Eric Laakmann didn't want to risk following the trend of saving for retirement, then living his dreams, so the young American set about taking a much different and more courageous journey.

After college, the keen sailor from Washington saved like mad from his job at Apple engineering and then managing the engineering of the Apple Watch, and was able to purchase Zephyr, an Outremer 55 Light catamaran, and have enough savings to sail for several years.

In April 2018, and still in his twenties, he set off and, after much adventure, including coming face to face with icebergs larger than cars, and sharing the passage to New Zealand with a giant venomous centipede, arrived in Whangarei in November with three additional passengers.

"I knew that saving for retirement until I was 65 and then living my dreams is a flawed compromise at best," he explains. "You might have all the money you ever wanted but who knows what kind of shape anyone's health will be in at that point? Was it the right financial decisions to set sail? Definitely not. Was it the right life decision? Without a doubt."

Advertisement

He adds: "This Mark Twain quote comes to mind: 'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails'."

With that in mind, he left everything behind to live out his dream and first headed to Alaska, picking up crew he met along the way. It was there the first adventures began.

Eric recalls: "We'd been in an anchorage surrounded by 12 brown bears, as well as woken up to Zephyr getting clipped by a medium-sized iceberg while at anchor at 4am one time."

Before heading across the South Pacific, they sailed to Mexico and, in May, 2019, Eric set off with a crew of six across the pacific to French Polynesia.

Eventually, the crew all went their separate ways and Roxy Darrow, from California, jumped on board.

"Roxy and I met during a beach frisbee game. The funny thing is that we didn't even like each other when we first met but, through shared experiences, we developed a trust in each other that has endured the now 3,000 miles we've sailed together."

In August, they arrived in Vava'u Tonga where Lauren Michelle Fritz, from Idaho, who was working as a whale swim guide for the season, and Abby Dahl, from Oregon, who was working at an eco-resort, also joined them.

"Lauren had taken some basic sailing courses before leaving Tonga but had never done an overnight. Roxy has been boat hitchhiking from the US on her long journey to Japan and Abby had zero sailing experience. Arriving in New Zealand was the culmination of the longest sailing trip each of us had ever done," reflects Eric.

Advertisement

The group arrived in Whangarei because, after 19 months of sailing, Zephyr was in need of a little TLC.

"Whangarei is a legendary oasis for facilities to get proper work done on your vessel. That, and it is so nice to be in a proper town with everything, from department stores to yoga studios. Regarding New Zealand, I can honestly say that it is one of the friendliest places on earth that I have ever visited."

Eric describes a highlight of the trip as pulling Zephyr up to the face of massive tidewater glaciers in Alaska.

"Some were easily over 100m tall. It is unreal to watch in real time, a geological event. At some glaciers, every few minutes a piece of glacial ice, bigger than a car, would fall off, creating an explosive splash and sound. It was also a stark reminder of environmental changing ongoing on our planet and had the acute effect of making climate change even more salient."

The cited lowlight was of much smaller proportions but still too big and too close for comfort:

"In Tonga, we had a massive venomous centipede escape on board. One morning, while peeling leaves off bok choy, a 10cm centipede slithered out onto the floor. It took the shortest possible route to one of the most inaccessible parts the boat, a nearby wire/pipe conduit. Inside the conduit, it was inaccessible and we had to accept that we would be sharing our home with the beast until we could find him in the open and kill him.

"Wikipedia did little to dampen our fears as the page listed the species as 'highly venomous', 'extremely aggressive', 'anxious', and 'difficult to kill'. The movie 'Alien' comes to mind. Getting peaceful sleep was difficult. We nick-named the centipede Ted because saying 'centipede' was too much. We also had to make a rule that he was not allowed to be mentioned at night.

"On passage to New Zealand, we luckily managed to kill it. Much celebration was had on board that night," Eric chuckles.

Eric says one of the most valuable experiences of the sailing trip has been taking on crew.

"I've learned so much about myself, others and life from sharing my home. Through sharing in all of the high moments and overcoming all of the challenges of sailing a small boat across a big ocean, you develop a team dynamic that I haven't found matched by any experience on land."

The friends have since flown home for Christmas while Zephyr undergoes repairs but will return in January.

# To follow the travels of Zephyr or to contact Eric, follow their Instagram account @voyageofthezephyr.