Crossing the Atlantic on Hinzite

by Captain Joan Gilmore

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A crow's nest view of Dallas and Amy Johnson in the cockpit of Hinzite. Photo by Greg Olson

At this moment, Dallas and Amy Johnson, a young Minnetonka couple, are living a dream they have held since they started sailing together on Lake Minnetonka six years ago. They are part of the crew of Hinzite, a 45 foot cruiser/racer that is at this point somewhere between Bermuda and Cowes, England, probably enjoying the crispy breezes of the Newfoundland westerlies of 45 degrees north latitude, while following east-flowing currents.

Dallas and Amy are celebrating their five year wedding anniversary on this trip, a wonderful way to mark the common interest that brought them together. Dallas and Amy both grew up in the Minnetonka area and have been involved with sailing off and on throughout their childhoods.

About seven years ago, Dallas started "networking and getting dialed into yacht clubs like Sailors World and the Wayzata Yacht Club." Dallas had just bought a "real" sailboat when he met Amy. Besides meeting his future wife, Dallas met lots of people during these years who would become important to his future in sailing. "We didn't even dream we could do something like this when we started sailing (big boats) six or seven years ago. After we started to make more friends and contacts we soon found someone going in the same direction as us."

That someone turned out to be Charlie Hinz, a recently retired Northwest Airlines pilot. Dallas and Amy started crewing on Charlie's boat, Hinzite, up in Bayfield, Wisconsin four years ago. This Atlantic crossing trip has been a dream of Charlie's for some time, and this particular series of races seemed the perfect time to put his dream into action.

Most of Hinzite's Atlantic crossing crew are Lake Minnetonka residents who have raced out of the Wayzata Yacht Club and Bayfield, Wisconsin. Many of them have crewed in offshore Lake Superior races that run between points such as Bayfield, Grand Marais, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Duluth. Last year, Amy and Dallas participated in the Port Huron-Mackinac and Chicago-Mackinac races, a two and a half week trip that gave them 1,500 miles of offshore experience.

The Atlantic crossing crew includes owner Charlie Hinz, Bryan Bartness, Kim Bradford, Dave Crum, and Dallas and Amy. Dallas explained that none of them have ever crossed the Atlantic before. "We're all new at this. Most of us like the challenge of preparing and learning and doing what needs to be done to have a good trip." He cited the sense of accomplishment that they were all looking forward to. "None of us are 'resorts type' people. Amy and I have thought about maybe doing a three-year cruise. For us this is step one and a way to 'test the waters' to decide if we want to try liveaboard cruising."

Hinzite's journey started last March when Charlie Hinz went to MIT in Massachusetts for a symposium on the Marion-Bermuda race. The race started at the foot of Cape Cod, in Marion, Massachusetts on June 18th. For this approximately six-day race to Bermuda, Hinzite's crew elected to sail offshore portions of the race without electronic navigation instruments. Captain Kim Bradford, a retired Air Force officer, taught the crew to use the boat's three sextants along with the sun, moon and stars to navigate their way to Hamilton, Bermuda. They were allowed to use their GPS and radar once they were within 50 miles of land.

As part of their daily onboard routine, Amy, Dallas and the other four crew members mend sails, fix broken rigging, and work at the navigation table, plotting their course. Their destination is the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England where Cowes Race Week will be held from August 1st to the 7th. There, some of the crew will return home and other crew members will fly in to participate in the race. Immediately following Cowes Race Week is the Fastnet race running from August 8th through the 12th. The Fastnet starts at Cowes, and continues to Lands End on the southwest coast of England. From there, Hinzite will drive northwest to round Fastnet Rock off the southwest tip of Ireland and return to the finish line at Lands End.

Following these two challenging international races, the Frers 45 aluminum sloop will proceed to Sweden to enjoy a Scandinavian autumn and winter. After a restorative hibernation, Hinzite will frolic in the waters of the Baltic and the Mediterranean throughout next year's sailing season.

Preparation for the Atlantic crossing was long and arduous. Besides all the equipment augmentations and repairs, the crew needed to train themselves for any contingency. Since Amy is an exercise physiologist, she was elected to become the ship's medical person. She has learned how to give IV's and has acquired an impressive arsenal of antibiotics and "heavy duty" pain killers; "A lot of stuff that we, hopefully, won't have to use ever." She added, "I took one course on 'giving first aid when help is delayed,' but it turned out to mean when help is delayed for only one hour, so that won't do us much good." Dallas noted that seasickness pills and patches will be onboard but, "It's very common for people to get sick for the first day - after that they get used to it."

The accommodations onboard will be quite homelike; the crew will be able to eat fresh food for the first week or two, kept fresh with their onboard refrigerator, and cooked with the stove and oven. Hinzite has an onboard watermaker to desalinate sea water for drinking.

As far as special equipment the Johnsons are bringing on their adventure, Amy said, "Just my safety harness, that's it." "And," she added, "lots of polypro." (The Atlantic can be quite chilly at this time of year.) Dallas mentioned books on celestial navigation and their journals. "We expect to be so busy running the boat and making minor repairs, that we didn't bring any cards or board games." The boat sports all the latest electronic wizardry including an integrated system that combines radar, the depth sounder and GPS (global positioning system) with a sailing chart so that the crew can see exactly where they are on a computer screen at all times, along with charted features such as islands and buoys, as well as uncharted features, such as other ships, even in a thick fog. Dallas also reported that, "We can receive weather reports off the short-wave and lay it over our chart work."

What if the electronics fail? Will the crew still be able to hold their course using only their newly learned celestial navigation skills? According to Dallas, if that happens, they will just do what sailors have done over the last 500 years: "We'll go north until the butter stops melting, (the Newfoundland currents from the polar ice caps kick in,) then we'll take a right."

During the day, everyone pitches in to handle the steering and crewing. The night is divided into three watches with two people per watch. Of course, that extra crew member, Otto Van Helm, the boat's automatic steering system, is always standing by.

Dallas and Amy have booked their return flight from England for late July. When they get back home, you can hear sea stories from them firsthand. In the meantime, you may follow the progress of Hinzite on or These websites will be continuously updated from aboard ship on Dallas' laptop computer and transmitted to the internet via short-wave radio.


Captain Joan Gilmore is co-owner of Northern Breezes Sailing School, where Dallas and Amy Johnson are staff instructors. The school is located at Sailor's World Marina on Smith's Bay, and can be reached at 612-542-9707.

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