Marajo Reis, his girlfriend, Laurie, and another couple set out from Madison on a 37-foot catamaran to sail around the world. They were looking for adventure. Along the way they saved some lives.
The crew first heard about a boat in distress at about 1:30 a.m.
“It started as a crackle,” recalls Reis, who was sleeping in the cabin of “Ladybug” when word about an ailing boat came in on the scanner. “As we got closer, it got clearer.”
They soon learned the disabled vessel was a 48-foot wood fishing boat from Haiti with eight people on board. The boat, anchored just off Lobos Cay, Bahamas, was taking on water.
A freighter in the area, Fezzano, was too large to approach the boat. After a couple of hours, Reis and his crewmates went to the rescue, eventually transferring all of the people from the fishing boat to Ladybug. They stayed aboard for four days before transferring to the Fezzano.
Reis says his crew later contacted the U.S. Coast Guard to learn the fate of those rescued; they had suspected the boat was illegally heading to the U.S., and they were right. The rescued men were eventually sent back to the Bahamas.
At the time of the rescue, Reis and his crewmates had been at sea for about two years. It was June 2002.
Reis was born in the United States but grew up in Rio de Janeiro. His father was from Brazil, his mother from West Allis. The two met in college in Wisconsin. Reis says his mother followed his father back to Brazil after graduating from college, though she did not know a word of Portuguese. He credits his adventurous spirit to them.
“Between the two of them, that’s where I got the bug,” he says.
Reis returned to Wisconsin for college at UW-Madison, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. He learned to sail with Hoofers and fell in love with the sport. He soon became a sailing instructor, graduating to larger and larger boats.
He found freedom in sailing, especially at night: “Everything gets quieter, the senses get more acute. The stars come out. I thought, ‘this is wonderful. Who gets to do this?’”
In 1999 he and some friends decided to sail around the world. They spent a year saving enough money to buy a boat (they bought and later sold the boat for $100,000) and finance two years at sea.
They spent the first year in the Caribbean and sailed most of the rest of the world in the second year.
Most of their adventures were less dramatic than a boat rescue, involving things like navigating customs and immigration in the Third World countries where they stopped.
But that’s where the magic often happened.
Reis says it was not unusual to show up in a village and be invited to whatever wedding was going on. “Those are the days you are going to remember,” he says.
They also ended up having many guests on board.
“We invited 400 different, complete strangers on the boat,” says Reis, who kept a log of visitors. “It was a great day for them, and for us.”
He says his travels put a lot of things into perspective, including the pursuit of material goods. He says you don’t necessarily need great wealth to pursue a sailing adventure, but making certain choices can help. He doesn’t own a car, for instance.
Reis advises those with adventure dreams not to wait.
He and his friends were in their 30s at the time, but most of the sailors they met were retired. “Invariably the vast majority said they wished they had done it at our age,” he says. “It’s an experience you take for a lifetime.
It changes your attitude forever.”
“Those were happy years from life,” he adds. “You quickly realize maybe the money is not as important for quality of life. The notion of accumulation of wealth is good for business, but not necessarily for your life.”