I first became acquainted with Randall Reeves when he contacted me via email some time back, seeking boat-buying advice. I often get queries like this, so I didn’t think much of it at the time, though I was pleased that he, like me, favored aluminum as a hull material. I suppose the fact that he was most interested in plate thickness and hull scantlings should have tipped me off that he was up to something unusual.
The 41ft full-keeled boat that Randall ended up buying, which I had admired for many years, is quite unique and rugged. Built in aluminum by Dubbel & Jesse in Norderney, Germany, in 1989, the boat’s first owner, a German sailor/journalist named Clark Stede, christened her Asma and with filmmaker Michelle Poncini sailed her on a first-ever voyage around both North and South America in 1990-93. In 1994 Stede sold the boat to Tony and Coryn Gooch, who renamed her Taonui and cruised her together, mostly in high latitudes, for a number of years before Tony set out in 2002 on another first-ever voyage—a nonstop solo circumnavigation via the Southern Ocean, starting from and returning to the west coast of North America. The boat’s next owners, Glenn and Ann Bainbridge (they named her Gjoa), never partook of a first-ever voyage, but they weren’t exactly slouches and did notch up a two-year transit of the Northwest Passage.
Randall bought the boat in early 2016 from the Bainbridges and has worked incessantly preparing her for yet another first-ever voyage that, interestingly, is essentially the sum of her first two first-ever voyages. This will be a one-year solo double circumnavigation around both of the Americas and Antarctica, including a Northwest Passage transit combined with a Southern Ocean circumnavigation, that Randall calls the Figure 8 Voyage. The boat itself he now calls Moli, which is the native Hawaiian name for the Laysan albatross.
The challenges posed by Randall’s venture are, like his boat, rather unique. First, on its face, it combines into one single voyage what most would consider the two most challenging voyages a modern solo sailor can make. Fewer than 150 solo sailors have completed circumnavigations via the Southern Ocean; only three have braved the Northwest Passage. In addition to the problems posed by the individual voyages, there is another set posed by the combination of the two. Randall’s route will take him through all of the world’s oceans, the Arctic Circle, close to the Antarctic Circle and will take him twice around Cape Horn. And to make it all work he has to complete his circumnavigation of Antarctica and his two transits of the Horn as close to the heart of the southern summer as he can manage, and then must appear in further reaches of the Northern Hemisphere in time to take advantage of the very narrow summer window through which yachts might transit the Northwest Passage, typically little more than a month, from early August to mid-September.
As I write this in mid-October 2017 Randall is poised to strike out from his home port in San Francisco, having been momentarily delayed by a problem with his prop shaft log. By the time you read this he will, hopefully, have just rounded Cape Horn for the first time. Given the importance of timing to his success, he has carefully worked out a spreadsheet of transit distances and times. He expects his fastest time might be about 10 months over a distance of almost 36,000 miles, and his slowest could be about 12 months over a distance of a little over 45,000 miles. He has tried to anticipate every contingency, but of course, on a voyage like this, there is a good chance some unforeseen emergency might arise.
Fortunately for sailors like you and me who are forced into their armchairs during the dead of the northern winter, Randall has cobbled together enough sponsorship to afford a full suite of modern communications and will be regularly posting updates on his adventure, complete with photos and video. You can follow him online at figure8voyage.com.