Single-handed Circumnavigation of the World

Tag: adventures

by Patrick Childress

The great solar radiator brightened the horizon and warmed the cabin. I took off the oil skins, no longer needed for their warmth, and collapsed in the bunk. As the sun rose higher, the wind died, The barometer began to drop as well. Afternoon found me refreshed and awake, reading a book in the cabin. The hatch was open to a pleasant, cool day with a perfectly clear blue sky. The light wind had shifted to southwest, putting Juggernaut close hauled and poking along like an old lady on a stroll.

The barometer had been acting strangely for the past several hours. Each time I looked up from my book, the needle seemed to jump a few points downward. I stared at the needle for several minutes and saw no movement. Only after reading another page in my book would the black needle drop again in a continuation of its prank. I felt uneasy. Something ominous was happening with the weather but there was no change in wind or the bright clear sky as I peered out the hatch. Juggernaut just ghosted along. The barometer was down to 29.78. Something should be happening, but where was it? I read several more pages but could not concentrate on the words. My mind was pondering the enigmas of the weather.

A breath of wind heeled Juggernaut and gurgling water began to stroke the hull. Ahh... maybe we would still make Port Elizabeth that night. I returned to my book as the full main and number two jib sufficiently returned to their work. In the next 20 seconds I found myself standing on the side of the lee bunk watching solid sea water flood past the lee ports. The sailboat was thrown on its beam ends as we were hit with a wall of wind. By the time I was able to work myself across the face of the galley and onto the side of the cockpit seat, the main exploded from leach to luff to make a thunderous noise slapping in a full gale wind. With no mainsail, the boat righted itself a little. Short, choppy waves immediately sprung up sending clouds of spin drift pelting my face and hands while soaking my clothes and my shivering body. All of this with a perfectly clear blue sky! I reached the deck in time to watch the straining jib burst the head stay it was hanked to. I hoped the second stay would hold, but I wasn't confident of anything at that time, Where does one begin to clean up a catastrophe? The erupting main was screaming loudest. I set the self-steering vane to head Juggernaut downwind. The boat slowly started a turn to port. Moving forward, I passed the traveller and sheeted in the main, then leaped to drop the sail. This was no easy feat with the wind pressure jamming the slides in their track. Sail secured and lashed to the boom, I moved to retrieve the soggy white mess trailing next to the hull. No sooner did I have a grip on the sail than I had to release it and go back to secure the main. A small flap of sail caught in the wind, billowing the whole mess from its lashings. Normally, two lashings secured that sail. I was kept running back and forth to find spare lashings and finally used eight to secure every fluttering bit of the mainsail.

The jib was a sea anchor. Inch by inch, I fought to spill the water and pull the sail on board. The now vertical five foot waves tried to roll the boat, but the blizzard winds on the rigging kept it heeled and somewhat stabilized.

I struggled to set the storm jib onto the remaining head stay and pointed Juggernaut for land 10 miles away, hoping not to lose too much ground while gaining protection in the lee of the shore. If there was to be any serious damage in this storm, help was close at hand. Four ships had me surrounded! I called the closest, Diamond Glory. The officer said he had me on radar but not in sight and promised not to run over me. He told me the wind had now stabilized at 38 knots!

A day later the wind subsided and shifted northerly, helping me to limp into Port Elizabeth. I had a pleasant homecoming when I spotted the little red and white Laurel James. Juggernaut nosed in and tied up to the high concrete quay just as Jim and Laurel emerged from their cabin wearing their ever-present reception smiles. "Hey, you bloody Yank! How did Juggernaut do in the storm?" My reply, "I just poured on the sail and got here faster! "

After leaving East London, Jim and Laurel had a pleasant, uneventful one-day downwind sail to Port Elizabeth, They showed me the newspaper headlines for the day of the storm - "51 Knot Wrecker Winds Destroy School."

The city of Port Elizabeth is as clean and orderly as Durban. Unlike American cities, there are never litter-filled curbs or slum-ridden areas. There seems to be a perpetual modernization program throughout South Africa.

For three weeks I toured Port Elizabeth and the interior. While away, Juggernaut mysteriously changed colors! Manganese being loaded onto carriers had been blowing across the harbor to impregnate the gel coat rendering the once-white hull gray. Now I understood why there were no white or bright-colored yachts in Port Elizabeth, just odd shades of gray. I tried an assortment of cleaners, including acid and bleach, but nothing would remove the discoloration,

Laurel James had the jump on me again, They left Port Elizabeth with a northeast wind blowing them the 500 miles to Cape Town in five easy days.

With my friends safely in Cape Town, I felt confident for making a fast passage around the Capes. In comparison, Juggernaut had always had faster passages than the Laurel James, so surely I could cover the same 500 miles in four days. Apparently as a warning and reminder, the day I was to leave for Capetown, a South African yacht came limping into Port Elizabeth. Snapped mizzen boom, blown out main and mizzen sails, sheets, lines and halyards knotted into macramé. The 52' Bonzer, another victim of a clear air gale.

