In 2010 a friend invited Thorsten Böehnke to sail the seven seas. But when they reached the Canary Islands, Böehnke’s buddy abandoned the plan.
So Böehnke hitchhiked his way along the Atlantic, eventually buying his own sailboat and inviting Laura Winter to be his deckhand.
As part of their Blue Circle Series, the Sid Williams Theatre is presenting two films Jan. 16 and 17 depicting the couple’s adventures. Böehnke and Winter will answer questions from the audience after each screening.
Hitchhiking Across the Atlantic and The Wild Windwards combine incredible footage of exotic locations and wildlife. The films also document the impact of humans on the environment and the people who dedicate their lives to protect endangered places and creatures.
As a freelance naval architect and filmmaker, Böehnke was prepared to spend some serious time exploring by sailboat. So when his friend lost interest, he wasn’t ready to head back to Germany.
“I’d just got going on my adventure and liked it,” he says. “I decided to carry on by hitchhiking my way on other sailboats. It was tricky in the beginning, as no one’s keen to take a complete stranger onboard. But after I got to know a few people it was easier as they’d provide a recommendation.”
Shortly before his expedition began, friends asked Böehnke if a B.C. student studying for a European master’s degree could stay at his place for a while. Winter and Böehnke got along well and kept in touch. During Winter’s summer break, Böehnke, who hitched his way from the Canary Islands to Cape Verde and on to the Caribbean, invited her to join him for part of the trip.
But hitchhiking can make it difficult to go where you want. So eventually Böehnke bought a sailboat and he asked Winter to be crew. The 40-foot Corinthian has been their home since November 2011.”We spent some time in the Caribbean getting used to the new boat before heading to the Pacific,” says Böehnke. “Being in charge is much different than being in the passenger seat so we both had a lot to learn.”
As well as working on her thesis, Winter, a marine biologist, was polishing her sailing skills and adapting to life on a boat.
“Forty feet is a small space for two people,” she notes. “There’s nowhere to go to be by yourself or to have a break if you have a disagreement. And you can’t take a lot of your stuff with you. You have to go through everything and ask yourself, ‘do I really need this or that?'”
“We have solar panels and a wind generator that stores electricity on batteries,” says Böehnke. “But there are times when we have no electricity. So you have to think about how you’ll charge your computer, phone and camera batteries. Living on a boat is much different than living in a house. You quickly learn that water doesn’t just come out of the tap and electricity doesn’t automatically come out of the socket.”
“It was tough in the beginning as we were living together in a small space as a new couple and working and sailing together,” Böehnke continues. “But we survived.”
Now the couple visits conservation projects, nature reserves and endangered species to raise awareness of the beauty of nature and the challenges facing the environment. In an effort to share what they see and learn, they document their travels in films.
“Our goal is to show the point of view of people involved in wildlife protection programs,’ explains Böehnke. “It’s like a road movie but we’re on water observing pilot whales, turtles and other creatures of the sea. And we show human-wildlife problems and what some people are doing to solve them. And, of course, there’s the sailing adventure aspect, too. “
Hitchhiking Across the Atlantic is the story of Böehnke’s early trips before he had his own boat. A short version of the film won first prize in the Travel Documentary category in the Montevideo Film Festival in Kiel, Germany.
The Wild Windward continues the tale from when the couple moved onto the Corinthian and began working together full time.
Both films start at 7:30 p.m. each evening. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or phone or visit the theatre in person.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section. www.paulawild.ca.