Parkites turn a life on the water into a business
The Esprit had stopped again, this time at night.
It was one of the many barbed ironies of modernity that the insurance company would not allow Quincey Cummings and Mitchell Andrus to sail the relatively simple journey through the open ocean to Hawaii, and instead required them to sail their new yacht, a Kelly Peterson 46, up the coast of Mexico to reach their port in Berkeley, California. They had to travel against the Pacific winds and current, up the rough coastal flow and through shipping lanes and fishing territory, because the boat they had just bought in Panama, that represented their plans to start a travel agency, could be salvaged if something went wrong near the coast.
That was why Quincey Cummings was pulling a mask and snorkel over her head at 3:45 a.m.
In the darkness she and Andrus, the owners of the boat for about a month, had not seen a web of fishing line before it fouled up their vessel.
The line, set out by residents of the Mexican mainland 20 miles away, had snagged on the part of the boat that protects its propeller, called the skegg. An elaborate web of polypropylene line and hooks was dragging behind them, slowing their progress and threatening to entangle the propeller.
Andrus had cleared a line from the skegg earlier in their trip; so had Brian Cline, a friend who had joined Cummings and Andrus to help them with the trip. It was Cummings’ turn.
She pushed from her mind the fear of whatever could be lurking out of sight, and slipped over the back of the boat, past where the hailing port, Park City, was painted on the stern, into the dark and indifferent water. She could hear clicks from nearby dolphins, but couldn’t see them.
It was all in a shift’s work.
They did sail
Andrus, 31, learned to sail on the Strawberry and Deer Creek reservoirs from his father, an avid sailor, while growing up in Park City. Cummings, 30, spent the first 10 years of her life in the Philippines and Hong Kong, where her family lived because of her father’s work. Both Andrus and Cummings attended Park City High School, but they were as ships passing in the night until they finally met each other attending the University of Utah in 2008.
By that time, Andrus was sailing a 23-foot Beneteau First around the Great Salt Lake in his free time, and invited Cummings out on a brisk October morning to join him.
“The salinity of the Great Salt Lake is so dense, it was windy but the water was just glass, and there’s no one else out there,” Cummings said.
They let out the large rainbow sail from the front of the boat, called a spinnaker, and cut across the lake in what would be the first waterborne trip of many the two would make together.
At that time, Andrus was burnt out on school. He felt he was going through the motions of business school, so he had taken a job with SeaMester. During his first summer with the organization he taught sailing to college students in the Caribbean. At the end of the three-month session, he heard SeaMester was looking for skippers and mates to help run a similar program for high schoolers in the British Virgin Islands, and he raised his hand for the job.
For the next five years he spent his summers on a 50-foot boat showing between 10 and 13 high schoolers the ropes of sailing.
The rest of the year he would come back to Utah to take a couple semesters of school, work at JANS, a Park City sporting goods store, and ski. He and Cummings started dating and stayed close as she worked toward a degree in human development with a minor in education while working in Park City.
“Just all over,” Cummings said of her jobs in Park City.
In 2012 they took a trip together to the Caribbean. Andrus had to be down there for work anyway, and his flight was paid for by his employer. He also got steep discounts on boat charters, so they rented a 30-foot sailboat and spent a week on the ocean.
It was Cummings’ first overnight sailing trip and her first time sailing in the Caribbean.
But the area wasn’t exactly putting on a show for her.
It was cold, rainy and windy through her whole stay.
“In the tropics, rainstorms last 15, 20 minutes, but these lasted half the day,” Andrus said.
At the end of the trip he asked Cummings what she thought of their multi-day cruise.
“She was like, ‘I loved it’” Andrus said.
“Perfect,” he told her. “If you loved that, it only gets better.”
The next May they graduated from college, got married, moved to Berkeley California and both became instructors for SeaMester.
They spent the next two summers teaching for SeaMester, returning to Berkeley Merina, where they lived on a sailboat they had bought.
Quincey attended the nearby Bowman School of Nutrition and Culinary Arts, where she learned to cook, while Andrus found work as a sailing instructor for Olympic Circle Sailing Club, based out of Berkeley Merina.
During SeaMesters, they would teach sailing skills and other “soft skills” to the teenage pupils, who were sometimes away from their homes for the first time.
Cummings said the job was beautiful, rewarding, and often dramatic.
The close quarters of the boat forced together a number of people who were dealing with adolescent issues.
“You can only go 50 feet away from another person,” she said.
After two years of SeaMester, Cummings said it was time the two looked at other options.
“We were getting old compared to a lot of other staff,” Andrus explained.
Cummings said the couple wanted to leave while their memories of the organization were good.
Andrus focused more on OCSC, and started leading trips with them while Cummings got a job at the Walnut Creek Wellness Center. In 2016 they guided a flotilla of nine boats around the Caribbean. Andrus organized the whole excursion, including planning activities and instructing a handful of guests who paid a higher fee to gain experience from knowledgeable sailors.
