[screenshot from and full story in Outside magazine]
Anchored in an aqua lagoon, surrounded by a necklace of thin coral beach, the 32-foot cutter Saltbreaker has a tight below-decks cabin that smells like mildew, body odor, and, just now, a strip-mall dollar store. The space is a catastrophe of new T-shirts, cheap baseball hats, sunglasses, ballpoint pens, disposable lighters, aerosol string, flashlights, nylon rope, and four liters of Jack Daniel’s, the duty-free maximum.
“I heard you can get anything here for a bottle of Jack Daniel’s,” says Alex Kleeman, Saltbreaker’s 29-year-old co-skipper.
It’s a balmy afternoon in June 2012. Alex and his 27-year-old brother, Nick, are floating inside a sparsely populated atoll called Fakarava, part of the Tuamotu island group in French Polynesia. The plan is to trade this dime-store gear for food and supplies as they head west toward New Zealand, with stops at the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, and many places in between. Bourbon and aerosol string they’ve got, but they’re running low on things they can actually eat.
The Kleeman brothers are classic examples of a timeless urge: to do something very different with your life—now, not years from now, even if doing so requires walking away from ordinary comforts and charting a radical, potentially dangerous new course. They’re middle-class Midwesterners from suburban Chicago, and they grew up about as far from the Pacific as the Americas are from Polynesia. But they decided to ride out the Great Recession with a full-on adventure, so they pooled their savings, bought a yacht for half-price on Craigslist, took a few sailing lessons, and set off to circle the world. After months of preparations, they left in September 2011, accompanied on the San Francisco–to–Polynesia leg by a college buddy of Nick’s, Dave Green.
Eight months after cutting dock lines in San Francisco, Alex flew back there for two weeks, to be the best man at his best friend’s wedding. Now he has returned to the boat, and his father, Tom, joined him for a quick visit. Alex brought two suitcases full of swappable goods, along with wide-eyed tales about the shock of being in civilization again. “While I was home I got land sick,” he says. “One night I just woke up and puked. One day I was riding an escalator and thought, ‘It would take 50 solar panels to keep this thing going. What a waste.’ ”
Read the full story, written by Sarah Rose for Outside magazine, here.