A stiff breeze is picking up across Charleston Harbor. Captain Kevin Klinges lifts his chin to the sun and smiles as he grabs his waterproof duffel and heads to the dock. Today, he’s teaching a local family how to sail. This fall, he’s hitting the high seas with his family to sail around the world. “I’ve always been addicted to sailing,” admits the 44-year-old instructor at the Charleston Sailing School. “Each time I do it, or go further, it gets more addicting. There’s something so primal about getting to a place by nature, and doing it yourself because you have the skillset and a little bit of luck.”
Mast General // Kevin Klinges, instructor at the Charleston Sailing School, prepares to set sail this fall on a trip around the world with his family.
A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the sea-going adventurer grew up hoisting jibs and mizzens on Chesapeake Bay. As the youngest of five boys, his father would send him shimmying up the mast to make sure their boat could clear bridges. This son of a sailor now has sons himself, ages two and seven. He’s excited to escort them on this voyage. “Sailing is not that scary, and the more experience you have, it’s less and less scary. It builds self-esteem and confidence,” he shares. “That I can give my boys the gift that my father gave me when I was four, that’s amazing.”
Even with the best of skills, Kevin recognizes the inherent, life-threatening dangers of facing the elements far from land. A little over a decade ago, he challenged an angry Atlantic in the dead of winter on a Lagoon 38 catamaran. One thousand miles from the U.S. shore on the edge of the infamous Bermuda Triangle, a three-day-long, low-pressure system collided with another, exploding into gale-force winds that sent the ship surfing down 30-foot rollers. The boat bowed into the back of a wave and pitch-poled. “We capsized,” states Kevin, recalling how dusk disappeared too soon. “We held onto the hull for eleven and a half hours in 45-foot-breaking seas. It was pitch black. My captain died in my arms from hypothermia. The U.S. Coast Guard came about 4:30 a.m.”
But in the midst of fear and chaos, Kevin found clarity. He reveals, “I had a lot of time to hang onto the bottom of that boat and think. One of the questions I asked myself was would this deter me from going sailing again if I lived through the night. My answer was instantaneous—no!” A year and a half later, friends persuaded him to take the helm as they chartered a boat through the British Virgin Islands for a month-long sail. He invited his new girlfriend, Lacey, to come. “I thought this is either going to go bad, or good.” It went well enough, and mid-trip he asked her if she could spend her life cruising. Lacey’s now his First Mate and wife.
The couple immediately started planning their global journey. The birth of Sinjin delayed departure a bit, and then Lennon came along. But their sextant was always calibrated to the dream, and in 2016 they moved to Charleston to stage their adventure. Unlike trips mapped by miles and Cracker Barrels, their expedition has a loose time-frame with general destinations. First an East Coast farewell to family that will run as far north as Maine. They’ll then work their way South, with one last provisioning pitstop in Charleston before setting sail for the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, and Colombia. From there, they’ll hitch a ride on the Trade Winds to the Galapagos and Marquesas Islands. Monsoon season will be tricky, but they plan to duck in and out of the islands to visit New Zealand and Australia, and eventually run up to Thailand and Malaysia. This leg of the journey—five years minimum.
“My main concern is there’s this big thing called the Indian Ocean that stands in your way from a cruiser point of view,” explains Kevin, looking at navigational maps. “By the time we’re there, the kids are definitely going to be older, but the Indian Ocean is big and can throw big stuff at you, and there’s nowhere to go when it does.” Five years from now, will they be salty enough to tackle the Indian Ocean’s wind, waves, and large expanses of water? The captain will access that leg when they get there, and calculate a course to Madagascar—their bucket-list destination. “My oldest son is really adventurous,” the proud father shares. “One of the things I love about sailing is that even just sailing overnight to a different island, you get to that new island and it has a new culture, and a new language, a whole new place to explore. That’s pretty cool.”
New ports are calling, and when the fall winds blow, the Klinges plan to push off from South Carolina in a 45-foot catamaran. The iMac will hold weather programs for Kevin, and movies for the boys, who will wear rock-climbing harnesses that clip into wiring when above deck. Below, Lacey will run the galley and home-school studies. Yet Kevin believes the journey will deliver the biggest lesson of all. “Being able to go to the unknown, to open a door and you’re not sure what’s behind it. That’s the adventure. And to be honest with you, I want to make my children world citizens instead of U.S. citizens. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Here’s to fair winds, calm seas, and safe harbors.
Riding the Waves // The Charleston Sailing School, owned by Will Miller (left), provides sailing lessons through instructors like Kevin Klinges (pictured right with son Lennon and wife, Lacey). The school also offers bareboat charters, allowing certified sailors to try their hands at the helm of a variety of vessels, like the sailboat below. Klinges and his family will set sail later this year on a trip around the world.
COOL YOUR HEELS AT THE CHARLESTON SAILING SCHOOL //
Only four hours sit between your desk and the open sea, and only one week between sailing as passenger or serving as captain. “A lot of people come in and they’re not sure, so they take one class, or a charter. I see it in their eyes and know they’re coming back,” explains Will Miller, owner of Charleston Sailing School.
Will, a longtime sailor, turns landlubbers into old salts using the American Sailing Association curriculum. Once certified, ASA recreational sailors can rent yachts and catamarans at hundreds of harbors around the world. “We’re a huge draw from the Upstate, Charlotte, and Atlanta. We have hundreds of students each year,” says Will.
Greer businessman Jon Heard took his first lesson with Will ten years ago. Today’s he’s sailing in Australia. “I took my first three courses over a month,” he recalls. “My first long sail was to Bohicket Marina. I’ve now sailed around the U.S. and the Keys, the B.V.I.s.”
Jon will never forget the turn of his soul on his first sail. “It was so tranquil. No motors. It was just fantastic. You’re absolutely hooked the first time you do something like that. You’re hooked.”
Basic Keelboating 101 includes two days of sailing, instruction, and certification for $550. For more on lessons, captain, and bareboat charters, visit charlestonsailingschool.com.