When a leg of Stephen DiPietro’s winter travels was canceled, something told him to wait. He has been surfing in Portugal since December 1. He and his buddies were planning to fly to Morocco, but that government had halted all travel to the country due to Omicron’s surge.
Meanwhile, DiPietro had forgotten that in October, a California surfer, photographer, and boater named Trevor Gordon shared on Instagram that he planned to sail from Europe to the Caribbean and was looking for a sturdy crew, to which DiPietro responded with a gunshot. -in-the-dark email that he was interested. He was in Portugal, not knowing where he was going, when Gordon contacted him.
“Two days before Christmas, I got an email from Trevor asking if I was still interested, just out of the blue,” DiPietro recalled. “I couldn’t send the email fast enough. I was like ‘Yes, I’m here. I’m ready.” He asked me to call him and we talked about navigation for about 20 minutes.
DiPietro didn’t know how to describe that he had done some serious sailing trips but didn’t really have much experience on paper.
“Three days later, I flew from Lisbon to the Canary Islands. We had planned to leave four or five days later, to cross the Atlantic.
DiPietro, 27, runs his family’s Stefano’s restaurant in North Beach Haven. He grew up sailing local yacht club events and surfing. Like many others on the island, he works every day of the high season and leaves for the winter, in search of adventures around the world. His past travels have included van conversion and snow and wave hunting in North America as well as sailing in the Caribbean.
Gordon grew up as a young competitive surfer in central California, but later gravitated more towards riding alternative surf boats. He took up boating and filmmaking, rebuilding boats and documenting his travels and search for waves. He found sponsors who liked his approach and he helps produce content for brands.
DiPietro followed Gordon on Instagram because he was a surfing surfer.
Last summer Gordon purchased a 45 foot Outremer catamaran called Aldora in Europe and worked there for three months. He then returned home and returned to return to North America. His ultimate plan is to navigate the Panama Canal and return to California.
“Actually making the crossing was the second time he’s been on the boat,” DiPietro said. “So I actually had more sailing experience than he did.” He’s laughing. “I was going there thinking I was going to be a complete newbie, do the dishes, stay away and keep my head down. But when I arrived, it was actually Trevor and I just trying to figure it out.
Rounding out the crew were Washington State photographer Kelly Foote and a 21-year-old Frenchman named Harry, who had little sailing experience and was a late addition. None of them had ever met him before and he only spoke French.
“We knew we could do it with three (people), but it would be so much better with four. And he ended up being great, but we had to show him the basics, and he didn’t speak English.
They spent the days in the Canary Islands re-rigging the boat with brand new sails and lines and installing solar panels, while Gordon also fashioned a surfboard. It was then time to set sail.
The journey could be daunting. There was no support team. They couldn’t quit smoking and go home. They should be completely self-sufficient.
They would sail on the trade winds from Africa, which usually rise regularly in late autumn and blow across the Atlantic. The longer the trip lasted, the more likely they were to run out of food and fuel.
A low pressure system that came in from the east coast of the United States pushed trades back, and they opted to wait for calm. But ultimately they decided they had to set sail. The first leg of the trip was to the Cape Verde Islands. In light winds, what should have been a four-day sail took eight days, depleting some of their supplies.
“We had planned to restock in Cape Verde, so we ate a lot of our food. We thought we would get more groceries, but it was completely third world. They had canned food and rice, but there were no vegetables. We had 10 oranges and a bag of potatoes. And for the first 10 days we didn’t catch a single fish. We were going at perfect speed and saw thousands of dolphins, but no fish.
DiPietro has some experience catching fish from a sailboat and has gotten his friends excited about pelagic fish.
“We had a large Yeti cooler with frozen food, but it will only last a few days. You can be sitting on the windless ocean, just watching your food dwindle. If we hadn’t caught fish, food would definitely have been an issue. We set sail and that first day we caught three mahi.
Five days into the crossing, the wind picked up and swelled the sails. DiPietro described it as glorious.
“Every morning, we laid the lines. Sunrise is the best time. Everyone would be lounging, then you’d hear the rods go.
DiPietro described fighting with the fish, sometimes multiple mahi at once, landing them, cleaning the fish and then cooking it.
“We had mahi tacos, mahi and eggs. I would recreate all the dishes on Stefano’s menu with mahi,” he recalls.
They each had their cabin. He explained that you either sleep like a baby from the exhaustion of the day, or you have a terrible night, bouncing around in your bunk, waking up thinking the boat is sinking.
“Someone must always be awake; that’s why you need four people. We worked two-hour shifts. And we didn’t know how Harry would do it, so I was coming an hour early, and Kelly was staying an hour late. He ended up being fine. But the main thing is to be competent at night, know when to trim the sails, know who to wake up and what to do in the event of a squall.
When the wind picked up at night, it got choppy. The catamaran would surf the waves at 10 to 14 knots.
They were to have an early discussion among the crew about the danger of falling overboard.
“If you fall off the boat at night, there’s no way you’ll be found. You have a life jacket and you are still attached to the boat. Even if someone is awake in daylight, they should wake everyone up, drop the sails, start the engine, turn around and calculate which way you’ve drifted and try to find your way in seas of 6 feet. You imagine someone leaving and you think about what you would do.
He said they all became very close, very quickly. Not all travelers are so lucky. A group of six sailors preparing for the same voyage had met at the same docks in the Canary Islands a month before them, and the group disbanded due to disputes.
“We all felt each other. Are we all this focused? Am I making sure I’m doing my part? But what’s really scary is asking yourself, “Am I going to go out in the middle of the ocean and want to rip somebody’s head off?” But there was no veil ego. We were all just surfers who wanted to sail.
In his spare time, DiPietro indulged in watercolor painting. While Harry taught him to play the guitar, DiPietro taught him English. DiPietro can honestly say he was never bored.
The high seas voyage was 3,000 nautical miles (3,452 miles) in 25 days. the Aldora used the engine for only 12 hours. They arrived in the Leeward Islands in good spirits, tied up at an anchorage and enjoyed cheeseburgers in a floating bar.
DiPietro knows the British Virgin Islands and thought they would all want to surf. Understanding that the Caribbean islands have been very strict about the arrival of visitors during the pandemic, they sailed to a late afternoon anchorage where it was legal to moor if the customs office was closed. That night, he took them to a floating bar, where they satisfied their cravings for cheeseburgers.
They spent the night at anchor and the next day sailed to a magical surf spot. DiPietro decided to roll the dice, and they met at the right time. There was another sailboat at the break and a surfer in the water. A few locals paddled that evening.
“It was absolutely dazzling. And we all clapped hands.
Their final destination as a crew was the Dominican Republic.
DiPietro returned to New Jersey for a week. Last Monday, he was already on a flight to Hawaii. He’ll be back at LBI to help his dad open the Blue Water Grill in Haven Beach by April, then start the cycle all over again.
“Now I want to buy my own boat, a trimaran,” he insisted. “I’m pretty determined on that. It’s something I can come back here and enjoy a bit in the summer on the bay. And he’s still capable enough to go to the Caribbean from here.