Many people sail around the world in their fantasies. Lyn and Jim Foley actually did it in a 40-foot sailboat named Sanctuary.
Taking on the sea in a small craft is a challenging dream under the best of circumstances. When Jim, who was then 43, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, the adventure became downright daunting and even more dangerous. Most people would’ve waved good-bye to their dreams and retired to their couches. Lyn and Jim, who now live in Round Top, are not most people.
“We learned to let our fears be our fears and get on with living,” said Lyn, who is a jewelry designer, fiber artist and author of Go Anyway: Sailing Around the World with Parkinson’s.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]“We learned to let our fears be our fears and get on with living.”
Instead of listening to the renowned neurologist, who gave Jim five years to live, they listened to their hearts—and the doctor’s assistant.
“While the neurologist was listing all the dire, practical reasons we shouldn’t go, his assistant leaned over and whispered, ‘Go anyway,’” recalled Lyn, who had undergone major surgery for suspected cancer prior to Jim’s diagnosis. “Two back-to-back health crises emphasized the urgency in doing what we wanted to do.”
No longer content to wait until they had “saved enough money,” the couple, who had begun preparing for the trip, put their plans into overdrive. They had already sold their home and two of their businesses and were living aboard the Sanctuary when Jim was diagnosed. With the sale of their last business, they took off to explore the world.
“Our grand plan? Sail until Parkinson’s forced us ashore permanently,” Lyn said.
With the doctor’s warnings ringing in their ears, they left San Francisco in May 1991, hoping for five years afloat. Their life-affirming voyage lasted for 12 years.
The Dream is Born
Lyn and Jim were self-described hippies whose paths crossed in 1974 in the freewheeling scene of San Francisco. Neither was a sailor. Lyn was a fiber artist selling crocheted garments on the street and completing the occasional commissioned wall hanging. Jim was a jewelry designer who had learned the fine aspects of the craft, including lost wax casting, as an apprentice to a German goldsmith.
“We fell in love,” Lyn said. “Together we built our life and several businesses.” Jim designed and crafted custom-made jewelry. Lyn’s talents included art and business. Her father, who was an accountant, had instilled business principles in his creative daughter.
Early in their relationship, Lyn and Jim took a trip to Mexico ending up on the beach at San Patricio. The couple watched as a lone sailboat made its way to shore, tacking back and forth slowly, until the crew anchored the vessel and launched a rubber dinghy overboard eventually landing ashore. Sitting in the sand, keeping an eye on the dinghy for the crew, the Foleys vowed to sail around the world.
“There were a few problems with our plan though,” Lyn remembered. “We had never sailed. We had no money. And, in real life, it takes a long time to put the pieces of dream in place.” In fact, 10 years passed before the couple learned to sail.
The Enlivening Adventure
When they left San Francisco, the Foleys pointed Sanctuary north toward Washington’s Puget Sound, sailing “uphill” and hoping to take advantage of predicted good weather. Mother Nature didn’t read the weather report. At midnight she introduced herself with force, wreaking havoc with high winds, crashing waves and ushering in sea sickness.
“When you’re sailing, you’re forced to be in the ‘now,’” Lyn said. “You have to be alert each and every moment, or you can die. The heightened awareness is enlivening. On the boat I was alive in a way that I’m not now.”
Seafaring—and its attendant danger—forces people to face their fears. Will fear motivate or paralyze? The Foleys encountered a couple in the Northwest who had been living on their boat for 20 years. They had been caught on the open water in a storm and barely made it to port. They never mustered the courage to leave.
“They were literally stuck in their own fear—and that scared me,” Lyn said. “I didn’t want to be one of those people who got stranded because I couldn’t move past my fears.”
Jim and Lyn moved on.
After the voyage north, they turned south and sailed toward Mexico staying along the coast and gaining more experience.
“When we reached the point where we had to decide whether we were sailing east or west around the world I wasn’t ready to cross an ocean, so we continued south along the coast of Central America,” Lyn said, “then transited the Panama Canal and headed up the east coast of Central America, the southern coasts and onward east to Florida.” By then Lyn was ready to cross an ocean. The voyage across the Atlantic to the Azores Islands took 25 days.
