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Sail around the world, for charity, with this St. Pete couple

Bill DeYoung



Heidi Trilsch and Johannes "Jopie" Jopie Helsen aboard SV Sky (all photos by Chris Gourney).

Captain Jopie Helsen and first mate Heidi Trilsch are taking their sailboat around the world – and they want you to come along.

Well, maybe not you, exactly, but perhaps someone you know, someone who’s up for adventure on a grand scale, and likes the idea of contributing to a worthy cause in the bargain.

Helsen, a veteran sailor, yacht designer and boat builder, is co-owner (with Trilsch) of Sky, a custom 57-foot sailing vessel built in 2004 in New Zealand. It has all the amenities, including four roomy cabins (it sleeps eight), a water maker, a washer/dryer and solar panels to provide electricity.

Owner of the Sailor’s Wharf yacht yard in St. Petersburg, Helsen – who’s been sailing since his boyhood days in the Netherlands – has a 55-year history in the marine industry.

The couple’s 18-month oceanic odyssey is part of the World ARC, sponsored by the British-based World Cruising Club. A total of 35 vessels will leave at the same time and follow the same course – staying in constant communication via radio and a system of transponders, their progress tracked via satellite.

Helsen and Trilsch decided to make a unique fundraiser out of their journey. They’re looking for temporary crew members willing to join them at certain stops – for a $300 donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (per day), you’ll see the world from the polished decks of SV Sky.

Among other places, they’ll visit the Galapagos Islands, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Australia, South Africa and Brazil. View the entire itinerary here.

“We were going to sail around the world anyway,” says Helsen. “It’s an incredible adventure.” He and Trilsch will be accompanied for the duration by longtime crew members Chris Gourley and Dan Driscoll. “I would never do it by myself.”

Gourley is not only an experienced sailor, he’s a videographer who’ll create daily video updates for those tracking the journey (here’s the YouTube Sky channel). “That way, we can make it exciting for people to be in London, in their armchair, and seeing what’s going on,” Helsen explains.

Although they’re soliciting donations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, anyone can track the expedition’s progress online, whether they give money or not.

Sky leaves the island of Saint Lucia Saturday, Jan. 12. The boat is currently in St. Pete, being fitted out with new, state-of-the-art gear.

A Sailor’s Wharf customer, a friend of the couple’s, participated in the World ARC journey of 2015. He returned, Helsen says, with heart-pumping tales.

“Let’s say you get to an island in the South Pacific,” Helsen relates. “You’re looking at snorkeling, and looking at these beautiful mountains going up, and the lushness. And there’s another island three hours away, and it’s totally different from the one you just left.

“He said ‘I used to think if you’ve seen one atoll, you’ve seen ‘em all. But they’re all spectacular. All different.’”

And this: “He told us ‘You’ll see more whales than you’ve ever seen in your life.’ He had a blue whale stay with him for 15, 16 hours. Like buddies.”

Not just anyone who can afford it will get a coveted temporary crew slot. “If they’re not sailors, we’re going to teach them a little bit,” explains Trilsch. “But we don’t expect them to take a watch, either. Cruising is work – people don’t realize. Preparing a meal is not as easy as it is at your house. It takes a little bit longer.”

Physical ability, adds Helsen, is a must: “They’re going to be part of a crew; they’re not going to be going for a cruise. They’ll be helping clean the boat, doing some of the cooking … but the positive thing is, it’s an adventure.

“I think the people you’re going to attract are the people who will think ‘My God, wouldn’t this be fantastic?’ You’re not going to attract the people that want to go on a cruise ship. Nor do we want them.”

For Trilsch, sailing is like nothing else on earth. She prefers to take the dawn watch. “I’m a morning person,” she says. “I love the sunrise, it’s very peaceful. You listen to music, it’s very relaxing and you think about the day: OK, where are we going? What are we doing? What do we want to accomplish? What’s our weather?”

Helsen, a cancer survivor, has a proud history of charitable giving (as does Trilsch). Still, he admits he has his own, quasi-selfish reason for bringing strangers aboard Sky.

“The thing is, there’s only so many books you can read,” he says with a smile. “There’s only so many videos you can watch over and over again. Unless you’re in a storm or whatever it is, there’s a lot of time on your hands.

“The main thing is to raise money. We could have easily found enough people to go with us around the world. But it’ll be interesting to meet a variety of people.”











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