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When imagining early on the two poleward legs required to complete a Figure 8–the long Southern Ocean loop and the Northwest Passage–it was the latter that gave me fits. The maze of remote waterways, some without soundings, all with the likelihood of pack ice, was enough to freeze my courage.

So, when it arose, I took an opportunity to explore the high north as crew before making my own solo attempt. In 2014, I joined Les and Ali Parsons on their 43-foot steel cutter, Arctic Tern, for what turned out to be a 65-day passage from Nuuk, Greenland to Nome, Alaska. 

One takeaway: the 5,000-plus mile Northwest Passage is an exercise in mostly motoring. The entire region sits squarely under the polar high-pressure zone, and though lows do roam the Arctic and can bring vicious gales, in summer, calms are the norm with contrary winds seeming to be what fills the gaps between.

Moreover, one does not have the luxury of waiting for the breeze he favors. Short is summer and long is the way ahead; thus, if the going is good, one must press on under power and damn the purists. Fuel stops are to be expected.

Another takeaway: though ice has been retreating from the larger Arctic region for many years, this fact does nothing to predict the actual ice concentrations in the northern sea routes that will be encountered in any particular year. During the brief window allowed for summer, the passage may clear at the extremities while remaining blocked at some point or points within the Canadian archipelago. And while a yacht waits for the archipelago to clear, each day’s delay adds to the risk of reforming ice at the margins or, at least, difficult late-season weather.

By way of illustration, ice in the Northwest Passage in 2014 was such that of the thirty yachts to make the attempt, only seven completed the route. In the summer of 2018, only one boat made it through. A warming globe does not guarantee an easy time in the Arctic.

But I am getting ahead of the argument. 

Is the sheer distance of a Figure 8 Voyage too great for a non-stop?

Take the Golden Globe Race, for example. This non-stop course from France, around the bottom, and back to France, is some 25,000 miles. But compare the Figure 8’s nearly 40,000 miles—a 50% increase. Is it reasonable to think that a small yacht could sail that distance in one go? 

Jon Sanders answers this pretty handily. 

In May of 1986, Sanders departed Freemantle, Australia, on a solo, non-stop triple circumnavigation of the globe via the Southern Ocean. The route took him three times under the Great Capes, over Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks just above the equatorial Atlantic, and then back to the Capes, all in his 44-ft sloop, Parry Endeavor. Among the many firsts in this voyage were a) longest distance continuously sailed by any yacht: 71,023 nautical miles, and b) longest period alone at sea during a continuous voyage: 657 days. (Sources: Wikipedia and Jon Sanders).

The route of Jon Sanders triple circumnavigation in Parry Endeavor. Source: Jon Sanders.

This was not Sanders’ first rodeo either. In 1981-82 he completed a first-ever, solo and non-stop double circumnavigation of 48,510 miles in 419 days. Simply put, Sanders is a bad-ass. (As of this writing, Sanders has just departed on his 11th circumnavigation. Source: Ocean Cruising Club.)

Jon Sanders in Parry Endeavor. Source: Sailing Today.

Clearly, a small boat can make the miles required to complete a Figure 8 without an interim port of call, but the length of the voyage is really but one half of the Figure 8 equation. The other half is timing, and this brings us back to the Arctic. 

Can the Northwest Passage be transited non-stop in a small boat?

The light winds, short season, and motoring required in a typical year make a non-stop of the north a tricky business, but it has been done.

In 2011, Matt Rutherford and his 27-foot sloop, St. Brendan, set out from Annapolis, Maryland on what became a 314-day, 27,077-mile circumnavigation of North and South America, solo and non-stop. What appears to have made the difference for Matt was not just the luck of a somewhat lighter than normal ice year, but also stronger winds at either end of the course and judicious motorsailing through the central pack.

Matt Rutherford in St Brendan on the final lap. Source: All at Sea.

As a result, Matt was not only the first to solo the American continents non-stop, he also holds the record for the smallest vessel to solo the Northwest Passage. (Sources: Albin Vega and Cruising World.)

Calms in the Arctic. Source: Cruising World.

Can the Northwest Passage be sailed?

On this question, the jury appears to be out. To my knowledge, a Northwest Passage completed purely under sail has not been accomplished, though it has been attempted at least twice in recent years.

During Moli’s Arctic passage in 2019, a French daughter and father team made an east-to-west attempt in a production fiberglass boat named Sedna, but they were unable to penetrate past Pond Inlet due to a lack of wind. (I am unable to find anything about their voyage online.)

Putting it All Together

As the above suggests, the Arctic is the main gating item to a non-stop Figure 8, and the factors there are the timing of one’s arrival and the configuration of ice and wind in the year of the attempt. 

Early on, Matt Rutherford encouraged me to make my own Figure 8 attempt from Boston rather than San Francisco. An east coast departure, he argued, would allow one to attack the Northwest Passage first, to optimize one’s entry for northern summer, following which the Southern Ocean leg could be approached without concern for Arctic timing. (Referring back to Sanders for a moment, another result of his 657-day, triple circumnavigation is the demonstration that, unlike the Arctic, the Southern Ocean is passable in any season.)

Moving Mo across country for what, at the time, seemed an abstract advantage was beyond the pale, and so I forged ahead with my west coast plan. But Matt was right. I had timed my departure to optimize the Southern Ocean loop. My safe arrival in Halifax after an eight-month non-stop from San Francisco was a full month and more too early for entry into the Arctic. My options then were to heave to for an extended period or come into port.

As to the wind and ice one will encounter above the Arctic Circle, this is a matter of chance and will remain one of the unpredictable risks of a non-stop Figure 8 Voyage.

So then, with conscientious planning and a bit of good fortune, a solo and non-stop circumnavigation of the Americas and Antarctica is very possible, especially if the departure point is the Atlantic and the sailor first heads north for the Arctic.

The final question is, then, who will do it first?


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a solo, non-stop Figure 8 is, and has been, in the works for some time. Norbert Sedlacek Koch of Ant-Arctic Labs has twice made the attempt in his super-speedy, purpose-built Open 60. His route takes him from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France toward the Arctic and from there down the Pacific and to the Southern Ocean, but gear failure has thus far kept him from breaking out of the Atlantic. His next attempt is scheduled for the summer of 2020 and should be fun to watch. 

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My first solo ocean crossing in Murre.

This week I am reminded of the observation, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” this courtesy of my wife.  

“I have a challenge for you,” said Joanna over Sunday morning coffee. “Do you remember when I wrote the following remark to friends?”

And he’s off… Randall sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge this morning at 8:56am. Now I start the countdown to his return 365-ish days from now.

That I could recall, I had provided but one occasion for such a note, that being the first Figure 8 Voyage attempt beginning in late September of 2017. The aim was a one-year cruise around the Americas and Antarctica and home before Thanksgiving. 

But the plan failed “contact with enemy,” and though I returned the following July, well ahead of schedule and with a circumnavigation under my belt, I had missed closing the Figure 8’s loops. 

In September of 2018, a year after the first departure, I set out for the second Figure 8 attempt. My one year-cruise had become a two-year cruise. I was much the wiser regarding the ensuing challenges, and surely Jo, given the first example, would have been less sanguine of a predictable finish. Her second note to friends would not have made the precise-ish prediction contained in the first…

“Let me help you out,” said Jo, interrupting my train of thought. “It was written on November 9, 2010.”

“A full nine years ago?”

“Yes,” she said.

Then it clicked. 

Murre, our 31-ft Mariner cruising the Sea of Cortez in 2011.

On that date commenced my first singlehanded endeavor—a loop of the near Pacific, including touches in Baja, Mexico and Hawaii, all in my 31-ft ketch, Murre. It was the fulfillment of an ancient, boyhood dream, to cross an ocean, to raise a distant shore after days and days at sea.

