Archived Story

Grangers hit 38 nations, several ‘Survivor’ locales during 4 1/2-year odyssey

Published 10:08pm Thursday, August 5, 2010

Jim Snow welcomes “Sailing Faith” author Gregg Granger to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon. The former hardware store owner spent 4 1/2 years (November 2003-May 2008) sailing the world on a 56-foot boat with his wife and three kids. They stayed in Sydney, Australia, long enough to receive “souvenir” library cards, but their two favorite places proved to be Indonesia and Yemen. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Jim Snow welcomes “Sailing Faith” author Gregg Granger to Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon. The former hardware store owner spent 4 1/2 years (November 2003-May 2008) sailing the world on a 56-foot boat with his wife and three kids. They stayed in Sydney, Australia, long enough to receive “souvenir” library cards, but their two favorite places proved to be Indonesia and Yemen. (The Daily News/John Eby)


Dowagiac Daily News

Gregg Granger’s itinerary reads like he tried to visit every “Survivor” locale.



The Marquesas.

Actually, it’s simpler than that.

And much more complicated, though he can confirm the active volcanos in Vanuatu because he perched on the rim of one during a 38-country odyssey.

The author of “Sailing Faith: The Long Way Home,” who visited Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday as guest of City Clerk Jim Snow, sailed around the world for 4 1/2 years, from November 2003 until May 2008, with his wife, two teenage daughters, Emily, 15, and Amanda, 12, and 5-year-old son, Gregg II, or Greggii — The Circumnavigators.

The book cover shows Antipodes, rechristened Faith, sailing beneath Anzac Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

“The whole theme of the book is that the world is populated by wonderful people everywhere,” Granger said. “We saw God’s image reflected everywhere we went, despite what you see on the news every day.”

Before leaving Hampton, Va., aboard a 56-foot monohull boat to cross three oceans, the Granger’s sailing experience consisted of a week aboard a Florida charter and a 16-foot Hobie Cat at their Gun Lake home, where he owned a hardware store.

“You’re going to a lot of places where they don’t value human life like we do,” friends and relatives reacted to their plan, although he says his two favorite places in retrospect are Yemen and Indonesia, where President Obama lived as a boy.

Their journey aboard the vessel they named Faith was about travel and culture, but more about relationships.

Relationships with their creator, with each other and with people on similar journeys like a Swedish family they kept encountering.

Learning to sail was the least of the obstacles they faced while traveling head-long into places where they grappled with preconceptions and prejudices to discover how strong and wrong were their preconceived notions.

Time abroad also afforded the Grangers a view of America from a different and not always popular perspective.

Gregg’s malaria — his death was predicted before God put in his path a doctor with credentials to have him evacuated to Cairo — broken bones, four memorable storms and that 10 months it took for their boat to be painted in Malaysia were small prices to pay for the personal and family growth they experienced.

His two daughters attend Calvin College. His son is starting seventh grade at Thornapple-Kellogg.

Granger grew up in Lansing and worked in his father’s construction business. He earned a master’s degree in labor and industrial relations from Michigan State University.

Besides owning the local hardware store on Gun Lake, Granger started a construction company that built seawalls and sold docks and boat hoists.

In 2003, “I was inspired — by God, I believe — to do something different with my life and my family,” although sailing around the world was supposed to take two years.

“In June 2002, my wife (Lorrie) and I were feeling a little bit stretched, going this way and that, trying to build a business, trying to put something away for the future,” he recalled Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “One night I had a revelation that I believe came from God. Why did I keep trying to keep myself away from my family? Just give myself to my family. By October we bought a boat in Annapolis. We left Hampton, Va., in November 2003. A lot of people have a life dream of sailing around the world. It consumes them for years. It wasn’t our dream, it was just something laid on our hearts to do.”

Granger continued, “We sailed to the Caribbean and turned west, across the north coast of Venezuela into Panama. The canal is a magnificent engineering feat. We woke up one morning and saw the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. We transited 72 miles through the canal and that night saw the sun set on the Pacific Ocean” — after waiting 14 days for passage during the around-the-world Blue Water Rally from Portugal.

