Deep Sea Driver
Georgia-based trucker Daniel Whitchurch will use time away from behind the wheel to take his 30-foot cutter out into open waters.
Daniel Whitchurch likes rough water.
When the wind howls, he’s ready to go, eager to shove off and take on weather that few sailors would want to challenge.
The 47-year-old driver, who says his approach to sailing weather is “it’s OK if I can get the boat away from the dock,” took his wife and daughter sailing in the Seattle area the day after Christmas. “The wind was about 35 knots, and it was rough and it was snowing. We all wore wet suits under our clothes to stay warm and had ski masks on. The Coast Guard thought we’d only come out to help look for some lost kayakers instead of being a family out for a day’s sailing.”
And it was on another 35-knot day in the middle of a cold January that Whitchurch took a 40-foot sailboat out to sea and managed to surf it along the wave tops at 11 knots (that doesn’t sounds like much, but imagine a Class 8 tractor going faster than you ever thought it could go). “We were flying,” he says. “What a wild ride that was.”
“To me,” he says, “sailing feels like a combination of the feelings you get when you ride a Harley-Davidson and the feeling you get when you jump out of a plane.”
A 28-year over-the-road veteran with more than 3 million miles under his belt, Whitchurch and Debra, his wife of 26 years, drive team for Kennesaw Transportation, piloting a 2005 Pete 387. Whitchurch, based in Cartersville, Ga., learned to sail about the same time he learned to drive a big truck – at age 12.
He was born in northern California and lived right on Humbolt Bay, the deep-water port where he first learned to sail.
“I’ve been sailing and loving it all my life,” he says.
His family owned hay and logging trucks since 1939 until about four years ago.
“My grandfather would have us all learning and driving the logging trucks, and he’d say once you could handle a logging truck you could work the hay trucks,” Whitchurch says.
Whitchurch left home and ended up in the Marine Corps, where he continued sailing. He’d come back home over the holiday season and fill in for drivers taking time off from the company business to be with their families.
It was in his earliest days of sailing that Whitchurch might have picked up his love of rough water.
“I learned a lot off Cape Mendocino just south of here,” he says. “It’s the westernmost point of California, and it’s kind of our Cape Horn. It can be treacherous in those waters. Two different currents collide, and the weather and the water on one side of her can be totally different from the other. I’m always prepared for any kind of weather going around her. Sometimes it’s nothing, but I learned to get ready for her moods because they change so quickly.”
These days one of Whitchurch’s favorite places to sail is in and around the San Juan Islands in the northern reaches of Puget Sound, about 80 miles north of Seattle. There are more than 170 islands in the group, some large, some tiny and some accessible only by sailboats.
“I was in Inati Bay up in the San Juans one time, and it must have been about 2 in the morning,” he says. “I was out on the stern just watching and listening. Next thing there’s an orca (the famous black and white killer whales) right behind the boat, only a few feet from me, and it kind of rolled over and he was looking at me, almost like he was trying to communicate with me, and he had this mischievous little grin.