But during winter explorations in the Sea of Cortez, I heard other cruisers talking about their springtime destination. To a one, they were headed for the Marquesas Islands. I’d never heard of the Marquesas, but some quick research placed them on the northeastern edge of the French Polynesian archipelago, where a sailor might find other tropical jewels, like the Tuamotus and Tahiti. I had been so focused on a passage to Hawaii, I’d not looked up to see the other wonders in the neighborhood. 

Suddenly I remembered Melville’s Typee, and I too was consumed with the desire to head south.

Some time later, Joanna joined me for a long weekend in La Paz. I took her to a hotel, sat her down by the pool, ordered a bowl of guacamole and two Marguerites (both for her) and launched into my pitch. 

Murre approaching Hiva Oa, the Marquesas Islands, after a 28 day crossing from Mexico.

I had been thinking about the year’s cruise, I said. It had occurred to me that the challenge of a solo jaunt, whose loop only encompassed such proximal trivialities as Mexico and Hawaii, was not nearly rigorous enough. That to be truly memorable, to justify the time invested in practice and planning, not to mention the purchase and outfitting of a boat—that to do it right, the venture needed added difficulty; for example, say, by way of a change of course for remote French Polynesia.  

Joanna paused briefly over her drink. 

“And how long would that take?” she asked.

“Counting additional mileage, the dodging of hurricane seasons, a winter in the southern tropics … well … it should take only a month to get there but the return will require another year.”

“So, your one-year cruise is now a two-year cruise?”

“Yes.”

Quickly I rehearsed the many objections any sane wife would have to such a proposal and the best responses I could bring to bear.

But before I could interject, Jo said, “Well, I think you should do that.” 

And that is the true story of how Randall’s first solo cruise of the Pacific included stops not only in Mexico and Hawaii but also the French Polynesia and Alaska. 

“So, you see,” said Joanna, bringing me back to the present moment, “I’ve caught you out. This is a pattern. For you there is just no such thing as a one-year cruise!”

The (two-year) adventure of Randall and Murre is recounted in Murre and the Pacific.

Learning to work a galley that refuses to hold still.
The practice of daily reportage began long ago.
Rowing ashore in the dinghy, named Coot, from inside a Tuamotu atoll.


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November 5, 2019

Days since return: 15

Noon Position: 37 46N 122 08W

Miles Since Last Noon: 5 (a walk in the Oakland Hills)

Course and Speed: uncertain

I thought I had re-entry figured out.

After a longish cruise for home, I anchor awhile in Drakes Bay before proceeding on to civilization. From here the city is close but still at arm’s length. On a clear day, I can see Twin Peaks and the Richmond District; at night the glow of San Francisco fills the southern sky, obliterating even the constellations. 

But my near view remains dominated by the more familiar rugged and raw, like the rocks and sun-parched hills of the coast that were already ancient when the first European explorer anchored here five hundred years ago. And the sea, the main attraction, the master of both emptiness and fullness and the revealer of all beauty–it is still just past that point. 

This stopover allows a brief moment of pause between one world and the next and prepares me for the interruption and inundation, the constant hurry and white noise that is the everyday wardrobe of urban life. 

But not this time. This time something has changed.

I don’t mean to suggest that I am unhappy to be home. I have dreamed of a successful return, of slow mornings in the sunshine of the back yard, cooking dinners with Joanna, the song of passerines, the color green. All of these are as grand as anticipated. 

But this time there is a subtle difference, and I suspect that difference has to do with the nature of the endeavor. From my perspective, part of the Figure 8’s appeal was that it dipped into an epic flow; it had aspects to me of an Odyssey. For a year and more I was an astronaut exploring an infinity of sea-space; I achieved escape velocity, visited alien worlds, saw “things you people wouldn’t believe,” to quote Roy Batty.

But now I have been There and Back Again. The epic has run its course. After a year of being the only boat on the horizon, I am, and suddenly, just another car on the road. I am, again, a regular Joe.

Being a regular Joe is not at all disagreeable, but it’s a bit like jumping into a cold pool. It takes some getting used to.

So it was with relief that I found myself invited on Monday to be a part of someone else’s epic.

Bluewater sailor, Bert TerHart, set out from Victoria, BC, just a few days ago to circumnavigate the globe via the five capes solo and non-stop in his 44-foot sloop, Seaburban

Then, as they do, the fates conspired.

On his first full day at sea, Bert took a glance toward the cockpit and noticed that the Monitor’s airvane had gone missing. Though locked down tight, it had escaped its notch and slipped over the side. Bert quickly swapped in his spare vane and continued on, but soon after, strong northerlies and the sea that accompanies them produced in the fuel tank a rumbling sound akin to that of a bowling ball in the bilge. 

Down to one vane and hosting the thunder of Zeus below the floorboards, and all this within the first week, Bert thought it the better part of wisdom to change course for problem-solving resources in San Francisco before continuing on to remoter latitudes.

Here the local Ocean Cruising Club Port Captain, Rick Whiting, introduced Bert to Cree Partridge of the Berkeley Marine Center. Hours of assessment and dire mumblings later, all decided that the noise was not what Bert feared, a baffle busted loose and gone rogue, but rather the sloshing of a very full tank in an unusually boisterous sea. 

Meanwhile, I ran to the Scanmar International shop and picked up a few spare vanes from manager, Suzy Savage. Then in Berkeley, I met up with Bert and Rick on Seaburban.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Bert. “After months of careful preparation, to have let the airvane go AWOL on my first day!”

Luckily I was able to relieve Bert’s guilt by relating some of my choicest bonehead maneuvers (I’ll spare you the catalog here). 

“I spent a day imagining how to fashion another spare from materials aboard, and I figured I could do it too, using the boat’s headliner. But then the tank began its mysterious rumbling, and I thought I’m so near San Francisco—and here I could get a new vane from the shop where they are made! I desperately wanted to keep going, but I thought it was better not compound one mistake with another.”

Seaburban is an OCY 45 built in 1987. “Based on the Reliance 44 hull, she’s a go-anywhere Cruising Club of America design by Pierre Meunier,” states Bert’s site. Up close, she’s sleek of sheer, flush forward of the mast and smartly set up for shorthanded sailing. Below she is both comfortable and seamanly, with small, cozy berths, a workable galley, numerous handholds, and a minimum of open space.

After a full tour of a very able boat, Bert and I withdrew to the nearby Chillies for a beer and some much needed (on my part) sailor talk. 

Follow Bert at on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/the5capes/

Bert’s Tracker: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Seaburban

Bert’s tracker showing him underway after a brief San Francisco pit stop.
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It began as a simple enough idea–to solo circumnavigate the Americas and Antarctica in one season. A boat, a sailor, a big sea, some ice and a double loop of the globe in roughly the shape of an eight.

But as time went on and as the idea developed, it required the help of more and more people until, in the end, this ostensibly singular endeavor took an entire village to pull it off.

Though I am eager to express my gratitude to everyone involved, it is with some trepidation that I sat down today to publish a list. It’s a long list; it looks complete, but I fear it has left out someone, maybe you. If so, please forgive me.

One issue has been where to start, as there are so many people to recognize.

So I’ll start here…

First off, thank you to all those who followed the Figure 8 and enjoyed experiencing the adventure as it happened. By now it is probably clear that I am someone for whom telling the story is half the fun of having it, and it was doubly fun for me to see that the unfolding tale struck a chord with so many. I especially appreciated the comments you sent in throughout the Figure 8, which Joanna often sent to me in email form while I was at sea.

Friends gathered to meet Mo as she arrived at the Sausalito Yacht Club, 2019.

Secondly, my deepest thanks to all those who participated in the Figure 8’s two GoFundMe campaigns. These contributions bought the high-tech communications equipment for the first Figure 8 attempt and then bought it again when the Indian Ocean knockdown sent the first satellite computer to an early grave.

A list of contributors is below…

A number of companies participated in the Figure 8 Voyage, and some even participated in both attempts. I am grateful to all of them.

I’d like to call out my special appreciation to the following.

