On April 20, 2004, Les Bissell, a former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant, cast off from Annapolis on a round-the-world trip in a 28-foot sailboat called Hope. With him was a single crew member, Brian "Murf" Murphy of Green Bay, Wis.
It was to be two men against the sea.
"I'm confident," Murf told me for a column I wrote about the trip before they left.
Murf was confident until Charleston, S.C., when he thought better of the trip and caught a plane back to Wisconsin.
So Les sailed by himself to Miami, where he picked up a new crewman, "Peter the Kiwi," a strapping fellow who claimed to have been raised in New Zealand and crewed on America's Cup boats.
Peter the Kiwi turned out to be an American scam artist who was curled up seasick in his bunk all the way to the Bahamas.
Les delivered Peter the Kiwi to the airport and sailed by himself to Panama.
That's where he was joined by Gene Zumberge, a Coloradan who was game enough to stay with Les all the way to the Marquesas, a group of islands about a thousand miles north of Tahiti.
Gene was true to his word, leaving only when Les was able to replace him with Page McIntyre, a friend of a friend from Louisville who signed on for three months and sailed with Les through the Cook Islands and on to New Zealand.
That's where Les picked up Marius, a Dutchman kicking around the Southern Hemisphere who fancied traveling with Les to Fiji, Vanuatu and then on to Australia.
"He was a nice enough guy, but his heart just wasn't in it," Les said, "or he was unrealistic about what it was like on a small boat."
Marius bailed in Vanuatu, and once again Les faced the prospect of being alone. That he won't be alone -- not now and hopefully not for a very long time -- must be thanks to those friends of sailors everywhere: the stars. They guide mariners lost at sea, and they bring together lovers.
"I wasn't planning to meet the woman of my dreams," Les said. "But there she was."
Les told me this story in the Post's cafeteria, his fingers laced with those of Lindy Goldberg, the woman he met in New Zealand and who will soon be his wife.
"I knew, sort of magically from my point of view, that she was the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life," Les said.
The round-the-world sailing trip was something Les had always dreamed about, but he didn't decide to actually do it until a stroke dropped him like a sack of potatoes onto the floor of his Northwest D.C. apartment in 2002. He was 37.
Les recovered but had a realization: If your life can end at any moment, wouldn't it be better to fill it with things you want to do?
His trip aboard a boat called Hope would help him live this dream and at the same time raise awareness about strokes. Wherever he made landfall, Les sought out stroke support groups and the media. He posted stroke facts, along with regular updates, on his Web site, www.voyageofhope.org.
Lindy, meanwhile, was living her own dream. She's a 33-year-old Israeli who was born in South Africa. A year ago she left her human resources job at a high-tech company outside Tel Aviv and bought a round-the-world plane ticket. She'd always urged others to follow their heart; now it was time for her to do it.
She'd explored North America, South America and Central America before heading to New Zealand. At the end of her first week there, a friend Lindy had made in a hostel told her about this guy she knew who might be fun to hang around with.
"The stars lined up," said Les. "She was traveling. I was traveling. We were very similar in a lot of ways. We met in a very faraway country. . . . I met a lot of people, but I didn't think I'd find my wife. I didn't think I'd be anyplace long enough."
Les and Lindy realize that not everyone can do what they've done: chuck it all and travel around the world. They have no kids (yet), no one they have to support. But what has surprised them most is how easy it's all been. Yes, Les encountered some monster waves. And he went without sleep so long during his solo sail to Australia that he started hallucinating (he thought there was someone else onboard). But his little boat held up in the big ocean for 14,000 miles.
Lindy has realized how little money she really needs to survive, even when traveling the world.
"It's a state of mind," she said. "It's self-confidence, not thinking that you're the best, but believing in yourself, that even if you leave that safe haven, that bubble, whatever you've created or achieved will always be there."
The plan is to get married next month in Annapolis. Les's boat is for sale back in Brisbane. He and Lindy will buy a bigger one, either here or in the Caribbean. Then they'll start the westward journey all over again: south to Panama and through the canal to the Pacific -- stopping, Les is quick to point out, at different islands this time.
Lindy doesn't have much sailing experience. She arrived in New Zealand the traditional way: aboard an airplane. But she did just fine on a month-long shakedown cruise with Les around Fiji. "I support him on the journey," Lindy said.
A happy ending? No, more like a "happy middle," for this story isn't over yet. Les admits he was a little disappointed with some of his crewmates, the ones who jumped ship without much notice, but he doesn't think that will be a problem anymore.
"Now I'm marrying my next crew, so she won't run away."
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