In April of this year, Joanna and I were to fly to Annapolis, Maryland, where we would attend the Ocean Cruising Club’s annual awards dinner and where Moli would receive the Barton Cup in recognition of her Figure 8 Voyages.
If you are uncertain what, exactly, the Barton Cup is, you might appreciate the explanation my wife offers to her landlubberly friends: “it’s like the Oscars…for saily people.”
A fuller description, however, is that the award is the top honor from an organization that has, since 1954, been entirely dedicated to supporting the offshore cruising sailor. It takes its name from the club’s founder, Humphrey Barton, whose own ocean exploits included a 1950s crossing of the Atlantic in his 25-ft Vertue-class sloop, the smallest vessel to have made that passage east-to-west at the time–and it should be noted that at the time, very few such passages were made.
Moreover, the list of previous honorees is a kind of “Who’s Who” in this rather specialized line, names like Tony Gooch, Michael Johnson, Reverend Bob Shepton, Jeanne Socrates, Susanne Huber-Curphey, and Bill Hatfield being just some of the characters who come poppingly to mind.
Singlehanding does not lend itself readily to group activities, and so my experience of yacht clubs is limited to this one, joined just before the commencement of the first F8V attempt. It was a fortunate happenstance, as it turns out, and I was looking forward to this annual gathering as my opportunity to thank the organization for its remarkable support of Mo and me during the first attempt’s forced stops in Ushuaia and Hobart, as well as the planned stops in Halifax and St John’s during the second.
But the Coronavirus outbreak beat me to the punch. The gala in Annapolis was canceled a mere two weeks before the festivities date.
In lieu of an in-person appreciation, then, I’m appending here an article I wrote from our refit headquarters at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in 2018, which describes not only the adventure up to that point (as it seemed to me at the time) but also specifically how the OCC had come to the aid of this much-battered sailor.
I offered these words then and offer them now with much gratitude to all at the OCC.
Join me on Thursday, July 2, at 1PM PST/4PM EST/9PM BST for an online presention about the two Figure 8 Voyages. Hosted by the Ocean Cruising Club. REGISTER HERE.
Explore the Figure 8 Voyage Book—–>HERE.
Weeks ago I announced the discovery of a bottled message I posted to the uncertain mercies of an ocean delivery service late in the F8V. At the time I was short on details. Here are the details.
At 1:57 pm on April 15th of this year, I received the following email with the below photograph attached:
“Hello, today while cleaning a beach in the Berry Islands, I found this message in a bottle. Curious to know if Randall completed the circumnavigation? Interested in hearing his story, ~Deb”
Why this communication gave me such a thrill I find hard to explain, but after its receipt, I ran around the house cheering as though a horse I’d bet on in the distant past had unexpectedly paid off.
Initially, I kept a careful record of message launches as Mo and I passed down the Pacific and then around the Southern Ocean, but by now (day 216), we were forty-four days from our second rounding of Cape Horn and fifteen days north of the line. For weeks the Atlantic trades had lulled me with their soft warmth, and I had become lazy.
For example, the report I filed on day 216 pontificated needlessly upon the finer points of celestial navigation, but neither it nor the log nor any photos memorialized the launch of this particular missive. Luckily, I recorded the position on the note itself.
But where had the bottle come ashore and under what circumstances found? Further correspondence with the discoverer, Deb Kremer, cruising with her husband Keith aboard M/V RightHand, revealed the answer:
“We were anchored near Hoffman’s Cay (in the Bahama’s Berry Island Group) and decided to clean that beach while we were waiting for a weather window. The approximate location of the discovery was 25° 38’ 44.26” N, 77° 44’ 50.89” W.
“Our friends, Eddie and Gail on Seaquel were helping us, and they are probably the reason I found the bottle. My original intention was just to clear any items that could entangle turtles, but once we got started they, suggested we clean up everything.
“The beach had a lot of debris (mainly plastic) and there wasn’t really any place for us to dispose of the trash, but once we got all of the lines, nets, and ropes moved high into the vegetation, we went back for the trash.
“The sight of an unbroken bottle was very rare (I had only seen one other bottle all day), but as I was walking to throw it into our trash pile, I noticed the cork.
