Clocking in at over 12,000 miles on the ocean, 27-year-old mechanical engineer Dwyer Haney left the material world and his job behind in 2013 in search of a badass adventure. He decided to buy a sailboat the following year (even though he’s never sailed in his life), and trek from Washington state to Patagonia. He’s seen erupting volcanoes, battled hurricane-strength winds, swam with dolphins and partied so hard he nearly capsized his boat.
After surviving multiple near-death experiences over the course of his two-year journey, he’s finally chilling in Chile. “One thing led to another and I decided to cut loose and go on an adventure,” Haney told me.
In between catching giant fish and drinking on icebergs, the now seasoned skipper joined me on Skype to tell me about the wild and dangerous shit he encountered during his journey, while his sea-stained face and reckless beard showed me that his adventure wasn’t necessarily over.
So let’s get this straight: You sold all your stuff, bought a boat and sailed to a different hemisphere, even though you had never sailed before?
[Laughs] Yeah exactly. I’ve seen a lot of my parents’ friends or my grandparents’ friends work their entire lives, bust their asses for 45 to 50 years and then get to retirement and either have poor health or just can’t enjoy their retirement. I figured as long as I got the cash now, let’s blow it out the wazoo and have some fun. I had been reading a bunch about sailing, and there’s just something beautiful and romantic about being able to use the wind however you want and being free to go wherever. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but that didn’t stop me.
Why did you decide to take this route from Washington state to Patagonia?
And you didn’t even really have a crew. How much of this trip were you sailing on your own?
I kind of keep track of the milage, and I’m at about 12,000 miles at this point. And I’d say about 10,000 of those have been done alone. So around 80 percent?
Did you ever miss being around people or did you enjoy the solitude?
I really love the solitude that comes with sailing alone. I don’t need to consider anyone else’s schedule. If I want to wake up late, I wake up late, or if I want to sail through the night I can. It’s a beautiful thing.
What’s one of the weirdest things that happened to you during your trip on The Rascal?
Early one morning at about four a.m., I was awake reading a book. It was blowing 25 knots with a substantial rainstorm, and The Rascal was really rocking and rolling. I looked up from my book and saw a light shining in one of my windows. “Just the ole moon,” I said to myself. Except I knew it was totally overcast. So I slowly ambled up to the companionway, and nearly had a heart attack. A huge ship was right next to me. The ship itself was probably 300-feet long and it couldn’t have been more than 2 to 300 yards away. Out there in the middle of the goddamn limitless Pacific, hundreds of miles from land, I had come within 300-yards of another boat. It didn’t seem to be moving at all, and I was doing a consistent five knots. By the time I noticed him, I had already nearly passed him and it was clear we weren’t on a collision course. I hailed him on the radio several times in a bunch of different languages on a bunch of different channels, but never got any response. It was a part of the ocean that no tanker or container ship would be transiting and any navy or coast guard boat would surely have responded to my radio calls. Drug smuggler? Whale poachers? Drunken Somali pirates? I’ll never know.
I know you’ve had some near-death experiences happen to you as well.
Probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, or the thing most likely to have killed me, was when I was on a sail with a friend down to some glaciers here in Patagonia and there is this gulf you have to cross. I’d say most of Patagonia is protected by islands and fjords, so it is rare you get a big swell. There is this gulf you have to cross called the Gulf of the Corcovado, and it’s open to the Pacific, and some nasty storms rolled through there while we were crossing it. To get back and forth to shore I have this little boat that normally gets towed behind the sailboat while we are sailing, but during this crossing in bad weather, the rope that was attaching the two broke off. It was blowing super hard, maybe 30 knots or 35 MPH let’s say, and the waves were enormous. We were working against a current, so there were 12-to 15-foot waves going on. There was no good way to get back to the inflatable dingy that is floating around out there at the sea, so we are trying to turn back into the wind and cross the path and find it somehow. We tried to hook it with boat hooks and all this crazy stuff, and we figured the only way we can get it back is to jump from The Rascal into the dingy as we passed it and then drive the dingy back to the boat. So I leapt across about 8 or 10-feet of sea into the dingy, and it eventually worked out.
What does a trip like this entail in terms of planning, buying things and saving up money?
I read a lot of articles on the Internet and books about what it takes to do this kind of trip, and it’s tough because some people buy a canoe and do this big trip and it costs them one amount, and then there are other people who are living on these 100-foot luxury yachts. There’s no good answer to, “oh you want to do one of these cool trips? It’s going to cost this much.” But I sort of spent some time estimating what type of lifestyle I’d be living, and figuring things out like how much gas costs in Mexico and what does health insurance cost in Chile. By the time I left, I was expecting to spend something like $10 grand per year, but then I spent closer to $15 grand for the last couple of years. A lot depends on how comfortable you want to be on the boat.
Did you fish a lot and literally live off the sea?
And it also seems like you had a lot of fun…
[Laughs] Yes, that is an understatement.
Out of all the places you’ve been to, where was the best party? Did you go into the city or bring the party to The Rascal?
Man, it was a pretty good blend honestly. In some places it made a lot of sense to go to a bar that was going off, and then party all night there. You than had other places where no nightlife was happening and everyone would get together at the boat. When I was first leaving, I spent maybe two weeks getting from Washington to San Francisco and I had a bunch of friends in the Bay Area, and we threw a huge party on the boat and I’d say that was the best party of the trip perhaps. But there’s an American couple with a much larger sailboat down here in Patagonia, and I’ve gotten to be really good friends with them. They were down at the San Rafael Glacier the same time we were there, and they got everyone together for a cocktail party on the iceberg hundreds of miles from other towns. We brought lawn chairs, music, planted a flag and went the whole nine yards. And of course, our drinks were filled with ice from the icebergs.
So do you miss working at all? Seriously?
You know sometimes I just miss having a professional challenge. Like I went from a pretty serious job building a ski factory to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I feel like I haven’t led a super-balanced life on either ends of that extreme, whatever that really means, and it would be kind of nice to have a blend of personal enjoyment and personal challenge.
Now that you’ve been living off the land and sea for two years now, did you notice anything environmentally that shocked you?
We’re trashing this planet in a thousand different ways, and it absolutely breaks my heart. Even a thousand miles from the nearest land, you occasionally sail past a Styrofoam cup or an old flip flop floating along. There is no part of this planet that is immune to the effects of our presence. I crossed a corner of “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” during my sail to the Galapagos, and it’s absolutely appalling. This voyage has made the magnitude of the environmental crisis exceptionally clear in my mind, and I hope that I’ll be able to help combat it in the future. It seems to me that the first step in this process is education. I got the opportunity to do a lot of reading over the course of the voyage, and I learned a lot about the different ways we are impacting the world around us. The Rascal has helped me live a simpler, more sustainable life and I use much less water, electricity and fuel on a daily basis than I did when I lived on land. I hope that I’ll be able to continue to minimize my impact as I return to life on land.
I saw you are selling The Rascal. Why, and what’s next?
The plan isn’t completely ironed out right now, but I am in a position where I know financially I’m going to start having to earn money again within the next year or so, but I have buffer funds that’ll get me through until I find another job of some sort. I want to find a job that is interesting and compelling.
What are five things people should know before doing a long trip on a boat?
1. You’re not going to shower much, and you know what? That’s alright.
2. There are tons of dolphins out there, and you’re never going to get used to watching them frolic in front of your boat.
3. It is not as expensive as everyone thinks!
4. You can never bring too much beer.
5. You won’t regret it.