Sponsors

  • Wide Orbit, Eric Mathewson for exemplary support through two Go Fund Me campaigns.
  • KKMI in Point Richmond and especially Paul, Ralph, Kevin, Janice, Joel, Marianne, and Caleb.
  • Scanmar International, the makers of my best friend, Monte, the Monitor Windvane; special thanks to owner, Mike Scheck, for his tireless support.
  • HOOD Sails, Robin Sodaro, Joe Cooper, and David MacMillan.
  • Cliff Bar, Marjorie Martin.
  • Amphora Winery, Rick Hutchinson and Jim Walter for the sparkling wine used to celebrate key Figure 8 milestones.

Thank you to the Ocean Cruising Club for the extension of aid during my emergency stops and specifically to the many port captains: Roxanna Diaz, Captain John Solomon, John Van S, Ted Laurentius, and Rick Whiting. Thank you to Tony Gooch for introducing me to this great cruising resource and to Daria Blackwell for several articles and participation in the PR campaign.

John Solomon, Port Captain for the Ocean Cruising Club aboard his Sole Mio at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.


The Figure 8 had a number of mentors without whom the project may not have succeeded.

  • Tony Gooch, owner of Moli when she was called Taonui and in which he and his wife, Coryn, explored the nether regions of the world for 16 years. Then in 2002, Tony set out from his home in Victoria to sail solo and non-stop around the world via the southern capes, logging over 24,000 miles in 177 days by the time of his return. His average of 137 miles a day was a record I could not better. To him I owe thanks for endless assistance with the learning of the boat and the route, for arranging aid during emergency stops and for finding Caleta Oja, the only safe haven for miles when I nearly came to ruin off Cape Horn.
  • Gerd Marggraff, president of the Metal Boat Society for advice on metal boats and boat mechanical systems and for being my emergency engineer while I was underway.
  • Dustin Fox of Fox Marine for help with electrical systems and patiently troubleshooting with me from sea.
Tony Gooch aboard Mo for the 2016 boat show in Point Richmond.
Gerd and Melissa aboard their aptly named THOR, 2018.

Thank you to those I met along the route of Mo’s 2016 Pacific Shakedown Cruise.

Homer, Alaska

  • Adam Lalich for friendship and the use of his truck during the winter and spring.
  • Mike Stockburger and the whole crew at Homer Boat Yard for renewing Mo’s barrier coat.
  • Eric Sloth of Sloth Boats for use of his shop to repair the spreaders.
Homer Boatyard Crew enjoying lunch after successfully stepping Mo’s mast, 2016.

Port Townsend, Washington

  • Howard and Stephanie Conant of Holy Grail for helping dock Mo that blustery day and for continued friendship.
  • Cory Armstrong of ACI Boats for consulting on Mo’s Monitor install.

Hawaii

  • Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Haffner of International Pacific Research Center, University of Hawaii, for an introduction to ocean plastics research and the privilege of doing some citizen science. 
Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Haffner at the Waikiki Yacht Club, Honolulu, 2017.

Thank you to those who came to Mo’s aid during the first Figure 8 attempt.

Ushuaia, Argentina

  • Roxanna Diaz, Ocean Cruising Club Port Captain.
  • Laura and Federico for taking Mo’s lines and for the hospitality aboard Ocean Tramp.

Hobart, Tasmania

  • Captain John Solomon, for climbing over Mo’s rail a second time to help guide her in and for introductions to everyone at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.
  • Darryl Ridgeway and Ursula, for friendship, assistance with repair jobs, endless trips to town and for excellent lamb roasts at anchor in Barnes Bay (Sorry, Mo is still not for sale).
  • And other friends at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.
  • Sally Errey for an introduction to meat pies and for expressing concern regarding fiber in my at-sea diet.
  • For last-minute help with Mo’s VHF radio, John and De Deegan of Storm Boy and the couple on John Barleycorn.
Darryl Ridgeway helping Mo with new storm shutters at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Thank you to those Mo and I met along the route of the Figure 8 second attempt.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Wayne Blundell, Dockmaster at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, for guidance many introductions.
  • Rob Kuder, for running me all around town for spares and supplies and excellent troubleshooting skills. 
  • Sandy MacMillan, for sail repair quickly done.
  • John van S, Port Captain of the Ocean Cruising Club.
  • Rich on Wabi, for dinners and discussions.
  • Sebastiaan Ambtman and Rhiannon Davies of Dutch, for companionship and a gift of the word’s best powdered milk.
  • Ben Garvey, for the use of his dock.
  • John Harries of Attainable Adventure Cruising, for a fun afternoon discussing the Jordan Series Drogue.
  • Tony Gibb and Connie McCann, for buying that first beer and for continued friendship since our meeting in Cabo San Lucas in 2011.
  • And other friends at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.
Rob Kuder demonstrating the use of the world’s smallest sextant.
Wayne Blundell, Dockmaster Extraordinaire of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.


St John’s, Newfoundland

  • Ted Laurentius, Ocean Cruising Club Port Capitan.
  • Jerry Veitch, “Marine Insultant” for work on Mo’s Buhk engine.
  • Alisdair Black for interest in the Figure 8 and sailing in company as Mo departed for Greenland.
  • Dennis Hanlon for shopping runs to town.
  • Ed for interest in Mo’s videos and for dinner at the club.
  • Greg Horner and Rick Austin for friendship and an excellent video.
  • To the manager, Kathy and the dockmaster, Steve and other friends at the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club.
Alisdair Black and Jerry Veitch, Marine Insultant.

Nuuk, Greenland

  • Jens Kjeldsen for help with the acquisition of bear protection and for the invitation to his wife, Dorthe’s, birthday party.
Jens aboard his Kiqdlua in Nuuk Inner Harbor.

Sisimiut, Greenland

  • Mantas Seskauskis of Ilen for help diagnosing engine oil leak.
  • Vincent Moeyersoms of Alioth for bringing a new engine seal up from Nuuk.

Northwest Passage 

  • Les and Ali Parsons, for a very instructive first run at the Northwest Passage in 2014 aboard Arctic Tern.
  • Victor Wejer, Mo’s ice pilot, for daily weather and ice maps and for encouragement (“it is time to take your difficult bite”) when the going got tough in Peel Sound.
  • To friends made during the struggle through the ice, especially, 
    • Olivier, Eric, Leila, and Josh of Breskell.
    • Pablo and Pablo of Mandragore.
    • Amanda and Robin of Morgane.
    • Anton, Guillom, and Elouise of Mirabelle.
    • And most especially to Vincent Moeyersoms, his brother, Olivier and friend, Jean, of Alioth for assistance, companionship and airmailed fresh baked bread!
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Victor Wejer (photo credit UpHere Magazine).
Olivier, Jean, Pablo and Vincent in Cambridge Bay.
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The crew of Olivier’s Huin’s Breskell: Eric, Miguel, Josh, Leila. Sadly, the photo is missing skipper, Olivier.

A great number of people were hands-on both before and during the voyage.