“That is what made me hold the bottle up to the light. The glass was so dark I didn’t originally see the note. I was so excited when I saw the scroll of paper! I called everyone over and sat on a rock to pry the cork out with my knife. It’s always exciting to find a message in a bottle!
“What amazes me is that the bottle made it ashore in one piece. That side of the island is very rugged with large rock outcrops every few hundred feet.
“I took a picture of the note and bottle right away…”
How long the bottle took to achieve landfall is a matter of conjecture, but its route is another matter. From the point of drop at 19 37N and 54 19W to the point of discovery on a windward beach of Hoffman Cay is a rhumbline distance of 1,353nm. But that the bottle could maintain such a dedicated course seems highly unlikely.
First off, if the bottle followed the easterly trade winds, it would have been pushed far to the west before hooking north, creating a path with the rough shape of a boomerang.
A look at currents local to that ocean sector suggests an even more complex route, though the bottle still reached to the west before the trend to the north.
One interesting feature of the trip taken by this bottle was that in order to achieve Hoffman Cay, it had to thread a pass, the North East Channel, without getting hung up on the reefs of either Great Abaco or Eleuthera Island, a clever trick given its mode of steerage.
Though I don’t now recall the particulars of this send-off, the event was usually well documented, like the note and launch below from day seven out of San Francisco on the second F8V attempt.
And then there was this “instructional” video produced on the occasion of the second bottle launch. At the time, I had hopes for a great number of retrievals, this based on the “bottle work” of my friend Matt, who has launched many messages in this manner and has a nearly ten percent retrieval rate.
With luck, this find is merely the first in a series, but the luck will have to be strong as most of the other bottles I sent on their merry way had much further to go before encountering a friendly, not to mention peopled, shore.
Many thanks to Deb Kremer for retrieving my message and caring enough to make contact. I am grateful.
Many of you will know of Matt Rutherford from the several mentions of him in this blog or, more likely, from his remarkable 2012 circumnavigation of the Americas in an already old and always small, twenty-seven-foot sloop, St Brendan.
I’ll warrant there are more than a few blue-water sailors who wouldn’t cruise the Bahamas in such a craft, much less aim for a transit of the Northwest Passage and a doubling of Cape Horn in a 314-day solo, non-stop Boston-to-Boston loop. Such is the stuff of legend.
What you may not know is that Matt has continued his pursuit of the seemingly impossible, though in a slightly more conventional vein. He has substituted pure adventure for adventuresome research and has swapped tiny St. Brendan for the mammoth, muscular, but unfinished schooner,Marie Tharp.
That story is covered in detail in this month’s issue of Cruising World (see below). I’ll cut to the chase: the key word is unfinished, as in this capable vessel is lacking an interior, a good deal of paint, and many of the finer things, like winches. For that, Matt, his partner, scientist Nikki Trenholm, and their creation, The Ocean Research Project, need your assistance.
Check out the fine story about Matt’s dream below, and if you can, send him some helphere.
By Angus Phillips May 6, 2020. Skipper Matt Rutherford and scientist Nikki Trenholm have an ambitious long-term plan to conduct important climate research in the high latitudes. First they need to fix up their “new” boat.
Everyone knows there’s no such thing as a free boat. Just don’t tell Matt Rutherford, who can gaze from the deck of his latest one—which he hopes will take him to the ends of the earth—to the tarnished remains of his former one, which already did.
Pretty little St. Brendan lies these days on the hard, at the end of a gravel lane of old-timers that have seen better times and places. Eight years ago, in one of the great sea-voyaging triumphs of all time, Rutherford sailed the donated 27-foot, 40-year-old Albin Vega from Annapolis, Maryland, back to Annapolis—via the Northwest Passage and Cape Horn, some 27,000 nautical miles in 309 days, nonstop and singlehanded at an average rate of 3.5 knots (see “Fortitudine Vincimus,” July 2012).
Now St. Brendan, named for an Irish cleric who braved the uncharted North Atlantic in a leather curragh 1,500 years ago, sits on jack stands at Herrington Harbor North near Annapolis, waiting like a sleepy old dog at a shelter for a softhearted buyer who may never materialize. Rutherford can see her easily from the steel deck of his newest project, the massive sailing vessel Marie Tharp, which sits just two rows away and towers above everything. She’s so big, he had to buy a 20-foot extension ladder just to get up the side.
