It is a relatively easy task to describe a passage made under sail between two points. One can record in the log book information such as times of departure and arrival, weather forecast and actual weather encountered along the way; swell frequency and height, wind direction and strength, speed over the ground, velocity made good, distance and time remaining to next waypoint or destination. If it was necessary to clear immigration and customs how did that go? What is the estimated time of arrival, before or after dark? Was it necessary to heave-to until morning, until conditions improved, until you have a favorable current, until there is sufficient depth to clear bottom or to delay entry to the destination in order to avoid overtime fees for a too early or late arrival? Did dinner end up on the sole? Any interesting sightings of fish or fowl? Was an evasive maneuver required to avoid collision with another vessel, log or whale? Were you able to sleep? Was the boat motion uncomfortable due to quartering seas? Was the passage on or off the wind, fast or slow, wet or dry? How many ships were sighted and did you communicate with them? Did you have to use the "iron jenny" after waiting a day and a half drifting, waiting for wind? Was rolling due to the swell uncomfortable? Was the boat turned the wrong direction by the swell in windless conditions? Was there sail damage or gear failure on the passage? Did you have to call for a tow because the "iron jenny" refused to start on approach to your destination? Did crew complain incessantly, asking how much further to go? Were they sea sick? Was crew helpful, a pleasure to have aboard or someone you'd have walk the plank - if only you had one and could? These are only some of the things considered, experienced, and dealt with on a passage.
A circumnavigation of the earth in a relatively small vessel includes all of the above - multiplied many times - and in as many varied combinations as you can imagine.
The boat is a platform in continuous motion. Crew is more or less uncomfortable depending upon wind strength, frequency, and height of swell, vessel direction of travel in relation to waves, and whether the the boat is sailing on or off the wind. In addition to constant motion are the sounds made by the boat moving over the waves. Day after day, sometimes week after week - rarely for more than a month - the motion and sounds wear on you. Sleep is furtive. Waves move rhythmically across the ocean surface, none the same but remarkably alike, until 'the three' arrive. I've never timed the interval between these waves, but there are always three - the first larger than the second and third. All are larger than the typical wave. If they are on the boat's quarter, the first - depending upon a boat's size - seems determined to pick the boat up and put her on her beam. They can be not only a source of aggravation, but dangerous. I was once thrown backwards by one of these waves while below preparing a meal. The force of my falling against a door jam caused it to break. Oddly enough, the size of these waves is affected not only by an increase in wind strength, but reduced wind strength too.
I doubt most cruisers have ever heard these words - "messenger wave" and "gate keeper;" two words I've coined to describe wave and cloud phenomena I've experienced over the years. They'll probably never become widely used, but this is how sailing terms and lore develop over time. I digress.
What motivates anyone to undertake such an endeavor as sailing a global circumnavigation? The reasons vary in as many ways as there are sailors who've tackled the job. Politics, need for a lifestyle change, a friendly bet, or offer of reward if completed, retired and nothing better to do, money to burn, need for adventure, running from the law or bill collector, divorce or death of a spouse, you name it. I've probably encountered at least one person fitting each of these categories in my eighteen years of sailing experience. The worst reason for tackling a circumnavigation would be to find one's self. You may not like who you find... In my case, it was unplanned. The political, social, and cultural environment back home played a part in affecting my decision. My plan after all, was a straight forward seasonal round trip between San Diego and Mexico. But as I always say, you never know...
Blue water cruisers tend to forget the worst moments and experiences as they move on. We remember the best crossings, the fastest but not necessarily the best. We remember sighting the pod of killer whales and watching the sea bird sleep overnight in a seemingly most precarious position on the boom or bow pulpit. We are amazed that with head under wing, it manages not to fall off. We initially mourn the flying fish lying on deck in a state of rigor mortis. If only I'd seen it land on deck in time, I could have tossed it overboard... Then, with the passage of time, the numbers of fatal landings by flying fish become an accepted inevitably - over which we have no power to change. We accept this inevitability, reminded of our own mortality. There is a lot about sailing on the ocean that reminds us of our mortality, yet we remain unafraid. Notable circumnavigator and author Tristan Jones reminds us there is no room for fear on a little boat. Concern yes, fear no. Fear has a paralyzing affect and prevents one from doing what has to be done. And, in blue water sailing, there are many moments when one must be prepared to do what must be done.
