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Mark Gordon, captain of the Amicus II and father of the Gordon family, navigates the sailboat earlier this month. The Gordons are currently waiting out Hurricane Sandy anchored in North Carolina. Submitted

Two Harbors family weathers Sandy

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The Gordons can now say they've survived a hurricane in a sailboat.

"There's nothing terribly hard about it, it's just like an endurance test," Katya Gordon, 43, said Monday via cell phone, speaking loudly to be heard over the wind gusts and pouring rain in the background.

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The Two Harbors family is anchored about 10 miles inland on the Pasquotank River in North Carolina, on the outer edge of Hurricane Sandy's path. They anchored on Friday and are waiting out the storm near Goat Island.

"The word so far is ...boring," Katya Gordon wrote on the family's blog on Oct. 28.

Not the assessment you expect to hear from a family with two young girls trapped on a sailboat and facing a Category 1 hurricane. But their years of sailing -- including a one-year trip to the Bahamas and a summer-long circumnavigation of Lake Superior -- have prepared them well.

"Lake Superior gales can definitely hold a candle to this," Katya said, with the pride of someone who lives next to the biggest lake in the world.

Mark, 53, and Katya, along with their two daughters, are about two months into a nine-month sailing journey from Knife River to the Virgin Islands and back. They sailed through the Great Lakes, across the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River to the Atlantic Ocean. They made it down the Atlantic coast to their current location just before the storm hit.

Katya said they expected to be anchored until Thursday of this week, by which time Hurricane Sandy was projected to have moved on.

Chris Parker, chief forecaster for Marine Weather Communications, watches the weather across the Atlantic Ocean and sends boaters specific forecasts and advice based on their location. The Gordons are clients of his, and he said their location is perfect -- tucked inland and anchored is a great way to stay safe. He also said they should be able to safely leave soon.

"The wind conditions are milder than they have been," he said.

The number one question he's had from his clients during the hurricane has been, when can we leave for the Caribbean? Parker's response: "Let's get through Sandy first. Your number one job is to protect your boat and crew from Sandy. If you don't make it through Sandy, you won't have to worry about the Caribbean."

Hurricane Sandy, described as the largest hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic Basin, hit the East Coast Monday night, wreaking havoc in cities along the coast and reaching as far inland as Lake Michigan. Elizabeth City, N.C., the city closest to the Gordons, has seen some flooding and school closings.

"It's been raining and gusty since Saturday," Katya said. Aside from a 71-knot gust they experienced over the weekend, the winds have been bearable, she said.

The Gordons have appeared in the pages of the News-Chronicle before. Katya wrote a book, published this year, about the family's unconventional sailing life. The couple sold their Chisholm home in January 2006, quit their full-time jobs that spring and took off in a sailboat for the Bahamas with their daughters Cedar, then 4 and Lamar, then 2.

The family was gone for a year before dropping its anchor in Two Harbors in 2007. They've remained relatively static during the last five years, while Mark took groups on charter sailing trips and Katya homeschooled their girls. They also occasionally took shorter two- to six-week trips and worked on the master plan for the current trip.

Amicus II, an upgrade from the boat they took on the Bahamas trip, is their mother ship now. Katya said the experience they gained from that trip has helped this excursion go smoothly.

They've also added a couple of new deckhands -- Will Gilder and Emma Homstad accompanied them from Lake Superior to North Carolina. Emma, 22, flew back to Minneapolis Oct. 25, but Will, 18, plans to go with them to the Virgin Islands before heading back to Minnesota. David Gladish of Arizona will join them this week.

The young adults pay to accompany them for part of the journey and learn the ins and outs of sailing, as well as "explore their own capacities, center their minds, test limits with a safety net and share of themselves in a safe and healthy sphere," according to the Gordon's website.

On her blog, Katya described Emma as "always ready, always cheerful" and said Will "can turn on a dime from his own personal bliss and play hide-and-seek that has the girls squealing and dashing around in seconds."

"The overall highlight has been the sailing team," she said, adding that the young adults picked up sailing skills quickly and their daughters, now 10 and 8, have become useful deckhands with age, too.

The hardest part, besides the hurricane? Surviving the chaos of New York City -- the Hudson River took them right through the heart of the city.

"New York was pretty stressful. It's bouncy on the river--and over stimulating," Katya said.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 1 -- the same day the Gordons said they expected to leave their safe harbor and continue on their journey. The hurricane hasn't affected their schedule so far, but Katya wrote on their blog that it has put the trip in perspective.

"Instead of feeling concerned only for ourselves, and focused on our oh-so-important Plan, we are suddenly aware that we are actually fortunate in every way, and that our Plan is not that important in the scheme of things anyway," she wrote.

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LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
(218) 834-2141
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