Hosts give up sailing the seas for land-locked Iowa politics

World travelers Claudia and Rob Host gave up the warmth of sunny California to participate in the Iowa caucuses in February, and they are still in Iowa and working to elect Hillary Clinton. Photo by Diane Leonard

Most Iowans dream of spending a long Iowa winter in Hawaii, but for Rob and Claudia Host, it was just the opposite. For them the opportunity to elect the first woman as president of the U.S. was a bigger draw than the warmth of Hawaii.

Knowing that Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucus and that they would have an opportunity to participate at the grassroots level was the driving force that brought them to Iowa in the spring of 2015.

After growing up in New York, Claudia moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA graduate school of nursing and met Rob, an L.A. native, through a blind date. It wasn’t long before they made their relationship permanent and started a life of moving every two years as Rob sold Taco Bell franchises.

After several years, a job change brought them back to LA, where they both joined the Johnny Rocket company. When that company was sold to a venture capital firm and Rob and Claudia were offered a buy out of their stock options, they took the money.

With a plan to sail around the world, the Hosts invested their money in a Lafitte 44 sailboat they named Sea Host. On their maiden voyage from Newport, R.I., to Annapolis, Md., they experienced a terrible storm, and Rob was nearly tossed overboard and ended up breaking several ribs.

After very nearly selling the boat, they spent the next several winters on the Chesapeake Bay, learning from their marina neighbors all the tricks of sailing and living in very tiny quarters aboard their boat.

Deciding the time was finally right to leave the safety of the marina, they sailed down the eastern coast of the U.S. and over open ocean to the Bahamas. Following the chain of islands down the eastern Caribbean and then along the northern coast of South America, they took time to explore Venezuela, San Blas Island, Columbia and Panama.

They transited the Panama Canal and sailed to Ecuador where, among other things, they took a three-week backpacking trip through Ecuador and Peru to see Machu Picchu. After a 16-month stay in Ecuador, they set sail to the Galapagos Islands and followed that with a 23-day sail to the Marquesas Islands.

The constant worry of running out of fresh water during a 23-day sail was too much for Claudia, although by that time she was pretty much an expert on saving and collecting fresh water. They decided to sail to Hawaii in order to buy a water machine.

It was their plan to remain in Hawaii for six weeks, but those six weeks turned into 10 years, minus the two years spent back in New York, caring for Claudia’s mother, who eventually passed away.

Back in Hawaii and after 17 years of living aboard the Sea Host, Rob was diagnosed with a small, very treatable melanoma, so when a tsunami very nearly destroyed their marina and damaged the boat, Rob and Claudia decided that their days of sun and water were over.

But what next?

Because Rob had a 30-year-old pre-existing health condition that was treated and under control with medication, he was not able to get health insurance except through an employer. After years of worry and then finally finding some coverage through a European company, they were thrilled when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.

Knowing that Hillary Clinton had tried but failed to get a similar bill passed when she was First Lady, they decided that their next adventure would be to help get her elected in order to preserve Obamacare.

Since Iowa has the first in the nation caucus and all the candidates pass through Iowa on their way to the White House, they knew Iowa had to be their next stop.

Neither Rob nor Claudia had ever been to Iowa, and they didn’t know anyone in the state, so they called a West Des Moines woman whose name had been given to them. She helped them rent an apartment and rent some furniture.

After flying to LA, they loaded all their possessions into their new used car and drove to Iowa, arriving in April 2015. That was 10 months before the caucuses, and all the candidates were starting to crisscross Iowa in the hopes of winning.

Having come here expressly to work for Hillary, they jumped feet first into the action. Not only did they attend the campaign events for Hillary, they also went to many of the Republican events.

Whether it was the Des Moines Register’s soap box at the Iowa State Fair, a bar in Ames, a rally in Des Moines or an unheated barn in Corydon, they saw every Democrat and every Republican who was running for president.

They were amazed by the close proximity, the opportunity to ask questions, shake hands and even have a picture taken with the candidates. The different tone at each event — from the large, lively rallies to others filled with angry supporters — surprised them.

They also found it interesting to experience a campaign event in real time and then to again experience it on the evening news through the eyes of a reporter. They were happy for the opportunity to see the whole event and then to make up their own minds, instead of relying only on the news.

They planned to stay in Iowa until right after the caucuses and then be on their way, but the power of friends met while volunteering for American Association of Retired Persons and the Dallas County Democrats convinced them to stay for the election.

Even though Rob jokingly told people he and Claudia were in the witness protection program, which made more sense to Iowans than leaving Hawaii for the February caucuses, their ability to make a difference in a toss-up state such as Iowa was more of a pull than volunteering in a warm, blue state like California.

And to do it with like-minded people they now considered friends was even more special.

Since making that decision, Rob and Claudia have been waving from the Democrats’ float in parades, coordinating volunteers, helping to host fundraisers, making calls, walking neighborhoods and registering new voters. The ability to help elect the first woman and a candidate who will work to preserve Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security took priority over any other plans they had at the moment.

Through the caucus process, they saw the power of one — the power that one person with one vote has to elect the candidate of his or her choice. As Claudia put it, “After all, we are, each one of us, only one. But together we are stronger.”

At the end of the day, election day, Rob and Claudia Host will know that they have done everything possible to elect Hillary Clinton, and then they will be off for their next adventure.


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