The schooner is 72 feet long from bowsprit to massive, barn-door transom, custom-built of fine Dutch steel following lines drawn by heralded offshore-yacht designer Bruce Roberts. Fully outfitted for sea, she’ll weigh a staggering 115,000 pounds, more than 20 times the displacement of little St. Brendan.
The price for both was the same: zero. And, of course, both needed work, which is right up Rutherford’s alley.
I first met Rutherford in 2010, when he was rooting around Annapolis looking for help on a most unpromising project. He’d been working as a volunteer fixing up boats for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, a local nonprofit with a clever acronym—CRAB— whose mission is to get disabled folks out sailing for recreation. He and the group’s founder, Don Backe, who had lost use of his legs in a car crash, hatched the idea of Rutherford taking a donated CRAB boat “around the Americas” to raise money for and awareness of the group’s mission. The aged Vega was wasting away in a boatyard then, but Rutherford saw in it the makings of an adventure he’d long wanted to tackle.
“I went down in the cabin and lay down on the bunk one day, and it fit me. I thought, This can work!”
He spent months dumpster-diving and cajoling bits of gear from local enablers, most of whom (including me) thought the whole idea was nuts. And he worked like a farmer, largely alone, installing bulkheads and a Samson post, redoing rigging, fitting sails and cramming the little craft with freeze-dried food, an old bladder tank for diesel that completely covered the cabin floor, a hand-operated watermaker, sea anchors, radios, navigation gear, boots and foulies.
When he left Annapolis heavily laden in June 2011, few thought we’d ever see the then-30-year-old or his little boat again. When he popped back up at City Dock the following April, having survived the most perilous marine obstacles on Earth, the governor and local sailing celebrity Gary Jobson were there to greet him, along with hundreds more. He was a penniless hero, having left with $30 and come back with the same thin, soggy wallet.
Rutherford, who grew up rough and rowdy in the Rust Belt of Ohio, was used to being broke. But he leveraged his short, bright fame well, giving paid talks about his trip and making connections that helped him set up a nonprofit, the Ocean Research Project, dedicated to doing scientific research to save the aqueous two-thirds of the planet. He also found a fine partner, Nicole Trenholm, who is almost as fearless as him. Together they have gone to the ends of the earth, more than once.
Rutherford’s goal, ever since he graduated from an alternative high school for troubled kids at age 20, has been to roam the globe and do some good. He’s never had two nickels to rub together but figured out early that a sailboat costs nothing to operate as long as you stay away from land, and he’s grown adept at getting free or almost-free sailboats in which to do that.
His first was a Coronado 25 bought sight unseen for $2,000. When he went to claim it in a Maryland boatyard, “the weeds were higher than the boat.” He and an old Ohio girlfriend, knowing nothing about boats or the sea, patched it up, evicted the mud daubers, and made it to Key West before three straight hurricanes did the boat in. He acquired a succession of storm-damaged beaters after that, the last of which, a Pearson 323, took him solo across the Atlantic, down the West Africa coast, and back home.
He eventually fetched up on that boat, broke again, in Annapolis, where Backe and the Albin Vega awaited. Trenholm popped up shortly after Rutherford’s voyage around the Americas. He wowed her at a yacht-club talk he gave, and she wowed him when she said she was a budding scientist specializing in the marine environment—just what he needed to lend credibility to his nonprofit. She’s now a doctoral candidate in marine climate science at the University of Maryland at Towson, studying when she’s not off at sea with Rutherford.
They did most of their traveling on Ault, a 42-foot steel cat-ketch Rutherford bought with the gains from his voyage around the Americas and some borrowed cash from family. It was a rust-streaked wreck that needed 12 steel plates welded on by an unemployed motorcycle mechanic before it could be trusted to leave the bay.
You’d see Rutherford and Trenholm around town that summer, looking like a pair of Welsh coal miners fresh from the job site, in tattered rags streaked with dust and grease. It was hot, as always for the Chesapeake, and as damp as a jungle, but Trenholm gave as good as she got with sander, chipper and paintbrush, and after a shower, she still looked like a movie star—without the peroxide hair.
