Welcome to some local history and international adventures aboard the Key Breeze
By Hannah Wallace
Jan Hamel Solomon and her husband, Tim Solomon, can tell you some stories. Since purchasing Key Sailing (nee Siesta Key Charters) in 2007, the seasoned sailors have hosted more than 40,000 guests across more than 25,000 miles, almost entirely in the idyllic waters of Sarasota Bay and the inshore Gulf of Mexico.
The goal is to provide a peaceful, almost otherworldly experience aboard their 41-foot Morgan sailing yacht, the Key Breeze.
But, upon request, the husband-and-wife team, both Sarasota High grads who took up sailing as teenagers, will also happily regale passengers with tales of their own true worldwide adventures — from escaped circus lions to transoceanic voyages to foiled Columbian kidnappings.
Jan has collected all of these stories — including never-before-told details — in a memoir titled Sailing Home Sarasota. She hopes to release the book in its entirety later this year, both in print and online; the first chapters are now available at sailinghomesarasota.com. In April, she and Tim will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, surrounded by their children, family, friends and even some previous Key Breeze passengers.
While leading their tours, the Solomons have made a point of hearing as many stories as they tell.
“We made a decision to show each person that they are the hero of their own story,” Jan said. “All of us have a story. You don’t go to heaven without a story.”
Jan and Tim, who reside on Siesta key, were married by their fathers on Easter Sunday, 1977. Their own stories began even earlier.
Their parents met in college, just after World War II, the men studying at seminary while the women earned teaching degrees in music. Jan’s mother, Jean, played first violin for the Florida West Coast Symphony. Her father, J.D. Hamel, served as chaplain to the Sarasota sheriff’s, police and fire departments. For his service, Aug. 8 has been declared “J.D. Hamel Day” in Sarasota, and Chaplain Hamel was awarded the key to the city.
While Tim traveled with his family as a “missionary kid,” Jan grew up on local beaches, in her own words, amid “circus stars and Amish people playing in the sand together.” She once discovered an escaped lion from a local circus family. Because of her father’s ministry to local law enforcement, she reported the animal herself on a police radio.
As adults, Jan and Tim’s travels have taken them to northernmost Asia, South Africa, and South America. Many of their experiences have been joyous. Tim has sailed across the Pacific. Together they’ve embarked on a co-mission in Siberia and lived among the Waodani of Ecuador.
But while they lived as missionaries in Colombia in 1989, Jan nearly fell victim to a kidnapping attempt. The experience left her with physical and emotional scars, though she manages to keep them in perspective.
“Every life has a few scary chapters, whatever they are,” she said. “People get on our boat and say, ‘Wow, you’ve lived through so much!’ But I’ve never been divorced, I’ve never had cancer. Every person’s story can be used by God and is very valid.”
These days the Key Breeze often sails across from Downtown Sarasota’s J.D. Hamel Park, always with Jan’s father’s Key to the City on board. Jan likes to find something special in each of their guests — a birthday, an anniversary, a good report card—and then awards them the key for photo ops.
Recent guests included a pair of brothers, one of whom had donated a kidney to the other. At the end of 2021, they hosted astronauts from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 15 missions, one group right after the other.
“I don’t have to tell my story. I just listen,” Jan said. “It’s not my job to define what that faith is or to define anyone’s journey. God is big enough that anyone looking for God will find God. You don’t have to go to the moon. Just get on our boat.”
Key Sailing doesn’t take deposits, and the Solomons don’t book appointments online. Jan speaks to someone from every group before they take their trip. Those conversations help her personalize the experience, whether it’s a speedy dolphin adventure for the kids, a boisterous bachelorette party, or a couple’s quiet, long-awaited date night. Jan and Tim will even help to entertain children so their parents can enjoy some quiet moments in the bow breeze.
“I’m very conscious of how special it is that I get to share that moment with them, and with my husband, sailing in my hometown,” Jan explained. “Sailing is such a perfect example of true living. They can be stressed, maybe they haven’t had a great day or they had trouble finding the boat. But we get out there, and we turn off the motor, and we tell them, ‘Just look up. That’s where your answers are. Just relax.’”
Visit siestakeysailing.com for more information.