Koziuras on the Begonia

Tips for a Transatlantic Trip

Prepare as much as possible: Sebastián recommends preparing the boat as much as possible in the U.S. It can be difficult and expensive to buy new equipment or supplies once you leave the country.

Keep it simple: Less stuff, less stress. The Koziuras say you don’t need a luxury yacht to sail across the ocean. What matters in the end is the trip.

Don’t be afraid to explore: Although they had a few people caution them against Morocco, the Koziuras say their visit to the country was great. If you keep an open mind and practice common sense, they say most places are safer than you think.

Read the Blog!

The Koziuras read a number of sailing blogs before and during their trip for advice, information and inspiration. They created their own blog, too. For a more detailed account of the Koziura’s transatlantic trip (including more photos!), visit Karla’s blog: www.koziurasonthebegonia.blogspot.com.


Koziuras on the Begonia

by Sarah Kollmorgen
Illinois family sets sail across the Atlantic Ocean on an epic 18-month adventure.
Karla loved Île-à-Vache, Haiti and seeing Cuba before its tourism surges. Sebastián fondly remembers arriving at the beautiful Port of Horta in the Azores after a few long weeks of sailing. The kids enjoyed the many sounds and smells of Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco. The time spent winding through the small villages of Africa — Senegal, Gambia and Cape Verde — were unforgettable, according to the Koziura family.  

Even though they’ve been back for more than four years, the Koziuras still have a hard time narrowing down their list of favorite ports and adventures from an epic transatlantic sailing trip they began in 2010. The 18-month journey took the Koziuras — Karla and Sebastián, plus their kids Sofia and Benjie — to 21 different countries and over 13,000 nautical miles, introducing them to new people, places and cultures.

Lakeland Boating caught up with Sebastián and Karla at Frio Gelato — the small Argentinian gelato store the couple opened in Evanston, Illinois after their return — to learn more about their trip and recommendations for other boaters who dream of going on a long-term cruise.

Falling into place

Sebastián became the captain of the journey, both literally and metaphorically. Growing up in Argentina, Sebastián began sailing at a young age, first with his parents, and then on his own. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean was a lifelong dream of his.

Around 2008, events in the Koziuras’ lives began to fall into place in such a way that it became apparent it was now or never: The timing was perfect to set out on an Atlantic journey and fulfill Sebastián’s dream. The family’s main business, real estate, was struggling due to the market crash. Sofia and Benjie were old enough to sail, but not yet in the sulky teenager phase (which the Koziuras were told is not fun to deal with for months on a small boat). Then, in the same year they left, Karla lost her mother and Sebastián lost his grandfather.

“They were both people who lived their lives to the fullest. We wondered, ‘What are we going to say on our deathbed? Are we going to be able to say we accomplished our dreams?’” Karla says.

Despite being a self-proclaimed “reluctant sailor,” Karla says they decided to make the trip. “It just felt like the right time for so many reasons. Plus, I didn’t want to be a fraidy cat; I want to take advantage of opportunities. It seemed like an incredible one for our kids.”

Getting ready

For the next nine months, the Koziuras were in full preparation mode. Since Sebastián had been reading up on transatlantic crossings for years, plotting the route was fairly easy. In fact, by simply avoiding bad weather — or following the summer and avoiding hurricane seasons — much of the trip planned itself.

Instead, Sebastián’s focus centered on preparing the boat, a 2001 38-foot Fountaine Pajot Athena, named the Begonia. The Koziuras purchased the catamaran from a charter fleet in the Caribbean. About three years before their trip, they had conveniently done a complete refit of the sailboat, replacing engines, rigging and sails.

The year before their journey, Sebastián made frequent trips to Florida, where the Begonia was docked, to get the ship set to sail; he focused on safety, communication and comfort. He installed a SSB radio and a new VHF with AIS system. He prepared life rafts and EPIRBs. To increase the Begonia’s energy capability, he added solar panels, a wind generator and larger batteries.

“I wanted to keep it as simple as possible,” Sebastián says. “The less systems you have on the boat, the less time you’re going to spend in a remote country trying to figure out how to fix something.”

