Growing up in suburbia didn’t lend itself to the idea of adventure, but somewhere in college between English 101 and sailing on the Charles River in Boston, a shift began. I knew I was never meant to live a conventional life.

The beauty of the Whitsundays made Leah rethink her perception of sailing.

I did a short stint in art school, and one of my favorite sculpting teachers, who lived on a sailboat in a marina in Boston, recommended Tania Aebi’s book, Maiden Voyage. Perhaps I was already talking about my dreams of adventure to far-away lands, or perhaps he knew this book would spark my desire to learn to sail. Either way, I couldn’t put it down as I followed the travels of the youngest woman (at the time) single-handing a small sailboat around the world.

When she started her journey she was younger than I was, and she knew next to nothing. “I can do that!” I thought, after all, I pretty much had those credentials. I signed up for my first sailing course in a dingy on the Charles River in the middle of winter, an ill-fated plan on my part. The frigid, wet experience proved enough to keep me in a daydream state for a while longer when it came to boats.

Shortly after college I moved to Las Vegas, no water in sight — definitely no sailing. I worked toward funding my travels around the world. Fifteen months later, my first long trip took me to Australia and New Zealand for three months, and again the sailing dream came near.

On that trip I booked a three-day sailing excursion on a schooner in the Whitsunday Islands. My first taste of crystal blue waters, snorkeling on colorful reefs, and feeling the gentle kiss of sun and wind were far different than the cold, murky slap of the Charles River in winter.

This was my first wooden boat and the foreshadowing of life experiences to come. I couldn’t get enough of climbing out along the bowsprit or up to the crow’s nest — which they begrudgingly let me do. As the captain helmed lazily with one foot, the mate walked us backpackers and tourists through basic sail handling saying, “Mates, you’re just experiencing another shitty day in paradise.” I kept thinking, "This is the life I am meant to live."

On the last day of my travels I sat in a youth hostel (Aussies and Kiwis call them backpackers) waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport to go back home to the United States.

A scruffy-looking guy with sun-bronzed skin and blond-streaked hair walked in and put a sign up on the hostel bulletin board. I looked at my watch, wondering where the taxi was, and then peered at the sign. It said, "Crew Wanted: Help us sail our boat to Papua New Guinea."

I looked at the ticket in my hand from New Zealand back to the States. I thought to myself, “Should I? Could I?”

— Leah Kaiz

Read "Living the Sailing Dream, Part Two" next Tuesday.

Written by: Leah Kaiz Fellows
Leah Kaiz Fellows is a former sailboat captain, PADI dive instructor, and avid traveler. She currently runs her own marketing company on land, Blue Gypsy Inc. Future plans include buying a catamaran and sailing around the world.