An Interview with Andy Schell from 59-North

“Offshore, it’s all about expectations. If you expect life onboard to be like life at home, you won’t enjoy it and you probably won’t be successful at creating it. It’s supposed to be an adventure, so treat it like such.” 
–Andy Schell

I started to document and share my passion for sailing, but also as a tool to help me grow and learn as a sailor. This is one of those blog posts where I get to sit back and learn from a pro, literally a sailing professional.
I’m pleased to present an interview I recently did with Andy Schell from For those of you who don’t know Andy, he has connected his passion for sailing with a career. Andy and his wife Mia help organize and manage cruising rallies, perform yacht deliveries, and offer ocean passage/crewing opportunities. Andy also produces an excellent sailing podcast (59 North podcast) and is currently a Contributing Editor for SAIL Magazine.   
I want to say THANKS up front to Andy for taking time to participate in the interview while he’s down in St. Lucia for the ARC!
An Interview with Andy Schell, by Kevin Walters from
Kevin (SFLF): You and your wife Mia manage the U.S. office of the World Cruising Club and are event managers for several cruising rallies (Caribbean 1500, ARC USA, etc.). What are some of the benefits of cruising in organized events and joining clubs as opposed to just striking out on your own, so to speak? I expect shared resources (weather, route planning, etc.) and social perks will be part of your answer, but can you expand on those and give us a few others?
Andy (59-North): Rally benefits are pretty well-known at this point – weather forecasting (which I should say, is not weather routing), tracking, shore support and an active website for family and friends, not to mention the social parties and networking we facilitate.
But what many American sailors and rally detractors miss is the simple fact that a rally, at least the kind that we run, is an event. Mia and I are runners, and we compare it to running a marathon – the whole atmosphere having other like-minded people around striving for the same kinds of goals is electric and inspiring. That’s the intangibles of the event that you cannot simply describe to someone, and which makes it difficult for us to sell to a skeptic. You just have to be there to experience it.
I think the biggest advantage is the fact that rally owners have made a commitment, have a start date and have a definite goal to strive for rather than just a ‘one of these days’ kind of dream. People every event talk about how nice it was to have that deadline looming on the horizon that they could strive for. It’s like an idea I talked about on my essay podcast last week – once you announce your dreams to the world, you’re now accountable for them, and they become easier to accomplish. The idea that the universe conspires to help you once you’ve announced your intentions, I believe, is a real thing.
That said, rallies aren’t for everyone, and not all rallies are created equal (hear my rant about the Salty Dawgs on my podcast). There are some people who just don’t like the feeling that they’re being told what to do, despite our best-practice regulations, and we’ll never convince those guys to join us, and that’s okay. We want the guys who are happy to be there (the Canadians have been awesome in the Caribbean 1500!), and who add to the whole supportive and inspiring feeling of the event. Yes, it costs money to join, but the folks who are mentally prepared to be there see the value as far outweighing the monetary cost, while the naysayers inevitably whine and complain that they aren’t getting enough.
I’d say the people best suited for a rally are the most social folks out there and the ones who have knowledge to share with others (that’s another misconception, that rallies are for newbies – tell that to someone like Rick Palm, who’s circumnavigated and done the 1500 a dozen times. For him, it’s about sharing his knowledge, and importantly, re-living that experience of going offshore for the first time vicariously through the other folks who haven’t yet done it. That’s a special energy) and the folks who are looking for advice on how to prepare and how to safely cross an ocean. The folks who think they already know it all, probably won’t enjoy it.

