Kevin Schank first sailed while vacationing in Belize, and the Durango native couldn’t get it out of his mind.
“From then on, I’d always wanted to get a sailboat and go as far as it could go,” he said.
Schank is doing just that. He and three friends, including fellow Durango High School and Fort Lewis College graduate Eric Elliott, will set sail in late October from Ventura, Calif., in a bid to sail around the world.
The idea to sail around the world came up on Schank’s birthday in May.
“We just had a few beers and decided we didn’t want to continue working our day jobs,” he said.
Schank was installing roofing at the time.
Elliott found a 31-foot monohull for $4,000 on Craigslist, and the foursome has spent the last several months improving the boat, named Emma Bell.
“We’ve just taken the boat apart and made it bombproof,” Schank said.
Schank and Elliott graduated from Durango High in 2004 and later from FLC in 2010, as did Pam O’Donnell, who is Elliott’s girlfriend. The fourth crew member is Tyler Rowland.
Now 27, Schank spent a few summers fighting wildfires in Alaska and later Colorado as part of the Craig Hotshots. He met Rowland on the hotshot crew. Schank moved to California in May 2012.
Schank’s desire to set sail was motivated in part by the realization that life is short. He was good friends with Peter Carver and Joseph Philpott, two Durangoans who were killed by avalanches in separate incidents while backcountry skiing last winter.
“That, I think, inspired us a little bit to put life in perspective,” Schank said. “You never know when your time is up.”
Schank’s’ parents are Dave, a retired physical therapist, and Marty, a retired elementary school teacher, both of Durango.
Dave Schank said Kevin grew up skiing and mountain biking and has always been adventurous.
“We’re going to be concerned parents no matter what, but regardless of that, we support him wholeheartedly,” Dave Schank said.
Growing up far from the ocean hasn’t hindered Kevin from pursuing sailing.
The crew plans to depart in late October and aims to celebrate Halloween on Catalina Island, 30 miles off the Los Angeles coast. From there, they plan to sail south to the Baja California peninsula and into the Sea of Cortez.
There, they’ll hone their sailing skills and rest until next spring, when they want to complete the Pacific Ocean “puddle jump” from Baja California to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific.
“From there, there’s just millions of little islands we’ll just hop,” Schank said.
Advice should be plentiful for the young sailors.
Hank Young of Durango sailed throughout the world from 1952 to 1985, and wrote a book, Voyage of the Scimitar, about his travels. He recommended the crew have a sturdy boat, keep a good knife handy and designate a captain so there’s no arguing when an emergency strikes.
“The biggest problem you have is not hurricanes or storms or sinking the boat,” Young said. “The biggest problem is people.”
While the group aims to circumnavigate the globe, the sailors say they won’t push it.
“We’ll be constantly reassessing whether we want to continue,” Schank said.
Added Elliott: “I don’t want to take any risks. We’re not going to do anything stupid. If it gets too hard, we’ll stop.”
Along the way, they’ll surf and enjoy the local cultures. They plan to bring musical instruments to play and tools to repair boats in hopes of raising money along the way.
Through it all, they plan to shoot video and update their website, More Hands on Deck at www.morehandsondeckhq.com. Schank has experience in the limelight as a former cast member of the TNT adventure reality show “72 Hours.”
Elliott, who also is 27, said now is the time in their lives to take off.
“We don’t have kids,” he said. “We can live comfortably with little money. We can make some of the sacrifices without it being too hard.”
Circumnavigating the globe can take two to three years. The crew isn’t going to rush it.
“We have nowhere to be and no time frame, so I think that’s a smart way to do it,” Elliott said.