Family and Friends

  • Mother, Evon Reeves, for support and for keeping watch over the Figure 8 tracker (back-end analysis shows that she checked the tracker every 8.5 minutes on average for the two years I was on the course).
  • Lavonna Reeves and Bruce Janke for many things but especially for building Mo’s robust First Aid kit.
  • The entire Reeves—Vietz, Kellar, Shaeneman—and Bloor—Carlisle, Bates—families.
  • Lucy Bloor, for each month sending to my wife one of the cards I had written for her prior to departure. 
  • Kelton Rhoads for a supply of homemade jam, the battery charger, the flashlights, the knives, the compass.
  • Jim Walter, for homemade jam and for helping get the shoe back on the rudder.
  • Kurt Lorenz, for the stove.
  • Joan Fallon, for a lifetime’s supply of Figure 8 socks.
  • Mike Kayton, for his day of work on Mo’s winches.
  • Laurence Boag, for the custom bookshelf.
  • Ben Shaw and Lindsey Keane, for friendship and a lovely dinner in Halifax.
  • Eric Moe for interest and enthusiasm and for testing the sliminess of Mo’s bottom paint.
  • Schubert Sarkis for help with Mo’s lifelines.
  • Skip Dubrin for the celestial navigation book.
  • Bruce Allen for a boatload of superb coffee beans.
  • John Woodward for the winch handles.
  • Diane Hayford and Joe Geary, for replenishing the supply of Madeira that Monte had so thoughtlessly consumed.
  • Mary Spadaro, for dinner in Honolulu and a fun evening of conversation.
  • Shana Chrisman, for allowing the Figure 8 adventure to be a part of her daily exchanges with her father, Don.
  • Phil Hoag of Fine Tolerance for advice on high latitude boats.
  • Rick Whiting, Ocean Cruising Club Port Captain, San Francisco Bay Area, for a crisp new OCC flag upon my second departure.
  • Nick Stewart, for his support via Randall Blue Ink and a most amazing ink drawing of Mo.
Image may contain: 2 people, including Randall Reeves, people smiling, ocean, sky, outdoor and water
Momma–happier than the day I departed.
Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, ocean, sky, mountain, boat, outdoor, water and nature
John Woodworth and Schubert Sarkis out for a test sail in San Francisco Bay, 2017.
Bruce Allen supplying Mo with Iolana coffee, 2017.
Diane and Jon presenting me with a bottle of Madiera (not to be shared with Monte), 2019.
Nick Stewart’s pen and ink drawing of Mo departing Hanalei Bay, Kauai.

For correspondence, often daily, while I was at sea

  • Kelton Rhoads
  • Jim Walter
  • Matt Jensen Young
  • Jessie Vietz
  • Tony Gooch
  • Gerd Marggraff

For Early Exposure

  • Charles Doane of Lunacy for entirely unwarranted, early exposure on his blog, Wavetrain, and in SAIL.
  • Matt Rutherford for interest and interviews on his Singlehanded Sailing Podcast.
  • Tim Henry, Editor Latitude 38, for consistently great reporting throughout.  
  • Andy Schell of 59º North Sailing/On the Wind podcast for an early interview.
  • Ben Shaw for his many interviews on his Out the Gate Sailing Podcasts.
  • Joe Rosato Jr. of NBC for first and still best video reports.

The Figure 8 Land Ops Team

  • Kylie Teele
  • Freddy Bunkers
  • Lauren Pfenninger
  • Brad Kellar
  • Lucy Bloor
  • Joanna Bloor

For Mo’s Arrival Logistics 

  • All the above Land Ops Team plus,
  • Heather Hawkins at Elevation Strategy.
  • Daria Blackwell at the Ocean Cruising Club.
  • Heather Richard of Carodon, Mike Dodson of NoSnow, and Gary Pursell of Jessie’s Girl, for hosting media on their boats during Mo’s arrival.  
  • The Sausalito Yacht Club, for hosting the party.
Mo and Heather Richard’s Carodon at Angel Island, 2017, two of the best aluminum boats in the Bay area (photo credit, Heather Richard).

Thank you to Moli, my 45ft Dubbel and Jesse aluminum expedition sloop, for making the miles and for, month-in-month-out, standing up to the best of sea and ice. I cannot imagine a more fitting yacht for the task of venturing poleward.

And most of all to my enabler, my lovely wife, Joanna Bloor, without whom this project of sailing solo around the American and Antarctic continents in one season would have never gotten past the idea phase. 

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Drakes Bay

October 19, 2019

5am. The alarm sounds to wake me though I’ve been up since three o’clock. 

For some time I lay in the dark listening to the wind whine in the rigging. Mo tugs at her chain. I wait for sleep to descend again, but it has slipped away in the night to play with the coyotes calling from the headland.

Today we return home. My heart pounds. The bunk rejects me.

I make coffee but can’t sit to drink it. By flashlight I continue the endless job of tidying the deck in preparation for our Golden Gate entry.

6am. A pale dawn silhouettes the mountains. We are underway for the Golden Gate Bridge. During these final jaunts, I have been worried the engine will fail or the windlass will quit and that I will be forced to enjoy the ignominy of a tow. But Big Red fires as usual; the anchor picks clean. 

I point Mo to the E and toward Limantour Beach, well clear of the Chimney Rocks reef. Yesterday on the leg down from Bodega Bay, we encountered a long, large swell from the NW. At Point Reyes and over this reef, seas stacked up frighteningly. Giants curled and crashed and leapt for the lighthouse. At the reef, their break extended well past the green buoy. Without a moon, I can’t see them now, but I can hear the roar of white water. Mo passes through billows of spume and rolls deeply.

9am. Motoring in flat calm. The morning is drippy. A high fog flows from the N as we pass Duxbury Point. These will be my last hours alone with Mo, and I feel an urge I can’t define. Not to be out to sea again, but an agitation. We’ve nearly run our course. A thing I have ardently desired is imminent. Do I desire it now?

At Mile Rocks, we will be joined by other vessels that will sail us in. At Cavallo Point, family and friends will be waving. At the Sausalito Yacht Club, I will encounter other friends and the press. Closure and an opening, but an opening to what? 

There is a sense of foreboding, not at the idea of being home but rather at the display that will accompany my return. Will I be what people expect? Will I remember my remarks? Will I make a sailing blunder for all to see?

Having passed so many difficulties, having relied so often on my own resource and on Mo’s extraordinary ability–and still to be worried about what others will think. It appears I have not left my faults behind. “What we have done, we have done,” I say in my own defense.

“And we did it as well as we knew,” says Mo.  

“Senior, it is the time for coming home,” says Monte.

10:30am. I am an hour early to Mile Rocks. Already there are three boats waiting and two climbing the light W wind from the Gate. Congratulations are shouted across the water as we heave through the swell on the bar. Now there are ten boats, including friends who sailed out to see me off a year ago. Slowly I let the wind and tide draw us closer to the gate. Red rocks, red bridge, gray sky. Now there are fourteen boats in the flotilla. Horns blast as we slide below the great span, and then we are in the bay.  

For years I have followed the track of the Figure 8, always pressing on and pressing further, and now the double loop is finally closed. 

12:30pm. I let Mo take the wind on the beam and we race toward Cavallo Point. One last charge. Show them what you can do, my friend! Then a cheer at the point as we swing round. Waves and cheers and the flood pulling us further in.

Then we are nosing into the yacht club. A bagpipe sounds. Hands reach for lines. Other hands catch Mo’s rails. Gently she is eased into the dock. Another cheer for Mo. Joanna approaches smiling. A kiss for completion. In that instant we have pierced the veil. We are home.

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“Home is the sailor, home from the sea” is a haunting line, filled with profound relief and a touch of melancholy. 

In it the sailor’s deep longing for completion, for return, is fulfilled but not without cost. That other place must be abandoned—where he has fought and held his own; where the fates have let him see and live; where he has stood in awe of the raw, alien beauty, where he has felt more himself than anywhere—on this he must turn his back.

Because for all its attraction, the sea is not home. 

The wind blows. The waves continue their heave and roll. The sea awaits. Always the sea awaits…

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October 10, 2019

Drakes Bay
Anchor down 1300 local, 2200 gmt

Days at Sea: 306
Days Since Departure: 375
Total Miles: 38,978

Slowly the gale releases its grip. Overnight and as I sleep the wind comes down; the sea relaxes. By dawn Mo makes 5 knots under jib alone on a gentle undulation I can barely perceive from my bunk.

I raise the main at sunup, but the wind continues to fall away until by mid morning the sails hang limply; the sea is glass. We are under power the last miles for Drakes Bay.

“I’m sorry, Monte,” I say. “It would have been nice to sail in.”

“These things cannot be helped, Senior. You must finish the knot before the strain comes back on the line.”

Then purple ranges rise above the sea to the NE; then that bold projection, fawn-colored Point Reyes; now the water is emerald and fouled with tangles of kelp.

