Portrait of a Cruiser: Amy and David Alton of SY Starry Horizons

Young American couple David and Amy Alton started their five-year circumnavigation from Antigua on December 31, 2015 aboard their catamaran Starry Horizons and crossed their wake coming into St John’s on March 26, 2020. Cruising double-handed nearly the whole time, they took 1547 days to sail around the world, visited 27 countries/territories and sailed more than 45,000NMs.

Published 3 years ago

man and woman jumping on catamaran trampolines
David and Amy celebrate a successful circumnavigation.

Names of Owners: Amy and David Alton

Nationality: American

Boat Name: “Starry Horizons”

Boat Type: Fountaine Pajot Helia 44 catamaran

Home Port: Kemah, TX, USA

Website:  www.OutChasingStars.com

How did you start cruising?

I (Amy) have always been around boats.  My grandfather had a supply vessel business, my dad was in passenger vessels, my mom and dad were both crew aboard the Texas Clipper at A&M Galveston.  My uncle has owned a sailboat for 34 years.  My step-dad and mother got one while I was in high school and my dad got a sailboat while I was in college.  I started sailing on my own at summer camp, with simple sailing dinghies.   

My dad took David, my soon-to-be husband, out on his first sail in 2009, and David took to the internet to learn more about sailing and cruising.  When my dad passed, I took over his boat business, and David and I went on to become USCG Masters.  I sold the business and we bought our cruising boat!

You’re both fairly young to go cruising – how did you support yourselves during your five year journey?

When we decided we wanted to go cruising, we started saving up a lot of money.  David and I were both fortunate in that we didn’t have any student loans, no credit card debt, and when we met we both had professional jobs (David worked in finance and I was an engineer).  We tucked away most of our salaries.  When I sold my business, that gave us additional funds, and I still owned the commercial rental property.  I sold that property while we were out cruising.  While we have done things to earn money here and there, the reality is that we saved up a lot of money before we went cruising. 

local fishing boat from Madagascar on the water
A local fishing boat off the coast of Madagascar.

Describe what sort of cruiser are you:

Our goal has always been to circumnavigate in about five years.  It’s almost entirely been just the two of us.

What type of cruising are you doing currently?

We had planned to complete our circumnavigation in April 2020 – but surprise! – we finished our world circumnavigation at the end of March by sailing into Antigua!  Our original plan had been to head to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to chill for a week or two, and then head over to meet friends and family in Rodney Bay St. Lucia to throw a party. And then, coronavirus happened!

After we left Brazil, we were kept up to date about the islands of the Caribbean.  One by one they started closing their borders.  St. Lucia closed pretty early, so it was obvious the party was not going to happen.  We evaluated our options and detoured to Antigua. 

man and woman on bow of catamaran at sunset
David and Amy on Starry Horizons in Panama.

I think we made a good choice.  We are a bit closer to the States, our real goal.  There are plenty of cruisers here, lots of handwashing stations and “social distance” chatter.  We’re anchored at Jolly Harbor, stocked up and ready for a few quiet weeks on board.

It’s not the celebration we were hoping for, but it’s the one we got.  

We’ve registered with the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, and like many cruisers, are hoping to be back in the States by hurricane season.  

Hope did you cope with just the two of you – particularly during long passages?

It takes a while to figure out what works best for every cruising couple.  David and I have double-handed almost all the way around the world, but we’ve figured out what works for us.  We take longer shifts; we call it a “soft 7” schedule.  The only firm shift is the first night watch when I keep watch from 19:00 to 02:00  Then David is on while I sleep, then when I wake up, he naps.  When he wakes up, I nap.  And then we do the whole thing all over again!  I do get seasick, but mostly I just feel tired and uncomfortable. I always prepare food in advance – something like a pasta salad and muffins to hold us for a few days. 

As far as the day-to-day cruising life goes, we each have our own responsibilities based on our skills.  I handle most of the cooking, provisioning, and cleaning.  I take any maintenance jobs I feel comfortable with – servicing winches, splicing lines, etc.  David takes the bigger jobs or ones that need more muscle. 

As far as driving the boat though, despite being a USCG captain and having a lot of sea time under my belt, I was STILL nervous to dock Starry Horizons.  So, after we left Florida, I refused to allow David at the helm.  I docked our boat and navigated us every single time – and I still do!  Now I’m much more confident and feel like an equal to David with my helming skills…though I still haven’t turned the helm back over to him!

What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?

man and woman standing on road in front of catamaran on trailer.
Amy and David with their new catamaran, ready for launch.

That first sailboat my dad had was a catamaran, and that’s the one David learned to sail on.  We always liked the way catamarans sail, and they have many benefits for liveaboard luxuries.

What other boats have you owned?

When I took over my dad’s business, I had a fleet of five boats – from a 100’ power yacht to a 30’ sailing catamaran.

What changes have you made to your current boat?

We bought Starry Horizons new, so we outfitted her with all of the essentials – and luxuries – we wanted to go cruising around the world.  We started with a high-powered watermaker, lots of solar panels, and a fully enclosed cockpit.  We’ve since added in lithium-ion batteries and a hydrogenerator. 

woman on the mast of catamaran looking down to the deck.
Amy up the mast.

Most useful equipment fitted, and reasons for this choice:

We love our Sena bluetooth headsets.  It makes communicating around the boat so easy – we can use them when one of us is up the mast, or when we are docking or anchoring. 

List the countries you have cruised:

We started at the factory in La Rochelle, France, before sailing to La Coruna, Spain and then the Canary Islands.  From there we sailed 4200NM to Florida.  We spent five months outfitting our boat for cruising life.  Then we spent a short three weeks in the Bahamas before we escaped hurricane season by sailing to Nova Scotia and Maine.  Then we stopped in Bermuda on our way back down to spend three months in the Caribbean, from the Virgin Islands to Grenada.  Then we sailed to Panama, where we popped through the Canal and to the South Pacific. 

yachts in the panama canal.
Transitting the Panama Canal.

Our first season we sailed to Galapagos, French Polynesia, Niue, Tonga, and Fiji before spending the off season in New Zealand.  We enjoyed the South Pacific so much we decided to spend another year there.  We went back to Tonga, Fiji, and then Vanuatu and New Caledonia before settling in Australia for cyclone season. 

We enjoyed New Year’s Eve in Sydney Harbour in 2017, and then worked our way up through Australia’s east coast, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.  In 2019 we sailed to Sri Lanka, then through the Maldives to Chagos and then Seychelles, before cruising Madagascar and South Africa.  We then crossed the South Atlantic, heading for the Caribbean.

looking towards a lighthouse on an island with the catamarans bow in the foreground.
Starry Horizons in the waters of New Caledonia.

Future cruising plans:

Having crossed our wake in the Caribbean in March 2020, we will head to the East Coast to store Starry Horizons for the hurricane season and spend a few months with friends & family back in Texas.  Then we will launch Starry Horizons in the Fall and head south!

List the oceans/seas you have crossed:

North Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic.

Approximate sea miles:


Scariest day on the water:

I scared the pants off of David our first night out.  It was our first overnight sail together (I’d sailed with my Dad on passage), and we were both nervous.  The Bay of Biscay is not to be taken lightly.  With all the emotions running high, I got too excited when we were joined by glowing dolphins, playing in the green glow of thick bio-luminesences alongside our hull.  I knocked and shouted to wake David up, and he panicked in confusion.  Now, we (sadly) no longer wake each other up for dolphins, though I’ve never again seen dolphins glow quite like that.

Another challenging situation was when departed Bermuda bound for the British Virgin Islands, on what was going to be a five-day passage.  Our first morning out, David woke me up at 5 am.  Our autopilot wasn’t working.  Some of the information from our wind indicator had been going in and out all morning, but finally, it completely disappeared, along with our autopilot.  I sat up at the helm to hand steer while David went down below to troubleshoot the system.  After 20 minutes, we reconvened.  Did we want to hand steer all the way to the BVIs, or did we want to turn around and bash back to Bermuda?  We decided to keep going….hopefully we would be able to fix the problem, but if not, at least we could hove to in order to get some sleep. 

two snorkellers under water
Snorkelling in crystal clear waters in French Polynesia.

David continued to try to figure out what was wrong, while I spotted a ship on the horizon; a 100ft + sailing yacht.  I hailed them on the VHF, asking if they had an engineer onboard to advise over the radio.  “Please stand by, our crew is occupied, as we are taking on water.”  I may have been stuck hand steering, but at least we weren’t sinking!  I could see now that they were floating, presumably to reduce the ingress, and we quickly passed them.  David made a few calls on our sat phone, and experimented with unplugging various parts of our NEMA2000 system.  When he unplugged our transducer (which reads depth, speed, and water temperature), the whole system came back online again!  It turns out there was a crack in the casing that was causing a short.  We left it unplugged and reset our autopilot for the BVIs.  The sailing yacht also resumed their passage, passing us once again, bound for the Caribbean.  We both remained calm and worked through several avenues to try to fix the problem.  We were supportive and willing to face a challenging situation together.