They took the refurbished Ault across the Atlantic and back, gathering plastic bits and pieces for an unpaid study on a suspected garbage gyre in a remote patch west of the Azores. Then they crossed the Pacific from California to Japan in a borrowed Harbor 29 doing the same thing, arriving days before a typhoon struck that would have sunk them and all their data forever.
Back home, they readied Ault, which cruises at 4 knots and “goes to weather like a well-trimmed refrigerator,” in Rutherford’s assessment, for two summers of research in the Arctic. They charted the bottom in uninhabited Greenland fjords well above the 70th parallel north, and studied currents and temperature variations for NASA. They found evidence of a mysterious, deep warm-water current that’s eating away at glaciers from below. For the second of those missions, having proved their worth, they actually got paid, though barely enough to cover costs.
Scientists believe climate- change research is crucial in the high latitudes, where the effects of man’s addiction to fossil fuels is felt most severely, and Rutherford and Trenholm came back from the Arctic convinced there’s a niche for small, efficient and inexpensive platforms like Ault, and now Marie Tharp, to do that kind of work.
Most Arctic research falls to big, powerful research vessels that carry teams of scientists in comfort and style. Trenholm took part in one last summer, working for three-and-a-half weeks on a chartered Swedish icebreaker that had every convenience, including a sauna and a pingpong table. “We dressed for dinner. It was like a vacation,” she says.
But all that luxury comes at a price. “I was on a $6 million expedition,” Trenholm says, “and it showed me how much more Matt and I are capable of doing at a fraction of the cost.”
Rutherford reckons that the average cost of a big research vessel working in the Arctic is about $25,000 a day. “We can operate for one-tenth that,” he says, “and because the new scientific equipment is smaller and less power-hungry, we can do anything they can do.”
If small is good, Ault was unfortunately a bit too small. While their two summers in the Arctic were fruitful, the little steel boat was big enough only for Rutherford, Trenholm, and a deckhand or two. Rutherford was ruminating one day on his podcast, Singlehanded Sailing, about how much better they could do with a bigger boat, and his thoughts wandered to a vision of a steel Bruce Roberts 65-footer—a design he considered perfect for the job: big enough for a scientific team of four to stay in relative comfort, with berths for himself as captain and a crew of two or three, but still cheap to operate.
Amazingly, a random listener knew where just such a boat lay languishing and put them in touch with the owner, Zan Ricketson, a dreamer who’d spent 18 years building it up from bare hull and rig for a planned grand adventure in the high latitudes but was about ready to give up. The boat was in the water in Delaware.
“It was about 80 percent finished,” said Rutherford, who rushed up to the C&D Canal for a look-see and immediately began badgering Ricketson to donate it to the Ocean Research Project. The deal closed in 2018, and early the next spring, Rutherford got the freshly rebuilt, 212-horsepower Ford diesel fired up, and brought the boat south to Herrington Harbor, where she was hauled and blocked for a refit.
He named her Marie Tharp in honor of a hero of his and other seafarers. Tharp was a scientist in the 1950s who labored in relative obscurity creating three-dimensional images of the seafloor using data from sonar readings that had never been coordinated into a usable format. “She painstakingly took these numbers to create a map showing the ridges and valleys and contours of the seafloor, worldwide,” Rutherford says.
“Her boyfriend got most of the credit. She wasn’t even allowed on a boat in the beginning—they didn’t want women aboard.” Others in his position might have waited to name their flagship for some wealthy sponsor. But don’t even ask Matt Rutherford, champion of the downtrodden, to call his boat Amway Explorer or Jiffy Lube Jet. It just ain’t gonna happen.
About the boat: She’s impressive if you don’t get too close. Massive, of course, with a good 8 feet of freeboard above an expansive, long-keel bottom. It was built by venerated steel-boat builder Howdy Bailey in his yard near Norfolk, Virginia, from steel cut to order from the best quarter-inch-thick Dutch stock. Rust? Well, sure, there’s a bit if you start chipping away, but it all appears repairable with some skillful welding.
The deck is flush, with a big, enclosed center cockpit that Rutherford intends to fortify with more steel bracing and new, shatterproof windows. There are watertight steel bulkheads fore and aft, so smashing into an iceberg or two will not prove fatal. Two anchors are mounted in the bow, with 700 feet of chain led to lockers amidships to keep the weight out of the pointy end.