Hours ago we left behind the last albatross; to take his place there are pelicans, cormorants, grebes and other birds of the shore. Porpoises race along the bow and further on, the misty blow of whales and the glimmering black of their backs.

Then the rounding of the green buoy; then the pale cliffs of Nova Albion and the hills of gray autumn grasses and the familiar whiff of grazing cows. Mo eases in. Next to the abandoned fish plant, the anchor rolls down into soft mud.

We are in home waters for the first time in a year. One step remains between us and completion of the Figure 8…to sail under the golden span and return to the embrace of San Francisco Bay.

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October 9, 2019

Days at Sea: 305
Days Since Departure: 373

Noon Position: 38 59N  125 37W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): SExE 7 – 8
Wind(t/tws): N 35
Sea(t/ft): N 10 – 14
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0
Bar(mb): 1019+, falling slowly
On-deck Temp(f): 64
Cabin Temp(f): 66
Water Temp(f): 60
Relative Humidity(%): 68
Magnetic Variation: 14.0

Sail: Working headsail 2/3rds or more rolle up.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 157
Miles since departure: 38,840

All night I let Mo run SSE so as to stay on the outer edge of the low. Winds here will remain under 30 knots and allow me a solid sleep before tomorrow’s long day and difficult decision. But at a little before one o’clock, I’m still awake. Winds are on port quarter and increasing hour by hour; the number two headsail, all we’ve had flying since before sundown, is already rolled to three reefs; Mo is beginning to hum.

Suddenly I notice that we have come dead before the wind and are not correcting. Then we gybe; the sail jerks to port and Mo lurches wrong-way to the seas. I grab a flashlight and dash on deck. Monte’s wind paddle is hard over and bent in the wind almost to breaking. The tiller is amidships and motionless. I give it a big shove. Nothing. It’s locked solid.

I climb to the stern and look over the side and here I find that Monte’s red trip line has fouled the water paddle. In Dutch, I installed a new type of clevis pin that should make disengaging the paddle in an emergency a quicker operation. But the pin is long, too long; it is shaped like a key and its ends stick out. They have grabbed the line as it swirled in Mo’s wake and are holding it fast. The water paddle can’t move, and this has jammed the tiller.

I work to free the line but there’s too much tension; it’s bar taught and I can’t understand how it hasn’t already snapped. I reach for the yellow knife and in a moment the line is cut. Monte eases back on course. The jib slaps back full. I move the line well out of danger and lash it to the rail.

6 am. For two days we’ve had mostly cloud and that cloud has been mostly squalls. But now the sun comes up into an open, white-blue sky. Good, I think. However hard it blows today, at least it will blow steady. I watch the seas for a long time. They are high, to the rail and then higher than the rail by the height of a man. But the break isn’t strong yet; the crests collapse at the top of the wave and fall backward. Only occasionally does a plunger throw its weight forward.

I think it’s worth the risk. Surely we’ve seen worse in the south. I reach for Monte’s tiller line and change our couse to ESE and direct for San Francisco 180 miles further on. Now seas are just aft of the beam. The gale isn’t due to peak until early afternoon.

At the noon log, I note: “On the edge. One knock to windows in green water. Took in more sail.” Now there is but a pillowcase of canvas forward. Mo makes 8 knots and surfs frequently to 11 knots. The rig’s moaning sound is so dire, so ghostly it takes an act of will to remember the sound itself isn’t indicative of danger. It does have meaning, though: winds are topping 40 knots.

By forecast, this is to be a quick blow, less than 24 hours of hard wind localized to a short run of northern California coast. Wind won’t clock around; it will just be N and it will be flowing over a current that is also from the N. All this has led me to risk cutting through the low; to think that winds will have neither the time nor the space to create the kind of steep, crashing and confused seas that we are now getting.

The higher sets are to the spreaders, two stories above the waterline. Sometimes they roll gently by, giant and benign, but more often now they contract vertically as they rise and their tops collapse heavily forward in a roar of surf. Sometimes the white water rushes straight down the wave; sometimes the crest falls at an angle to its train, sending a large sea off to the SE or SW as it collapses. The water is streaked with white.

That I have chosen to put Mo in harm’s way so close to home, that having been through so many gales, I could mistake the power of this one–this angers me. But the anger does not cover a low and gnawing fear. Could we fail to make it home at all?

Again and again Mo is pushed over by a crasher. If it catches her on the flank, there is the sound of a cannon and then green water flows over the house. Many times the leeward windows go under and the cockpit scoops up a sea. And each time Mo rights herself without trouble; each time Monte puts Mo quickly back on course. The boat seems merely to dip, to bend, to shrug and then to sail on.

And then I think that boats have many names and one of Mo’s is Surefoot–she can be pushed, but she won’t fall. Then I relax a little. I prop myself into a corner and watch. By evening the barometer is still dropping but the wind has come down. The rigging no longer wails. I have unrolled the jib. We fly homeward over dark seas licked by moonbeams.

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October 7, 2019

Days at Sea: 303
Days Since Departure: 311

Noon Position: 43 17N  127 55W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): SExS 6
Wind(t/tws): W 15
Sea(t/ft): NW 3
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0
Bar(mb): 1022, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 70
Cabin Temp(f): 72
Water Temp(f): 63
Relative Humidity(%): 71
Magnetic Variation: 15.2

Sail: Main to port; working jib poled to starboard, broad reach.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 103
Miles since departure: 38,561

Finally we are running right down hill. The days are warm; the breeze, gentle. The jet contrails, of which there were five at dawn, all stream by us on a parallel path, as if to confirm our course is a good one.

During the lazy afternoon I shot a video, likely the last one from sea. I hope you enjoy.

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Hello, awesome followers of The Figure 8 Voyage.
Here are the final details for the return celebration for the event.


A couple of things to note first:
1. If you’re working with our PR team please ignore these instructions as you’re getting special instructions from Heather. You know who you are. :)2. If you know others (OCC members, other sailors and/or friends) you want to share this with feel free. 3. There is one RSVP invitation for the “shore” event at the Sausalito Yacht Club. If you are planning on attending you must RSVP on the invite or we’re not going to be able to let you in. If we don’t have your (and # of guests your bringing) name on the list we’ll be making sad faces. We don’t want to make sad faces. Please do not RSVP to this email. It will not get you on the guest list.

Timeline /Location: Saturday, October 19th, 2019


11.30 am: Moli / Randall estimate arrival at Mile Rock – Flotilla: Plan to be out there. 🙂 Please note we will have 2-3 media boats with cameras etc.  – People on land: You can drive out the Headlands and watch / take photos of Randall coming in. It’s quite a view but note that he won’t be able to see you. You’ll be too high up/tiny. 🙂


12.30 pm: Moli / Randall estimate sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.
 – Flotilla: Please stay on Moli’s starboard side so the folks on land can get their photo opportunities. – People on land: We’ll be on the breakwater at the end of Travis Marina/ Point Cavallo, Lots of parking around the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Limited parking at Point Cavallo. It’s a short walk from the Bay Area Discovery Museum.

– People on land: We’ll be on the breakwater at the end of Travis Marina/ Point Cavallo, Lots of parking around the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Limited parking at Point Cavallo. It’s a short walk from the Bay Area Discovery Museum.


1:00 pm – 3:00 pm : Landing and official completion of the Figure 8 Voyage at Sausalito Yacht Club. – THIS EVENT IS AT FULL CAPACITY.

 – Flotilla: Please hold back until both the media boats have dropped off their guests on the dock. Once that is complete we’ll be waving Randall into the dock. The only boat allowed to tie up to the dock is Randall and Moli. There are about 8 white moorings that you can tie up to if you want to come ashore in your dinghy. This are fewer moorings than boats so plan to raft up! 