Andy sailing in New Zealand

Kevin (SFLF): You also work as a delivery captain and offer offshore passage experiences. What can crew expect during one of these experiences in terms of learning opportunities, sailing conditions, etc.?   
Andy (59-North): I sail the boat offshore. We won’t motor unless the wind dies completely (or we’re on a very tight delivery time schedule and the owner is paying for fuel!). Crew can expect to learn the intricacies of sail trim, how to make the boat sail fast and smoothly, how to properly navigate on paper (including celestial, if you’re interested!), and most importantly, how to enjoy an offshore passage philosophically and in the moment.
Crew get the opportunity to stand night watches alone (if they choose), one of my favorite parts of ocean sailing. I keep things very simple – it’s always about sailing the boat safely, quickly and efficiently above all else, especially electronics. Those used to staring at instruments and navigating on the chartplotter will get a little wakeup call sailing with me. And not to sound too arrogant, but crew I’ve sailed with have commended my ability to remain calm and have fun as a skipper. Plus, I love to experiment with sail combinations, sheeting ideas (like leading the genoa sheet through the mainsail boom end) and fly a variety of spinnakers. You’ll learn how to adapt to the conditions to make the boat sail fast. There is no rule book for this.
Weather-wise, well that’s down to the gods, but you can usually be assured of running the gamut on passages longer than a week. On this Caribbean trip I’m doing in February – BVI to Grenada and back on a Shannon 43 – it’ll be Trade Wind sailing, close-reaching on the way down and getting our butts beat up, and broad-reaching on the way back, a reward for the upwind leg! Coming north on the Swan in April will be sailing between seasons – we’ll be in shorts when we leave, and we’ll likely see temperatures in the 30s on the Chesapeake, so we’ll have lots of gear for that one.
Kevin (SFLF): While many of us aspire to a cruising lifestyle, I think the next best thing may be to make a living through sailing and to be involved as a professional by helping others realize their cruising dreams. Do you view sailing as your long-term career? What parts of the "profession" do you enjoy the most (writing? deliveries? event management? etc.) and the least? Any realities or advice you can give to others wanting to find a way to support themselves with a connection to sailing?
Andy (59-North): I’ve been lucky to be able to cobble together what I call ‘half’ of a career within the sailing world (‘half’ referring to the money involved!). To be honest, Mia and I had planned to get jobs on bigger yachts, maybe run an 80-foot Oyster or something. But when I got my Yachtmaster, I failed the color vision test and couldn’t get a commercial endorsement (I pass the color standards in the US, to be clear). Because 80% of private yachts are foreign flagged, that option suddenly became pretty limited.
Around that same time, we got more involved with the rallies, working as event staff on the ARC and Caribbean 1500. I always hated rallies, actually, being a more independent-minded person privately. But I came to learn that there is a definite teaching aspect to running these events, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. Plus, it’s great fun helping them accomplish their dreams.
Long-term, good question! We want to have a family, so all of the travel we do doesn’t really jibe with a long-term career in sailing, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I never knew what I wanted to do with my life (I went to college for Pro Golf Management and wanted to be a teaching pro!), and I still don't. A friend told me recently, ‘you weren’t worried about where you’d be in 5 years, 5 years ago. So don’t worry about the next 5 years.’ I think its excellent advice, and kind of how I view my career. So we’ll see what happens.
Deliveries and the passage making I like by far the best in the moment, but I also wouldn’t want to do it all the time. I like the back and forth time between being on the boat and being in the office, doing media stuff and other things, and especially the time spent planning future expeditions from back home. I cycle and run a lot when I’m home, and we live in Amish country in Pennsylvania, so when we’re away from sailing, we’re very far away! Media wise, the podcast is a blast, though doesn’t earn much income!
Which brings me to the realities of it. You’ll never get rich in the sailing world, unless you wind up at the very top, or pursue the superyacht route (which basically is selling your private life for a life afloat, something I never wanted to do). Writing wise, it’s easier to get published than you think – there are few good sailors who are also good writers – but again, you won’t make much money doing it. This is all really a lifestyle-type career, but it works for us. Mia and I say all the time that it’s not what you earn, but what you spend. Check out for my inspiration on that topic.
Finally, one more reality to point out is that when you sail for work, it’s still work! You run the risk of burning out (like I did with golf), and not enjoying the sport as you might were it just a hobby. That feeling comes and goes for me.
Kevin (SFLF): You and Mia have a combined 5 Atlantic crossings under your keel. Any advice/tips you can share generally for offshore passages and specific for the Atlantic? Obviously, this is a huge question with tons of possible answers, but can you boil it down to some of your best advice? To help narrow your answer, maybe you can touch on the mental side of going offshore since I noticed on your website that you're very interested in mentally preparing for ocean sailing.
Andy (59-North): Ocean sailing is at least 80% mental. And as you’ll read below, if you’ve got a well-maintained and outfitted boat, no matter the size or the type, you can safely cross an ocean. Beyond a certain threshold, it’s entirely about how comfortable you want to be.
With any ocean crossing, but particularly in the far north Atlantic, you’ve got to just be mentally prepared to be wet, cold, tired, hungry and seasick. You’ll have hellish lows, but they’re offset by heavenly highs. I’ve never been as frustrated and annoyed as I’ve been offshore, but I’ve also never been as happy. You have to learn that your mental state offshore is never permanent – your high will come down, your low will come back up.
You need to be prepared to hand-steer, and be prepared to go without some of the modern luxuries if you expect to make it from A to B. Stuff will break, and you need to learn how to function without it, how to decide what’s a luxury and what’s ‘mission critical’, otherwise you’ll either never leave the dock or you’ll continually turn back to fix the refrigerator. I emphasize the need to expect to hand-steer, because that’s sailing. Even if you’re double-handed, be prepared for it, and it will be exhausting. But it also adds a greater sense of accomplishment.
Gear-wise, a watertight and sound hull, bulletproof rig (including chainplates, mast tangs, sails, and running rigging), a good wind vane (I like the Cape Horn) and enough dry stored food to survive if the fridge quits or you lose propane will get you there. Anything more than that is just luxury, and so long as the boat is still sailing and not sinking, you can fix other issues when you arrive.
We’ve added on Arcturus a plug-in cool box fridge system and two 50W solar panels, just big enough to store milk and leftovers. We have an AIS receiver built into our VHF radio, and use paper charts with a handheld GPS hard-wired into the breaker panel so we don’t use so many AA batteries.
Offshore, it’s all about expectations. If you expect life onboard to be like life at home, you won’t enjoy it and you probably won’t be successful at creating it. It’s supposed to be an adventure, so treat it like such.
Andy and Arcturus nearing landfall in Ireland after an Atlantic crossing

Kevin (SFLF): Cruising sailors and those dreaming of sailing away seem to eat up information, resources and shared experiences from other sailors, which is part of the reason I wanted to interview you here on Your 59-North podcast is an excellent resource with tons of cruising information delivered in a very professional and approachable format. Can you tell us what to expect with the podcast in the future (upcoming episodes, interviews, etc.) and highlight an episode or two that you're particularly proud of? 
Andy (59-North): Thanks for the compliments! The podcast was always just a passion project. I listen to a ton or other podcasts myself, and was inspired to try doing one on my own. Plus, it’s an excuse to get my sailing heroes to talk to me for an hour or so! I’ve gotten lots of feedback on which direction to take the show, who to interview, etc. I love hearing ideas, but I have to balance the fact that this has always been a personal project, and the interviews will continue to be mainly things that interest me personally, which I also think makes for a better show because I’m more engaged.
Coming up, I hope to get both more family cruisers (I’ll be doing lots of interviews here in St. Lucia with ARC sailors) and more professional sailors on. I have commitments from Gary Jobson, for example, which should be a fun one, as well as Ryan Breimaier, who won the NY-Barcelona double-handed race on Hugo BOSS.
I also really like yacht design, and I’ve spoken with Peter Johnstone of Gunboat and Philippe Briand, the famous superyacht designer about doing the show. I also have an interview setup once I get back to Sweden with a French designer from VPLP, who design a lot of the Vendee boats and some big multihulls.
My favorite episode personally is the recent one with Tedand Claudia Reshetiloff that I did in person onboard their boat in Tortola. They had their kids there too. That was just super inspiring for anybody who dreams of going cruising with their family.
Other than that, getting to speak with Volvo Ocean Racelegend Magnus Olsson, on his home turf in Stockholm, was really cool. He’s always been a hero of mine, even more so after I met Mia and got into Swedish culture. We met him at the ARC one year and became friends, with the Swedish connection certainly helping. Magnus and his partner cycled down to our boat in downtown Stockholm and had coffee onboard before I interviewed him, so that was a real star-struck moment. It was really sad to hear of his passing, and all the more reason I’m glad to have gotten to know him.
Kevin (SFLF): I've heard you mention your father and his boat s/v Sojourner a couple of times on the podcast, so I suspect each has played a role in shaping your career and sailing aspirations. How did you first get involved in sailing and what keeps you interested?
Andy (59-North): I should really be mentioning both my mom and my dad when I talk about Sojourner. After mom died in 2012, I tend to kind of leave her out. Anyway, she and my dad learned to sail on their honeymoon when they were in their early 20s. My mom always said she was hooked when the captain shut off the motor. Their first real boat was a Bristol 24 called Felicity Anne. They moved up to the first Sojourner, a Phil Rhodes designed Chesapeake 32 (very similar shape to Arcturus actually), which they took to the Bahamas on a sabbatical when they were like 28 and 30. Then they had an almost-custom Kaiser 37 double-ended ketch called Tzigane, which I sailed on in diapers, and after that, the next Sojourner, an Allied Princess ketch. We took that to the Bahamas when I was 9, along with my younger sister Kate (she was 7 then), and two cats. That was my 4th grade year, and kind of some of my first memories as a human. I attribute that trip to being where I’m at today with sailing philosophically, but it wasn’t until working for the schooner Woodwind in Annapolis that I realized you could do it as a career. Dad taught me the ropes, so to speak, while mom had always provided the philosophical inspiration and encouraged me to ‘follow your heart, the money will come.’
What keeps me interested? That’s a very good question. I love ocean sailing, and feel like I have something to contribute to it with the knowledge and experience I’ve earned over the past ten years or so since I started doing this seriously. It’s fun getting into debates about stuff offshore and teaching people what I feel are the Right-with-a-capital-‘R’ way of doing things. I guess it’s kind of a default career at this point too – I’m so far into it now, that I don’t have much experience with anything else, and I’m not sure what else I’d do! But it’s definitely not my entire life, as much as my social media presence and website would make it sound. Sailing is a hobby and half of a career, but it doesn’t define who I am as a person, and I think that’s an important distinction.
