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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

SV Thunderstriker
Young brothers begin an adventure
January 31, 2023

rothers Dean and Eddie Tennant are living out their childhood dreams aboard a boat they named Thunderstriker, a 44 foot ketch.

Opting for continuing education on a sailboat in lieu of university, the siblings have the full support of their parents. But there’s a catch; that support came with a promise from the two young men. They promised to return home safely in two years’ time. And go to college.

Young brothers Eddie and Dean Tennant down below.

Leaving the comfort of your parent’s home for the first time can be nerve-racking for anyone. But there was another kind of anticipation in the air when brothers Dean, 19 and Eddie, 18, arrived in Oriental on a late November afternoon. Temperatures were plummeting with the first frost advisory of the season. They tied up at the town dock in front of The Bean coffee shop. In five feet of water – with a six-foot draft. Their homeport read Charlottesville, VA.

But the soft mud at the town dock was no match for Thunderstriker’s massive 11,000 pound keel. Dean and Eddie would plow their way out just as easily as they came in.

A monogrammed life preserver stands ready at the stern rail.

They’d just departed the Chesapeake, having received a big send off from family, friends, and their local sailing community in Deltaville, VA. The well-wishers knew an even bigger endeavor awaited them: an around-the-world voyage.

While hesitant to put emphasis on the ‘around’ so early on in the actual venture, Thunderstriker has been well prepped up to modern cruising specs for a circumnavigation. Their voyage was years in the making, decades if you count the brothers’ first experiences with boats and family adventures.

Sailing around the world, an idea brought up by their dad two years ago, was a once in a lifetime opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

A prayer in bronze to St. Brendan the Navigator.

“In a few years time we won’t be able to do this because we plan to go our separate ways,” younger brother Eddie said. “We’ve never lived apart before.”

“We have to keep in mind how lucky we are that we get to do this,” Dean said, tired and cold while chatting in the cockpit with his brother at the town dock.

Dean is the more philosophical of the two, and older. He’s the captain. Eddie is first mate.

Eddie and Dean.

Oriental was their last intended stop on the Intercoastal Waterway. Crossing the Neuse River and then Adam’s Creek was all that stood between them and the open ocean.

“We’ve never done anything like this,” Dean said.

“I don’t think we are getting confidence from ignorance. I feel I understand what this boat can take, but we are definitely going gentle on all the equipment as a rule. It’s still an old boat.”

Thunderstriker is a 1974 Reliance 44. A ketch rigged cruising yacht built in a Canada. One of 46. Production of the line began in 1972.

The vessel is bluewater capable in both construction and design, yet the Tennant brother’s boat needed major upgrades to nearly every system to attempt such a strenuous voyage.

Making it all work together. The brothers did much of the refit and restoration themselves.

“There has been a lot of unforeseen maintenance,” Eddie said. “Up until this point we have only been working on the refit, for over a year and a half. Coming down the ICW has been a shakedown, which wasn’t the plan, but it’s been nice to get to know the boat on protected waters.”

The plan was to shakedown the boat post refit off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula (comprised by the waters of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). But a major engine failure set the voyage back last minute for over a month; there was no time to practice before heading south.

Dean wrote about the start of their adventure in 2022, for their local Sailing Club’s newsletter: Anchor Line. Click to see the full article.

All work to refit the boat was done by the boys themselves, with the help of their parents. Rebuilding the engine included the head gasket and water pump. They ground out old stainless steel fuel tanks with an angle grinder in six inch by six inch pieces.

They replaced the standing rigging. Added lazy jacks and a sail pack for safety and ease of dropping sails at sea. Then replaced all electronics with top of the line equipment; from navigation tools to their autopilot with a linear drive arm attached to the rudder post.

Thunderstriker’s cowl vent, with Eddie standing near the stern.
Another bronze bit, seeking guidance from God. It can’t hurt.

They have an Iridium Go phone, allowing for satellite communication and detailed digital weather data downloaded from anywhere in the world, including the middle of the ocean.

Thunderstriker has an EPIRB that, in case of an emergency, transmits their position to the nearest ships and emergency responders. A brand new life raft and, their most important item, a water maker gifted by their grandparents.

While sailing long ocean distances is new territory, the brothers are competent sailors and experienced in boat repair. They spent early adolescence near Deltaville and the Chesapeake Bay where their family owned a 29 foot Beneteau First. A somewhat cult-like, revered small race boat from the French yacht company’s early days.