It was an afternoon departure from Port Elizabeth tacking against a gentle northeaster with a forecast that the wind would continue from that direction.

The first night back at sea was one of the most beautiful I've ever experienced. I was traveling on a thin rim between two universes. A perfectly clear sky and all the stars of the heavens illuminated, appearing as thin banks of clouds, The stellars had a hard task displaying their constellations from this background of scintillating confusion. The sea was a universe vying for attention with ubiquitous turquoise explosions of phosphorescent plankton mirroring a response to the heavens. Brilliant meteors momentarily etched the sky while long serpentine tails sparkled, then dissolved around Juggernaut as dolphins played below the waves.

Danger floated and stalked on the rim with me. Red, green, and white lights in the distance betrayed the presence of my mortal enemies. While watching three of these assailants, a fourth sneaked up from behind. The ploy nearly worked! There was just enough time to disengage the self-steering, lay the helm over and, with the help of the engine, motor sail out of imminent disaster.

On the second of September, my second day out of Port Elizabeth, Juggernaut was back to drifting and, at best, merely ghosting. The barometer remained high at 30.9, Ten miles offshore, Juggernaut was slicing a small wake on the otherwise mirror like sea when I noticed something following and rolling 30 feet astern. It wasn't a large animal, but quick in motion, too quick for me to gain a good look in its short flashes on the surface. All I could tell was the color was not that of the dolphin it was mimicking. The animal suddenly stopped and peered with its head like a periscope. A fur seal! The seal continued to follow for five minutes, apparently taking very quick, shallow breaths on each roll, Later, I was to see many seals tag along behind the boat emulating the same curiosity and playfulness as their more aquatically adapted cousins.

On the fifth day at sea, Cape Agulhas lighthouse drifted into sight. This marks the southernmost point of South Africa and the southernmost latitude of my circumnavigation. I had become impatient and decided to motor across this lake surrounding the third worst cape in the world so I could then turn northwest to Cape of Good Hope, 95 miles away. I was surprised to see a settlement of houses so close to the ocean on Cape Agulhas, I could imagine during one of the frequent storms waves lashing at the doorsteps and spume clouding the windows, These must be hardy people who don't mind salt in their bed sheets.

During the next 36 hours, Juggernaut drifted or motored and for hour spurts was blown by 35 knot winds towards Cape Hope and its neighbor a half mile away, Cape Point Lighthouse In the evening, five miles south of Cape Point, Juggernaut sat idle on a mirror sea at the entrance to False Bay. With the Tilley lantern spreading its light from high in the rigging. I retired for a 1 0-hour sleep. In the morning, I found Juggernaut idle as ever and still five miles from the Cape.

I was fortunate to experience such poor sailing weather, for the aquatic sights were incredible. The cold sea was a soup of plankton supporting an abundance of marine life to rival the Galapagos. Fur seals bobbed about like skin-divers stalking fish. Others hung vertically with only their hind flippers flapping lazily in the sunshine. Some seals slept on their backs while all four flippers caught the sun rays which warms blood flowing through the flippers and increases the internal body temperature allowing these mammals to tolerate the cold water, Awkward looking penguins addled about looking front-heavy and straining to keep afloat. I wondered how many of these seals and penguins become the food of massive sharks found along this coast. Even a large school of common dolphin paid Juggernaut a visit. The skies were as active with life as the sea. Yellow-headed boobies, known as Cape Gannets, twisted and spiraled amongst squadrons of cormorants, wandering albatrosses, gulls and birds I've never seen before, The capes of South Africa are thick with an awesome assortment of wildlife.

The spell of ecstasy was broken by a slight swell which rocked Juggernaut. The barometer was at 29.89, the lowest since leaving Port Elizabeth. Immediately I put a double reef in the main and set the storm jib. I sat and waited for an hour, and nothing happened, but the swell increased. Before it hit,

I decided to motor to Cape Point and take pictures of the lighthouse. At the point, I could see in the distance a line on the water. One side was calm and the other rippled from wind. Motoring across the threshold, the storm sails filled, light at first, but soon the wind was blowing 20 knots. After setting the

self-steering vane, I went below to listen to the weather report from Cape Town Radio on Channel 26. Fifteen to 25 knot winds from the northwest were predicted. By the time I turned off the radio and reached the cockpit the wind was howling 35 knots! I kept Juggernaut in the lee close to the rocky shore and tacked, waiting for the weather to coincide with the report. After four hours, the weather only worsened, with winds up to 45 knots. Defeated, I turned Juggernaut around and hugged the coast as we searched for shelter. Running back around Cape Hope and Cape Point, anchorage was found in a large, exposed cove two miles to the northwest. The northwest wind was blocked by high mountains and what breeze there was had little fetch to disturb the anchorage, Only when the wind shifted to the exposed northeast quadrant did the waves roll Juggernaut nearly to its side while I took refuge in the quarter berth.