There is a lot that has nothing to do with sailing when attempting a voyage encompassing a distance approximating the circumference of the earth. Some of this can be rewarding, entertaining, and educational. For me, there is nothing quite alluring and lovely as tamure - the traditional Polynesian dance. We often erroneously refer to it as the hula. Of the many things I enjoyed about my visit to French Polynesia, this among all others is a reason I'd return. Open markets with fresh vegetables, fish, meat, and pastries are encountered in most destinations in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean, and many Islands en route to Australia. Annual celebrations are held in most places we visit - offering dance, music, and food fare for all to enjoy. There is simply too much to say about what we find after making landfall and having paid our dues en route. Most anything you enjoy doing and within the bounds of human imagination is going to be possible somewhere along the way.
Food fare on an ocean passage depends largely upon what's available along the way. In my case, since I choose to not have refrigeration aboard - I leave with longer lasting fruit like apples and vegetables like potatoes and onions. Garlic is a frequent addition to meals. Beans last forever provided they are kept dry. Eggs, contrary to common belief, like mayonnaise and most condiments, need not be refrigerated. The latter needs to be handled carefully, avoiding the introduction of pathogens and proteins. I'll usually leave with a skinned chicken cooked in the pressure cooker. Brought to pressure for a few minutes after each meal kills any possible pathogens, enabling me to consume the chicken over a week or so. I enjoy burritos, BBQ sandwiches, chicken fried rice, chicken curry - all meals this technique makes possible. There are of course canned tomatoes, canned tuna, and pasta. Cans of miscellaneous vegetables and meat for those times when conditions prevent cooking are ready to eat meals. Peanuts, bagged chips, and trail mix.Chinese noodles, rice, and cereal. Flour, yeast, and sugar for bread. At first, making bread was tedious - and seemed to be more work than it is worth. But, as the product improved with experience, I've found preparation is easier. While I like pancakes, it's a challenge to cook and eat them on a rolling boat. One must prevent the batter from landing on the sole; keep ahead enough to satisfy demand, and avoid burning what's in the skillet. My favorite breakfast is pan fries and eggs.
Then there is the downside. Immigration and customs. Fees. On the occasion of my first voyage, with the exception of Australia and the Maldives, fees were not a major expense. Now however, fees that were non-existent in many places are now imposed, and where fees were charged - they are now significantly higher. There is the possibility, no matter how remote, some will become targets of theft or violence. The theft can be perpetrated by an "official." As a matter of fact, my view is the probability of you being robbed by an 'official' or government employee may be greater than any chance of being robbed by John Doe on the street. Some cruisers have been robbed and or become victims of violent acts while on their boat at anchor. Some have been murdered. Particularly in the Caribbean, thefts involving dinghies and or outboard motors is on the rise. Needless to say, one must constantly be alert and conscious of his or her surroundings.
There are the quiet moments at anchor with a soft breeze and gorgeous sunset. Sometimes when under sail, we're treated to a setting sun in the west and rising moon to the east. At other times, the Milky Way in all its glory paints the night sky. A full moon, and sometimes encroaching clouds, casts a veil over the stars.
Whether at anchor or under way, the possibility an approaching low, black cloud may harbor strong wind capable of rending sails or causing the boat's anchor to drag is cause for concern. Cause for even greater concern is when an approaching ship on a collision course fails to reply to a V.H.F call. There are only moments of "concern," because there is no room on a small boat for fear. Never forget - NO ROOM FOR FEAR!
So, on it goes - day in and day out. Sometimes verging on sheer monotony. Sometimes exhilarating. But, never a boring moment.
My first voyage lasted four years and three months. This one will be about the same, because I spent nearly a year longer in Australia, bypassing South East Asia.More questions on Sailing: