Growing up in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, Herby Benavent loved exploring the ocean. Although too young to own a sailboat at age 14, Benavent improvised with a kayak as he stood up and tried to catch the wind with a bed-sheet sail, sailing along the outskirts of his hometown.
Nearly two decades later, the 31-year-old Clarksville dentist will take to the sea aboard his own sailboat, named Wisdom, and travel across the Atlantic Ocean with his wife, Maddie, to explore a handful of countries and islands over the next year.
The couple and their two pets, Morty the corgi and Sammie the green-cheeked conure parrot, began their venture in early July with a trial run on the Chesapeake Bay, visiting ports in Annapolis, Easton, Oxford and Worton. Before their big departure, they plan to stop at Norfolk, Deltaville and St. Mary's, Va.
Benavent said they hope to begin their upcoming trek around mid-September, after peak hurricane season. The trip was nine years in the making and will take the Benavents to Bermuda, the Azores, Portugal, across the Mediterranean Sea, Europe and along the African coast to Brazil and the Caribbean.
Benavent, who works alongside his father, Harry Benavent, at the family-owned Benavent Dental in Clarksville, said his idea to sail the Atlantic came to him around 2008 during dental school at the University of Maryland.
"All my friends were buying houses and going broke," Benavent said. "I didn't want to be broke, [so] instead of buying a house, I bought a boat and lived on it. Then, I thought, 'If I want a boat, boats can cross oceans, so I should get a boat that can cross an ocean.'"
After graduating from dental school in 2012, Benavent was visiting the Eastern Shore when he found and purchased a nearly 50-year-old Morgan 45 sailboat — one of only 12 ever built. The model was built for sailboat racing in the 1960s but wasn't very popular, he said. Benavent said he paid about $20,000 for the boat, compared to more expensive models valued at over $100,000.
Herby Benavent has lived aboard Wisdom since purchasing the sailboat. When the Benavents aren't sailing, they dock at Fells Point in Baltimore.
Maddie Benavent, a former arts teacher in Anne Arundel County, said she left her job to pursue Herby's sailing dream, a feat she never anticipated tackling before the two met in 2014.
"He told me right off the bat about his dream to sail across the Atlantic," she said. "I just kind of shrugged it off and thought to myself, 'I'll change his mind. That'll never actually happen.'"
In 2015, Herby convinced Maddie to join him on a three-week sailing trip to Maine to experience the "boat life." They married a year later and, shortly after, began developing concrete plans for a year-long voyage.
The Caribbean was set as their final stop, a direct 1,500 miles from the East Coast. Benavent said most sailing boaters use a motor to travel against the wind; however Wisdom's electric motor only has a 20-mile range.
"We can't motor that far," he said. "So, we decided we'd take the old trade routes from the U.S. back to Europe, then down the coast of Africa and back across the trade winds to the Caribbean."
Just after 10 o'clock on a foggy and humid Friday morning, Herby and Maddie Benavent woke up aboard their anchored sailboat in Harness Creek at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis. About seven weeks away from sailing the Atlantic, they were in town to get last-minute tools for the sailboat, while visiting local ports and cities.
What was formerly a hallowed out sailboat was reconstructed by Benavent over the last five years. New sails and rigging – ropes and cables to support the mast – were installed, but the original deck, hull, mast and woodwork remained in place.
Below deck were several amenities that might be found in a small, studio apartment, beginning with a bedroom and bathroom at the front of the boat, the bow. The dining area, office space and kitchen were squeezed together in the boat's center, where Maddie was frying eggs for breakfast.
"Everything we have on this boat and everything we do is as self-sufficient as possible," she said, noting the 300-watt solar panels, a composting toilet and rainwater-collection system. "We're trying to reduce our carbon footprint with this trip and the way we live."
Toward the stern, or rear of the boat, steps lead outside to the deck, where Herby tightened rigging using a knot he invented called the Shroud Frapping Knot. Burgundy sails lay crumpled on the bow below the mast. Blue lines adjust the sails and red lines pull them down, Benavent said.
He also installed low netting surrounding the boat's edges to prevent Morty from falling overboard.
A black awning covered a seating area in the back, where a small boat, also called a dinghy, floated beside the sailboat. The dinghy was named Tooth, reading "Wisdom Tooth" when paired with the sailboat.
In addition to planning the route, Benavent said he and Maddie analyzed their food and travel costs, which they will help cover through their sailboat-centric business, Rigging Doctor. After teaching himself the process of rigging over two years, Benavent now offers inspection, tuning, design and installation services as well as rope work for fellow sailors.
The Rigging Doctor has a YouTube channel, website/blog and Instagram, documenting the Benavents' adventures at sea.
"When we're sailing, the rigging helps because people's boats break," Benavent said. "We saved up for a year. We pretty much just lived off of Maddie's income and my income went straight into the bank."
About $12,000 was budgeted for the year, he said. Plenty of canned food was stocked on board, and they plan to get fresh food along the way.
Aside from costs, the couple agreed that their biggest challenge was not just physical preparation but also mental preparation. Benavent said his family heard him talk about a trip of this stature for years, but they never imagined it would actually happen.
"They think you're kidding the whole time until you cast off and start sailing," he said.
"My parents were just really upset by the whole thing, understandably so because they were convinced that we were going to die. It's been a lot of mental convincing," Maddie added. "When it got serious and we started making the big adjustments and payments, that's when they said, 'Oh, whoa, these guys are actually doing this.'"
Harry Benavent, Herby's father, said he and his wife, Debbie, were concerned at first but understood the couple's passion. The family works together at Benavent Dental, where Debbie is a dental hygienist and Herby's sister, Vanessa Anderson, is a dentist.
The Benavent clan will oversee Herby's patients while he's away, but Herby said he plans to return to work at the dental office when they fly home for holidays and, again, when their journey concludes.
Harry Benavent said he knows his son has taken the proper precautions and is ready for the trip.
"When he sets his mind on something, he will do it," Benavent said. "He won't take no for an answer. If someone says it can't be done, he'll figure out how to do it. I think it will be a great lifelong experience for them."
Herby and Maddie Benavent said their sailing dream is finally coming true and they anticipate the adventures ahead.
"The main purpose of this trip is to get away and slow down," Herby Benavent said. "Society is so focused on getting from one place to another as fast as possible. We really just want to escape that, so the sailing part is really important to us."