NO FRILLS CIRCUMNAVIGATION
Stepping out of the dingy and onto the white sand beach in Bora Bora marked my debut on a South Pacific Island, and brought to a close the first quarter of a solo circumnavigation of the world. The voyage commenced in Frederiksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands on February 24, 1986, and will terminate there in the Spring of 1987.
With a small budget and a seven year, solo preparation stage, it seemed like accumulating the target funds, and preparing for the voyage would take forever. A major decision was made during the summer of 1985, to become departure-date oriented. After the February 1986 departure date was set, the level of motivation reached zenith, and preparation activity heightened during several busy months. The decision to depart in February, to take leave of absence-from my kindergarten teaching position; to be, after twenty years of holding various jobs, unemployed, without an income, sailing alone around the world, was a major turning point in my life.
My Ericson 35', MK I, Alberg hull design, is a solid, full keel boat. During eleven years of ownership, she has been heavily reinforced, modified, and equipped for solo-cruising.
The running rig was altered for the purpose of safety and convenience. Sails are hoisted by halyards tended from the cockpit. Lowering sails is also accomplished from the cockpit by pulling lines led to the head of the sails. The mainsail is held on the boom by lazy jacks, and the jib is held on the deck by a net connected to the forward stanchions. This method reduces the possibility of being thrown overboard in a rough sea, and the displeasure of getting wet while working the foredeck. All new 5/16" stainless steel stays were installed, with the addition of double headstays. Having a mast stepped on deck, as my Ericson has, requires a strong support system to transfer the force, exerted through the mast, to the keel; The tabernacle was dismantled and rebuilt with heavy timbers. The mast head was strengthened. Two previous collisions with logs off the coast of Central America, suffering no damage, has given me confidence in hull strength. Nevertheless, the bow has been fortified with six layers of 24 oz. mat and epoxy resin.
The purchase of sails, ground tackle, satellite navigation, solar panels, refrigeration, and a ham radio, helped deplete the money saved during the past seven years of working two jobs, seven days per week.
By departure date, the cruising budget diminished from 12 thousand dollars to 6 thousand dollars. How can a world cruise be accomplished with a boat load of provisions and 6 thousand dollars? Only five stops are planned, and money will only be spent on essentials. That's my no-frills circumnavigation of the world.
After completion of the first leg, 1,000 miles of downwind sailing to Panama, the voyage almost ended tragically in Gatun Lock, the first lock on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. The three methods of canal transit employed by yachts are center chamber with lines tied to both sides of the lock, side tie with the boat secured along the lock wall, and, the preferred method, side tied to a tugboat. During a prior trip through the canal, the tugboat moved to the next two locks with the yacht tied alongside; why not, it doesn't effect the tug which has to proceed to the next lock to secure alongside the wall, and the yacht doesn't have to be tied and untied three times. My choice of the tug boat assist way was a mistake. The lock filled, and as we waited for the tugboat to move to the next lock, I was standing by the mast taking photos and talking to my line handlers, when I heard the tug crew throw my lines on deck as they shot forward creating a powerful backwash which contributed to the already wild turbulence produced by the 600 foot ship that was sharing the lock with tiny Love Song . Things happen quickly to a sailboat in a lock consisting of concrete walls, steel locks, and chaotic water. Before I could get to the cockpit, "Love Song " was being driven diagonally to the rear corner where the hard concrete wall joins the impenetrable steel lock. The boat was within 100 feet of demolition as the trusty 11 horse power Universal Diesel engine was gunned in reverse to set the direction; then, forward to charge ahead while clearing the wall by the length of my brave line handler's leg, which is estimated to be approximately three feet.
It was learned later, that the tugboat usually moves from one lock to the next with the yacht tied alongside; however, the tug captain reserves the right of discretion in the matter, and is required to advise the pilot who, subsequently, informs the yacht captain.
The remainder of the 51 mile canal transit was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. A series of three Gatun Locks lifted Love Song 85 feet to the level of Gatun Lake. The day was spent motorsailing across the canal with the pilot and four line handlers. By nightfall, we were lowered 85 feet by the single Pedro Miguel Lock and the two Miraflores Locks. As "Long Song" was swept out of the last lock, by the strong current, she instantly entered the Pacific Ocean. The procedure to be followed for programming a vessel for a Panama Canal transit is simple, straightforward, and time consuming. Prior to entering Cristobal, the harbor on the Caribbean side of the canal, "Panama Transit" was called on channel 16, VHF. The operator took note of my arrival, and advised me to proceed to the Flats Anchorage Area, which is bounded by two yellow buoys. A "Q" Flag attracted the attention of a Canal Boarding Officer who arrived by launch. He recorded Love Song 's permanent Canal registration number, which was logged on the computer during a 1979 canal passage. The registration number was used to retrieve specification data. Without the registration card, a vessel must be measured and assessed a toll, which is higher than that of a canal registered boat. The officer provided me with a helpful map of Colon, which showed the government facilities involved with vessel entry and canal transit procedures. This detailed illustration, written in English, contained a key, which outlined he sequence of steps the yacht owner should follow. Starting early in the day is vital. Processing occurs in five offices which are located in various buildings throughout Colon. The total fee paid was $49.00; to wit, $30.00 for a cruising permit, $10.00 for a visa, and $9.00 toll fee.
To qualify for the tranist, a yacht must have a captain, a crew of four to handle lines, and a Panama Canal Pilot, who is automatically provided, without additional cost. Four lines handlers were found aboard cruising vessels. They were happy to help as long as there was plenty of cold beer and hamburgers onboard during the passage.