18 & 19 year old brothers Eddie & Dean Tennant on the town dock.

As children, their father, Matt Tennant, was a preacher at the local Baptist church. Their mother, Melanie Tennant, worked for the local sailmaking loft, Evolution Sails, in Deltaville. Sailing was a regular family pastime.

When Dean and Eddie reached high school, the family moved inland to Charlottesville, VA, when Matt Tennant took a job at a larger church. They kept their 29-foot boat on the Chesapeake, continuing to enjoy summers cruising the islands as a family for days and weeks at a time.

A look at the bow.

Between their junior and senior years, the brothers lived aboard the 29-foot family boat in Deltaville. Dean worked at a local yacht yard. Eddie worked at the sailmaking loft where his mother had been employed.

“It was pretty functional,” Dean said of living on a 29-footer. “We worked long hours, came home, ate dinner, went to sleep. This boat I [we] can stand up in,” he demonstrated, smiling.

The following year the Tennant parents sold the Beneteau First to help the boys pay for Thunderstriker. However, between the brother’s summer jobs in the yachting industry, and part-time jobs at a restaurant during the school year, they were able to pay for most of the boat themselves. Additionally, an outpouring of financial support has come from their parents to get the boat up to modern ocean cruising standards, and help with the monthly sailing and repair budget along the way.

Dean Tennant.
An anchor windlass, with stories to tell.

“Which is very generous of them,” Dean said.

“Part of the deal of our parents helping us is I have to go back to college,” Dean said. “And Eddie has to start.”

Eddie is only five months out of high school. Dean has one year from the University of Charlottesville, studying biology. Spending a few years sailing will give Eddie experience and inspiration when writing and applying to universities, they said.

Brothers Eddie & Dean are close in age, and work well with each other on and off the boat.

Dean, while excited, said he was definitely nervous. Eddie played it off.

“Its definitely a very aggressive, fast planned route,” they said.

A map of the world pictured on paper is taped to their bulkhead, above a hammock hanging with fruit. It reads: “Proposed Route of S/V Thunderstriker.” It’s a west to east lap around the planet via the world’s oceans.

It begins at the Chesapeake Bay, with an offshore 500 NM passage from Beaufort to the Bahamas. Then, the boys work their way to the gateway to the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal, by sailing through Central America.

The brother’s proposed sailing route with suggested timeline.

“We also know things take longer than you would expect, and we are prepared if this goes on longer, like a year,” Dean said.

“We would like to circumnavigate,” Eddie said “But we will have to see how far we get, if it’s taking longer than two years then something probably went wrong. Like a catastrophic repair.”

Aside from their practical experience Dean said he read books like Tania Abei’s Maiden Voyage (Tania was the youngest woman to single-hand a sailboat around the world). And Sir Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth.

A watermaker – insisted upon and gifted to the brothers by their grandparents.

“Tania was in a boat half the size of ours, and her first passage she kind of made it by luck. She admits that. She didn’t know how to navigate yet,” Dean said. “But we want to make sure we have all these systems and are as prepared as possible, with back ups for everything. We even have a sextant.”

Wind maps and weather forecasts, GRIB files, and communication with their folks ashore is all downloaded through their Iridium Go satellite phone to help them navigate.

“We are conservative sailors; we reef early and we reef often. We’re not trying to break any records. We have three reefs in each sail, storm sail… We are just trying to complete the passages,” said Eddie.

Looking back through the blocks of the main sheet system.

“It’s an adventure,” he said.

Their first offshore passage is 500 or so nautical miles, from Beaufort Inlet to Marsh Harbor, Bahamas. They were going to get a part to fix the electric windlass that lifts their anchor while waiting for their weather window. Back home their dad, Matt, was already looking ahead at the wind.

“The weather is the ultimate decision maker,” Dean said.

S/V Thunderstriker at the town dock.

While there was some anxiety in the air, it could be easily transmuted to excitement. The brothers were at home. On the boat and with each other. The name in itself, Thunderstriker, was enough to elicit a laugh. A very young Eddie once asked his parents why they didn’t give him a cool name like ‘Thunderstriker’. It’s been an inside joke between them since boyhood.

“We moved around a lot as kids,” Dean said. “There’s always been something big going on, but not like this. The truth is we really don’t know what to expect once we get further away. What will happen is what will happen. And we’ll make it back.”

Story, photos & video by Emily Greenberg.

Posted Tuesday January 31, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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