– PLEASE NOTE – we can no longer accept more attendees at this event as we’re at capacity. People on land: There will be no parking for guests at the Club. There are however several paid parking lots next to the club. Please make sure you RSVP to the invitation as we will have someone with a check-in list at the front door. Not on the list. They won’t let you in. Please don’t assume (and yes lovely family this includes you too) that we know you’re coming. 🙂
The landing and official completion will include an award ceremony from the Ocean Cruising Club. A speech of some sort (I haven’t told him this yet) from Randall and many opportunities to take photos. Please remember that Randall has not spoken a ton to people in the last 12 months so be gentle.

There are no longer any Sunday activities. We’re going to give Randall a moment to say hi to his family and take a shower.

Final Notes and next steps:

We already have several requests from multiple locations and groups for Randall to come in an speak about his adventures. If you’re interested in joining we’ll be posting the opportunities on the site so stay tuned. If you have a group or organization that might be interested in hearing Randall speak about his adventures please feel free to reach out. 



Thanks Team F8 (aka a bunch of awesome volunteers)

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October 6, 2019

Days at Sea: 302
Days Since Departure: 370

Noon Position: 44 48N  129 03W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): 0
Wind(t/tws): Variable <5
Sea(t/ft): S4 W2
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0
Bar(mb): 1026+
On-deck Temp(f): 78
Cabin Temp(f): 73
Water Temp(f): 63
Relative Humidity(%): 67
Magnetic Variation: 15.6

Sail: Sail down. Drifting.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 81
Miles since departure: 38,458

Overnight the breeze stayed just strong enough to keep the sails quiet and Mo in steerage. But with sunrise, the sea went flat. I drowsed sails at eight o’clock, and we drifted until after noon.

One ship. One albatross, blackfooted. A deep blue sea below our hull with pale columns shimmering downward.

A lovely way to spend the middle part of the day, frankly. I cleaned the cabin and washed; changed into clean, lighter cloths for the warmth and read Will Durant’s The Life of Greece until I fell asleep. A faint wafting of air through the cabin woke me, announcing it was time to make sail. 

We are 200 miles W of Salem, Oregon and 500 miles NNW of San Francisco.

Wind is light again, now W. Mo makes 4 knots SSE.

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October 5, 2019

Days at Sea: 301
Days Since Departure: 369

Noon Position: 45 53N  130 56W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): E 6
Wind(t/tws): SExS 10+
Sea(t/ft): SE 3
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast (but no rain) 10
Bar(mb): 1027, rising slowly
On-deck Temp(f): 66
Cabin Temp(f): 70
Water Temp(f): 62
Relative Humidity(%): 73
Magnetic Variation: 15.7

Sail: Main and working jib, one reef (no need for speed in this direction); close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 128
Miles since departure: 38,377

The rain that fell lightly but without remission all yesterday and last night finally eased to a drizzle by breakfast and then dried up altogether before noon. However, the S wind we’ve had for two days shows no signs of following suit.

By now we’ve run our easting down and are not in need of more. In fact, with a mere 250 miles remaining between Mo and the Oregon coast, I’m wondering if I should heave to. I’ve been on that coast. There are no all-weather hiding spots that are not also bar harbors, and of those there are few.

Once, when sailing home from Alaska late in the year, I decided to harbor-hop the coast between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Francisco so as to avoid the embrace of early-season gales. Avoid the gales I did and most of the fine sailing days too, because the Coast Guard, who controls the harbor entrances, kept the harbors closed to “recreational” traffic at the slightest whiff of a swell form the W. “You can check in, but you can’t check out,” should have been the sign posted directly below “No Wake.”

For weeks I was stuck in Grays Harbor, a fine place to stop for an afternoon of beach combing and an ice cream, but the one taffy shop and the one burger stand and the one gift shop lose their charm after three or four days, not to mention a fortnight. Newport was another prison on our way S. Admittedly, we did weather a substantial storm there, and the brew pub uphill from the marina was an improvement over taffy and burgers, but they were hardly home.

I recall planning an escape. Well before dawn, I put out to sea thinking that at that hour the Coasties in such a small town would surely would be asleep, but I had barely begun to reach the steep and crashing bar when I heard a siren from astern, and soon I was escorted back into the harbor with a reprimand from the Commandant.

Murre, the little ketch I was sailing then, didn’t make it home until Thanksgiving that year.

It is an odd final few miles. First a whimper and then a bang. The whimper will come later tonight when, per the forecast, we run smack into a ridge of calm lasting a day. The bang will be the northerly gale, winds to 35 plus, I expect on our last two day’s run to Drakes Bay.

The fates, it seems, have a sense of humor and a taste for surprises.

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October 4, 2019

Days at Sea: 300
Days Since Departure: 369

Noon Position: 45 14N  133 55W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ESE 6-7
Wind(t/tws): S 15+
Sea(t/ft): S4, NW4
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast 10
Bar(mb): 1021
On-deck Temp(f): 65
Cabin Temp(f): 67
Water Temp(f): 62
Relative Humidity(%): 68
Magnetic Variation: 15.8

Sail: Double reefed main and jib. Nice easy close reach.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 131
Miles since departure: 38,249

A year ago today Mo and I departed Drakes Bay and headed S toward Cape Horn.

Today we are 700 miles NW of Drakes Bay and close reaching into an autumn southerly. Winds yet lack that hard edge of winter and they are warm. The sea is small and Mo makes her speed without pounding.

All day I sat by the lee window and wondered what I should think of all these miles under the keel. So much water. Almost a year of perpetual motion. Only to return to where we started. Without a hold full of gold. And not feeling that much wiser.

But satisfied. Is that what this was about?

Though not fully, not yet. Now is not quite the time for reverie. A very stiff wind off the coast next Tuesday/Wednesday may make that final approach tricky.

Better to stay focused. After the anchor is dug in, then philosophy. For now, sail.

Overnight we drifted on the remains of the northwesterly. While I slept, wind held to its quadrant and kindly did not back to the S until first light. I even got the first cup of coffee down before having to take the deck.

The shift from running to reaching required a full change. Roll up headsails, down and stow poles, make up pole lines (there are eight), move sheets to on-the-wind positions, swap running backs, let out reefs in main and haul away, unroll working jib, make up cockpit lines, adjust sheets, adjust Monte.

Breakfast well earned. A bear claw and a bowl of oats.

The sky brightened as the day came on, not with a clearing to blue but less cloud and a disk of sun smokey white. But it has thickened throughout the day and grown dark. Rain now and for the last two hours. If anything, wind seems to be diminishing and backing into the E. Time to don foulies and let out reefs.


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Hello all!

Quick update on the return plans. Yes, Randall will arrive in Northern California in plenty of time to make it to the GG Bridge for his return. He’s going to gently potter down the coast and get prepared for his return to civilization so the official return date of October 19th is still firm.

We’ll be posting the schedule for the weekend by mid next week along with both the Saturday shenanigans and Sunday reception. Keep an eye out as we’ll need your official RSVP for a couple of the events so we can get you into various locations.

We’re still looking for folks who are planning on sailing (or motoring) out to Mile Rock to welcome Randall and Moli in who might have space for those who’d like to join him. Please send a note to figure8voyage@gmail.com if you have space with # of people you can accommodate plus your departing location.

Thanks! Team F8

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October 2, 2019

Days at Sea: 298
Days Since Departure: 367

Noon Position: 47 12N  140 03W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ESE 7
Wind(t/tws): WNW 20+
Sea(t/ft): W 10
Sky/10ths Cover: Cumulus tending toward squalls  5
Bar(mb): 1022, steady
On-deck Temp(f): 62
Cabin Temp(f): 67
Water Temp(f): 60
Relative Humidity(%): 63
Magnetic Variation: 15.7

Sail: Twins poled out, 3 reefs

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 160
Miles since departure: 37,961

Randall: Hey Monte, have you heard this one? “A guy walks into a bar…”

Monte (perspiring at the tiller and concentrating hard): SENIOR! PLEASE!, if this is no an hemergenthia, then the god of wind and waves and your pilot appreciate you talking only when necessary.