They prepared food – which Andrus said they “love to do” – and made sure everyone was getting what they wanted from the 10-day trip.
“We thankfully had the right people,” Andrus said. “We also do really well at creating a group environment.”
For a few years, Cummings and Andrus had been toying with the idea of hosting sails themselves – charter excursions that took people off the beaten path, taught them sailing, and fed them their personally prepared meals.
During a meal, the group started sharing how they were having a great time with Cummings and Andrus. The couple saw it as an opportunity to float their idea, and the group supported them, even brainstorming ideas for the business over the course of the trip, which gave Cummings and Andrus confidence in their plan.
The next leap would be to buy a boat.
“We started immediately looking,” Andrus said. “We had a couple of days at the end of the trip before we had to go back to California. So we looked at a couple of boats for sale in St. Martin. Like, ‘Let’s switch the light switch and start this thing.’”
The vessel needed to be large enough to bring guests on board, have a substantial galley for Cummings to work in, plus worthy of hosting boutique, intimate cruises – and, of course, to be seaworthy, or at least considerable potential to be after a few months in dry dock. It also needed to be listed at a good price.
To raise money, Cummings and Andrus started selling advance trips aboard their future boat, and everyone from the OCSC flotilla trip bought a spot. Cummings and Andrus also got a substantial bank loan and some help from their parents, bringing their total equity for the endeavor to around $150,000.
A full 18 months of searching later, they found a boat that fit the bill – a Kelly Peterson 46 in excellent condition for $125,000.
“It was a turnkey operation,” Cummings said. “It was ready to go from the get-go.”
The only problem was, it was an ocean away, on the far side of the Panama Canal in Colón.
Take the long way home
The Panama Canal is both an engineering marvel and, paradoxically, a colossal headache for sailors. Boats travel through a system of levees, sometimes cramped next to disproportionately large neighbors for hours.
“Within the sailing world you hear all sorts of horror stories of people taking their little sailboats through the canal with these massive cruise ships,” Cummings said. “It can be pretty frightening.”
Cummings and Andrus had the pleasure of taking Esprit, their new boat, through the Canal on their first real sail as owners of the boat. Cummings’ parents, who don’t have a sailing background, came down to help with the navigation. It was a nerve-wracking but blissfully uneventful trip.
From the near side of the canal it was an eight-day open water sail to the Mexican state of Chiapas – their first of three stops in the country – and a 47-day trip (half spent underway) up the coast, back to Berkeley.
It was the biggest sailing trip either Cummings or Andrus had been on. They were out of sight of land for days, motor sailing at an average pace of 150 miles per day and traveling day and night. Their friends, Brian Cline and Mauritzo Ennazo, joined them to lend a hand.
They started sailing north.
The first time they cut themselves loose from a fish trap, they were approached by the fishermen who set it. A full 75 miles off shore, a small open boat with seven men motored up to the Esprit.
At first, the crew on the Esprit was nervous. They weren’t sure how the men would react to the destruction of a piece of their livelihood.
Ennazo, who speaks fluent Spanish, spoke with the men in the boat and explained the situation to both parties. It would all be OK.
Cummings and Andrus outfitted the men with new fishing line, hooks, and cold beer.
“They were so happy to get that,” Cummings said.
The Esprit continued north, stopping three times in Mexico and four in the U.S. while picking its way through weather windows.
Arriving back in the Berkeley Marina was a huge relief, but they still had work to do.
“We thought we would have instant success in San Franciso,” Andrus said. “It turned out it was a little bit harder than that.”
Cummings said the homecoming was a “reality check,” as they tried to drum up business by offering cruises into the San Francisco Bay.
“The marketing is harder than we anticipated,” she said.
Fortunately they both found work at the Berkeley Marina. Cummings took a job as a project manager at a boatyard while Andrus managed the fleet for OCSC, overseeing five men who were responsible for maintaining 50 boats. Between those jobs they were able get steep discounts on both parts and dry dock time while earning good salaries. They started bringing in income while improving Esprit. Now, it’s ready for this summer, and Cummings and Andrus will be hosting trips again.
Among smaller trips, they are planning to sail to California’s Channel Islands in the fall, most of which is a marine sanctuary.
Ideally, they would like to host trips to Alaska and Polynesia, and perhaps expand their outings to all types of travel.
But no matter how far they get from Park City, the couple said it will always be home. It’s where they learned their first hospitality and sailing skills, and the reason it is still listed as Esprit’s hailing port.
“The boat will never come to Park City,” Cummings said. “But with wanting to cruise and see the whole world, this is definitely still home for us.”
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Returning to Park City’s Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church on Saturday is the annual Bike and Hike fundraiser in support of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry.