While COVID brought the world to a standstill, Dan and Marlene Reasoner embarked on a two-and-a-half-year journey, circumnavigating the globe on an adventure that was a lifetime in the making.

o matter where Dan and Marlene Reasoner found themselves during their 911-day journey around the world, traveling by sea on their 45-foot sailboat called TRANCE, none of it was by accident. From the timing of their journey to the 15 countries they visited and the more than 48,000 nautical miles they traveled, just about every detail of their adventure took careful thought and planning. Even the sourdough bread Marlene learned to bake fresh in the middle of the ocean (and the starter she scored from a bread maker in Maui) was a product of trial and error and hours of research.

Despite all that preparation, Marlene says only time and experience (and intestinal fortitude) equipped them to handle the variety of unexpected situations they found themselves in, including a once-in-a-century global pandemic, a humpback whale in Alaska that rammed their boat, and a few overzealous Canadian Immigration officers who tried to detain them.

“Were we ready? Maybe two and a half years later, when we got back, we were ready,” Marlene says. “But if you wait until you’re fully prepared, you’ll never leave the dock.”

Charting Their Course

Dan, 68, and Marlene, 65, were both working at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY (Dan as a chemist and Marlene as a lab technician) when they first met in the late 1970s. They married in 1979, and the couple’s fascination with sailing quickly fomented action. Dan began sailing out of the Rochester Canoe Club, building his skills as a skipper on the New York Finger Lakes and Irondequoit Bay. In his early 30s, Dan read a book called Maiden Voyage about Tania Aebi, an American woman who completed a solo circumnavigation of the globe between the ages of 18 and 21 in a 26-foot sloop that cost $40,000. “I thought, Heck, if she can do it, I can do it,” Dan says.

For Dan, that’s where the idea of circumnavigating the world took root, but he says it took him about 15 years to convince Marlene. In the meantime, the couple continued to sail and race competitively. They moved to Bucks County, PA with their family—two boys and two girls—who are now between the ages of 35 and 42. Dan became an avid runner with a goal of completing a marathon in all 50 states. (He’s up to 36.)

On Father’s Day 2018, Dan and Marlene made a detour from their plans to check out the Ambler Arts Fest, and instead went shopping for a big sailboat. They homed in on a 45-foot Island Packet 420 blue-water sailboat named True Love IV. She was just about everything they were looking for, a vessel capable of the circumnavigation (plus it had two bathrooms). They bought her about a month later, renamed her TRANCE, and began plotting their journey with greater urgency.

Over the course of the next 18 months, Dan and Marlene prepared, researched, connected with other experienced sailors, and readied TRANCE for the journey. The timing was the most challenging aspect of planning, Dan explains. “Honestly, the plan was more of a guide. For example, we knew we had to sail through the Indian Ocean by November 1 of whatever year, because that’s when their typhoon season starts, so we planned accordingly,” he says.

For months, they worked through the details, including provisioning, equipment, navigation, and communications. They sold their car, most of their belongings, and their home in Chalfont, PA. And on November 30, 2019, full of excitement, the couple set sail from Tolchester Marina on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where their family gathered to say goodbye. Their four children gave Dan and Marlene a replica of “Wilson,” the volleyball that became the stranded Tom Hanks’s only companion in the movie Cast Away. It went around the world with them and now rests on a mantel in their home.

“It felt like when I went skydiving with my son. It was a tandem dive. At 13,000 feet, you open the door, and you look out. I remember thinking, ‘I got five minutes to enjoy this, and we’ll see how it goes,’” Dan says. “That’s kind of the feeling I had when we left. It’s two and a half years to enjoy this, and let’s see how it goes—hopefully everything turns out okay.”

We’re just regular, ordinary people, but we had a dream to sail around the world. —Dan Reasoner

“Were we ready? Maybe two and a half years later, when we got back, we were ready. But if you wait until you’re fully prepared, you’ll never leave the dock.”

Marlene Reasoner

Mostly Smooth Sailing

In many cases, their planning was effective, and they learned along the way how to supplement and adjust. In Tahiti, they got new solar panels so they wouldn’t have to conserve as much energy; they quickly learned that if they wanted the weather on their side, they couldn’t leave a place without having a good weather window. The biggest challenge the Reasoners faced in the first half of their journey was the one they could never have anticipated: COVID-19. Just a few months into their trip, the world shut down, which presented difficult and positive circumstances. On the downside, regulations became confusing and onerous, and in some cases, ports were closed, including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

The Canadian closure caused some turbulence as they passed through on their way to Alaska. “Canadian Immigration initially said we could come through but warned us not to stop unless for safety,” Dan recalls. “We anchored to wait for the current to switch, allowing us to safely pass through Seymour Narrows. Yet, we still got a call from the Canadian Coast Guard telling us Immigration was going to put us in jail for anchoring during COVID. We finally convinced them we had previously gotten the OK.”

In other ways, COVID opened doors. In Southeast Alaska, the Reasoners watched grizzly bears feed at an observatory accessible only by boat or plane. “It typically takes months to get in, but we were the only ones there,” says Marlene. “The park rangers told us the whales were much more vocal during COVID, and we saw whales virtually every day in Alaska.”

On one of those nights, a humpback whale got closer than they ever could have imagined. They were anchored in a calm bay, lying in bed after a night of playing cards, when a whale broke from its cluster and shot full steam ahead toward TRANCE. “We saw these ripples coming at us like when you see those World War II movies where the torpedo is coming right at the boat,” Dan recalls. “And the whale just smacked into us broadside.”

Other moments made for wild stories. But overall, their journey was characterized by the awe and appreciation they felt experiencing so much of the world, and gratitude for the friends they made along the way, including a family of eight they connected with in Fiji who were traveling on a 60-foot catamaran from Argentina. “We sailed with that family for literally half the world,” says Marlene. “We got to be good friends.”

The Reasoners returned home on May 27, 2022, and reunited with their family. They stayed with friends for several months until they bought a new home in Ambler, PA, which is adorned with photos from their journey and modest artifacts from places they loved.

“Some friends and family thought we were totally crazy,” Dan says. “We’re just regular, ordinary people, but we had a dream to sail around the world.”

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