Secure in the knowledge that his Navy career would keep him in Washington state, Brian Bugge made the leap.

He bought a 36-foot Morgan 36T sailboat with a new engine in March 2016. He was set to become a limited duty officer in the Navy the following year after rising to chief petty officer as an enlisted sailor. He had a young family that loved the water. He put down $16,000 to become the proud owner of the Stay Gold.

“A few weeks after that, Brian’s work said, ‘Um, actually we don’t have a job for you here. You’re going to have to go somewhere else.’ ” Bugge’s wife, Ashley, said.

“We literally just bought a boat. Shame on us. We probably should’ve known better.”

Brian Bugge began racing the craft whenever he could. The family spent as much time on the boat as they could. There was no guarantee that the LDO-to-be’s next duty station would be watercraft-friendly, and there was a chance the boat would remain behind, likely sold at a loss.

A few months later, Bugge got word of an opportunity that would spark the sail of a lifetime.

“As soon as I found out Hawaii was an option, in my head I was planning the trip,” said Bugge, now an ensign who’ll begin serving with Submarine Force Pacific in September. He’d been with Submarine Development Squadron 5 for five years, part of a 14-year career that’s included time on the ballistic-missile submarine Pennsylvania and the guided-missile sub Ohio.

Not counting sub patrols, Bugge’s longest time on the water had been four days. That was about to change: He and three crew members left Washington’s Gig Harbor on July 6 and covered about 2,500 nautical miles on Stay Gold, reaching Pearl Harbor on July 27.

“Just because you have something that you want to do on your bucket list doesn’t mean you need to wait to do it,” Bugge said. “To me, there is no point in waiting.”


The journey required more than $20,000 in supplies, parts, repairs and other associated costs, Ashley Bugge said — more than the boat cost in the first place. There were multiple hurdles to clear.

The ensign-to-be secured permission from the Navy and notified his fellow sailors.

“Some people were like, ‘Oh, man, that’s great! Have fun!’ and some people were like, ‘Yep, you’re nuts. I can’t believe you’re doing that.’ It was everything in between,” said Bugge, 35.

“Some people were surprised I made it back. ... Apparently, there was an office pool.”

Boat or no, it still marked the first permanent change-of-station move for the Bugges as a couple. Along with the typical PCS concerns and two young children — the oldest turned 3 in July — there were some hiccups in sorting out a personally procured move that involved a boat.

“Countless times, we heard this has never been done before,” Ashley said.

After some research, they were able to receive some reimbursement for the boat’s relocation. It’s considered a “household good,” even though it served as a primary mode of transportation.

It also served as a home for most of July for Bugge and his three crew members:

  • Willy Kunkle, who’d made similar voyages and logged more than 20,000 miles at sea … and committed to the trip less than a month before launch.
  • Chris Ryder, a longtime crew member of Bugge whose schedule managed to clear about a month out.
  • Beau Romero, who’d signed on right away but had no sailing experience. “I taught his 101 class two days before we left,” Bugge said.

The preparation process consisted of a “series of small miracles,” the ensign said, but by early July, they were setting off — to the dismay of Izzy, older sister to 1-year-old Hudson.

“So, the boat’s sailing away, everybody’s waving, having a good time, and she’s yelling, ‘I want to sail to Hawaii with Da-Da!’ “ Ashley Bugge said. “So she totally understood … as much as a 3-year-old could.”


Over three weeks on the open ocean, the boat held together. A jury-rigged fix to a busted backstay adjuster — “It helps keep the mast up,” Brian Bugge explained — made about a week into the trip provided drama, but didn’t give way.

Neither did the mood of the crew, for the most part. Sleep was paramount, as was keeping heads level.

“We did a lot of telling stories. Joking. Enjoying the moment, enjoying the story as it was unfolding,” Bugge said. “We got excited to see dolphins, albatrosses, seeing the bioluminescence [self-lighting ocean life]. I think that it helped that our personalities worked so well together.”

An engine clogged with dirty fuel shut down the journey a few miles from Pearl Harbor. The Stay Gold was towed into its welcome-home party, which Ashley organized; both Bugges flew back to Washington in time for Brian’s Aug. 1 commissioning.

“The biggest lesson I learned is, if you take care of the boat, she’ll take care of you,” he said. “And I kind of failed her, in some ways, by not doing some simple things.”

Another lesson: “The group of guys that just did this are normal, regular guys,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of money. The experience, we all gained on our own. We didn’t go to some expensive training schools or anything like that. We saw a dream that we wanted to accomplish, and we made it happen.”

After all, he said, it’s a “stepping stone” for his next big trip — after he retires from the Navy, Bugge said he plans a solo circumnavigation.

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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