The shiny, 6-cylinder Ford diesel has just 85 hours since a full rebuild and lives in an airy engine room, alongside a Kubota 24-volt generator that has never been fired up and is capable of powering a watermaker in addition to making electricity. Fuel capacity is 800 gallons, cruising speed is 7.5 knots, and Rutherford expects he’ll burn 3.3 gallons an hour, giving the boat a 1,500-mile range under power. The engine ran well on the 80-mile run from Delaware to the yard.
The rig is stout, with keel-stepped masts. Sails are brand- new, still in the original bags, and he expects to use them a lot. “When we get on-site, it will mostly be motoring as we collect data, but as long as there’s wind, we intend to sail the boat whenever we’re in open water,” Rutherford says.
Inside is a mess, to be blunt. A lot of work has been started, but little is finished. There’s a forecastle big enough for four bunks for crew, a nice head with separate shower just aft of that, a galley amidships on the starboard side (with no cooking equipment installed), a big saloon aft of the main mast, and two cabins beyond that: one for the captain’s quarters and another for a scientific crew of up to four. Forward of the saloon, on the opposite side of the boat from the galley, is a work chamber for scientific equipment.
Everywhere you look, plywood and framing lumber, batteries, tools and gadgets are strewn about. It looks like a third-grade schoolroom if the teacher disappeared for a month or two.
Rutherford reckons it will cost about $100,000 to finish up everything needed. At the end of the day, he’ll have a seaworthy, spartan platform to conduct Arctic research in, but there are no plans for saunas or pingpong rooms. His hope is that the spirit of adventure and the chance to conduct important research at a fraction of the usual cost will lure scientists who are serious about tackling the perils of climate change.
He and Trenholm are passionate about the mission. They believe that understanding climate change in the Arctic is crucial to understanding this global phenomenon in its infancy. “We published a pretty important study on the way warm-water intrusion is eating the glaciers from the bottom up,” Rutherford says. “The next step is to tie warming water and glacial melting to changes in plankton growth, which is the basis of the food chain.”
As for the $100,000 or so they’ll need to get the job done, they’re on the prowl. Rutherford makes some money selling boats as a broker for Eastport Yacht Sales in Annapolis. He’s doing deliveries, having recently taken a big Beneteau across the pond to the Mediterranean. He had a deal this past winter to take paying riders along on voyages to and around the Caribbean on a borrowed boat. Trenholm’s applying for government grants. They’re interviewing potential sugar daddies. If you know any, pass the word via the Ocean Research Project website, or listen to a Singlehanded Sailingpodcast for details (see “Help Launch the Dream,” below).
“It’s all about who you know,” Rutherford says. “And it’s not easy. They all say, ‘It’s great, awesome, a wonderful project—but not for us.’’’
If it were anyone but Matt Rutherford, I would probably say the same. We all thought he was off his meds when he was ricocheting around Annapolis nine years ago, muttering about a preposterous scheme to sail around the world the longitudinal way in a battered old North Sea weekender. And again when he shot out the Golden Gate in a borrowed club racer with his girlfriend, in a half-gale, bound for Yokohama.
We shook our heads and clucked our tongues when he left the Chesapeake in a steel tub with unstayed masts and a 30-year-old Perkins 4-108, bound for the Arctic at the pace of a kid’s tricycle. And then we applauded each time he came back, having accomplished what he’d set out to do. He’s got a track record.
The new project with Marie Tharp is daunting, with unfinished business everywhere you look: holes to patch, deckhouse to build, plumbing to finish, electronics to install, furniture to find, watermaker, beds, insulation, stove, fridge, sinks and headliners. Where to even begin?
Fortitudine Vincimus was the family credo of Ernest Shackleton, Rutherford’s idol, who brought his men safely home from the wreck of his flagship in the Antarctic a century ago, after luring them there by advertising: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of compete darkness. Constant Danger. Safe return doubtful.”
“By Endurance We Conquer” is the translation. Those are words to live by for a fellow who has seen the remotest corners of the world from the decks of boats nobody else wanted. “I guess it would have been nice to be born a rich kid,” Rutherford says. “But then I never would have done any of these things. I’d just be a lazy rich kid.”