While Sebastián was prepping the boat, Karla focused on creating a homeschooling (or boatschooling) plan for their kids. When they set sail, Sofia was 7 and Benjie was 4. In retrospect, Karla says the kids had so much one-on-one time with parents and down time for reading that she could have stressed less about creating a rigorous academic plan.

Three weeks before they officially set sail, the Koziuras headed down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for some last minute preparations. They made Costco runs, stored canned goods and organized the boat. After Christmas, the trip began.

The big trip

The Koziuras set sail on their 18-month journey at the end of December 2010. From Florida, they looped down through the Caribbean, visiting countries such as the Bahamas, where they found a beach crowded with wild pigs; the Dominican Republic, where they caught and ate fresh lobster; and Saint Martin, where Karla stayed with the kids for a month while Sebastián made the first Atlantic crossing with a small crew.

After about two weeks of crossing the Atlantic, Sebastián and the family reunited in the Azores, off the coast of Portugal. They then took the Begonia around Spain and the Balearics, to Morocco and back to the Canary Islands. Often, the Koziuras would meet others also on a trip across the Atlantic and “buddy boat” with them for days to weeks. Sebastián and Karla say the kids’ favorite stops seemed to be wherever they could find other kids to hang out with. The Koziuras say they often met other families making the transatlantic trip, and even befriended a couple sailing with six children.

“It was surprising how often we would meet up with the same boats in a different port down the line,” says Karla.

The Koziuras say the community of boaters making the transatlantic trip was a close one. Not only did the Koziuras help out fellow boaters in need of assistance, they received aid when they needed it, too.

“Everyone is at the mercy of nature; anything can happen,” Karla says. “I think you’re cognizant of that, and willing and ready to help anyone in distress.”

Fortunately, times of distress were few and far between for the Koziuras. Karla and the kids occasionally suffered from seasickness, but generally the family faced few weather-related problems. They say one of the most stressful situations they endured was off the coast of Morocco, when their motor became tangled in local fishermen’s nets. Sebastián dove into the water to cut the nets loose. They believe this  angered the fishermen, who began yelling and ramming their boat into the Begonia. Eventually the Koziuras were able to leave the area, but Karla said the situation was jarring.

The Begonia’s motors got tangled in fishermen’s nets one more time, one night off the coast of Senegal. Fortunately, the locals were more amenable to helping out, and Sebastián was aided by bioluminescence in the water. In the end, the Koziuras say, if you make conservative decisions, use common sense and do your research, you can easily avoid obstacles or tricky situations.

“The world is way safer than people think it is,” Sebastián says. “There are way more nice people than bad people.”

For the next leg of the trip, Sebastián, Karla, Sofia and Benjie turned the Begonia south, setting sail for Africa. They visited small villages in Senegal, Gambia and Cape Verde. They met locals, saw hippos and spent Christmas in Cape Verde. While Sebastián and Karla agree that the leg through Africa was amazing, they say this part of the trip was probably where they faced the most culture shock — especially when they visited remote villages with totally different social norms.

From there, the family sailed west, back across the Atlantic. They landed in the Caribbean, where they made a few more stops in countries such as Tobago, Grenada and the Bahamas, before eventually returning to the first and final stop in Fort Lauderdale.

Land Ho

Although they had to sell the Begonia upon their return to the U.S., the Koziuras are still reaping the benefits of their big trip. A few years ago, friends from France that they met while sailing visited them in Evanston for Thanksgiving. Just a few months ago, the family went to England to visit another family they met on their journey.

“These are people we probably won’t see all the time, but every time you see them you share a dream — we share a big trip,” Sebastián says. “It’s a great connection.”

The Koziuras say they haven’t been sailing too often since their return, but they haven’t dismissed another trip altogether. At the moment, they’re toying with the idea of a grand circumnavigation around the equator, maybe in 10 years or so.

Although the Koziuras may not be able to pick just one favorite moment or place from their 18-month journey aboard the Begonia, they wholeheartedly agree on one thing:

“Whoever dreams of doing this, they need to do it,” Sebastián says. “You can come up with a thousand excuses not to do this trip or a trip like this, but the bottom line is: It’s just a matter of making the decision to do it.” 



South Shore JUN17