southtownstar
CHARMING 
Weather Updates

Ex-Southland resident, husband sail the world

MariSiguaw relaxes aboard Aspen 38-foot sailboshe her husbsailed around world.  |  Supplied photo

Maria Siguaw relaxes aboard Aspen, the 38-foot sailboat she and her husband sailed around the world. | Supplied photo

storyidforme: 60774810
tmspicid: 22012350
fileheaderid: 10416754

Maria Siguaw’s top destinations:

1. The Society Islands

2. Niue, near Tonga

3. Australia

4. India

5. Thailand

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: February 21, 2014 6:17AM



When she was a student at Marian Catholic High School in landlocked Chicago Heights, Maria Siguaw had her sights set on following in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale, not some world explorer.

Yet last month, the retired nurse and her husband, Steve, completed a four-year odyssey that would make Ferdinand Magellan proud.

On Dec. 13, the Siguaws sailed into the harbor at St. Lucia in the Caribbean, marking the end of an adventure-packed journey around the world.

“It was so fascinating,” Maria said, during a recent call from the Leeward Islands. “I learned a lot of geography and history. It’s funny, I always hated those subjects in school. But they’re so fascinating in real life.”

The 64-year-old Siguaws’ approximately 25,000-mile circumnavigation began in November 2009 when they hoisted sail in St. Thomas and sailed southwest toward the Panama Canal on their 38-foot Island Packet sailboat, Aspen.

The experience would introduce them to spinner dolphins, Somali pirates and countless nationalities of people around the globe. There were quiet moments of boredom, nervous hours on rough seas and spectacular nights when a full moon seemingly lit up the entire ocean.

Their journey was broken up into passages. They traveled through the canal, past the Galapagos Islands and out into the big, blue Pacific to Australia.

“On that leg, we went 23 days without seeing land,” Maria said.

The South Pacific’s Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora) and Australia were among Maria’s favorite stops. The couple then headed northward through Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and India before crossing the pirate-infested Indian Ocean.

They often were far from other humans, but they never really were out of touch, thanks to email and a satellite telephone that enabled them to call their son and daughter-in-law in Colorado from just about anywhere, including the middle of the ocean.

During the four-year journey, they took a few breaks, docking the boat and flying back home to be with family. After a while, they’d fly back to the boat and resume their travels. In Turkey, they also took several land tours, soaking in the country’s cultural history.

In February 2011, the Siguaws joined other sailors on a Blue Water Rally, organized by a company that organizes circumnavigation sailing. At that time, Maria said, the participants were warned to sail together across the Indian Ocean to Salalah, Oman, because of the threat of pirates.

Seeking ransom, pirates were kidnapping boats and taking them back to Somalia, often threatening and torturing their crews until large amounts of cash arrived.

“The Blue Rally folks believed that if we stayed in groups of six, the pirates would not be inclined to attack,” she said.

Unfortunately, another boat was seized by pirates, and four Americans on board were taken hostage and killed. Maria, who did not witness the incident, called the 11 days spent on the Indian Ocean, “quite trying. These were people we met and liked. They were our friends.”

“We saw a pirate ship on the horizon, but it did not approach us — I think because we were in a group,” she said.

Maria and Steve later would attend the trial of the 19 captured pirates, all of whom received life sentences in a Norfolk, Va., courtroom.

“It was quite eerie,” she said.

Circumnavigation companies now steer sailors toward the Cape of Good Hope as an alternate means of getting around Africa. It’s longer and has its own dangers, but it keeps sailors from pirate-infested waters.

Maria said she and Steve ate well during the trip, stocking a large freezer and refrigerator as often as they could. When they ran out of fresh food, they would resort to canned. Grocery shopping via dingy was a challenge, though.

Sailing, she said, is a lot of hard work.

“It’s very physical, more than I expected,” she said. “But it’s a great way to get in shape.”

The Siguaws, who suffer from seasickness, especially in rough seas, kept a regular supply of Bonine on board.

Maria spent a lot of free time watching movies on a portable DVD player and reading. Steve, a geophysicist who still works as a consultant for oil companies, often was able to work aboard the Aspen. He also read a lot — mostly repair manuals because there always was something breaking down.

Steve, who grew up in Joliet, met Maria while they were in college. He’d always enjoyed canoeing, and early in their marriage they took up sailing. One thing led to another, and before they knew it they owned a boat. Then they traded up until finally deciding to see the world the way history’s explorers did.

Now that their voyage is over, “I’m happy it’s done,” Maria said. “While it was a wonderful way to see the world from a perspective that not many people have, it’s also nice to be finished.”

Because it was just the two of them day in and day out, friends often say they never would survive that many months at sea with their spouse.

“It’s funny,” Maria said. “When I meet with other women, we all have the same complaints, and they haven’t even navigated with their husbands.”

The couple plan to dock the Aspen in the Caribbean and return briefly to their home outside Denver, likely spending most of the rest of the winter back on their boat.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.