What’s Next for the Figure 8?

April 8, 2018

Hobart, Tasmania

I raced those last few weeks to Hobart so as to arrive in time to see my wife, whose inflexible schedule required that we meet-up at the end March or not at all. During her brief stay here, “what now?” was a major topic of our conversation.

Below is the result and then the rationale for our decision.

The New Plan

Mo and I will depart for San Francisco non-stop in mid-April and should sail under the Golden Gate Bridge as early as middle June.

I then plan to begin the Figure 8 route all over again in September of this year.

When I arrive home, I will have completed a solo circumnavigation of some 25,000 miles via the Southern Ocean and in two stops—not so remarkable except that it may be the longest shakedown cruise in history.




The Consideration Set

There were several ways to attack the Figure 8 continuation problem. Here are the options we considered.

Option 1

Continue on with the original route now; depart Hobart for Cape Horn and the Arctic via the Atlantic as soon as possible.

Why not? I left San Francisco later than I’d planned, over a month later, and now that I’ve stopped twice for repairs, once in Ushuaia, Argentina and once in Hobart, Tasmania, Mo and I are significantly behind our original schedule. If I departed Hobart by mid-month, I’d arrive at Cape Horn toward the end of May or early June, the equivalent of northern November/December at the latitude of Sitka, Alaska—but with heaps more wind. The Pilot Charts show as much as a five-fold increase in gale activity in certain southern quadrants in May over, say, February, and even if I got lucky with a clean rounding of Cape Horn, I’d still need a picture-perfect passage up the Atlantic in order to arrive at the Arctic’s eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage in time—i.e. early August. Continuing on now would leave no room for error, and we see how that’s gone so far.

Given that, I judge continuing on with the Figure 8 this season as too risky.

Option 2

Wait here until southern summer returns, explore Tasmania and New Zealand as weather allows, have some fun … and then continuing on with the original route around the Horn and to the Arctic via the Atlantic in November/December of this year.

Why not? It’s personal and difficult to convey but, simply put, such an approach is not how I envisioned the Figure 8. This adventure is meant to be an Everest-type attempt, not a site-seeing tour.

Option 3

Sail home and start over.

To me, this is the only logical choice. I have made a number of mistakes in this first attempt–a late departure; poor storm management; omission of key safeguards (e.g. storm windows), all of which make for great story but poor accomplishment. Another attempt allows me a chance to correct these.

The Figure 8 is a true BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Such opportunities are rare, and since I have the right boat, am willing and able, and have a wife who (miraculously, mysteriously) is supportive, I owe it to the project to give this another go.

Other options I did not take too seriously were, for example, heading up the Pacific and through the Panama Canal for the Arctic (though attractive, see reasons for declining Option 2) or heading through Panama for a port in the northeast, e.g. Boston, from which to start over again next summer. This last idea was offered by Matt Rutherford and has the benefit of getting the Northwest Passage, the most time-sensitive part of the Figure 8, completed first. Disadvantages included having to wait another year before starting and finishing-up in Boston rather than my home on the west coast. Again, this goes back to the initial vision: beginning and ending the route at my home port.

What’s challenging about starting all over again?

1. Home is a long ways off; roughly 8,000 miles and another two months of non-stop sailing. The route back to San Francisco means a southern ocean leap south of New Zealand, down again to 49S between the mainland and Snares Islands, before looping up through the mass of tropical islands below the equator and by the Hawaiian Islands above it–tricky, difficult, lovely cruising and many miles.

2. As of this moment, I have sailed 17,000 miles of the Figure 8, or just over half the total route, and thus know intimately how difficult repeating those 17,000 miles will be.

3. Starting over means being gone from home, wife, and family an additional year. This is a big ask for everybody, especially my wife, who has to manage all our personal affairs while I’m gone.

Which is to say, the final choice, though “logical,” is not to be taken lightly.

The Figure 8 route is attended by significant risk and requires a kind of “eyes on the prize” commitment that I find challenging to maintain over the months and (now) years of preparation, not to mention during the cruise itself. That said, its successful completion offers a kind of accomplishment opportunity I’ve never had before, an opportunity that is still thrilling.


17 Comments on “What’s Next for the Figure 8?

  1. The right decision! But don’t forget you have a rough ocean trip ahead of you. Cutting underneath NZ then across the whole Pacific is not a backyard cruise. Hope you do find a couple of days to travel beautiful Tasmania. Fair Winds! G&M from Thor

  2. My oldest son climbs mountains when he has the opportunity to do so; not Everest or K9, but places down in Argentina, etc.. Reading through one of his climbing magazines one day, there was a quote from an article that stuck with me: “Getting to the top is always optional; getting back down isn’t.” In other words, you don’t take unnecessary, or inordinate risks to reach a summit, but instead you go back down and make plans for another attempt. So maybe there is some similar wisdom in this that may apply in your case.

  3. I am happy about this decision. We get to see Mo Randall sooner. And the shakedown cruise will have been almost as impressive as the entire planned voyage.

  4. A remarkably candid and reasonable assessment Randall. And I love the ‘longest shakedown cruise in history’! And Gerd is right – getting home is still quite the Southern Ocean adventure!

  5. With you and your very smart decision which I know must have been difficult to make. What you have accomplished so far is fantastic! More to come for you and that too is very exciting let me know if I can help on any way!!!

  6. Whew! We have been holding our breath, watching the calendar and calculating the miles to the Horn – hoping you would decide not to go for it. Good call, Randall.
    Fair Winds .
    Howard & Steph

  7. Thanks so much for allowing the rest of us to continue living vicariously through your amazing journey. I have marked September on the calendar for the Figure 8.1 Voyage. Just remember, sometimes a great tagline is worth every one of those 25,000 miles. Safe travels for a June return home and just remember…”Shake It Till You Make it”!!

  8. Moitessier would be proud, why finish the voyage next year when you can go the long way and do another lap of the globe. Still, this announcement has blown my mind. Restarting never even occurred to me as an option. Wow!

  9. Ability to analyze mistakes and build a plan for new attempt is a great example of “sisu”, as we say in Finland.

  10. That’s certainly the decision I would have made…so…there’s proof, if you need it, that your decision is the correct one.

  11. A difficult decision well made. Please keep up the blogs on the leg home as I’m learning a lot from them. All the best Chris

  12. Right call. Live to sail another day. Make it safely back, regroup and get ready for the next try.

  13. You are definitely a Type A personality! Starting over never occurred to me either.. cruising Australia and NZ waiting for the next season would have been my style. I’m glad there will be more excitement ahead. Isn’t it true that the more time you spend at sea, the less you care about getting to land again?!

  14. Thank you Randall for laying out the options it allows us to understand the challenge in the decision itself. Although we would all love to accompany you whilst you accomplish this on the first take we know you have come out of this first experience much stronger and wiser. We look forward to accompanying you on your next take. PS hopefully the path taken will be somewhat different… Safe Travels on your return home!

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