ALUMNI | Richard and Edythe Gantt did not take a conventional approach to retirement. Instead of moving to Florida or taking up new hobbies, they decided to sail around the globe on a 17-year odyssey to South America, Australia, Asia and Africa.
"We had a life ahead of us," says Edythe, a 1954 home economics graduate. "We just wanted to see things. We were curious what was out there."
Their adventurous spirit took them 75,000 nautical miles to drop anchor more than 800 times in 54 countries and territories. The Chadds Ford, Pa., couple encountered incredible wildlife, spectacular terrain and interesting people along the way.
Yet, they say, the journey did not start as a worldwide tour.
While Richard, EO88PhD, had two decades of Navy experience and a passion for life at sea, Edythe had been a landlubber until she was well into her 40s. Her first real time spent on a boat was on their honeymoon in the Virgin Islands, when she became seasick and frightened by the sharp angle at which the boat heeled. Still, she later agreed to the purchase of a Hinckley Bermuda 40 named Celerity for offshore cruising.
In 1993 the Gantts departed from the Chesapeake Bay with a Bermuda destination—and Richard's vague hope of circumnavigation. They ended up island-hopping around the Caribbean and stopping in Venezuela, which Edythe had long dreamed of visiting, to head inland and trek to the Andes Mountains. Afterward, they went to Panama and navigated through the country to the Bridge of the Americas, which marks a gateway west to the Pacific Ocean.
That's when "I got upset," Edythe says. "I knew it would be a long trip home."
Indeed it would be, so they decided to dock the boat and fly home to Pennsylvania to spend time with family. Unlike many "cruisers" who sail around the world on a set timetable in groups, the Gantts let go of schedules and itineraries to travel at their own pace.
They asked local people for advice on what to see, and if recommendations sounded intriguing and the sailing was good, off they went. Onshore trips to see the land and absorb the cultures became part of their routine, extending the length of the voyage and the richness of the experience.
"Dick likes the ocean, and he's happy at sea," Edythe says. "I feel there's more to the world than just blue water."
From Panama, the Gantts sailed to the Galapagos Islands off the west coast of South America, where they were struck by the tameness of the giant tortoises. As they crossed the Pacific, they stopped at various islands including Tahiti, Bora Bora and Fiji. During this time, Richard field-tested remote-sensing applications from his doctoral work under the guidance of Victor Klemas, now professor emeritus of oceanography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Richard had earned a doctorate in marine studies in 1988 while also working as a patent specialist at DuPont.
The Gantts say that lifelong learning was an important facet of their travels. Sailing was a way for them to see tropical flora and fauna firsthand and learn the history and geography of places they visited. They enjoyed reading about early explorers such as Admiral Cheng Ho, Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus—and following in their wakes. They stopped at many of Capt. James Cook's anchorages around New Zealand and Australia, taking five years to cruise the region.
The journey was not always smooth sailing. Celerity experienced rough seas, power failures and equipment damage. In 2002, Richard had a medical scare and went into cardiac arrest in Singapore. Edythe relied on help from a fellow cruiser to manage logistics and dock the boat to return home after her husband's condition stabilized.
Still, the Gantts returned seven months later and pressed on to Malaysia, Thailand and other destinations before crossing the Indian Ocean to Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. They saw migrating humpback and fin whales near Mozambique and photographed elephants, giraffes and lions in South Africa and Namibia before leaving to cross the South Atlantic Ocean, stopping at Ascension Island en route to Brazil. They crossed the equator for the fourth time before heading north to the Caribbean.
After nearly two decades at sea, the Gantts finished their journey in June 2010 when they pulled back into the Chesapeake Bay. Reflecting on sailing so far into their late 70s, Edythe admits they were a bit "cocky" and lucky to have experienced no serious harm. Save for a few short excursions, they say they are ready to stay put in the Brandywine Valley and spend time with their nine children, 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, several of whom attended UD.
Article by Teresa Messmore