Sailing off into the sunset isn’t just a phrase for longtime Spokane music teachers Kent and Kathy Meredith.
After retiring from Spokane-area school districts, the couple sold their Long Lake home of 27 years and most of their belongings to buy a 42-foot Lagoon catamaran in late 2018. They now live full time on that boat, dubbed WindEnsemble, after setting sail Dec. 29 toward warmer waters.
Their decision to go vagabonding was no last-minute whim. They took sailing lessons and chartered similar vessels. Kent Meredith grew up around boats, and the couple previously owned other watercraft. They researched the best boat to cross oceans together.
“Kent sailed a 16-foot Hobie Cat on Long Lake, which got him a love of sailing through the years,” said Kathy Meredith, 59, who retired in 2017. Her husband left his work this past year. “He built a duck boat and rebuilt our MasterCraft engine to prepare us to do this big, big life change.
“We’d been working on a plan for 10 years.”
They have kept a few of their personal belongings, now stored at her father-in-law’s home in Yelm, Wash. “Otherwise, we’re living on the boat, and our boat’s our home.”
Long ago, they knew they wanted to name their boat WindEnsemble because of the work they did in music education.
“Your highest-level musician group is the wind ensemble, and we wanted that name to represent the teamwork that’s taught in music,” she said. “Now, that’s what we’re doing with the teamwork of he and I on this boat together.”
The Merediths recently described their transition to life at sea in a phone interview while near Eleuthera, Bahamas. They share duties to operate and maintain the boat. Cooking duties are traded off, and they can do laundry on board. If they go ashore to shop or explore, they use a dinghy that’s regularly stored on the catamaran.
Kent Meredith, 58, is known by former student musicians as a band instructor for 30 years, mostly for Spokane Public Schools’ Odyssey program at the Libby Center, a magnet school site.
“At Libby Odyssey, I was band teacher for about 10 years or so,” he said. “I taught elementary band for another 10 years on and off and then came back to it later on. I also taught high school band for a little while in Central Valley.”
A Shadle Park High School graduate, Kathy Meredith grew up in Spokane from the age of 10. As a general music teacher, she spent all her 35-year career at the same school, Evergreen Elementary in the Mead School District. Working with students involved everything from singing to xylophones.
She prepped students for a large Christmas concert held every year at Whitworth University.
“I loved being at Evergreen Elementary; I have so many great memories,” she said.
“The hardest part, I have to say, is we really miss our family and friends. Our friends have been an integral part of our lives. We’ve already had some friends come and visit and stay on the boat; we’re starting to get people coming on board.”
Generations of music students also know the couple from their 17 years of operating the Ross Point Music Camp during summers in Post Falls.
Since starting their new sailing life, the couple regularly keep in touch with family and friends through a mobile hotspot rental service, My Island Wifi. They post updates on a Facebook page, also called WindEnsemble.
Kent Meredith described their adventures as the next stage in life, versus retirement.
“We decided we wanted to go out and see the world,” he said. “It’s not at all unconventional for people on the East Coast to do this. We’ve met people who sail anywhere from Canada all the way down the East Coast down to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
“We’ve traveled on vacations over the years to the Caribbean and have seen people doing this. It sounded like fun.”
His father had raced hydroplane boats and owned recreational boats, so crossing wide waters remained a constant while he grew up in the Seattle area.
“We always had one boat or another around in the garage, either we were working on or we had ski boats,” Kent Meredith said. “My mom and dad lived on a power boat in Seattle for a few years.”
The Merediths met at Eastern Washington University, and soon after marrying, their first vacation together was on a long trip into the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands with his parents.
Kathy Meredith said despite all their preparations for life at sea, she’s experienced a big learning curve to pull her end in operating and managing the boat with just the two of them. She jokes that her husband is much like the TV character MacGyver –he can fix it all.
“For me, it’s trying to get some confidence and skills to be a good partner,” she said. “I’ve had some meltdowns thinking the anchor is dragging. Kent bought a good quality anchor, because you don’t want to be sleeping at night and have the anchor drag. He can look at anything and figure it out.
“Kent always has a good way of looking at this. You’re going to experience in this life the higher highs and lower lows. There are some days it’s oh-my-gosh magical and the stars are out. Other days, you’re hunkering down.
“The other day we woke up and there was a horrible lightning storm. If you’re on a sailboat, you don’t want lightning to hit your mast and blow out all your electronics.”
They’ve seen beautiful scenery and walked sandy beaches, but the couple also spend time regularly on the boat’s maintenance and cleaning work, and sometimes, repairs they have to do on their own.
“People think it’s all cocktails and sunsets,” said Kathy.
Added Kent Meredith, “We’re about ready to have it pulled out and have the bottom painted in next month or so,” as part of a sea-worthy boat’s regular maintenance.
But their boat is designed to be comfortable for living on while sailing all over the world, they said. The catamaran has a system that turns sea water into fresh water, along with a generator, freezer and refrigerator.
When needed, most places have a dock or beach with a nearby community that has food stores, he said. They also eat the fish they catch in the deeper ocean.
Before hurricane season hits June 15-Nov. 15, they’ll sail up to the Chesapeake Bay for a bit. Next fall, their plan is to sail around the Caribbean. They’re also hoping to do more scuba diving next year.
They’ve enjoyed many scenic Bahama sites already, but Kent Meredith said he’s most happy out on the water or meeting people on the islands. They’ve befriended others in the boating community too.
“The people are warm, generous and very helpful,” he said. In an email, the couple also wrote, “Sailing is certainly a different life than teaching music. But both fill the soul, create connections, teach new life skills and inspire you to expand your world.”
Kathy Meredith said she hopes their new experiences encourage others.
“We do want to inspire people. My theory is you’re never too old to learn something new.”
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