Jenny Decker begins epic solo sail around the world from Kona while battling rare disease
June 29, 2023, 2:30 AM HST
A flock of birds flew over Kona nurse Jenny Decker’s liveaboard sailboat as she pulled out of Honokōhau Small Boat Harbor Wednesday morning to begin her long-awaited journey to circumnavigate the globe.
It would not be an easy trip for anyone, but it will be especially challenging for the 38-year-old who is battling a rare and incurable neurological disease that ultimately will put her in a wheelchair. She said she is as prepared as she can be.
At the dock, there were no dry eyes among a dozen friends who bid farewell to Decker and her first mate, a 6-pound Maltese Yorkie named Romeo.
Before she left, she told her friends — and family who were watching through cellphones on FaceTIme: “Everyone here has helped me along the way at some point. Whether it’s crying on the floor, thinking it was over, getting an engine, a dismasting, COVID. From houses to hang out at to dinners and showers and laundry, everything a sailor truly needs. Thank you guys, I love you all.”
This will be Decker’s third attempt to sail solo around the world. She also will be attempting to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the first person to do so with the neurological disorder Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a hereditary disease that already has put her mother in a wheelchair.
Decker’s previous attempts failed not because of her ability, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a disastrous dismasting of her previous boat caused by a faulty chain plate. This journey was almost derailed after she was scammed on an engine.
Decker’s paddling sister Kolina Burton said she knew Decker would get on her way.
“She’s very resilient,” Burton said. “Even though there were bumps along the way, she took them in stride, and she was always pushing forward.”
While she’ll miss her, Burton is whole-heartedly thrilled for Decker, who plans to hit 30 to 35 countries along the way.
Decker plans to sail back and forth on the equatorial line based on storm seasons to be in safe zones. She estimates the trip will take 3 to 5 years.
As she sails around the world, Decker is excited to spend time in several locations. She’s especially looking forward to seeing the island of Tuvalu, located near Tonga. It is forecast to be the first country to disappear because of rising sea levels due to climate change.
Decker also is looking forward to spending time in Vanuatu, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean near Fiji, and Madagascar, an island country lying off the southeastern coast of Africa.
While alone at sea, Decker said there will be a lot of reading, listening to podcasts, fishing and communicating with people through a satellite messenger system.
But first, Burton blessed Tiama, the Bristol 36, which already has traveled around the world with Decker’s friend, Dustin Reynolds, a double amputee due to a motorcycle accident in Waikōloa. He sold her his 35 1/2-foot liveaboard sailboat that now will be home to herself and Romeo for the next few years. Afterward, friends popped champagne and toasted Decker’s farewell.
“Cheers, guys! See you in a little bit,” Decker said as she sipped the drink from a green paper cup.
Adorned with ti-leaf and purple orchid lei at the stern, Decker and Romeo slowly pulled out of the harbor, escorted by two friends in one-man canoes.
No longer in sight, some friends drove a few minutes down to the point where the harbor ends and open ocean begins to see Decker one last time. Decker’s partner, Thea Cyr, watched from the rocks as the sailboat moved out of sight.
Cyr plans to meet up with Decker in a month when she makes her first stop, which will either be the Cook Islands or America Samoa.
“It’s hard,” Cyr said. “It’s a lot of feelings. I’m excited and so proud of her but my heart hurts. I can’t wait to see her again.”
Editor’s Note: You can follow Decker’s journey, which she calls “Just a Lap,” on Facebook.