Janis Couvreux’s husband Michel began begging her to write up their family’s epic sailing adventure almost the moment they made land in Bodega Bay in 1990. They’d been living on their boat, the Cowabunga!, for almost ten years by then and had spent the last eight years sailing from France to California, via Africa and South America.
When they left the south of France in 1982, their two boys were just 5 months old and 3 years old. When they docked at Bodega Bay, the boys were 8 and 11, having spent almost their entire childhoods at sea.
In between were hurricanes, high waves and several near-death experiences (both medical and maritime). Miraculously neither of the children ever fell overboard — though one did slip through a hole on a rickety dock in Uruguay, plunging into the muddy opaque waters at the mouth of a tropical river.
“It was terrifying,” said Couvreux, an American who grew up in California. “He just slipped below the surface, and we couldn’t see a thing. Finally we saw a little arm pop above the water, and Michel grabbed it.”
When they docked their boat in Bodega Bay, the couple was fully expecting to continue their adventure at sea, but life intervened — Michel, a relatively young man, had some medical issues, and Janis was tired of homeschooling. They settled in Petaluma. Michel went back to work as an architect, and Janis continued working as a writer, including a stint with this newspaper in the 1990s.
Couvreux didn’t feel ready to write the story of her family’s adventure on the Cowabunga! until a few years ago. “I wrote the book in part to explain to my grandchildren why their fathers are the way they are. They’re both risk-takers and adventurers. They follow their passion.” One son became a professional sailor of racing yachts, and the other spends most of his non-working time rock-climbing.
Her adventure memoir, “Sail Cowabunga!” was published by Filles Vertes Publishing one year ago. You can hear all about the family’s adventure on the Cowabunga! at a book party at the Occidental Center for the Arts, Sunday, Nov. 11 from 2-4 p.m.
Now that their children have grown and embarked on their own adventures, the couple’s life seems about to come full circle. Their adventure on the Cowabunga! began when Michel sold his architectural firm in France in the early 1980s and bought the sailboat that became their home for ten years. He recently sold his second company (a lime plaster import firm in Petaluma), and they are in the midst of purchasing another boat — a canal boat that couple will use to explore the canals of Europe. It’ll be a more sedate aquatic adventure to be sure, but there should be plenty of material for a new book. The couple hopes to be back on the water again by spring or summer of 2019.