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When Joe Barnette decided to sail from the Bird Key Yacht Club to England, he enlisted an unlikely passenger: his 14-year-old grandson Robbie. He had no qualms about Robbie’s safety, he says, because he was also taking along three friends with considerable sailing experience. The group left on Barnett’s 42-foot Island Packet sailboat, Hope & Glory, on a May morning in 2008. 

Six weeks later, after stops in Marathon, Florida; West End, Grand Bahamas; Bermuda and the Azores, and 20 days at sea with no sight of land, they sailed up the English Channel and into Southampton on England’s southeast coast.

Robbie joined the others in spending days and nights on watch, navigating, preparing food, maintaining the sailboat and communicating with other sailors via radio. “We had all kinds of weather,” says Barnette, “great big rollers 30 feet high. We were either sitting on top of the mountain or way down in the valley.” 

At the halfway point, a longitude line in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, he says, “It was about three o’clock in the morning, and we all got up and celebrated with ice cream that was hidden away at the start of the trip.” When they reached Southampton, his wife (and Robbie’s grandmother) was there to greet them. 

It was the trip of a lifetime for grandfather and grandson, Barnette says. Robbie gained confidence throughout the trip, he says. On watch in the English Channel, the youngster radioed a 400-foot Russian ship that was encroaching on Hope and Glory and asked it to move two miles away. “And it did,” Barnette says. “Asking a 400-foot ship to make way for a 42-foot sailboat—I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to do that myself.”

It was the second transatlantic voyage for Barnette, a longtime Bird Key Yacht Club member. The first was in 2000 and, “I would love to do it again,” he says. “But my wife says absolutely not. She said, ‘I can see the newspaper: a 76-year-old guy, a 75-year-old guy and a 74-year-old guy. When they have to get rescued, people will say, ‘What were they thinking?’”  

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