Padded with wet sail bags I cushioned myself during the worst of the weather.

In the morning, the wind dies and the seas fell as rapidly as they appeared the day before. After breakfast, Juggernaut motored past Cape Point for the third time and resumed drifting to the north. In two hours a favorable wind finally sprang up from the southeast and Juggernaut sailed through mist and rain and freighters towards Cape Town. Just after sundown we passed the breakwater of Cape Town harbor as a new southeast gale unleashed itself with determination to blow Juggernaut back to sea, The nine-horse outboard fought and strained and eventually we made our way to the yacht club.

The docks superintendent at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, Bob Catamore, cordially received me in the blowing turmoil while smiling. Jim and Laurel, huddled in their warmest clothes, lashed Juggernaut to a temporary berth at the fuel dock. Jim yelled through the cold blasts, "Patrick, how do you always get yourself caught up in these gales?" "Don't know what you're talking about," I screamed back. "This is nice fast sailing weather!"

Seven days and 500 miles from Port Elizabeth, Juggernaut was at rest again.

Days later, Jim and I were comparing our passages around the Capes of South Africa in the "wrong season," It was mutually agreed there are advantages of being ahead of the other yachters. Dock space is easier found, the yacht club operators are less burdened, leaving more time for our individual problems, leaving a visiting yachter with the often heard remark, "We normally don't do this for visitors, just don't tell anyone about it." More congeniality is shown for those who are ahead of the pack.

For strategy, Jim made it all sound so easy when he echoed, "Just wait for a southwest gale to pass through, then catch the north wind shift like Laurel and I did!"

The entire passage from Cape Town to St. Thomas was the easy downhill run that I had anticipated- Two stops were made on the Atlantic crossing. First I spent 10 days in St. Helena,

where I toured the island with other yachtie friends. Our separate yachts were the first to visit this desolate island for the 'season.' The receptiveness and hospitality of those living on St. Helena makes the island one of my favorite spots in the world.

The downwind double headsail weather continued to Ascension Island, 710 miles to the NNW. Geologically, Ascension is a very new volcanic island. There was little to take pictures of other than the radar installations which crown every mountain peak. The island is so coarse and rugged that few people could live there if it were not for the small American military base and associated missile tracking equipment. The anchorage at Ascension was miserable. Its only virtue is that it is located on the northwest side of the island, opposite the trade winds. However, there was a large surge moving in from the north sending huge breakers crashing ashore which required Juggernaut to anchor well off. Going ashore was quite a trick. Exact timing of the waves required one to row up to the concrete stairway without the fiberglass dinghy being smashed, While racing up the stairs a long painter had to be uncoiled as the backwash and wind carried the dinghy seaward and hopefully to safety. Yachts are allowed three

days at Ascension but Juggernaut stayed only two.

The remaining leg of the Atlantic crossing continued at an unpredicted fast pace. At this point in the circumnavigation the 140 and 170 genoas had become worn-out rags and the little 110 somehow continued at its work somewhat intact. The main was not used on the Atlantic crossing till Juggernaut

passed the equator and pick up the easterly winds. This close to the end I did not want to push the boat as I had on previous passages. At times I intentionally slowed the boat down to carry out some plankton experiments. I tried eating plankton raw and in several cooked forms. It certainly has potential as supplementary food for the long passagemaker or as a nutrient source for the castaway. I am currently working on a report of these preliminary findings.

The one hazard that has nearly ruined this circumnavigation most often plagued me once again near the equator. I woke one morning to find a ship headed due west, 300 yards to Juggernaut's port. Judging from its speed and direction, the freighter must have squeezed by just in front of me. I might have been a bit concerned about the safety of Juggernaut during a gale or two in the Indian Ocean, but that came nowhere close to the mounting apprehension of being run down by a ship. So many close calls could only make me think that the odds were falling quickly from my favor, At one time I had on board a "Ra-alert" ships radar detector. The thing cost $150, proved worthless, and wound up over the side. With or

without crew, I would never consider sailing around the world without a radar detector which worked.

Once Juggernaut closed on the Windward Islands fringing the Caribbean, I headed for the wide passage between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. I had charts for the islands if a stop was needed. Rain filled the water tank and enough food was on board for another month. There were still books to read and projects to complete on board so I sailed past these uninviting islands with their poverty and crime.

I tried to make it for the New Year's celebrations but arrived in St. Thomas crossing my outbound track on the morning of January 2, 1982, two and a half years after leaving. After calculating the daily runs, I determined that Juggernaut averaged 131 miles per day for the 6,156-mile Atlantic crossing.

This passage was put in perspective when a little lady I met in Cape Town flew from South Africa to New York to St. Thomas in 24 hours. It took Juggernaut 47 sailing days in a direct route from Africa to St. Thomas. The completion of the circumnavigation is not an entirely happy occasion,

as it means the end of the vacation and back to work. Hopefully, in two years Juggernaut 2 will be nosing its way southwest, headed for the Panama Canal.


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