by Ellis Anderson
This month - A sailboat built for serious circumnavigation takes a break in Bay St. Louis after six years in the Caribbean.
So how did a couple who were living in a desert with no previous boating experience come to buy the Wilde Mathilde and then call her home while they cruised the Caribbean for six years?
Leslie and Sarah Villa were living in Tucson, Arizona, where “Les,” a diesel mechanic, owned and operated a mobile service that repaired semi- trucks. Sarah was working for a local International truck dealership and also keeping books for her husband.
Sometime around 2006, Sarah read a story about a couple who bought a sailboat and sailed around the world. She was intrigued enough to start researching and reading about cruising. The more she learned and shared with Les, the more appealing the idea seemed. The couple decided to work for another two years, then sell the business and retire.
In the meantime, Sarah shopped online for the perfect boat. She immersed herself in the boating world, absorbing everything she could about sailboats and sailing. When she found the Joshua in Norfolk, Virginia (where it had been sitting up for six years), she and a friend flew out to inspect it. She called home to Les with a report and he said, “If you think this is the boat, let’s do it.”
The couple soon sold their house and all belongings that wouldn’t fit into their pickup truck. Then they headed east for Norfolk and their new floating home.
For the next ten months, they lived aboard the Wilde Mathilde, getting her back into cruising shape. They signed up for boating courses (at the end of one, Sarah was offered a job as a course teacher). They also sailed the boat to Miami and the Bahamas, back to Norfolk and eventually back down to Miami again, where they planned to set off for Panama.
Yet when it came time for the long passage, the weather turned sour. Even with a seasoned sailor friend crewing, it was a trying, rough voyage. When asked how long the crossing took, Sarah doesn’t hesitate: Seven days and twenty hours.
For the next several years, they cruised the Caribbean, moving between exotic ports-of-call like the San Blas Islands, Panama, Columbia, Belize and Guatemala. Les says that they make a great team. “I can fix anything and she can do anything.” It also turned out that Sarah is a natural navigator with superb skills she’s had a chance to hone while traveling.
With some of the storms the couple had to face over the years, the double-ended Joshua boat turned out to be a great choice.
Les tells this breath-taking story: “Once when we were coming back up from Panama to Guatemala, it was late at night and the wind was howling 60 – 70 knots. The seas were probably a good twenty at the time. I saw Sarah was getting ready to come up on deck, so jumped down to stop her. I didn’t want her to see how bad it was out there. She had this awful look on her face and I could see that she was shaking. She honestly thought it was the end for us.”
“I said, ‘This boat loves this kind of weather. You searched all over for a boat that could take these kind of seas. Look, we’re sitting down here talking and she’s just going along. This is a really good boat and she’s going to protect us.’ After that, Sarah lay down and went back to sleep.”
Although the Villas both enjoyed the laid-back cruising lifestyle, it turned out to be a little too sedate for them both (at least between the rare stormy passages). When Sarah was offered a job at Stennis Space Center, they brought the Wilde Mathilde back to the states, moved off the boat and into a house in Diamondhead. Les found his skills in high demand and is currently working at Rocking C Truck and Trailer in Gulfport.
For now, the couple is content visiting the Wilde Mathilde in the Bay St. Louis harbor on weekends, where they can bike around Old Town and enjoy the restaurants. Both Les and Sarah claim to be addicted to the scones at Serious Bread Bakery, just a block away.
Will they take Wilde Mathilde out again? The couple’s not sure.
“The cruising life is just something we wanted to try, “ says Les. “ We don’t know what our next adventure will be. But when Sarah says let’s go to this – whatever it is - I say O.K.”