Kevin (SFLF): What are your future sailing/cruising plans? I know you and Mia sailed your own boat, s/v Arcturus, to Sweden from the U.S. in 2011. Any other must-visit destinations or passages for you, Mia and Arcturus? 
Andy (59-North): Mia and I met in New Zealand, and I always said that if we go back, it would be by boat. So that’s kind of an ultimate dream, but not really on our horizon in the near future. Maybe one day with kids (and I’d like to go, from Sweden, by way of the Southern Ocean, around Africa and across to South Australia. Tasmania is one of my favorite travel destinations, so it’d be cool to stop there en route. Plus, of course, sailing in the Southern Ocean!).
Long-distance sailing is kind of out of my system, strangely, at least on my own boat for the moment. We’d like to get to St. Petersburg while we’re in the Baltic, just to see Russia. Our sort of intermediate plan is to take the boat back out of the Baltic and up the west coast of Norway. Ultimately, over the course of several seasons, I’d like to go far north into Norway and sail across to Spitsbergen. Then make a loop down to Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and back to Sweden. The Arctic is really pulling at my heart right now, and I’d love to do some sailing and skiing in the fjords in Norway. But we’ve got a few years left in the Baltic for sure, it’s just amazing over there.
Kevin (SFLF): Along those same lines, do you have a favorite sailing location, passage or anchorage?
Andy (59-North): My favorite passage is easily our Atlantic crossing on Arcturus, via Nova Scotia and Ireland. That was just pure magic, realizing this ultimate dream on our own boat, and at a young age. Plus, we’d just gotten married two weeks before! So that’s an easy one. 23 days sailing along around 50º North with Mia and my best friend Clint. Nothing will top that one.
Location-wise, closer to home I loved Nova Scotia. Lunenburg was incredible, and I loved the cooler temps up there. And it’s not that far, only 600 miles or so from Cape May. Same distance as sailing to Bermuda, and much more interesting in my opinion.
The Baltic, like I'll talk about in the next question is still my favorite ultimate place I’ve sailed. As for a single anchorage, I think all things considered, I’d have to say it was almost a tie between an anchorage we had at the top of Loch Lochy on the Caledonian Canal and a spot in the outer archipelago in Åland. In Loch Lochy, my dad was along, and my mom had only died a few months earlier. So we were all reeling from that (she died of a glioblastoma, brain cancer). Arcturus was surrounded by green Scottish hills, littered with sheep. It was so quiet you could hear them baaing on the far hillsides. It was chilly, and Dad and I sipped Lagavulin whisky, which we’d bought right from the distillery, and reminisced about mom. In Aland, it was just Mia and I. There was nothing to the north, just open sea all the way to the top of the Baltic, and we were anchored along the red cliffs at 60º North, still our farthest north so far. Just a magical spot.
Kevin (SFLF): I assume many sailors from the U.S. haven't experienced sailing in Scandinavia. Since you and Mia liveaboard in Sweden during the summers, can you tell us what the sailing and cruising is like there?
Andy (59-North): Surprisingly, Arcturus, at only 35-feet, is usually the largest boat in many of the small anchorages we frequent. That’s the biggest difference. You tend to see large families – two adults and three kids, for example – on boats as small as 25 feet. The cool part is that without tides, and with steep-to shorelines, your liveable area unfolds dramatically when you can anchor to the rocks. You let out a stern anchor, then inch the bow into the shore, hop off with a line and tie it to a tree. So you wind up picnicking on the shoreline, getting off the boat, expanding your area.
The archipelago outside Stockholm has over 30,000 islands, no tides, and endless hidey holes. We’ve now explored the region for the past two summers. Some favorite spots are the medieval city of Visby, on the island of Gotland – it feels like your inside a Lego castle when you’re there – the Finnish archipelago of Åland, and the quieter anchorages north of Stockholm around Öregrund.
It’s cold there, even in summertime. Or chilly, I’ll say. The water remains in the 60s (it was 53º F the last time we swam last August). Daytimes get into the 70s or maybe 80, with very little humidity, and the evenings are cool, into the 50s. Perfect hoodie weather. And in summer, it never gets dark! Contrast that with what I was used to growing up – humid summers on the Chesapeake, with temps in the 90s – and it’s a fantastic difference!  
Arcturus in the Stockholm Archipelago