Best cruising moment:

There are many, but one in particular was a beautiful anchorage in Huahine, French Polynesia, away from the main town.  I call it Paul’s Motu, as Paul is the best attraction.  He comes out to greet you in his canoe, offering gifts of coconuts and papaya, and offers you a tour of his island – all while being mute.  His tour was a wonderful friendly experience, and his island is beautiful!

Favourite cruising area and why:

Catamaran at anchor.
Starry Horizons at anchor in French Polynesia.

French Polynesia is an amazingly diverse country.  The Marquesas are volcanic and lush, while the Tuamotus are sandy protected atolls, and the Societies are a mix of both.  It’s some of the best underwater experiences in the world, and the friendliest locals.

Favourite anchorage:

Before anchoring restrictions were put in place, we visited the southeast corner of Bora Bora.  The shelf was shallow and sandy, well protected in the atoll.  The water was super clear, and we could dinghy to nearby snorkeling spots to see sharks and manta rays. 

Favourite cruising apps:

We love being able to use our Iridium Go to message with our cruising friends while out at sea.

Favourite cruising websites:

Noonsite, of course!

Favourite cruising books:

An Embarrassment of Mangoes and The Spice Necklace.  Both are wonderful reads, exploring a close-knit side of Caribbean community interspersed with excellent galley recipes.

woman sitting on the ground looking out to sea
Ocean views from the land in New Caledonia

How did you find the time to keep your website and blog updated?

Sharing our adventures online has been a major challenge.  It started as a way to reassure our families that we were fine and give us something to look back on.  Even today I read old blog posts and think “we did that??  I can’t remember!”  Now it’s grown, and we are amazed at how many people watch the videos or read the blog, and then take it a step further and reach out to us, telling us that they live vicariously through us or that we’ve inspired them. 

That being said, the blog and videos take up a lot of time.  Of course, our number one priority is the boat and maintaining her.  We struggle with balancing time to work on the videos versus having fun.  That’s why we recently took a hiatus, there was just too much to do.  Our plan is to spend hurricane season this year away from the boat and our number one priority is to finish our videos.

What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to cruising or thinking about casting off the dock lines?

Cruising is a never-ending learning process.  You’ll never know “enough” but you learn as you go, and as long as you stay flexible and open to learning opportunities, you’ll accomplish your goals.

yacht at anchor at sunset
Starry Horizons at anchor, Beveridge Reef in the Pacific.

Why cruise? In a few sentences, what is it that inspires you to keep cruising?

Cruising allows us to see the world in a completely different way from someone who’s flying in for a week-long vacation.  I feel more ingrained in the local society – I’m taking care of the daily necessities of cruising life, such as discovering where to buy the best produce or how to get around like a local.  We learn so much about the world by spending a long time in different places, and seeing more.  A great example would be Indonesia – yes we spent a week in Bali, but we spent 83 other days on smaller islands that tourists rarely visit.  And as a cruising boat, we bring the comforts of home everywhere we go, and we literally get to places impossible to visit otherwise – like Beveridge Reef in the South Pacific.

Amy and David Alton
SV Starry Horizons


Related content:

Starry Horizons – Cruising the Seychelles

Starry Horizons – Eight weeks cruising the Maldives


If you think you have an interesting story to tell and would like to take part in our Portrait of a Cruiser series, please contact Sue at [email protected] with some details about yourselves and your cruising and to request a questionnaire.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Noonsite.com or World Cruising Club.

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  1. April 2, 2020 at 3:58 AM
    dnd20 says:

    I have enjoyed your videos. Keep up the great work!

    1. April 27, 2020 at 11:54 PM
      amyealton says:

      Thank you!

  2. April 2, 2020 at 2:48 AM
    ddw36 says:

    I enjoyed Amy’s well-written description of their adventure.

    1. April 27, 2020 at 11:54 PM
      amyealton says:

      Than kyou very much!

  3. April 2, 2020 at 1:16 AM
    ldorenfest says:

    Great to hear your back story. I’ve been following you since you started crossing the Indian, but I didn’t know the whole tale. Delightful images. Congratulations again on completing your first circumnavigation. I am looking forward to seeing you safely back in the US.

    1. April 27, 2020 at 11:55 PM
      amyealton says:

      “first” circumnavigation!! 😉 Thanks Lisa. I hope our paths cross someday soon!

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