Sailing through Life
At the tender age of 23, Athena Foltz has seen more of the world than many will their entire lives. She's sailed the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and Mediterranean, dropping into exotic ports-of-call and rubbing elbows with an international cast of characters who lend bits of their stories to her own.
Just how did she get so lucky? That's a tale in its own right. Born and raised on Hilton Head Island, Athena has been surrounded by maritime and yachting culture her entire life. But it wasn't until age 18 that her father, a boat captain with whom she'd only recently reconnected, got her a job as stewardess on a 97-foot yacht.
"We went all over the Bahamas and I loved it," said Athena, who worked on the yacht for six months. "During our time off we could take the dinghy to little uninhabited islands-some of them were so beautiful."
When the job ended, she came back to Hilton Head and started waiting tables, which she'd done off and on since age 15. One day, the call came-she wasn't even sure how they'd gotten her number-and off she went to stewardess a yacht out of New Jersey. The owner was an Italian mafia type who named all his boats after James Bond movies, and they spent a year traveling around New England and down the Eastern seaboard. After that, she signed up with a crew agency and almost immediately had her first job offer: "We're leaving to go to Puerto Vallarta tomorrow," they told her. "Do you want to go?"
This time, the boat was owned by three gay men in their 60s who threw huge parties, swarming with young men in Speedos, while Athena and the crew served champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. On their days off, they'd take a bus to the nearby surf village of Sayulita, where they rented boards and beach huts and drank 80¢ Coronas. Athena started dating one of the other crew members, and soon found herself in his native Scotland. They both got a job on a boat in Monaco ("The owner was a Persian man-Lord knows what he did, but we got along fantastically!") and spent six months traveling all over Europe.
"It wasn't very glamorous being a stewardess," admits Athena. "We were cleaning toilets and ironing billionaires' underwear. But when we had time off, we really appreciated it-we worked hard and played hard."
Eventually, Athena came back to Hilton Head, resumed her job as a waitress and began to feel a bit directionless. Until her father handed her a plane ticket and expressed his desire that she meet her grandfather on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her one-month stay stretched into three months, and she started dating Charlie, a local who shared her interests in travel, sailing and fishing. Charlie returned to Hilton Head with Athena and a sudden twist of fortune has given the two the opportunity to pursue a grand dream: buy a boat and sail 'round the globe.
"We both like to travel and we figured the greenest way to see the world was sailing," she said. "We hope to follow the trade winds around the equator to the Galapagos, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Madagascar.we want to see it all! I just think the idea of living on a boat is so romantic."