If a stay in Panama City, on the Pacific side, is desired, it is no longer necessary to pay for a mooring at the Panama Yacht Club. Boats are now allowed to anchor on the west side of the channel, and use the dingy for trips to the Yacht Club dock. The passage from Panama to Bora Bora took 53 days. A sailor's repertoire cannot be complete by merrily sailing along with the wind from one direction or another, it must have a dash of stationary attitude in the doldrums. The doldrums lived up to its reputation of calms, thunder storms, and heat. Most of the ten days spent in the doldrums was used to perform maintenance, and make modifications that were scheduled to be completed prior to departure from Frederiksted. After the easterly blowing trade wind was entered in 5 degrees south latitude, 127 degrees west longitude, the ultimate in sailing pleasure was experienced; namely, downwind with 15 knots of wind and calm following seas. Day after day the Aires steering vane guided the boat. This silent partner requires only a drink of oil every six hours. Double headsails pulled Love Song along at an average speed of six knots. The same genoas were used for the entire voyage as the mainsail rested under the sail cover. Every morning the sun rose over the stern and in the evening, it sunk in the ocean before the mast.
Being an avid fisherman and habitual consumer of fish, caused me to direct the boat toward feeding birds and near banks. The sea was generous, and I accepted with thanks. It was remarkable that fish were caught even when the boat was becalmed in the doldrums. Many fish were too large to be hauled into the cockpit and, some of the big fighters, broke the heavy line. One, which was not visible, pulled the stern of the boat around 45 degrees prior to bitting through the steel leader.
I'm no longer restricted to using store-bought lures. Effective lures were fabricated from many items carried aboard. The variety of lure innovations is limited by imagination alone. Hooks can be used with dried fish skin, aluminum foil, candy wrappers, a teaspoon, and frayed line or electrical wire. The hungry fish didn't seem to mind the lack of refinement in my creations. Flying fish were collected on deck in the morning and fried for breakfast, or used as bait. Some were preserved in alcohol for future use as bait.
Lures and bait were attached to 2 feet of steel leader wire, connected to 100 feet of 150 pound test monofilm, 100 feet of 3/8" line, and 2 feet of shock cord. The 3/8" line remained in the cockpit and was used to play the big fish to the boat. The fish were hauled into the cockpit with a gaff constructed of 5/16" stainless steel rod, shaped and sharpened as a hook, and attached to a length of rounded wood.
Childhood memories of fishing along the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York were recalled as many tuna and dolphin fish dinners were enjoyed minutes after the fish were caught. A crew of four was required on many occasions to assist in consuming all the fish. At times, I ate fish four times per day for several days, or until another morsel could not be swallowed. It seems like I should be fat as a pregnant pig, but my weight has remained the same, and may still be classified as skinny. A high degree of pleasure was attained from eating good food. The main course, at sea, centered around brown rice and beans. Many people, throughout the world, subsist on this nutritious, basic carbohydrate-loaded combination. Variations on a theme of rice and beans are numerous. Every meal tasted different, as the ratio and combination of several kinds of beans were prepared with rice, onions, garlic, vegetables, canned goods, and anything else within reach.
A stainless steel pressure cooker aboard a sailboat is one of mans' best friends. This wonderful device cooks quickly and efficiently, with little demand for user participation. Another pal is the 12 volt refrigerator, which was used to preserve produce and fresh fish.
Sprouts, grown daily, was the most nutritious food consumed. Hardy handfuls were eaten daily. These tiny plants, in an early stage of development, contain an abundance of rich proteins, vitamins, enzymes, and chlorophyll. Cultivating the infant plants required ten minutes of my time, and one quart of fresh water for rinsing, four times per day. Eating fresh vegetables at sea, thousands of miles from land, is a luxury.
Prior to my departure from Frederiksted, this previous proponent of celestial navigation, without the use of electronics, succumbed to the appeal of satellite navigation. After purchasing the Magnavox MX4102, hopes ran high for all kinds of navigational innovations, and, I was not disappointed. Now, there are two things I won't leave port without: satellite navigation and M&M's with peanuts. The standard policy of not entering a port at night was violated early in the voyage, as a result of the "good old" satellite navigator. The unit provided me with position, range to destination, and course to steer. How could I resist. I followed the commands of the electronic wizard, entered port at night, and spent the remainder of the evening guzzling cold beer and eating $0.50 hamburgers in Colon, Panama.
Becalmed and drifting northwest in the swift moving Humboldt Current, east of the Galapagos Islands, in the core of the doldrum belt, a celestial fix could not be taken for five consecutive days due to overcast skies. The presence of satellite navigation relieved me of anxiety and the problem of drifting into the Galapagos Islands. As a matter of routine; celestial sights were taken with a Davis MK 25 sextant and processed twice per week to maintain the skill. Celestial fixes were graded by the impartial evaluator, satellite navigation.
This journey commenced in the Island of St. Croix, the easternmost U.S. Possession, traversed westward across the time zones and latitudes of all 50 States. After departing the Island of Tutila, otherwise known as American Samoa, the only US Possession in the Southern Hemisphere, passage will continue across the Pacific Ocean; through the Torres Strait, between New Guinea and Australia; and across the Indian Ocean to Durban, South Africa. Arrival in Durban by late October is essential to avoid the Indian Ocean cyclone season which starts in the month of November. The weather conditions at the Cape of Good Hope dictate a layover in Durban until summer arrives in the Southern Hemisphere during December. Summer will offer the best conditions for an enjoyable and safe passage around the Cape of Good Hope, alleged to be the Cape of Storms.
After sailing 7,000 miles, I'm feeling very comfortable. The Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean have provided placid waters and a constant, gentle breeze from astern. Wear on the boat has been minimal, and when considering all the rest, relaxation, and pleasure I've had during the past four months, it seams like this lone sailor is motivated to stay at sea forever.
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