Eventually, the duo visited 39 countries by sea. The voyage can’t be—and shouldn’t be—confused with a touristy vacation. Generally, they interacted with the locals near the ports where they were anchored or rode buses or rented cars to explore farther afield.
“We didn’t do traditional tourist things,” Lyn said. “Instead people took us places and invited us into their homes. We lived in their world.”
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]“We didn’t do traditional tourist things. Instead people took us places and invited us into their homes. We lived in their world.”
Their hosts’ worlds were not always stable. For instance, the Foleys found themselves leaving Yemen for Oman on December 17, 1998. A BBC broadcast informed them that the previous day the U.S. and Great Britain had bombed Baghdad because the Iraqis had not complied with weapons inspection protocols. It was not a good time to be a westerner in the Middle East.
The Port of Round Top
During the 12-year voyage, the Foleys periodically returned to the United States. More often than not, Round Top was their destination. It was in close proximity to Jim’s neurologist in Houston but, more importantly, Lyn’s sister Mary and her husband Charles Reeves lived here. They had moved to Round Top to work alongside James Dick as he established Festival Hill.
“We came to visit, and we were mini-celebrities known as ‘the strange people who were sailing around the world,’” Lyn said. “My sister took us to parties and events, and we got to know a lot of wonderful people.” In addition, they relied on a local ham radio operator as a communications link during the voyage. When they embarked in 1991, the Internet was still rudimentary, and cell phone coverage was limited.
When Sanctuary docked in Seattle for the last time, the Foleys were literally homeless. They stayed a short while in Washington, eventually moving to California, but decided to relocate to Texas to be near family.
“We had a distinct, direct connection to Round Top,” Lyn said.
Although Lyn and Jim were sailing a boat around the world, they never stopped creating jewelry. In fact, they shipped pieces back to U.S. stores and held shows en route to help finance their adventure. Along the way, Lyn continued to add unique, hand-crafted beads to her immense collection. When they returned stateside, it was natural for the couple to set up a studio.
Lyn’s work featured the beads gathered over a lifetime. The results were stunning. When she submitted her work to Texas’ most prestigious handcraft show, it was denied because she had not crafted the beads herself. The jewelry was considered assemblage.
The decision made Lyn mad. She vowed to earn a spot in the show and promptly sought out different bead making techniques. She fell in love with lampworking, an age-old process where molten glass is blown and shaped. Originally, craftsman used oil lamps and bellows, hence the name. She sold all her other beads to buy the lampworking equipment and turned her attention to creating original, vibrant glass beads.
“For the record, my glass jewelry was accepted into the show,” Lyn, who is helping pass along the lampworking tradition to other artists, said.
After 26 years, Parkinson’s has robbed Jim of his fine motor skills and a degree of muscle control, changing the nature of his work. Today, he works in sterling silver instead of gold. He no longer sets precious gemstones in finely detailed settings. Instead, his work is bolder, often reflecting the beauty of Fayette County. A recent line involves live casting small oak twigs in silver to create necklaces and earrings.
“Parkinson’s has not touched Jim’s creativity. He still makes extraordinarily beautiful things,” Lyn said. “Very few pieces actually make it to the showcase because people are waiting to buy them.”
Recently, Lyn reignited her career as a fiber artist crocheting shawls, scarves and hats in striking colors. Fiber art can be sold more easily on the Internet, allowing Lyn and Jim to remain closer to home. Traveling and setting up for shows has become more difficult with the progression of Parkinson’s and the passage of time.
Plus, after years of being seafaring vagabonds, both enjoy having a place like Round Top to call home.
“We’re thankful to be here in this place,” Lyn said. “We’ve experienced love and support all over the world, but the wonderful people we’ve encountered here make this home.”
A Little More Information
Lyn Foley chronicled their adventures in Go Anyway: Sailing Around the World with Parkinson’s. For several years, it has been serialized in the Round Top Register. Loyal readers can continue the journey at the Register’s website . It also can be purchase from Amazon.com or at www.lynfoley.com.