It started as a conversation over coffee in Florida.
Kyle Hawkins, a St. Croix Valley transplant, and Danielle Kreusch, a native of Salt Lake City, were living aboard a boat near St. Petersburg. The lifestyle suited them, but they craved a new adventure – and a slower pace.
“We’d been working and working and I’d just graduated,” explained Kreusch, who is now 24. “To finish (needed repairs on the boat they live on), we would have had to keep working for two years. We didn’t want to do that. So we decided to downsize a bit and go on a smaller, inland journey. That’s where the idea came from.”
The pair dreamed up a waterborne voyage from St. Croix Falls, where Hawkins’ parents live, back home to Florida. They’d make their way down the St. Croix River, and continue along the Mississippi, hanging a left in Louisiana to get on the Intracoastal Waterway, a navigable inland watercourse that leads to Florida.
Gradually, the scheme grew in their minds, becoming more elaborate.
“I had wanted to canoe down the Mississippi since I was a kid,” said Kreusch.
Hawkins, 29 years old, had also long dreamt of travelling the Mississippi – aboard a motorized sailboat.
“I always wanted a fancy, go-fast trimaran (a multihull boat) with a little outboard motor,” he said, “so you could cruise along on the outboard until you had good wind and then you’d fly along with your sail.”
“And I wanted the physical labor of having to paddle,” countered Kreusch, an experienced outdoorswoman.
They compromised, settling on a Viking-era Scandinavian design for a boat that could row and sail: a faering. Instead of buying one, they decided Hawkins would build it.
As the couple planned and saved, they found themselves fending off naysayers.
“Something we dealt with on a pretty constant basis was people accusing us of being rich kids or getting the money some other way,” said Hawkins. “Or people would say, ‘That’s not really going to happen.’”
But friends who saw the sacrifices the couple was making told them they admired their dedication.
“You can’t expect to keep up with the people around you,” said Hawkins. “A lot of guys I work with had new cars and insurance, and ate from food trucks. We always made our lunches. We didn’t like them all the time, or having to come home from work and make lunch for the next day.”
But some of the sacrifices were less difficult.
“Rather than going out for drinks we’d take our dinghy out and go camping,” said Hawkins. “We still enjoyed ourselves, and the people we really wanted to spend time with wanted to do those things too.”
Even with careful planning and execution of the budget, it took them almost twice as long to reach their goal as they’d thought it would.
But the prospect of adventure continued to sharpen in their minds as they picked out drawings for their boat and constructed a ramshackle shelter to build it in.
Although Hawkins had been repairing and working with boats for years – he got his start at Shipwreck Boat Works in Dresser – this was his first build from scratch and his first wooden boat.
He quit his job in March and began working on the faering, Sølvi, 60 hours a week. He finished in June.
“Only with sheer naiveté would you think you could undertake a project like this in three months,” Hawkins reflected with a wry smile.
But he finished.
The couple made their way to Wisconsin in July and, weather willing, will launch Sølvi next week from St. Croix Falls.
They’re giving themselves four to six months for the trip – the two months wiggle room will let them stay longer in places they like, or wait out bad weather.
“We’ve been on a trip before where we had a deadline,” explained Kreusch. “We had a flight to make. It was not fun. You’d get somewhere and it would be really cool, but we’d have to leave.”
“Or it was raining and blowing 30 knots of wind and off we’d go,” added Hawkins, laughing. “There was no choice. We had to make the miles.”
“One of our biggest goals of this whole endeavor was to slow down,” said Kreusch, “really slow down the pace of life. And when you’re travelling at five knots (roughly six miles per hour) max on the river, you’re forced to slow down. You’re not in a hurry. You meet people. You talk. It’s a different way of life.”
Follow the journey of Hawkins and Kreusch, also known as Skipper and Flipper, at skipperandflipper.wordpress.com.