One of the youngest participants in this year’s race, Cruz was given the opportunity to join the Pendragon’s nine-member crew by a surprise invitation from the boat’s owner earlier this year.
“I play darts at my sail club every other Friday in the winter and I was sitting there playing when Chris (Gerkin) came over and invited me to crew on the Pendragon,” Cruz said. “I wanted to do it because it’s going to be my first long-distance (race) and it’s always cool to be out there at night. It’s like a whole different world out there.”
While the answer was an instant yes for Cruz, it took some convincing for parents Mike and LoriAnn.
“Last year he wanted to do it and I told him he would have to wait a couple years,” Cruz’ father Mike Schroeder said. “Even before this (sailing) season really started he came home and told me that Chris (Gerkin) had invited him to do the race. My first comment was, ‘Well it hasn’t been two years yet’ … I didn’t really feel secure putting him on a boat with a crew that wasn’t his family.”
But Cruz was persistent and months of daily reminders eventually resulted in a meeting between parents and crew.
“We all sat down one night and we talked to (Chris Gerkin) and he said if he didn’t think I was capable of doing (the race), he wouldn’t have invited me,” Cruz said. “I was really happy.”
It was Gerkin’s assurance of safety first combined with the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the invitation that ultimately persuaded the Schroeders to allow Cruz to take part in the race.
“I still hesitate because it can get pretty bad out there when storms roll in, but we talked about it and weighed it out and he is into (sailing) so much that to be denied that opportunity might not be the best thing,” Mike Schroeder said.
Eat, breathe, sail
Discovering his passion for sailing at age 5, Cruz was accepted as a junior member of the North Star Sail Club at age 11 (14 is the normally accepted age) and can now be found at the club sailing four to five days a week.
Whether it’s skippering in the junior sailing program or crewing on the sailboats of older club members, Cruz is the first to admit that his favorite place in the world is the deck of a boat on the open water.
“It’s fun to be out on the water and every once in a while there will be a wave over the bow and you’ll get misted. When it’s a hot day it’s really nice,” he said.
Assigned to man Pendragon’s foredeck, Cruz can look forward to quite a bit of mist over the two-day race. Set to depart Port Huron Saturday afternoon, Cruz and crew will likely arrive in Mackinac Harbor on Monday, where the Schroeders say they’ll be waiting to greet Cruz at the finish line.
However, they may have to fish him out of the harbor first.
“On your first Mackinac Race, when you get there, you have to jump in Mackinac Harbor and its usually really cold, even in July. It’s about 50 feet deep, but it’s so clear that you can see all the way down to the bottom.”
So what’s next for this young sailor?
“Eventually I would like to get into the Volvo Ocean Race and sail solo single-handed around the world,” Cruz said.
Mom and dad will need a little more convincing for that one.