It’s been a challenging day for Monte. Winds are fast and the sea is high. Holding a course is real work, and even with three reefs, the bow is being tugged around a bit too much.

But I want the speed more than balance. Two days of 160 miles or better. Now that’s something. And too, if we can keep up such mileage, we may scoot just far enough E to miss the hard edge of the coming low.

The afternoon gets strange, though. Yesterday squalls built up after lunch such that I had to be on watch as their racing winds approached. Every hour I’d roll in sail and roll it back out again when the sky cleared. Luckily, when their heat source went down below the horizon, the squalls melted away and we had a quiet night.

This afternoon, the squalls have taken over the sky. They are heavy and dark, and an hour after sunset they are still crawling up Mo’s skirts. I’ve stayed in foulies. It may be some time before I can relax.

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October 1, 2019

Days at Sea: 297
Days Since Departure: 366

Noon Position: 48 29N  143 35W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ESE 8
Wind(t/tws): W 25+
Sea(t/ft): W 8 – 10
Sky/10ths Cover: Cumulus/squalls 4
Bar(mb): 1019
On-deck Temp(f): 59
Cabin Temp(f): 66
Water Temp(f): 58
Relative Humidity(%): 66
Magnetic Variation: 15.4

Sail: Triple reef in main, out to port, triple reef in working headsail poled to starboard.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 167
Miles since departure: 37,801

Overnight, wind veered WNW and hardened to 25 knots. I slipped a third reef in the main and hauled the jib sheet tight and left wind on the starboard quarter all night.

Stars. The Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Arcturus. In the wee hours, Orion. “Stars,” I said, “stars!” We had not seen them in so long, the word felt foreign.

In the morning, I poled out the jib to starboard, tucked in three reefs and we flew at 7 and 8 knots. Towering, cathedralesque cumulus, obsidian water; seas whose break was almost too white to look at. Black footed Albatross. And Mo on a bobsled ride.

Today 48 North is very like 47 South.

And the strategy is much the same now as well. In the south, the goal was to surf the top of passing lows. Here we are riding the bottom of a low whose center is near Homer, Alaska. We are way out on the perimeter of this spinning giant; the barometer reads 1019 mbs, but the winds here are fast.

For days I’ve been targeting a region of 25+ knot winds whose angle would slingshot Mo directly homeward. The goal is to embed inside the low and ride it until it disappears over the horizon or fades. Current forecasts say we may ride it until Friday.

Grand, but not quite long enough…

This afternoon, squalls. Now we are running with the twins poled out. Winds are up and down. I’m rolling in and rolling out as the thunderheads roll over us. Rain. Hail. But who am I to complain? As the sun sets, twenty black footed albatross swing around the boat, around and around, until I lose them in the dark.

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September 30, 2019

Days at Sea: 296
Days Since Departure: 365

Noon Position: 50 21N  146 46W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): SExS 7
Wind(t/tws): W 15
Sea(t/ft): S4 W3
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast (i.e. not foggy, not raining) 10
Bar(mb): 1011+, rising slowly
On-deck Temp(f): 63
Cabin Temp(f): 67
Water Temp(f): 56
Relative Humidity(%): 75
Magnetic Variation: 15.1

Sail: Working jib full, main one reef, broad reach

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 116
Miles since departure: 37,634

Mo and I began the Figure 8 Voyage 2.0 one year ago today.

September 30, 2018, 10:30am. The sun lit brightly the hills above Horseshoe Cove, and the water was as still as a lake. I said goodbye to friends, had one last affectionate moment with the wife, and then Mo and I were off under the bridge and out to sea.

A mile past Mile Rocks, the escort boats peeled off. About then so did the wind.

I bobbed for an hour pretending to wait but knew it was futile. The forecast called for several days of calm. So I slunk off to Drakes Bay and stayed at anchor for four days waiting the return of the northwesterlies.

Not an auspicious start.

Jump forward a year, and here we are, 1,300 miles from a San Francisco return; 37,634 Figure 8 miles to the good. We’ve been around the bottom and over the top and are on final approach, more or less.

Though still far from home, I’ll admit a sense of pleasure at the accomplishment to date. And I can almost smell the lavender in the back yard garden.

Pleasure compounds: we have wind in our favor for the first time in days. A westerly is filling in. We are happily positioned at the bottom of a low that may carry us on for the next three days. Three reefs in the main and three in the jib and we make eight knots in silence.

Early this morning was another story. Still rainy and foggy; Mo pounding into a heaving south swell. But I got the batten car fixed before coffee, and we were on our current ride by 10am.

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September 29, 2019

Days at Sea: 295
Days Since Departure: 364

Noon Position: 51 41N  148 59W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ESE 5
Wind(t/tws): S 20
Sea(t/ft): SE 7
Sky/10ths Cover: Rain Fog 10
Bar(mb): 1016+
On-deck Temp(f): 60
Cabin Temp(f): 64
Water Temp(f): 54
Relative Humidity(%): 75
Magnetic Variation: 14.9

Sail: Main and working jib, two reefs, close reaching.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 138
Miles since departure: 37,518

Rain and fog, drizzle and fog, or just fog. A strong and contrary wind. All we do is pound, pound, pound.

The boat crashes and bangs and shudders right down to her very soul. It makes one wonder about metal fatigue and the stability of welds in an old boat. Would I even have time to grab the EPIRB when they finally call it quits?

We’ve taken so much water over the bow that the bag holding the storm jib to the inner forestay finally flew apart. I looked forward at one point to see a bright orange drapery dragging in the water over the lee rail and was unsure immediately what it was. I’ve since lashed the sail to the rail three times only to have the constant beating of the sea loosen my lashings in a few hours. Thus the incentive, today, to sew the zipper on the sail bag back together and get it redeployed.

Previously, I have entertained a fantasy of sailing solo around the world in the wrong direction and against the wind–a feat only accomplished by a few hardy souls. But I believe these last days have cured me utterly of such an idea. I would go mad within a month.

Wind is finally coming out of its stubbornly held southern position. Slowly it veers into the W. By tomorrow this time it will be W 30, and we’ll be on rails right for San Francisco for several days.

About 1,400 miles remain of the Figure 8. And yet, they are such long miles…


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September 28, 2019

Days at Sea: 294
Days Since Departure: 363

Noon Position: 52 06N  152 38W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): SxE 6
Wind(t/tws): S 20+
Sea(t/ft): S5
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast, drizzle 10
Bar(mb): 1023+
On-deck Temp(f): 59
Cabin Temp(f): 63
Water Temp(f): 54
Relative Humidity(%): 73 (wet inside)
Magnetic Variation: 13.7

Sail: Main and working jib, two reefs, close reaching

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 125
Miles since departure: 37,377

Conditions stable overnight. Winds S 20; two reefs and Mo close reaching comfortably in a subsiding sea. I slept long and hard, nearly ten hours in the bunk, though up every 90 minutes. To be dry and in the warmth of a sleeping bag–all needs met.

Conditions same all day. Sails full, Monte pulling at the tiller.

The only occurrences of note: one, a passing ship just over a mile S of us felt awfully close. The AIS alarms did go off, a nice confirmation that they function. And two, at noon we hove to briefly to correct a pre-departure error.

The crewman in charge of the pre-departure check list failed to pull the anchor off the bow and stow it in the anchor locker while we were in Dutch; neither did he stuff the windlass hause hole with an oiled rag, which he could not do, having failed to remove the chain.

This is standard pre-passage protocol aboard Mo, is clearly stated in all the handbooks and has been a part of the training procedures since I came aboard.

The effect of this error is that during our last two days of being close hauled in very stiff southerlies, each time a sea came over the bow (about once a minute), the anchor knocked around in its chock creating a noise below akin to the bow being ripped off by a passing train. The anchor is captive, but there is no way to lock it down tightly. So, there is no danger, as such, but the charm of this racket wore thin quickly!

The second effect is that although the windlass is designed to keep spray from entering the hause hole, it cannot resist–even when wrapped, as it is–taking on water when it is entirely submerged. This has also occurred frequently over the last days, the result being that twenty strokes were needed to clear water from the forward bilge.

