A Conversation with Roger Swanson

Rare is the sailing resume that boasts 217,928 miles, three circumnavigations, multiple voyages through the Arctic and Antarctic and the first east-west crossing of the Northwest Passage by an American-flagged sailboat.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Rare is the sailing resume that boasts 217,928 miles, three circumnavigations, multiple voyages through the Arctic and Antarctic and the first east-west crossing of the Northwest Passage by an American-flagged sailboat. Pretty impressive for a Midwestern-born pig farmer-cum-electrical engineer-cum-entrepreneur, but no one ever accused Roger Swanson, of Dunnell, Minnesota, of mediocrity.

Swanson, who sadly passed away at the age of 81 on December 25, 2012 after a battle with cancer, became enamored with oceans during his three-year stint as a Navy officer; afterward, he raced Midwestern scows and began chartering in the Caribbean. In 1976 he bought a CSY 44 and five years later upgraded to Cloud Nine, a 1975 Bowman 57 cutter-rigged ketch. Swanson sailed 207,428 miles aboard Cloud Nine, including 80,000-plus miles with Gaynelle Templin, his second wife and consummate first mate. SAIL spoke with him shortly before his passing, and we extend our deepest condolences to his many friends and family. 

What were the hardest miles you’ve sailed?

My second trip to Antarctica…the goal was to cross the Antarctic Circle, and we got hammered on our way back, with a constant 35-75 knots on our nose. We were trying to re-enter the Antarctic Archipelago, but the high winds and constant ice forced us to remain hove-to for three days before the winds

subsided.

Have you ever been scared?

In an emergency, I never had time to be scared. One time we were sailing in about 35 knots, 250 miles from Land’s End, England, and at 0400 hours, we lost steerage—we had broken the quadrant casting. We struggled to fix it, but the winds increased to 55 to 60-plus knots. A rogue wave hit us and dropped us on our port side, shattering our portholes. We were at close to 90 degrees, and we took on 500 gallons of water before she righted herself. We used cabin locker covers, a hand drill and sheet-metal screws to cover the opening, drilling right into the fiberglass. Hypothermia was a problem, but in the morning we fixed the steering and continued on.

You were run down by a freighter while at anchor, no?

It was at Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The incoming freighter failed to drop a stern anchor and couldn’t stop. She ran over our anchor rodes and dismasted us. It was a tangled mess, but we jury-rigged the boat—turning her into a schooner—and sailed 2,000 miles to New Zealand. We got a lot of interesting comments as we entered various ports en route!


What about ice?

On our first Northwest Passage attempt in 1994, a massive ice-pack started closing in on us. We tied up behind a huge grounded ice flow to protect ourselves from the closing pack, but for three or four days it was looking pretty grim, with the danger of both our ice barrier and ourselves being pushed ashore by increased pack pressure. We finally got a wind shift and escaped through five miles of five-tenths ice concentration. 

Was the NW Passage your Siren’s Song?

After our failed 2005 attempt, I said “never again,” but I’m a stubborn Swede from Minnesota. I got a call from Cambridge Bay [Canada] saying that [2007] might be a good ice year, so I called my 2005 crew and they were game. This time, we made it.

Is this your biggest sailing

achievement?

It’s probably more like my most unique experience, but completing my first circumnavigation with my sons was a pretty memorable accomplishment.

Any advice for other cruisers?

If you want to go cruising, do it. If I had waited until I had the time and could afford it, I wouldn’t have left Minnesota.

Photos courtesy of Roger Swanson

Related

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more

210111-Vendee

Vendée Update: Josche Forced to Abandon

A week ago, the canting keel on Isabelle Jocshe's IMOCA 60, MACSF, failed. She managed a jury rig with a replacement ram, which held the keel centerline and allowed her to keep sailing, but with a major hit to her speed potential. Jocshe had been in 8th at the time and remained ...read more

rudder

Vendee Update: Emergency Rudder Replacement

A devastated Hare talks about the breakage Pip Hare (Medallia) is back in the game after an emergency rudder repair deep in the Southern Ocean. “Every part of my body aches. I have bloody knuckles on every finger, bruises all down my legs and muscles I didn't know I had that ...read more

Oracle-RBYACFEVD3_2870

PRADA Cup Pairings Announced

The schedule for the PRADA Cup has been revealed as a multitiered extravaganza featuring over a month of racing, stretching from January 15 through February 22. First, the three teams—American Magic, INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli—will face off in a 12-race, six-day ...read more

01-LEAD-Opener-ETNZ1_-106_silo

The 36th America's Cup

A Superbowl is a Superbowl, and a World Series is a World Series. Sure, the names of the players and the teams change from year-to-year, but otherwise, the game pretty much remains the same. Not so the America’s Cup. Still, in many ways a hot mess left over from the days of Queen ...read more