As a girl growing up in Minnesota, Kelly “Kelly Girl” Waterhouse never dreamed of sailing around the world. In fact, she didn’t even know how to sail. But if you ask her today about the four years she spent circumnavigating the globe with her husband, she’ll gush about her boat, her travels, and the freedom of sailing on the open ocean.
Kelly Girl’s sailing story starts years ago when the restaurant she managed in Minnesota sent her to open a new location in Seattle, Washington. It was there that she met Kelly Waterhouse, one of her lunch regulars. The pair hit it off and eventually got married. Since they have the same first name, she became known as “Kelly Girl” to avoid confusion.
Kelly was an experienced sailor and had grown up around boats. However, sailing didn’t play a big part in their relationship until after they were married, and it wasn’t until after the couple bought a little Catalina 22 that Kelly taught Kelly Girl how to sail on the Puget Sound.
Ever since Kelly was a little boy he had dreamed of one day setting out to travel the world, but he never thought he could do it with a wife, Kelly Girl said.
“He introduced me to sailing and to the idea of sailing the globe and I was like ‘Really? We could?’”
And so the pair began planning for their sailing adventure, thinking at first that it would be a long way off.
“We had talked about retiring young, like at 50, and then going,” Kelly Girl explained. “But we’re very mortal. There’s no guarantee that we would be there tomorrow. You just know you don’t necessarily have all the life you think, let’s do it now.’”
Despite many friends and family members thinking they were crazy, Kelly and Kelly Girl set out in search of the perfect boat to sail around the world in.
Eventually they found Moorea, a 35 ft. Dufour Sloop built in 1974.
“She was beautiful. She had a thick hull—sturdy and heavy. She was great for two people, and she had all the things we needed,” Kelly Girl explained.
The couple lived aboard for two years in Seattle while they readied her for the sea and saved up for their big adventure.
In 2006, at 35 years old, Kelly and Kelly Girl finally set sail, heading down the west coast of the United States to Mexico.
“We had the worst weather on the west coast going from Washington to California,” Kelly Girl said. “It was our first time sailing offshore and night sailing.”
The pair had hit a squall and their boat was creaking loudly in the waves.
“You really don’t know your boat until those situations,” she said. “Once I realized that she was a solid boat, I really wasn’t ever nervous again.”
The Waterhouse’s circumnavigation took them 4 years and 35,000 nautical miles to complete. They stopped in 30 countries spending anywhere from a week to six months in any given location.
After all the traveling was done there were two aspects of the journey that stood out to Kelly Girl.
“[My favorite was] visiting countries that are so different from your own, like Thailand—the people there were so kind and welcoming. Just visiting new cultures, learning to say hello and thank you,” she explained.
“That, and getting to a place by your own means—by the wind—the freedom of it is addicting. You feel like you’re the only ones on the ocean.”
Like most sailors the Waterhouses frequently rely on their DIY skills. Kelly often hires himself out to other cruisers to fix problems on their boats for extra cash. And throughout their travels, they always have their Ultrafeed LSZ-1 Sewing Machine on board.
“We love our machine. It’s always been very reliable. Other cruisers know we have it and always want to borrow it!” Kelly Girl said. “We’ve fixed our sails—and I mean our heavy-duty sails, not just the light ones. It’s saved us a lot of money.”
On one fateful passage, the Ultrafeed even saved the day. While cruising through the Gulf of Aden, the couple had to make an emergency spinnaker repair.
“We were trying to keep up with our boating flotilla through pirate alley and pushed the spinnaker too hard,” Kelly Girl said.
They immediately pulled their spinnaker down and set to work on repairs. Kelly Girl was thankful that they were able to do the fix themselves.
“In situations like that, there isn’t a professional near you,” she said. “You don’t have to be an expert.”
While admitting that she is not the most talented sewer (Kelly is the go-to sewer on board), Kelly Girl feels a sense of pride from the things she’s DIY-ed. Together they’ve made a wide range of projects for their boat including: dinghy chaps, a binnacle cover, a shade system, jerry can covers, and courtesy flags.
Today Kelly and Kelly Girl are living in Phoenix, Arizona. They have a new 42 ft. project boat, Trini. She currently resides in Houston, Texas, where Kelly travels to work on her sporadically. The couple hopes to be living aboard again by this time next year with plans to return to coastal cruising soon after.
Kelly Girl urges other sailors dreaming of sailing full-time to follow their dreams.
“I just warn people if they do it, they might not want to come back,” she said. “If it’s the lifestyle for you—and it isn’t for everyone—but if it’s the lifestyle for you, go for it.”
Kelly Girl is the author of Sailing the Waterhouse: Swapping Turf for Surf, a story of the couple’s transition to life on the water and their first ocean passage. Her second book is due out next year.
To learn more about Kelly and Kelly Girl Waterhouse and their adventures, follow their blog: Sailing the Waterhouse One Wave at a Time.