Kevin (SFLF): Internet sailing forums are filled with threads on full keel vs. fin, classic design vs. modern, mono vs. multihull, etc. You've sailed offshore on a variety of boats (50' Beneteau, large Swans, a schooner, others?, etc.), but ultimately chose a classic yawl as your own boat. So speaking of s/v Arcturus, tells us about some of your preferences in an offshore sailboat and why you chose her?
Andy (59-North): The short, but perhaps arrogant answer to this one is quite simple – it’s not the boat, it’s the sailor. Same goes for golf clubs and snow skis. I’m firmly of the opinion that you can sail anything across an ocean, so long as it’s well-maintained and properly outfitted. Matt Rutherford proved this beyond doubt with his Around the America’s trip in a 27-foot Albin Vega. Take care of the important things – rigging, hull integrity, self-steering and sail defensively – and you’ll make it, regardless of hull shape or boat type.
That said, of course one has preferences. I’m a sucker for classic hull shapes, simply because they are beautiful to look at. Dorade, the classic S&S yawl is one of my favorites. I love Bristol Channel Cutters. Arcturus has a similar shape to Dorade, just smaller.
There’s a big difference between sailing fast and sailing well. Arcturus just feels right under sail – she moves easy in light air and sails smoothly and sweetly. It’s difficult ot describe, but you just know when you’re sailing a sweet boat, and that’s most important. The Mason 44 has that quality, as does perhaps my favorite offshore boat (though not for looks), the Saga 43. The schooner Woodwind was perhaps the best example of this – classic looks, with a modern shape beneath the water and lightly built. She sailed like a dream. And because of that, I’ll never be a cat sailor (at least on the cruising cats).
Offshore, Arcturus was slow upwind, but only cause her tacking angles are wide. She still has that sweet feel to her, which makes sailing fun. To me, going offshore is about being out there and enjoying the wilderness, much more than getting there quickly. So I don’t mind having a slow boat, so long as it’s fun to sail. A big, heavy, clunky cruising boat – I’m thinking of my dad’s old Irwin 42 ketch – is the opposite of this. They look salty and pirate-y, but they’re usually lousy sailboats. I do in fact hate the centerboard on Arcturus. Just one more thing to maintain and potentially fail. But I love the rest of the boat.
Recently I’ve come to admire the fast, though aesthetically pleasing boats. J/Boats fit this example, as do the newer Swans. I loved the Outbound 46 I sailed to Tortola. Specific to offshore, the standard production boats are awful. I’ve delivered plenty of them, and while fast off the wind, they’ll pound your brains out going to weather and make for a miserable trip.
I think if you’re into numbers, the best one to look at is the Sail Area to Displacement number – that is, SA/D. That should give you a good idea on how ‘sweet’ the boat will sail, especially in light airs. Anything 16 or over is pretty good, into the 17s and 18s even better. Anything below 15 is a pig. The Displacement to Length, or D/L, number is deceiving – Arcturus is labeled as a heavy cruiser, for example, but that’s just down to design. She’s got a higher SA/D, and sails sweetly for it.
My dream boat for ocean sailing? Probably the currently in-design Adventure 40 that my friend Erik de Jong is working on with John Harries at I love the older Swans too. They’re beautiful, solid and proven. Otherwise, something like Beth Leonard’s Hawk, the aluminum Van de Stadt 47 would be it – a great sailor, and something I can take to the Arctic.
But the financially responsible thing is for us to just keep Arcturus. She’s well-equipped enough to sail anywhere tomorrow, and with a stouter dodger and a diesel heater, we can take her to the Arctic. Just might be a little bit bigger of an adventure, but then isn’t that the point?
Kevin (SFLF): Are there any questions you wish I'd asked or perhaps one that you thought I'd ask?
Andy (59-North): I think I better stop here, this is getting long! I guess the last comment I’d like to make is that for anyone out there aspiring to do this stuff, any kind of sailing, try hard to filter out the noise that pervades the sailing industry. Realize when you read magazines and brochures what people are only trying to sell you, versus what is actually necessary. This is difficult for newcomers, I understand, but think about the source a bit before you form any solid opinions. What tends to happen more and more, are that new sailors read all this crap about gear to make their boats more comfortable, then they go out and do it with that gear and write about it, then more newcomers read that stuff and you end up with this vicious cycle of baloney. Read the people that have been out there doing it for a long time, successfully and with little drama, and follow their lead. Guys like John Kretschmer, John Harries of, Erik de Jong, Matt Rutherford.
And the bottom line is just to get out and do it! It’s not rocket science, and it shouldn’t be.


  1. Anonymous14 December

    What a fantastic interview - REALLY useful thoughts for sailors at most any level with most any aspirations...thanks Kevin!

  2. Terry Gunderson17 January

    Fun and intelligent read. Good advice in closing, get out and do it. I'm working on it


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