Sean Finn was born in Ohio and attended Depaul University. He stayed in Chicago for a couple years, moved to L.A. and then to D.C. before moving back to Chicago again. Sean has been living on a twenty seven foot, custom made sail boat for over a year.
After I learned how awesome and fascinating his adventures were, I realized I had to ask Sean some questions so I could post him as the blog’s “People of the Ocean” feature.
What got you into sailing?
Sailing is half of it, the other half is traveling. I wanted to sail to Europe and also to Japan and India. I always wanted to get to Cape Horn. I might not make it there in this boat, but hey you never know.
What was the draw?
This is just what I wanted to do. I was between jobs with a little bit saved up. I knew I would have my whole life to save up money, so I just went for it. June 1st was my year anniversary of living on this boat. I have spent roughly seven nights off the boat since I started the trip.
Do you miss anything?
I miss a couple things. I miss a dog. I’m a huge dog person. I miss the veg days sitting and watching T.V. I don’t miss winter that’s for sure. I miss conveniences like A.C. Different types of food like steak. Every time I got into a town, I always get some sort of luxury like hamburgers or some sort of beef.
What made you choose to sail on your own?
I didn’t start off solo. My buddy made it for three months to Charleston. And then he left to go visit his girlfriend’s parents in Athens, Georgia. He came back and said he was out and that he couldn’t do it anymore.
I convinced him to help me get the boat to Florida. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going. I needed repairs, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do anymore. This guy in Titusville offered me money to do work on his boat. I was like, “Oh sure I’ll do it.”
I told him I had no boat skills, but that I would do my best. I started digging away, scraping his boat down, and there was no healthy wood. I scraped off so much wood you could push your finger into it. I told myself “I’m not finishing this,” but he was like six five and his name was Tennessee and he had a pony tail and drove a bulldozer so I patched it up and got the hell out of there. That’s why I’m not going back to Titusville ever again.
What would you say was one of the biggest obstacles you have overcome on the trip?
Reading a chart and reading weather. And making so many mistakes. I would constantly be realizing things that I should have done differently. Once you do it, you realize you gain experience. Little tiny things. Looking at the land and the contours of the land. Birds don’t stand on water. That’s one example.
One time I was inflating the dinghy while going a really nice coastal town. You go there and you never leave. Really nice and warm. Mooring balls, nice town, really friendly. I was trying to get there to stay there for a while. I needed to get my dinghy into shore. I was inflating the dinghy on deck as fast as I could, and it was getting harder and harder to see around it as it was filling with air. At one point, I was messing with the dinghy, and I looked up and a marker fifteen feet in the air was right in front of me. I almost smashed right into it.
Another time, I was sailing into the Bahamas, and there was twenty feet water, but it felt like open ocean. Because it was so shallow, there were waves. I was towing my dinghy at the time. I decided to get in my dinghy and snap pictures and videos with my iPad of the unmanned boat in front. There was nothing there to stop the boat from cruising on over the horizon if I had fallen overboard. I jumped in the dinghy and I took my video, and I reached to grab the line, but all the ocean started pouring into the dinghy. I was going too fast and the front of the dinghy was being pulled underwater. I shoved the iPad down my pants and was leaning as bar back as possible to pull myself back to my unmanned boat. That was the dumbest thing I’ve done in my life. That was almost suicidal.
What were one of the biggest hazards you faced on a daily basis?
Currents and tides were huge. They were as important as the weather. One time I anchored in a river in South Carolina, and because of the tide it dried up into barely even a little creek. I used to get paranoid about running aground. I’ve gotten myself out of it a few times.The best you can hope for is to turn and work yourself out.
What is the most important thing to have when you’re living on a boat?
A dry place to sleep is the most important thing. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.
What would you say is one of your favorite memories?
Fog of the Ages
Looking back on it, it was real amateurish. We were leaving the Alligator River, and I thought I could sail through the Albemarle Sound into Pamlico. The waves and weather were just bad. We were trying to find our way into this bay called Stumpy Point. It was three feet deep and had one six foot channel. Once we were going in, we were completely enveloped in fog. I didn’t trust the chart plotter at all. I felt the moment we drifted off the channel, we would run aground. The people using this channel were all fisherman, and I was expecting to crash right into me since there was zero visibility. We tried anchoring off to the side and waiting for the fog to rise. The fog was still bad as the sun went down. I got into the dinghy with my handheld VHF radio, and Matt idled the boat while I would scout out the passage ahead. At one point, I lost my sense of direction the fog was so thick. No reference point whatsoever. It was creepily scary. It hit me that I had no where to go if someone was motoring towards me. We made it all the way in, and it was perfectly fine. At the time it was a really big thing.
The Florida Keys: An Endurance Game
The Keys were quite the memory. At least when I was there. The wind was east at that point and strong every day. I actually traveled forty five miles west of Key West to some completely uninhabited islands, and I was going to make way way back to Key West. After four hours, I was maybe a mile or two east of where I started from, and I had no internet or phone access. I improvised and went way north, and the wind was just howling and howling. Fifteen hours of sailing. I was standing straight up bracing my feet and holding the tiller. The boat was leaping up and smashing on these waves. I was looking at my rigging going, “Oh shit.”
I finally got to the Key West channel that’s ten miles long. I was heeled up so much that the engine couldn’t suck water. At that point it was a race to get to my anchorage before sunset. As I made my way to my last tack, the sun dipped below the horizon, and I made it right into the anchorage. I went below and the basket of potatoes had flown off and smashed the head door and I couldn’t open it, but other than that, the boat was fine.