BR couple enjoying life aboard 38-foot catamaran

Advocate staff writer
Published: June 25, 2006

Baton Rouge lawyer Buddy Stockwell watched in dismay as a garage sale shopper walked away with Stockwell’s $500 sports jacket.

“It sold for $2,” Stockwell said.

Stockwell, 50, and wife Melissa, 41, a Web site developer, had made the big decision: Sell house, cars and Stockwell’s law office to finance an open-ended sailing cruise aboard the couple’s 38-foot catamaran, Indigo Moon. That was 18 months ago.

“I had a very satisfying career as a litigation lawyer in Baton Rouge,” said the 50-year-old Stockwell.

Stockwell, who grew up around boats on False River, watched as some of his clients prospered and grew old.

“I saw them amass wealth only to go to a nursing home,” he said. “I said, ‘Why not turn this on its head?’”

The Stockwells, both of whom hold captain’s licenses, had been married seven years when they decided to sail away. Selling their belongings proved easy for Melissa.

“It’s stuff,” she said. “We kept some of our better furniture for when we come back.”

The “coming back” part is not in the foreseeable future.

“We promised ourselves we wouldn’t work the first two years of this,” Stockwell said. “Eventually, we’ll do something. But we quit making plans. As long as the fun-to-hassle factor is on the fun side, we’ll keep doing it.”

The Stockwells were married in 1997 in the Virgin Islands.

“It was the first time I’d been in the Caribbean, and I loved it,” Melissa Stockwell said.

The couple returned to make sailing cruises as passengers and, then, as skippers of boats they chartered themselves.

“We’d be in tears taking the boat back to the charter company to fly home,” Melissa said.

Three years ago, the Stockwells bought the catamaran. Over the next year and a half, the couple studied for their captains’ licenses and learned their boat.

They left New Orleans 18 months ago to follow a cruising calendar of north for hurricane season, then south in the fall to Florida to be in position to sail back into the Caribbean after storm season at the end of November.

His first glimpse of the New York skyline from the sea sticks with Stockwell.

“Seeing the New York skyline rise up, it’s hard not to feel you’re discovering it,” he said. “You’re in your own boat. You’re there on your own navigational skills.”

Last August, the couple had just left their summer grounds off Martha’s Vineyard and were in New York when Hurricane Katrina hit.

A photograph on the Stockwells’ Web site ( shows an electronic news banner in Times Square with reports of Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans.

A friend in Baton Rouge e-mailed the Stockwells satellite photos of the Indigo Moon’s dock at Southshore Harbor in New Orleans.

“The entire floating dock had broken free and was on top of the bow of an 80-foot power boat,” Stockwell said. “Had we been there, Indigo Moon would have been a total loss. Of the 300 boats in Southshore Harbor, only about 10 survived.”

The Stockwells have logged more than 9,000 miles on the Indigo Moon since leaving New Orleans 18 months ago.

During cruising season, the Stockwells island hop the Caribbean.

“There’s a whole society of cruisers,” Stockwell said. “We hang out with those people.”

Sea stories the cruisers reserve for family and friends. When the sailors get together or chat on the radio, it’s “where to get good bread and, ‘Where are the good WiFi signals?’” Melissa said.

WiFi (wireless fidelity) refers to Internet connections.

For sea stories, read the Stockwells’ logs on their Web site.

An entry on Dec. 30, 2005, as the couple made the seven-day run from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Tortola in the Virgin Islands, reads in part:
“Melissa wakes me at 23:45 to get ready to take my watch at midnight. It’s still rough … I am barely awake when Melissa nervously tells me she has finally, for the first time in her life, been scared badly by lightning. In the black sky, she saw lots of lightning in the big storm clouds aft, during her watch. No big deal to her. Then, she saw a tremendous lightning strike between her and the clouds, out in the open where the entire monster could be clearly seen.”

Halfway to anchorage in Tortola, Buddy Stockwell was showing signs of fatigue from constant vigilance.

“ … more easily upset and scared, my mind begins to wander in directions that are not so good. As I take my watch at midnight, my mind is going negative on me within only a few minutes.

“ … you know boats are just plain trouble. You have to be crazy to buy a boat! Man, we had a really nice house in Baton Rouge! I could be sleeping in my king-size bed right now, all snug as a bug in a rug. Why are we doing this?”

Then, he remembers his destination in the Virgin Islands.

“Oh yeah, paradise in three more days … paradise in three more days.”

After their Baton Rouge visit, the Stockwells head for Venezuela for the rest of hurricane season.

“We need a place to run to,” Stockwell said.

The couple hopes to be in the Mediterranean in two years.

“The Greek Islands would be a major milestone,” Stockwell said.

She and her husband have weathered storms inside the boat as well as outside, Melissa said.

“You can’t hold a grudge too long on a boat,” she said.

Buddy is the skipper, Melissa said, but her captain’s license and time at the helm give her the confidence many cruising wives lack.

“You hear horror stories,” Buddy said. “Men having heart attacks. There’s one about a woman who sailed for three days with her husband hanging from the mast.”

“Well, first thing,” Melissa said, “I’d get you off the mast.”

Story originally published in The Advocate