Yachts are fit through the locks as space permits behind ships.

When Greggii fell on the boat and required 11 stitches in his head, they went ashore and hired a taxi to take them to the children’s hospital, costing $3 — $2 for the paperwork and $1 for medical services he received.

In the Galapagos Islands, they first encountered the Swedish family with kids about the same age that they kept running into for eight months without ever sailing with them.

“The Galapagos are everything you see on nature channels,” he said, recalling the morning a sea lion poked his head into the transom over where Gregg slept, awakening him with a blast of fishy breath.

Their longest sea passage, 21 days, took them 3,300 miles from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, which are part of French Polynesia.

“Survivor did a show there and we met Daniel in Daniel’s Bay. He told us the TV show purchased his house, moved it 300 yards so they could fabricate the wilderness they needed for that ‘reality’ show on his old homestead. One hundred yards away was a working telephone booth. Two miles away was a five-star resort. They may make contestants work a little, but the producer’s going to sleep in a good bed.”

From the Marquesas, they sailed to atolls — coral-ringed lagoons — where the matriarch of the family where they intended to stay one day persuaded them to stay on until Davina, a school girl studying 35 miles away on a neighboring island, arrived home.

“That family charmed us into two weeks on that atoll,” Granger said. “I got an e-mail two weeks ago from Davina with a picture of her and her husband. The Swedish gal about a month ago e-mailed my wife for the recipe for the sweet rolls she made. The relationships and the friends we made are long-term,” he said.

Tahiti and Bora Bora float by their view as they sailed toward Tonga, where “you step over a line into ‘tomorrow.’ The date changes. There are humpback whales that make a circuit from the southern ocean off New Zealand up to Tonga every year for breeding. If they calve, they stay for four years. We had the opportunity to swim with the whales, which are 60 feet long.”

The Grangers lingered in Fiji for a month after bidding their Swedish friends “a sad goodbye,” then made their way to the active volcano in Vanuatu for a day trip enroute to Sydney, New South Wales, where they lived for three months.

“It was Christmastime,” Granger said, “but southern summer, so it was 80 degrees. Some souvenirs are just plain neat. We each got library cards. We didn’t have room for much else on a boat. From there, we sailed up the coast of Australia and across the gulf to Darwin. All along, we had been home-schooling. The oldest daughter graduated on the boat. We flew home from Darwin and spent six weeks visiting with friends and had a graduation party, then flew back to Sydney and took the train up the interior. There is a lot of nothing in the interior of Australia. From Darwin, we sailed into Indonesia and went to traditional areas — not tourist areas. We figured we had the rest of our lives for that. We figured this was our one opportunity to sail places we’d never get back to.

“We sailed into the Spice Islands, where cloves grow. We came during harvest time. They had cane mats laid out on the sidewalk in varying states of dry. They go from green to red to brick to brown before they’re ready for market. From there, we sailed up to the south of Borneo, where we met orangutans,” which, pound for pound, are eight times as strong as humans.

Don’t resist. One swiped his daughter’s hat and bounded away.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Eighty percent of its 240 million people profess that faith.

In Indonesia they met Ardi, the polite young Muslim who persistently addressed him as “sir” and “had eyes for my daughter.”

When they sailed five miles across the Singapore Straight, Ardi called from the ferry for another meeting with Gregg’s daughter before converting to Christianity.

“We hear stories,” Granger said, “about how they will be excommunicated possibly or kicked out of their families, but that simply is not true in Ardi’s case. His family saw him, just like any other 20-year-old, going down the wrong path. He was dabbling in alcohol and an arm paralyzed from a couple motorcycle accidents. They saw instantly the change in his life from accepting a new faith. They were just thrilled with his choice.”

From Singapore, the Grangers journeyed to Malaysia and a tourist island.

To take advantage of cheap labor, they contracted to have their boat painted in 45 days. Ardi came for Christmas and lived with them when their layover lasted 10 months.

