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The breeze was pumping off the tidy anchorage of Anse Marcel on the French side of the Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, where a dozen multihulls were hoisting their sails and prepping for a fast reach across the roiling Anguilla Channel. It was the second day of the inaugural rally component of the annual Caribbean Multihull Challenge.
With a singular exception, the fleet was composed of performance catamarans from builders such as Balance and Lagoon, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the slick graphics and sleek lines of the lone trimaran in the fray, a Neel 45 called Panda Rosso. The boat was one thing, but I was actually more interested in the young couple sailing it, Darren and Amanda Seltzer. We’d met the previous summer when chance, and a mutual friend, had brought us all together for a fairly wild day of sailing on a race boat off blustery Newport, Rhode Island. I’d mentioned the rally to them back then, and now, lo and behold, here they were.
Amanda and Darren sail a pretty cool trimaran, but their unlikely high-seas journey to get to the islands—while launching a business offering prospective cruisers, as they once were, opportunities for learning and adventure—was even cooler.
They met in Orlando, Florida, each pushing pencils at corporate gigs; both came from active, outdoorsy backgrounds, none of which involved sailing. Accomplished scuba divers, they were actually streaming YouTube diving videos (“Don’t cringe!” Darren said) when they came across the Sailing SV Delos channel and a light went off.
Wait, what? You could dive from your own sailboat?
“We instantly went down this YouTube rabbit hole of sailing videos,” Darren said, with Amanda adding: “Addicted. That’s what we were.”
They swapped their jobs and possessions for a 39-foot Amel Sharki they named Panda (Amanda’s nickname), with the idea of a cruising-diving safari through the South Pacific.
When the pandemic hit and the isles they’d dreamed of exploring shut down, they pivoted to what was open and available. “Greenland,” Darren said. “It was like sailing through the Yosemite or Yellowstone but with ice.”
From there, it was on to the United Kingdom and a long winter spent on the River Hamble, where they came up with the idea of making their new avocation their vocation with their own YouTube videos, and by offering training trips and passages on their own boat. Sure, there were plenty of other folks with the same idea, but on a multihull?
“We were looking for something different, something that would stand out,” Darren said, explaining their choice for a new trimaran, this one called Panda Rosso. “It had to perform well. Where are folks buying a multihull going to get experience sailing one? That’s the opportunity we saw.” And the one they seized upon.
Their second trans-Atlantic passage, a 16-day blast back to the islands, was decidedly quicker than their first one on the Sharki. When I caught up with them again in Saint-Martin, they had a couple of clients aboard, and a two-year itinerary and business plan that would take them back up the US East Coast with a return to the Caribbean. For 2024, they’re planning an ambitious Atlantic circle with stops in the Azores, Scotland and the Canaries before another trip across the pond to the tropics.
“From the time we got into sailing to now making it our business, we’ve had the same approach,” Darren said. “We’re all in, with 100 percent effort.”
And that’s where they were, at least figuratively speaking, when I saw them disappear over the horizon, bound for Anguilla. With the spinnaker set and the spray flying off a trio of hulls, Panda Rosso was in control and tracking like a freight train. Precisely like the couple sailing her.
Herb McCormick is a CW editor-at-large.