PORT TOWNSEND — The young woman came from a town where a dozen doughnuts after church was, well, the high point of the week.
And so Joyce Gustafson lit out for the west, worked on boats in California, fell madly for a sailor — and, at age 24, sailed away with him on a 32-foot boat.
“We were heading for the horizon, my husband and I, sailing by way of Panama from California from the Chesapeake Bay,” is how Gustafson, now 66, begins her story in She Tells Sea Tales, the annual celebration of women and saltwater that will go online Saturday night.
Along with sailors Maria Cook, Sharon Albert and Allison Demmert — who’ve voyaged from British Columbia to Belize and beyond — Gustafson will share her story in the 6 p.m. event.
Tickets are $15 via nwmaritime.org/shetells, and viewers will have access to the show from Saturday evening through March 14.
Proceeds from She Tells Sea Tales will benefit the Northwest Maritime Center’s programming for women and girls, including the Girls’ Boat Project for middle school girls.
Such offerings are paused now due to the pandemic. When they eventually resume, the girls’ project will cover boat building, woodworking and sailing, with students working alongside an all-woman team of professional mariners.
Gustafson, for her part, hopes her tale transmits a message: If you’re a woman choosing an unusual direction in life, it’s really OK — more than OK.
When she set out on that first 10,000-mile voyage, her beloved family back in Rensselaer, N.Y., was worried about her. She and her man, though, were leaning into life, into starless nights, gale-force winds, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal and Jamaica, where they witnessed the gatherings following Bob Marley’s passing.
This sailing adventure, Gustafson recalls, challenged her beliefs. What does it mean to be American? Human? What and who matter the most in life?
Then there were the dolphins, described in her story with a fierce wonderment. Beauty, in counterpoint to the hard knocks at sea, give her that feeling of being fully alive.
Since that day — her voyage began in 1979 — Gustafson has logged some 35,000 miles on the open seas: the South Pacific, North Pacific, Caribbean and Atlantic are part of her.
She Tells Sea Tales is a connection-building event, Gustafson said, even if it’s online.
“Given the new normal in this world, we have to find new ways to build a sense of community,” she said.
On Saturday, that community will include three women who’ve navigated a world’s worth of ocean.
Demmert grew up on the water between Washington state and Alaska, daughter of a fishing family; she captains a purse seiner in the Last Frontier state with a mostly female crew.
Cook has a small women’s travel business, Journey for Purpose, and leads kayak and camping trips from the Puget Sound to the Caribbean; she also has volunteered on the Schooner Adventuress.
Albert’s explorations include sailing to Hawaii from San Francisco Bay, as well as around Cape Horn, across the Drake’s Passage from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula. Bellingham is her home port now; she travels the Salish Sea with her husband on their Kadey Krogen 44.
These women’s stories fit this new horizon, Gustafson believes.
“I think sailors, and people who love the water, have long been pioneers in finding solutions to interesting problems,” she said.
Building community now “is non-negotiable. We can’t be without it.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]