Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

Sail News

Steve and Irene Macek stand next to their new boat, Pearl, after more than 30 well-traveled years aboard Star.

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner named Star, with tanbark sails, a yin-yang emblem on her bow, and the flag of St. Kitts and Nevis flying from her transom. She was pretty hard to miss.

The Maceks and I immediately bonded, as cruisers will, as though we were long-lost family. Steve, who had once built a jury rudder for Star out of some scrap steel flooring and a cast-off prop shaft, held my hand through a minor crisis I was having with my rudder. He was also very interested in my boat, an aluminum Boreal 47, and at once proclaimed me his “aluminum boat guru.”

Star had served the Maceks well. They’d purchased her 30 years earlier, when Irene, a British national, was pregnant with their daughter, Pearl. They also built a house on Nevis, where they eventually became citizens. They always spent winters there and sailed north each spring to spend summers on Cape Cod, managing a small fleet of boats for a private owner.

The three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner named Star

The three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner named Star

The Marco Polo, designed by L. Francis Herreshoff in 1946, is a pencil-thin craft—55 feet long and 10 feet wide. The interior feels cramped, but they are amazing load carriers. Star has a 600-gallon fuel tank and proved an able craft when the Maceks took off on a two-year west-about circumnavigation in 2002 when Pearl was 12 years old.

Steve bragged to me they only bought fuel once the whole time. “We topped off in Africa,” he declared. “But only because it was wicked cheap. We still had 100 gallons and probably could have made it.”

He and Irene returned to their Cape Cod/Nevis routine after closing the circle, but they told me in Bermuda they wanted to get a new boat and go back to full-time cruising. Steve wanted something just as strong but easier to maintain than Star and thought aluminum was the way to go.

We stayed in touch after that, exchanging brokerage listings for boats they might be interested in. We crossed wakes again in Beaufort, North Carolina, in May 2020, and Steve was fretting about the pandemic making it hard to check out boats. The following March they sailed all the way down to Curaçao to inspect an Alubat Ovni listed there, but it was in terrible shape. Heading north to Cape Cod again, they were disconsolate, but then caught word of a 2002 Alliage 44, in very good shape, for sale in the south of France.

“When they ended the lockdown in France, we were on the first plane out of Boston to Paris,” Irene told me. Three days later they closed the deal.

By the time I went to visit the Maceks on their new boat late this past summer, they’d sold Star to a young couple. They’d also sold the house on Nevis and seemed all set to take off again around the world.

“It’s all been pretty hard on Pearl,” noted Irene. “She was raised on that boat and in that house. She thinks we sold her childhood!”

But by then Pearl, now a full-grown woman running a media business in Rhode Island, had also had a baby, a boy named Kai. He was born in December 2021, just three days after Steve and a buddy arrived in Nevis, having sailed the Alliage—formerly named Levita, now named Pearl—nonstop across the Atlantic from Gibraltar.

“She’s a big French surfboard!” exclaimed Steve. “We were flying downwind the whole way. Sometimes we were making 15 knots!”

Steve and Irene are definitely enjoying their new boat. She’s 11 feet shorter than Star, but 5 feet wider and feels more spacious. And she’s packed with amenities: a watermaker, a generator, and (Irene’s favorite) a washing machine. But now that they’re grandparents, they’re rethinking their plan to take off again around the world.

It’s been a long, wonderful ride for both of them.

“Irene and I got married 42 years ago so she could get her green card,” Steve told me. “I never thought she’d hang out with me for any length of time.”

“Me neither,” cracked Irene with a smile. 

January/February 2023

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