In the middle of another cold Wisconsin winter last year, Bruce Meyer was ready for a vacation.
The company he worked for, ABB Inc., had just sold its New Berlin-based robotics division to Rimrock Automation Inc. Meyer was not yet ready to accept an offer to become vice president and general manager for Rimrock's robotics division, which would still be based in New Berlin.
Meyer eventually accepted the position, but at the time, he needed a break to pursue his first passion: sailing.
"I said, 'I needed some time off,'" Meyer said. "'My wife and I are going to New Zealand. We'll be back in seven to eight weeks, maybe.'"
So Meyer and his wife, Claire, flew to New Zealand to meet up with some friends who planned to sail around the world. After about a year, the friends had made it from South Carolina to New Zealand. But when Meyer and his wife came to visit, their friends had suspended their voyage to save money and repair their sailboat.
Meyer and his wife visited their friends for about 10 days, traveling around New Zealand. However, the Meyers came to sail, so they decided to fly to Australia and rent a sailboat there.
They rented a 34-foot sailboat and sailed around the Whitsunday Islands and over the Great Barrier Reef, where they saw fish and coral everywhere.
"It was just incredibly beautiful over there," Meyer said. "I would go back in a heartbeat."
However, after five days, Meyer and his wife had to end their Australian sailing trip prematurely because a cyclone was heading their way.
"In Australia, they form really fast," Meyer said. "This one formed in Tasmania and went from a small storm to a major storm in 18 hours."
Meyer had learned about rough waters from his experience of sailing on Lake Michigan.
"Lake Michigan can be very treacherous in a storm," he said. "It can be as bad as the ocean, if not worse. My experience with Great Lakes sailing is when you hear about a storm, you better run for cover. You can handle it with a lot of people on board, but not with only two in the boat."
Meyer, 48, started sailing when he was about 20.
"I started wind surfing," he said. "I liked wind surfing. You're on your own in the water. It's physically demanding, it's fast. When you screw up, it's your own problem."
Next, he learned how to sail a catamaran on Lake Michigan. Meyer said his sailing hobby was a natural fit with his professional interest in engineering.
"It's a lot about knowing how systems work and the way the wind works and how the waves and the current affect the boat," he said. "That's why a lot of engineers like sailing."
Sailing also offers a great escape from his job, Meyer said.
"When it's windy, it requires all of your concentration, and you can't think about work," he said. "It's a good diversion."
Meyer has faced windy conditions many times on a sailboat.
In the early 1980s he learned to sail an offshore boat in Florida during a week-long course.
Then in 1985, Meyer took his parents, his wife and his brother on a sailing trip to St. Lucia and other islands north of Grenada.
"Very, very nice weather," Meyer said. "Good strong winds. Very, very desolate islands. It's where I saw my first whale. It came straight up out of the water right in front of the boat. Bam!"
However, a storm during that trip made it a bit stressful.
"My mom, she loved the trip, but she really doesn't like rough weather," Meyer said. "For me it was a little nerve-wracking, because I was responsible. The waves were 30 feet high, higher than the boat. Really big, rolling swells. They weren't dangerous waves, but they were very intimidating. We had to reduce sail, but it was never dangerous."
A few years later, Meyer took a sailing trip to the Greek Isles with some co-workers, three from Sweden and one from Brazil. The trip cost about $1,500 to $1,600 for each of them, not including airfare.
"We just bopped around the Greek Isles for three weeks having the time of our lives," Meyer said. "We sailed to an island, docked and found the party for the night."
A few years later Meyer joined one of his Swedish friends from the Greek Isles trip to sail around the southern portion of Sweden. In addition, Meyer has sailed around the British Virgin Islands three or four times.
Meyer has also done a lot of sailing at home.
In the late 1980s, he joined the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center.
"I was living downtown at the time, so it was easy access to the water," he said. "They (have) good boats for the general public, because they are very safe. Also, it was a good place to meet girls."
In 1993, Meyer bought the sailboat that he still owns today. The 36-foot boat cost about $100,000. Meyer named it, "Nimbus III."
About once a year, Meyer and his wife take Nimbus III across Lake Michigan to visit the towns on the east side of the lake. On those trips, they usually leave at about 2 p.m. and arrive in Michigan at about 4 to 5 a.m.
Meyer is not sure where he will go on his next sailing excursion, but has his sights set on the Seattle area.
"That is one of the most nutrient-rich waters in the world over there," he said.
His trips to exotic locations around the world have exposed Meyer to beautiful places and people with different ways of life.
"You get to see a whole different culture," he said. "People are different wherever you go. And 90 percent of the time, they are the friendliest people you would ever want to meet."
October 29, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI