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Fair winds and following seas: Alabama woman embarks on sailing adventure from Germany to Gulf Shores

Michelle Segrest is thinking a lot about trash these days.

“Trash and water,” she says. “Those have both been on my mind lately.”

And not in a save-the-environment and conserve-our-natural-resources kind of way. Segrest is all for that, but right now she’s talking about plain ol’, everyday trash and water – where to throw it away and how to drink it and bathe in it.

Segrest and her boyfriend/traveling companion, Maik Ulmschneider, have just a few days to figure it all out. That’s when they set sail from Ulmschneider’s home in northern Germany to Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where Segrest, a Decatur native and former Birmingham resident, lives now.

It will be a 6,000-nautical-mile journey on the 43-foot Seefalke. The duo will hit at least 12 countries and eight bodies of water, including a 20 to 40 day trek across the Atlantic.

During that leg of the trip, fresh water will be limited, and trash … well, that’s still up in the air.

“We can’t carry huge garbage bags full of trash, because there’s just not room,” Segrest says. “We’re still trying to figure that one out.”

In the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor detail for Segrest and Ulmschneider, who will chronicle their six to eight month journey via their websiteFacebookYouTubeTwitter and Instagram. They’ve branded themselves as “Sailors & Seadogs.” Segrest and Ulmschneider are the sailors, and their beagles, Capt’n Jack Sparrow and Scout, will be along for the ride.

The voyage was set in motion five years ago, when Segrest, an Auburn University journalism graduate who was then editor of a pumps and systems magazine, met Ulmschneider, a pump engineer.

“I met him while working on an article in Germany,” Segrest says. “We became friends first, and more developed later. He loved to sail and wanted to take me sailing.”

Ulmschneider comes by his boating skills honestly, learning to sail more than 20 years ago in the German Navy. Segrest loves the water and grew up fishing with her father, but it wasn’t until she met Ulmschneider that she really learned to sail.

“He wanted to take me sailing because that was his passion, so my first big sailing experience was on the Baltic Sea,” she says. “This is not bikini-and-martini sailing. This is heavy wind, rough conditions, high waves, and it’s super, super cold.”

And Segrest loved it.

During the next few years, she started her own company, Navigate Content, moved down to Gulf Shores and bought her own boat, a 15-foot catboat she named Protagonist.

“I love the physical labor of sailing, and I love the art of sailing,” Segrest says. “You’re working in the conditions and the wind, and you’re not in control. You’re really just responding to the elements around you. There’s something really cool and adventurous about this. Some people just hate it – it’s too slow, or too hard, or they get sick. Or it just really becomes a part of you. You connect with the sea and the art, and you want more. And that’s me. I just fell in love with it.”

“I think lessons learned at sea are lessons learned for life,” Ulmschneider says.

“The boat is seaworthy, and the crew is fit,” he says. “We are equipped for the worst but hope for the best, so there are no particular worries or concerns. … If there is any concern it probably is how we are going to cope with our regular jobs while at sea. But I am sure we will figure that out, as well.”

The goal has always been to get the Seefalke – which is painted bright orange, a nice coincidence for the Auburn graduate – to Alabama.

“We have some ideas of some ways to use it as a business in Gulf Shores,” Segrest says. “We want it here also because we want to sail some waters that aren’t in Northern Europe.”

“There’s only so much space on the boat, and you need to use every square inch,” Segrest says. “There’s a great quote: ‘I never realized how little I needed until I went out to sea.’”

And with luck, she might just find out how to handle bags of trash.

Details on the couple’s trip can be found here and those who want to “join the crew” and follow the trip in real-time via GPS can go to the couple’s Patreon account.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)