Linda and Steve Stelmaszyk departed for a trip around the world on their yacht Alora in January of 2018. The pair spent two-and-a-half years circumnavigating the globe, sailing across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
But just as their journey was nearing its end, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change in plans from the celebration in Saint Lucia they’d originally envisioned at the end of their trip. They returned to Moorestown in late May to a different home than they had left two years ago, and are reacclimating to life on land.
The pair had already been sailing for decades when they decided to take a trip around the world. Linda said the idea is something a lot of sailors dream of, and upon retiring, the couple had the time, means and experience to make their dream a reality.
Before they even departed, the Stelmaszyks spent two years on planning that included having a new boat built specifically for the trip. Since it can be difficult to get service in some parts of the world, they had a vessel constructed that had new gear, additional charting and light wind sails.
Linda said while their children were nervous about their parents’ voyage, not many of their friends were surprised given how they had talked about a trip around the world before. The couple even asked their friends to join them for stretches along the way, to have more hands on deck for some of the work but also to keep them company.
They met up with a rally of about 38 ships in Saint Lucia in January, 2018, an event they’d joined through World ARC, a company that helps facilitate the logistics of customs, passing through the Panama Canal and other issues in countries that are difficult to enter.
But while they had joined a 15-month rally, the couple thought it might be a bit too fast. So in November, 2018, they parted with the World ARC group and made their way to the South Pacific, then eventually to New Zealand for its summer season. They explored the north island before returning to the U.S. for the holiday season.
The pair then flew back to New Zealand in January where they spent a month sailing from Opua to Whangerei through the barrier islands and left the boat to explore the South Island by land. After a few months of exploration, they flew home to await the season change in New Zealand that would allow them to return to the tropics.
They sailed from Whangerei back to Opua in New Zealand in May, 2019 to await the weather window to Tonga. On June 1, they headed back to Tonga and rejoined the World ARC to sail to Fiji and complete the rest of their worldwide journey.
Linda said their stretches on sea were largely peaceful. She never feared being on the ocean because the couple’s previous years of sailing had given them a sense of what to expect.
Steve said the boat practically runs itself, and as long as the wind and weather are going your way, it’s smooth sailing. The couple quickly fell into a routine, with one person up at a time monitoring everything while the other slept. They were both up for meals, and when friends came aboard, they were able to further rotate responsibilities.
They made their way to Fiji, Australia, Indonesia and Cape Town (to name just a few) in 2019. By February, 2020, they had landed in Salvador, a Brazilian city where they celebrated Carnivale.
They arrived in Grenada in March and learned the news of the virus. Rather than journey on to Saint Lucia, where they’d planned to end their journey celebrating with fellow World ARC travelers, they discovered that all of the islands were being shut down, and they were stuck in Grenada for the next five weeks.
The Stelmaszyks finally got permission in May, 2020 to sail back to the U.S. through Puerto Rico That month, they made their way back to home port in Oxford, Maryland.
Linda said while the end to their journey wasn’t what they’d envisioned, it didn’t diminish the experience. They traveled to 18 countries, had 27 months’ worth of adventures and logged 40,000 miles.
“We still pinch ourselves and say, ‘You know, what we were doing last year at this time?’” Linda noted.
The part of the trip that stands out to Linda the most was not of a place but of people they met along the way. While the cultures of the South Pacific are so vastly different than in America, everyone deals with the same daily issues and struggles. She said the journey expanded the couple’s world view and made them think of themselves less as Americans and more as citizens of the world.
Steve expressed a similar sentiment, saying the trip underscored how life is about experience, not possessions. He explained that while they need things to survive, that isn’t the pair’s focus: Now they consider home just a place to live.
The Stelmaszyks are already eagerly planning their next trip. According to Steve, sailors always need to have the next trip on deck. In about a year, the couple plan to journey to Europe.
“We do long to get out again and experience that freedom and that unknown,” Steve said.