat, a Moody 42, was beautifully set up and had satnav and Decca (the English equivalent of Loran) but no refrigeration, so I had to learn about bringing farm-fresh eggs and hard cheeses. There’s an art to eating things other than SPAM!”

“I’ve subsequently done four more transatlantics. My friend Ginny Vought and her husband Walker from Pequot Yacht Club had retired and were planning a long-term cruise on their Cal 39 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died four weeks later, and Ginny asked me to sail to Europe. We sailed the Atlantic Circle – the Azores, the Med, back through Gibraltar to the Canaries, the Caribbean, and back to Southport…a total of two years.”

Carole says a good attitude is the most important attribute in a crew. “A young man named Jeff Mullally, who had been racing with a friend of mine, joined Ginny and I for the passage to the Azores,” she says. “Jeff had never steered a boat or been offshore, but he had a very positive attitude and was a great crew.”

“My latest adventure was mentoring the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Women’s Team in the Marion Bermuda Race on their J/44 Spirit. The main blew out the first morning, so we put up the storm trysail. The next day we had the end of Tropical Storm Bill in the Gulf Stream, and the girls got a real ocean experience. The boat went beautifully, and it was a great experience for me.”

Carole is a member of the Cruising Club of America and the Ocean Cruising Club. “I’m proud to fly their burgees,” she says, “because they represent real achievement.” She’s done several deliveries with solo circumnavigator Brechin Morgan, a recipient of the Joshua Slocum Society’s Golden Circle Award. “Brec and I have delivered a Maine Cat 40 to and from Florida for years,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of fun together, and it’s a great relationship.”

“I was a research biochemist in my first life, but decided to become an accountant because of the sailing disease,” Carole chuckles. “I bring tax returns on boats, and answer clients’ questions via the Internet. Warren and I enjoy daysailing Sublime, and I race out of Cedar Point on Andy Hoffman’s Sabre 34 Gnosis and Ron Silverman’s C&C 41 Endless Summer. I also sail on Eric Camiel’s Chance 39 Revelation. They’re great sailors, and I’m always learning something.”

Carole relishes the strong community among cruisers, and the freedom that sailing provides. “As a woman, it’s the only time I can wear one hat,” she says. “I’m just addicted to the ocean!”

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.