“Today,” Gregg said, “Ardi is our son on the other side of the world. The relationship with my daughter didn’t happen. She’s been in Malaysia teaching English as a second language. (Tonight) she and a friend are heading to Singapore to visit Ardi.”

Granger “cashed out” his retirement to afford the adventure.

“We took everything but our house and put it into cash form, so I’ve got to sell a lot of books now. In Malaysia, we felt we were being robbed of God’s plan for our lives. But at the same time, we grew into this relationship with Ardi, we made some wonderful friendships. In hindsight, we were right where God wanted us at that point in time.”

From Malaysia they trekked to Vietnam and Cambodia, where “we saw something that just stunned us. They had genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to the tune of maybe one third of their population — 83 million people were murdered under that regime,” Granger said. “Yet the joy on their faces is stunning. We found this a lot and it struck us. Where we’re from, we see happiness, but not inner joy like we saw there.”

The Grangers stayed in Thailand about a month because “a lot of sailing has to do with waiting for the weather. We couldn’t leave Hampton, Va., until November because of hurricanes happening in the Atlantic Ocean. We had to leave Fiji to go to Sydney and get back to the mid-latitudes because cyclones were coming to that part of the Pacific. In the Indian Ocean, the winds blow one direction half the year, then turn around and blow the other. We had to wait in Thailand for the winds to shift so they’d push us across the Indian Ocean,” Gregg related.

The next leg of their journey took them to Oman and Yemen.

“We didn’t expect to like Yemen,” he said, “but we’ve got two favorite places, Indonesia and Yemen. That may have as much to do with our expectations as it does with the places we went. Thailand and Australia are tourist places. We had negative expectations of Yemen. All that can happen is that they are exceeded when you get there.”

After crossing the Red Sea, Granger came down with a 104-degree fever.

A cruise ship redirected him to a “real hospital” in the capital staffed by Jordanian military officers. “I was their only patient,” he said. “I had a very serious form of malaria. I laid in that hospital for three days, but they had no meds. They pulled my wife aside and said I was going to die. They put me on a  3 a.m. flight to Cairo next to a fellow. Pilots did not want to fly a medical evacuation. They grabbed his guy next to me and took him up to the pilots. He was from Guiana and a specialist in sub-Saharan diseases for the UN. This is not a coincidence. Somehow, God managed to get this guy right next to me with the credentials to make that plane fly with me on it” to Egypt.

Once Gregg recovered, they crossed the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, visited the Holy Lands and Mediterranean Turkey and some of the Greek Islands and stayed in Rome.

From Italy they waited out hurricane season in the Canary Islands.

They returned to America through Puerto Rico.

“The extent of bribes we paid during the course of our trip ended up being one ball cap in Indonesia because I got tired of saying, ‘No, that’s not for you.’ We didn’t have any trouble getting the kids to buy into it because it was divinely inspired. Their minds and hearts were open to this.

“Everybody gets seasick, even if they say they don’t,” although it might manifest itself in sleeping excessively or a “crabby” disposition. Lorrie got nauseous, Gregg snappish and their daughter dozed for two days at a time until they got their sea legs.

“We still have the boat,” he said. “I’m marketing the book and doing day labor — dock installations in the Grand Haven area. My daughter took the SAT in Maryland — in May, too late to get into any college that year, we thought. Calvin called her and said they’d make it happen. She learned (the language) and worked in a pharmacy during the 10 months we were in Malaysia. My second daughter is also at Calvin now, learning Chinese for international studies. They were 10, 17 and 21 by the time we got back.

“We swam with sharks occasionally, not by design, but because they come through when you’re spear fishing. Reef sharks are not threatening and we never saw a Great White. My wife and the Swedish woman were snorkeling to see manta rays, which are about as big as two of these tables put together. All of a sudden the Swedish woman poked her head up screaming,” but nobody recognized the Swedish word for a 10-foot shark.”

“I’ve been a member of this Rotary club since 1980,” said Robert Eady of Niles, “and this is the most invigorating, interesting presentation I can remember.”

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