2 Women Sailing: Tampa Bay women go on 9-month adventure along east coast

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Two Tampa Bay area women have returned to St. Petersburg after the trip of a lifetime on a sailboat that sent them up the east coast for nine months.

Vanessa Goodrum and Sara O’Brien both had full-time jobs at a local journalism school as the pandemic began. Like many, sitting through that year had them thinking. For these women, their pondering went from the idea of a trip, to a full-on adventure.

“We decided, ‘what are we doing with our lives?’ And so what started off as just daydreaming, Vanessa always wants to go sailing, that’s the natural captain in her,” O’Brien said. “She was like, ‘how do we get away for a week?’ ‘How do we get away for a month?’ And I think one day I said, ‘we should just go. Let’s just go and to heck with a week or a month, let’s just go for like a year.’”

They made their decision last summer and kept it to themselves as they planned. They decided to leave St. Petersburg in March.

“We knew that we’d never leave if we didn’t have a date,” Goodrum explained.

The women sat down with a spreadsheet to come up with a budget, as O’Brien left her full-time job completely to do freelance work and Goodrum remained working part-time.

While they had a date, they weren’t entirely set on a timeframe of how long they would be sailing.

“We were saying seven to nine months,” Goodrum said. 

“Yeah, we knew we wanted to be up north for the summer, and up north to us meant like Cape Cod area, so we thought, ‘if we can make it up there and spend a month or two in the beautiful New England summer, that would be great and then we’ll just sort of turn around from there and just start heading home,’” O’Brien continued.

On March 28, 2021, “2 Women Sailing” set out on Goodrum’s Pearson 385.

She said it’s a comfortable boat, with two cabins and two bathrooms, as well as a full kitchen.

O’Brien, however, said it took a bit of getting used to.

“I lived in a house before I lived on this boat for nine months. So Vanessa was very used to being comfortable on a boat, having this boat and one prior and living on them,” she said. “For me, it was a bit of a change, having to downsize to like 300 square feet and a whole other person. But I didn’t struggle with it as much as I thought I would.”

The duo sailed from St. Petersburg to the Boston-area and back, making stops along the way that Goodrum turned into a Google maps document.

When they stopped, they would spend a day or two in a town or in anchorages near cities. Highlights for them included places like St. Augustine, Savannah and New Brunswick, which is a popular destination for sailors. They also spent time in the Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake Bay.

“We sailed right by New York City and the statue of liberty, that was amazing,” O’Brien said.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for them, however.

“We were headed into our anchorage in South Carolina, and we turned the boat and a gust of wind, there was a small tear [in the sail] and the gust of wind, when we turned the boat and moved the sail, just blew an eight-foot hole in it,” Goodrum said.

“It was dramatic. It was very dramatic. And loud,” O’Brien said.

Thankfully, they were able to find someone to repair the sail and found sailmakers online to order replacements. They had also budgeted for unplanned expenses, just in case.

“In hindsight, it was ridiculous to think I was going to do a 5,000-mile trip on these sails. Like, what was I thinking? But, you know, you learn,” Goodrum said.

The weather also led to tense situations, even hours before they started for home last month.

Goodrum says they were on the Intracoastal Waterway for two hours in the dark by Longboat Key. She described it as the most harrowing part of their trip.

“It’s really hard to navigate. It’s really narrow. There was a fishing boat that came dangerously close to us. And it was two hours… that was to my mind the most dangerous thing we did,” she explained. “And it was the very end of the trip! Like, we’re almost home, we’re five hours from home and this is going to happen!”

Throughout their journey, O’Brien documented their travels and life on the boat, turning her footage into YouTube videos and posts to their Facebook page and TikTok.

O’Brien said the work on her videos was rewarding, as she hadn’t been able to work on video project for herself in awhile.

“I was able to shoot the video and edit the video and sort of produce the videos and call the shots and make them the way I wanted to make them, and so it’s been really fun,” she said.

With almost 400 subscribers on YouTube, O’Brien said the following was kind of unexpected, but “really cool.”

“A lot of sailors sort of find you and plugin and start watching. Even just armchair adventurers, who know nothing about sailing but just want to follow a fun adventure,” she said.

Now safe at home, both Goodrum and O’Brien said there were a few things that surprised them about their journey. O’Brien said there is hardly anyone their age “cruising” the east coast.

They were also surprised by how few boats along the way were operated by only women. They also said that’s usually the first question they were asked while on the trip, if it was just them on the boat.

“It’s funny because that is the question they don’t wanna ask. They say, ‘oh, is it just you two?’ What they’re saying is, ‘where’s the guy? How do you run this boat without a guy around?’ We run it quite efficiently, actually,” O’Brien said.

“We had guys on the boat for happy hour! And we did have a guy on the boat, the diesel mechanic that helped us out up in Massachusetts, but no guys helped us sail it! We did it all by our little dainty selves!” Goodrum said.

The minds behind 2 Women Sailing don’t have any large trips like this planned again. Goodrum says she is looking forward to doing fair weather sailing in the Tampa Bay area, with a few bigger, longer trips planned, like to the Dry Tortugas, the Keys and maybe to the Bahamas with some friends.

“We’re just sort of enjoying life right now. It was a tough journey,” she said.

O’Brien says they had a lot of fun on their adventure and learned a lot.

“We know we’re lucky to be able to take a trip like this and to have been able to have the unique situation that allowed us to sort of take off and sail away. Not a lot of people get to do that, so we were just very grateful for the opportunity,” she said.

You can catch up on the journey of 2 Women Sailing by heading to their YouTube channel.

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