My Adventure on Dragonfly

Here at Sea Mercy, we have the incredible fortune of speaking with many individuals who are considering volunteering with Sea Mercy in the South Pacific. Although some are unconcerned, there are many who have never spent time on a sailing vessel for 2 weeks, let alone for a day on the ocean. Below is one of those volunteers who instead of shying away from the test, decided to jump in to see exactly what it would be like. We asked him to share in his own words about his 2 weeks on Dragonfly with you.


by John Foltzie

Hey there everyone! I’m John a 43 year old pharmacist from Pennsylvania. I just got back from an amazing two week passage with Al and Jill on the Dragonfly and Richard asked if I would share a bit of my experience for the newsletter. I hope my experience will answer some of the questions or ease any fears that you may have about living and traveling on a catamaran for two weeks.

I learned about Al and Jill through the newsletter and was happy to see that Sea Mercy had found a vessel for Tonga in 2014. I had never sailed and live hundreds of miles from the ocean, but always dreamed of sailing off to some tropical destination. I was also seriously considering volunteering for a rotation in Tonga, but must admit I was a bit apprehensive of living two weeks on a catamaran. What if I got sea sick or the boat capsized, or the captain got lost at sea? Those all seemed like perfect reasons to just forget about it all, but I have always wanted to learn about sailing and this was a chance to do that in the Caribbean! When I first contacted Al and Jill about possibly joining them on one of the legs on their trip to Tonga, they suggested trying a shorter two week passage trip first and I jumped at the chance. I only had 6 weeks before I left for St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I was really stepping out of my comfort zone.

I was traveling by myself and about to spend over two weeks with four complete strangers in very close quarters sailing on the open ocean. I was really excited but also very nervous about my upcoming adventure. Jill gave me all the information for what to bring along and assured me we would have a great time. She was right! I had an amazing time and learned a lot along the way. I arrived in St. Thomas and met Al, Jill, Ken, and Ginny at Crown Bay marina, where we had dinner at Tickles restaurant and got to know each other. They made me feel welcome right off the bat and I shared a bit about myself. After dinner it was dark and we had to dingy to the Dragonfly which was anchored in the next bay. As we zoomed across the bay the lights of St. Thomas lit the hillside and the warm wind whipped through my hair. I thought to myself,” Wow I am actually doing this!”

The Dragonfly is an impressive and very large 65 foot catamaran. Al actually built most of her himself, which I found absolutely amazing. She was to be my home for the next two weeks and Jill gave me the tour and explained things to me. I had certain duties as part of the crew which included getting the coffee ready, washing dishes, pulling ropes, watching the anchor chain, and whatever else they asked me to do. Jill runs a tight a ship and is very organized she keeps everyone on their toes and is always on top of things. Any time I had a question about sailing, the boat, or about procedure, Al and Jill were happy to answer and explained how and why things were done. My cabin on the dragonfly was great and I had lots of pillows, room for my clothes, a sink, and my own head (toilet and shower). The bed was comfortable and the breeze coming through the hatches made for great sleeping. I can definitely say that I slept very well the entire time I was on board.

The first day on board Dragonfly we woke up enjoyed fresh fruit and coffee and prepared to set sail for Culebra a small Island about 30 miles from St. Thomas. It was to be my first sailing experience and it was a gorgeous day. One of my main concerns on this trip was getting sea sick and being nauseated for two weeks. I took precautions and wore a transderm scop patch for most of the trip and had no problems at all. I would highly recommend wearing the patch if you are even a little unsure about getting sea sick. The Dragonfly is a catamaran and has two hulls which make for a much more stable sailing experience and a lot less rocking than a single hull vessel which is great for those not used to being on the boat. It took a couple days for me to get my sea legs and I was walking like a bad drunk for the first day or two, but I soon was maneuvering around the Dragonfly with no problem. As we sailed away from St. Thomas toward Culebra I admired the beauty of the water, was amused by the flying fish, and just still taking everything in. We made it to Culebra and I was feeling great. My first sail was under my belt and I was really happy even though I pretty much just watched as Al, Ken, and Jill do most of the work as I took everything in.

In the evening we would all enjoy appetizers and happy hour followed by an always delicious and healthy dinner. Jill is an amazing cook and I was amazed at the meals she prepared while I was on the Dragonfly. She had help from Ginny who also is a great cook and together they whipped up two weeks of meals. When Jill asked me what surprised me most about my time on the dragonfly? I answered, “The food!” This was just a passage trip and not a charter so I was not expecting to be enjoying such great meals and it was a pleasant surprise. After dinner we would relax and talk about world events or discuss life. Al and Ken were full of stories and both shared some amazing tales. We played cards and listened to music and enjoyed amazing sunsets. I really enjoyed the evenings and always went to bed happy and full.

The actual sailing part of the trip was an incredible experience and I was lucky that we had really good weather and favorable winds for most of the trip. Of course my favorable winds and Al’s favorable winds is probably a lot different, ha-ha. We did not experience any really rough seas and I think the largest swells were maybe 10 or 12 feet at best. We really had great conditions and the wind at our back for most of the two weeks. I can’t explain how beautiful it is to be sailing at night and have the moon casting a beautiful glow on the water and to see the millions of stars in the sky. There is a lot to know about sailing and Al and Jill are seasoned veterans and amazing sailors. They put safety first and are very cautious and take great care to make sure everyone on board is taking care to be safe. I learned a lot about sailing and if you volunteer you will get to see firsthand how cool it is.

We continued on from Culebra, to Vieques, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Turks and Caicos. I can’t go into detail about the whole trip, but I can say that each place was beautiful and unique. I saw some of the most beautiful beaches and turquoise clear water in the world. I did not get sick once during the entire trip and I was made to feel welcome and at home by Al, Jill, Ken, and Ginny.

If you are considering volunteering for Sea Mercy and are not so sure about living on a catamaran for two weeks, I totally understand your concern. It is not the Ritz Carlton and yes the boat rocks, the bathrooms are tiny, we must conserve water, and take a dingy when we go somewhere. But if you can rough it just a bit I would bet money, that you will have an enjoyable and rewarding experience while helping the people of the South Pacific. You will meet some interesting and friendly people, be fed well, and see the beauty of the islands and sea. I hope my story has helped and if you want to know more about my trip feel free to email me at foltzie(at) and I will answer any questions you have.


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