This article originally apeared in Great Lakes Boating August 2019 issue. By: Emily FitzPatrick
Have you ever wondered why we bother to boat in the Great Lakes region? Let’s be honest. The boating season is short and the days that you’re able to go out and enjoy your boat are even shorter between your busy schedule and the weather. So why not move somewhere like Florida where the boating season lasts almost all year long? We each have our own reasons. Sometimes it boils down to the money it would take to live elsewhere or the family that keeps us lovingly anchored in place, but hopefully we also find something about the Great Lakes themselves that keep us coming back summer after summer. After all, as soon as June comes around all of our friends know where they can find us.
“Unfortunately on the Great Lakes the season is terribly short, but even if it is only a hundred days we enjoy every second,” said Marcela Sanchez, a Chicago boat owner from Colombia. “I obviously have my corporate American job, so it is hard to focus as soon as I see the sun coming. Everyday at 4 p.m. I’m like, ‘I’m leaving!’”
When Marcela moved to the States in 2001, she was engaged. But when that engagement fell through, she moved in with her first roommate who just so happened to own a boat. Though Marcela was juggling several responsibilities, learning English and working most weekends, she still took whatever time she could to go out on the boat with her roommate, who she would eventually start dating.
After mastering English, Marcela found her typical corporate American job that would allow her to work 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and effectively work boating as a priority into her schedule. Sadly, Marcela’s boating life came to a temporary end when she and her boyfriend broke up in 2008 and he took his boat with him, leaving her bereft of a way to get out on the water.
“I was totally lost,” Marcela confided. “What do you do in the summer if you aren’t boating? I had that mentality that there is nothing to do in the summer without a boat, which is a bit extreme, but when you boat every weekend and when you are doing that for so many years and you get to the point where you don’t have a boat... I felt lost.”
However, just a few short years later, Marcela began dating another boater, giving her the chance to once again get out on the water. This time around though, Marcela noticed that she was craving something more whenever she was out on her boyfriend’s boat—she wanted to captain her own.
“I came to a point where I was like, ‘You know what? I want to have my own boat, because I just love this so much that I don’t want to depend on anybody to tell me when to come and if I could go,’” Marcela shared.
However, purchasing a boat is a big decision, accompanied with a lot of worries about logistics. Many of Marcela’s friends questioned her about how she would keep up with the maintenance of the boat and whether or not it would really be worth it.
In response to those who questioned why she and other boaters bother investing in boating, Marcela responded, “This is what you love, this is what you’re passionate about and your finances are in the right place. You know that you’re not going to make money out of this but you love it, so you’re going to do it anyway. That’s how I started with my first boat in 2012.”
Marcela decided to start out with a Sea Ray, which she enjoyed until her mother passed away in 2016. With the passing of her mother, Marcela realized she needed to start living for herself and invested in a brand-new 36-foot Jeanneau.
The shift from a powerboat to more of a sailboat was made easy by the wonderful features offered on new Jeanneau models. Leather finishing keeps her boat looking sleek and the joystick makes her life easier when managing parties. Still, Marcela recommends new boaters take the time to master captaining their boat without one.
As someone who hopped into the Chicago boating scene without any previous experience in boating, Marcela has wise advice to offer anyone just getting into boating.
“Be smart,” Marcela advised. “You know, I am amazed at people who are so overconfident. They just buy the boat and go boating without any knowledge. Be smart, respect the water, be appreciative of the opportunity and enjoy this because this is a privilege. It’s not something millions of people can do.”
Marcela also offers some advice for the love-torn, “When your heart is broken, you don’t see it, but at the end of the day when you love, you have to go through all the stages. Everything will end up okay when you do it for the right reasons. Everything will teach you a lesson and take you somewhere you never knew. In my life, as a small kid in Columbia, did I ever imagine living outside of Colombia or living the life that I’m living now in Chicago with a boat? It just goes back to following your heart.”
“It’s been amazing. Guys that I loved introduced me to this life that I love,” Marcela shared after reflecting upon the past loves that led her to an interest in boating which quickly burgeoned into its own love.
Overall, Marcela’s experiences have reinforced that as long as you follow your heart you’ll end up exactly where you need to be, which is hopefully captaining your boat on the Great Lakes.