Angus Phillips is a longtime Chesapeake Bay-based racing and cruising sailor, former outdoor columnist for The Washington Post, and frequent contributor to CW.
Help Launch The Dream
Matt Rutherford is and always has been a driven sailor, and has financed many of his adventures through yacht deliveries and contributions to his nonprofit dedicated to Arctic exploration and research. To learn more about Matt, and Nicole’s backgrounds, accomplishments and future endeavors, or to make a donation to the cause, visit his website.
The next shipment of the Figure 8 Voyage book has arrived and is available for order. Those who have been ordering over these last two weeks, thank you. Mailing should begin again shortly.
$29.95 includes FREE domestic shipping via USPS media mail.
First printing limited to 500 numbered and signed copies.
More about the book —-> here. And thanks again for the support.
Dear Virtual Voyagers,
If you are looking for a way to visit the watery parts of the world without leaving the house, then know the Figure 8 Voyage book is arriving and available for order.
The present volume is a coffee-table-style picture book and tells the story of the Figure 8 Voyage through the many images included in Mo and Randall’s daily reports from sea during their 384-day, nearly 40,000-mile odyssey. (The second volume, due out later in the year, will contain the longer narrative.)
This book is softbound and printed on heavy paper of 11 by 8.5 inches; it is 100 pages, 10,000 words, and 250 color photographs from every ocean and every weather.
$29.95 includes FREE domestic shipping via USPS media mail.
First printing limited to 500 numbered and signed copies.
- Initial orders will ship within the first week of April.
- Is this a gift? Inscriptions available upon request (see Inscriptions text box during checkout).
- Only a small fraction of the initial print run has arrived; current supply is limited.
Why a Picture Book?
From the Introduction: As a young admirer of sea-faring stories, I was often most attracted to the pictures. Melville’s Moby Dick may well have been written for boys, but this boy spent his hours in that volume admiring Rockwell Kent’s woodcuts more than the sentences they were intended to illustrate.
As an adult, I have come to the end of many a bluewater tale—be it Alone through the Roaring Forties, The Fight of the Firecrest, Once is Enough, The Long Way, A World of My Own, Ice with Everything—having been captivated by the weave of words but wanting more than the scant few photographs at the book’s center.
What is the color of ocean that dances beneath Pacific trades?How does a wave curl and crash at 47 degrees south? What did Joshua really look like in a seaway?
The goal of this book, then, is to be a pictorial accompaniment to the longer Figure 8 Voyage narrative and to satisfy the person who, like me, may desire that additional perspective of a seagoing adventure story. Words here have been kept to a minimum and serve simply to frame the action and add context to the images. What’s important is that the reader see the ocean as the camera sees it over many days, many miles and many latitudes.
Take a peek inside…
Initial orders will ship within the first week of April.
Discussing the challenges of the Figure 8 Voyage with other sailors is one thing, but it requires a deft tack to port to be interviewed by Grant Parr, a mental performance coach to professional athletes and owner of the consulting firm, GameFace Performance.
His podcast is called 90 Percent Mental, so you can guess where the conversation began…
Check it out —–> here.
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).
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Thank you to those I met along the route of Mo’s 2016 Pacific Shakedown Cruise.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
Thank you to those who came to Mo’s aid during the first Figure 8 attempt.
- Roxanna Diaz, Ocean Cruising Club Port Captain.
- Laura and Federico for taking Mo’s lines and for the hospitality aboard Ocean Tramp.
- 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.
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.
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.
- Jens Kjeldsen for help with the acquisition of bear protection and for the invitation to his wife, Dorthe’s, birthday party.
- Mantas Seskauskis of Ilen for help diagnosing engine oil leak.
- Vincent Moeyersoms of Alioth for bringing a new engine seal up from Nuuk.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
“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
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea” is a haunting line, filled with profound relief and a touch of melancholy.
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…
October 10, 2019
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.
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;
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.
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.
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)
October 6, 2019
Days at Sea: 302
Days Since Departure: 370
Noon Position: 44 48N 129 03W
Wind(t/tws): Variable <5
Sea(t/ft): S4 W2
Sky/10ths Cover: Clear 0
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.
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.
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have space with # of people you can accommodate plus your departing location.
Thanks! Team F8
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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…