By Allie Brawley
For anyone who has considered moving to an island to pursue a passion of sailing, take inspiration from Hugh and Julie Covert. After making a “bucket list” on New Year’s Eve in 2010 and pondering it for a couple years, the couple took these words from Mark Twain seriously and transformed their dreams into reality.
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain
Julie met Hugh in Baltimore and describes the encounter as “essentially love at first sight.” Shortly thereafter, she learned to love sailing as much as he did. Hugh spent 20 years captaining tall ships on both the East and West coasts, through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Bahamas. When skippering a schooner in Traverse City, he searched for property to support his dream of having a place where he could moor a sailboat in his backyard. He had purchased property in 2003 and built a house on Shelter Island, a small island just off Drummond Island.
“If you don’t name your dream, it will never happen,” Julie had said. “What do you want to do in life?”
To answer the question, they referred back to their bucket list, then cashed out bank accounts and retirement funds to move to Shelter Island and fulfill their dream of building their own schooner. Great timing and happenstance supported their dream when Julie learned the local paper, Drummond Island Digest, was for sale. Purchasing the paper aligned with her writing and photography interests plus the paper would serve as a tool for communicating progress on the schooner’s construction.
“I kept hoping someone would bring a tall ship to Drummond Island,” says Hugh. “Then I decided it could be me.”
By the time the couple moved to Shelter Island, Hugh had built seven boats. Sailing since age four, Hugh had both sailing and engineering in his genes. The Coverts knew the logistics of getting materials and volunteers to Shelter Island would be challenging whereas Drummond Island would allow friends and neighbors to view progress as they constructed the schooner. They purchased property on Drummond Island, then built a structure that included a 30 x 72’ workshop and an insulated room to keep epoxy glue and paint warm plus power to run chop saw and drills.
For two and a half years, the couple worked seven days a week to construct their own schooner. They were assisted by more than 50 volunteers (both residents and seasonal visitors) who swept floors, painted the hull, or donated trees for the project. Julie reported progress in a monthly blog.
Constructed of eighteen types of wood and epoxy, the 78-foot Schooner Huron Jewel yields sleeping quarters for Captain Hugh, First Mate Julie, two deckhands and six passengers. Its name reflects its birthplace and Hugh and Julie’s initials. Cedar trees harvested from Drummond Island formed the gaff and boom. The Schooner Huron Jewel was christened with 15-year-old rum amid a crowd of island residents in 2018, then set sail for the start of many adventures as the Drummond Island Tall Ship Company.
The location for Drummond Island Tall Ships offers an ideal vantage point for all the excursions they offer aboard the Huron Jewel. The island’s surroundings are a labyrinth of channels, inlets and harbors. Shorter trips include two- or four-hour sail trips, sometimes themed around a picnic lunch, fudge sampling or star gazing. Longer trips include a two-day trip around Drummond Island, four-day “around the [Mackinac] bridge and back,” or six-day overnight adventures.
“Drummond Island offers protection for a boat on a mooring,” said Hugh. “It’s very special to have open protected water on the Great Lakes where the shorelines are never very far away and water is very clean.”
Each season, Hugh and Julie provide the opportunity for two deckhands to learn to sail the waters surrounding Drummond Island and Canada’s North Channel. To train deckhands trying to gain experience to work on bigger schooners like Hugh did, they’ll take deckhands with no experience but enthusiasm, curiosity and willingness to learn. Last season’s deckhands were from Montana and South Carolina. From May to October, they’ll teach them everything from raising and lowering sails to how to properly throw a dock line and land where needed. On rainy days, they’ll focus on knot tying and how to splice three strand and synthetic braided line.
After their first full season, everything seemed to be coming together for the couple to live out their dream. Just as sailing requires adjusting sails with the changes in the wind, the Coverts had to adjust their business plan when the pandemic blew in. Although they prepared for their 2020 season with appropriate protocol – ordering hand sanitizer in bulk and quarantining their deckhands in a rental home – state restrictions did not allow for public sailing trips. Not to be deterred, the Coverts creatively pivoted plans for the season by launching an inspiration tour. With their two deckhands, Hugh and Julie set sail on the Great Lakes to bring the schooner to ports ranging from Beaver Island to Duluth. Their mission was simply to inspire others to live their dreams.
“Seeing all the smiles on people’s faces, we realized we were making a difference – bringing joy and inspiration during a challenging time,” said Julie.
Hugh believes that writing down dreams is essential versus just talking about them. “You have to actually do it. You have to make it happen and there’s no time better than the present,” he says.
After the pandemic gave them time to reflect on what is important, Hugh and Julie were even more motivated to encourage others to follow their dreams. As a result, they’ll set out on a nine month voyage this August to sail from their homeport through the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Seaway, then south along the eastern seaboard. They plan to participate in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race and Annapolis Sailboat Show and most importantly, at each port of call, they will encourage people to live their dreams. They’ll continue south for the winter spreading their message and return to Drummond Island in Spring 2023. On their “dream inspiration tour” of over 8,000 nautical miles, their mission is to share their story to thousands of people to inspire others to live their dreams.
Sailing with the Coverts and crew is a relaxing yet adventurous experience. It’s also as interactive as you wish. Passengers can assist with raising and lowering sails and even taking the wheel under Captain Hugh’s watchful eye. The Schooner Huron Jewel is allowing the Coverts to live out their motto, “sailing the dream,” while sharing their experience with passengers with great delight.
As Julie says, “I hope that us having built Hugh’s dream boat inspires others that they can follow their dreams regardless of how big the dream seems.”
For blog, more photos and schedule, visit ditallship.com.