Stone Boat Odyssey by Ralph and Phyllis Nansen is a follow-your-dream story many sailors will relate to. In the mid-1960s, Ralph and Phyllis were a successful Pacific Northwest couple in their 30s who shared a dream of sailing the world’s oceans and visiting its exotic ports on their own boat. A Boeing engineer, Ralph was a program manager in NASA’s moon-landing effort. Phyllis was a working professional opera singer. They had three young children. Neither Ralph nor Phyllis knew how to sail.
Working within these constraints, the Nasens nurtured their dream . . . overcoming false starts, setbacks, and near tragedy along the way. Sweethearts since childhood, they worked together over the next three decades, choosing first boats to learn on, learning to sail, and ultimately building their 55-foot ferrocement passage-making yacht. They persisted through multiple moves back and forth between Seattle and Louisiana, following Ralph’s NASA moon shot and later space shuttle responsibilities. Once they sold their final house, they became liveaboards. This made it possible to spend weekends and holidays and to take many mid-week overnight sails, further increasing their experience and knowledge as cruisers.
Uncommonly (and often hilariously) candid about their “learning experiences” and near misses, the Nansens bring us along on their shared journey from the muddy bayous of Louisiana through the world-class cruising waters of Washington State’s San Juan Islands and British Columbia, to the palm-graced atolls of the South Pacific. Ralph learned all the boat’s systems, becoming Mr. Fix-it to fellow cruisers. Phyllis learned celestial navigation (before GPS was available) and ham radio operation. They both mastered sailing and boathandling.
Less like exotic and daring adventurers, and more like capable professionals, Ralph and Phyllis Nansen have shared in the writing of a book that shows us how it can be done, how they did it, and the rewards they enjoyed as a result.
Stone Boat Odyssey by Ralph and Phyllis Nansen, 2011; 320 Pages.