This failure is a serious breach and had the skipper spittin-dry mad at times, but it has been corrected. The anchor and chain are now both below; the hole has been plugged. The seaman whose laziness caused this unusual need to heave to the ship has been reprimanded, and his beer has been stopped for a week.

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September 27, 2019

Days at Sea: 283
Days Since Departure: 362

Noon Position: 52 31N  155 58W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): SxW 6 – 7
Wind(t/tws): ESE 25+
Sea(t/ft): SE 8-10
Sky/10ths Cover: Rain, Drizzle, Fog 10
Bar(mb): 1022, falling
On-deck Temp(f): ?
Cabin Temp(f): 57
Water Temp(f): 52
Relative Humidity(%): 71
Magnetic Variation: 12.7

Sail: Three reefs in main and working jib, close reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 84
Miles since departure: 37,252

I tacked at 2am when the wind went into the SE so as to grab some southing while I could. Rough night close hauled in winds 25 – 30. Rain, drizzle, fog; spray everywhere. On deck every hour to reef again, adjust Monte, recoil a line pulled down by the constant water over the boat. Was soaked through well before sundown. Didn’t even attempt the sleeping bag.

Tacked again at 2pm, having gained a full degree of southing. Good. More than I’d hoped. Now double reefed and heading E on a wind mostly S. Still rough as stink. If it eases at all, I’ll try to go close reaching. Must get down to 50S by Monday.

What comes after Monday I don’t have a plan for. 

More gear failure. Noted half way through the night that a main batten car had broken, spilled its bearings and come free of the mast. Like the tear in the main, the car was at roughly the second reef panel. Can fix, have the parts, but need a boat a little less wild stallion than Mo is currently. Was able to move a car up from lower down for this batten in the interim, but what is a ten minute job took an hour.

Looks like its only going to get rougher in coming days.

Night. Fog. Mo racing on the edge of needing a reef.

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September 26, 2019

Days at Sea: 292
Days Since Departure: 361

Noon Position: 53 19N  157 48W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ExS 6
Wind(t/tws): S 10
Sea(t/ft): S 1
Sky/10ths Cover: Overcast with low cum 10
Bar(mb): 1031
On-deck Temp(f): 57
Cabin Temp(f): 66
Water Temp(f): 53
Relative Humidity(%): 49
Magnetic Variation: 12.1

Sail: Main and big genoa, close hauled.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 120
Miles since departure: 37,168

Days from Dutch: 2.5
Miles since Dutch: 313
Avg. Miles per Day: 125

Light wind day. Both big sails up and close hauled. Slow. Wind can’t make up its mind. Our heading is E but snakes to the N and then S as the breeze meanders about. Mostly we are losing ground to the N. This makes me uncomfortable given the big blow N of us due the first of next week. We need and want this low as we’ll be able to catch its W winds for a fast course S and E. But I don’t want to be too far toward its center. May not have a choice.

Found two vertical tears in the main today, one of six inches and the other of three in the middle of the second reef panel. Patched immediately with sail tape, both sides. I cut thin strips of tape and “sutured” the longer tear together and then laid wide lengths of tape over that. Absolutely cannot be without the main, especially over this next, upwind week.

Lots of contrary wind in our future. Feels like trying to sail around the world the wrong way.

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September 24, 2019

Days at Sea: 290
Days Since Departure: 359

Noon Position: 53 38N. 164 54W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ExS 5
Wind(t/tws): W 10
Sea(t/ft): S 3
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0
Bar(mb): 1024, rising
On-deck Temp(f): 55
Cabin Temp(f): 64
Water Temp(f): 49
Relative Humidity(%): 44
Magnetic Variation: 9.9

Sail: Spinnaker poled port; working jib poled starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 60 (since Dutch departure at midnight)
Miles since departure: 36,915

Note: One photo because my main satellite system is down for the moment.

Three gates in the vicinity of Dutch Harbor connect the Bering and the larger Pacific; they are Unimak Pass, Akutan Pass and Unalga Pass, with Unimak being the largest and most distant and Unalga, the closest and smallest. Only Unimak is lit.

During an ebb, the pent up forces of the entire Bering are pushing S against these gates, creating dangerous rapids and tide rips; flows to seven knots are typical. During the flood, Pacific exerts at least an equal pressure towards the N.

Thus, the Coast Pilot dedicates pages to a careful detailing of the hazards found at these passes. Here are some of the choicer comments:

“[At Unalga Pass], under exceptional circumstances, currents and tide rips of unusual magnitude may be encountered; and treacherous seas…caused by wind opposing the current, often sweep a vessel without warning.”

“On the larger tides [at Akutan Pass], the flood creates such heavy tide rips N of Unalaga Island, even in calm weather, that it is advisable to be prepared to take seas aboard. Tide rips of 15 feet high have been observed.”

“Instances have been reported of vessels, hove-to N of Unimak Pass and waiting for clear weather, being carried through the pass by the current and finding themselves on the opposite side when the fog lifted.”

I had missed my tide for a Monday daytime transit, and as I didn’t want to wait the 24 hours required for the next, I was left with the unhappy prospect of riding the ebb at night. By this time, the gale was well over and the sea had had a chance to relax. Given this, it seemed a safe bet that the passes would be an easy ride. But still, it was a bet, one that could not be retracted. Once inside, there would be no turning back, and the well advertised tide rips would be just more dark water against the dark backdrop of an invisible but assuredly rocky coast. 

Thus, my two hour nap prior to our midnight departure was neither deep nor restful, and I woke with apprehension before the alarm.

Even in the early morning, Dutch Harbor and the nearby coast were busy with fishing boats. Two exited to the N as Mo and I rounded into the fairway and three were headed in. But out of the harbor, we were alone, and beyond the lights of the port, night was starry but otherwise black.

I chose Unalga Pass at the suggestion of the Pilot, not because it was likely to be any less chaotic but simply because it was smaller—one would spend less time in the grip of fast water. 

We made our approach at 3am, and Mo’s speed rose to 7 knots; she topped 9 knots as we entered and 12 knots inside. A crescent moon now cast a pale outline over the hills, but the sea was an indiscernible void. Twice we ran into walls of water, and spray lept up into the moonlight. Rips turned Mo’s head several times, something I could sense only by the pull on the tiller and the rapid movement of stars. But within an hour we had escaped unscathed.

Today has been a spinnaker run with the high Aleutian mountains still visible to the N. Light westerlies are giving us a nice push E under clear skies and a warming sun. But such refreshing sailing cannot last. If the forecast is correct, we’re likely to be close hauled for the next week.

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September 23, 2019

Again, just passing through and quickly.

One day to sit out the blow, which pushed hard through the Iluilui Harbor cut, turning the water white. Mo was snugged up behind a big crab boat and almost entirely out of the wind. Thus, my two bow lines, two stern lines and four springs were overkill; I spent the day watching the gale from the equivalent of a hotel window. Spume flew two boat lengths out, but Mo never moved.

And one day to get ready. Refresh Monte’s tiller lines; refresh worn sheets, check running and standing rigging, repack the drogue (just in case); top off fluids; transfer last fuel from jerries to tanks. Shower. Top off the beer supply with some Alaskan nectar.

Truth is I missed my tide. I had wanted to be underway early today, but I’d misjudged the distance to Unalga Pass. So departure is now midnight. We’ll shoot the rapids in the dark. Never a dull moment.

In my brief wanders, the factory town known as Dutch Harbor presented here…

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September 21, 2019
Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Landfall. It creates a quickening in the heart of a sailor, especially when that landfall is something as grand and striking as an Aleutian Island–tall, craggy, covered in cloud; verdant near the sea, black and snow-capped further on. 

We had miles yet before us when the sun set into cloud over Cape Cheerful, and darkness was complete by midnight when we had worked our way into brightly lit IliuIliu Harbor.