Luis and Ramona Coppelli both had a dream. She, 20 years younger than he, dreamt of a family and a child. He, after two divorces and a surgical decision to have no more children, led a life driven by the sea.
Lest the impassioned heart turn to stone, each Coppelli has given the other what they most desired. For Luis, a trip around the world by boat, and for Ramona, a daughter who the couple named Catalina after the island.
The couple met while working at the hospital in Winslow.
Luis was the only surgeon, and a slave to the hospital. He yearned for the ocean and fled there during the two weekends per month and two weeks per year he had off.
Although temporarily tethered to the good salary and stability, Luis’ dream of circumnavigating the world was stronger. He was torn between practicality and passion.
“I would have to quit my job altogether and become a sailing bum,” Luis, who is Chilean, thought. Then a classmate, also a Chilean and now a surgeon in Payson, called and asked Luis to partner with him.
The deal was that the doctors alternated months, each working six months out of the year, and would split a paycheck.
When Luis met Ramona, he had been single for six years following the last of two divorces. He had decided to forgo romance and instead focus on organizing a solo sailing expedition. He even had a vasectomy to avoid having more children who might stall the voyage.
Then he met Ramona. She was a nurse in her mid-20s. He liked her strong, quiet strength and he found her beautiful.
The two, in 1999, would begin sailing around the world in one- to two-month stints, leaving their boat in a marina with someone to care for it, before flying back home to rejoin regular life. The Coppellis, joined variously by Catalina, crew members and Luis’ other children, have circumnavigated the globe from San Diego, across the South Pacific, Indian and South Atlantic seas.
The boat now sits in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where it will wait for the family until they reconvene the adventure in January. They will sail to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Ramona, who grew up in Wisconsin, had been sailing before. Her much-loved grandfather, whom Ramona spent summers with in Colorado, told her to learn either golf or sailing. It was the only way to meet a worthy mate, the grandfather told her.
Golf was not fun. “I just didn’t understand how people got pleasure from that little ball,” she said.
Boats weren’t much better. Ramona showed up to her first sailing lesson “wearing a tiny bikini, a pair of fashionable sun glasses and a cute hat,” Luis recalls in his writings. Ramona, confounded by the sailing jargon an instructor continually yelled during her first lesson, was frustrated and ready to forget sailing by the end of the day.
The couple’s first date was breakfast at Denny’s. “About a month passed before I popped the question,” Luis wrote. “Would she like to go sailing?”
By this point, Luis already owned the boat, Scheherazade, that would take the couple around the world. Luis and Ramona began sailing at every chance. “She wanted to learn and she did so quickly!” Luis writes.
Eventually, the couple came to the point where Luis wrote they needed to either get married or separate. She was young and wanted children. He was older, already had three children and wanted to go sailing.
“I had accepted the idea that if I wanted a future together I could not deny Mona of what she wanted the most,” Luis wrote.
“We kind of high-fived it and shook hands on it and we did both,” Ramona said Tuesday in the couple’s Payson home.