Solo sailor JEFF HARTJOY winds up his circumnavigation, but not without a few more setbacks. In this fourth and final installment, we join him off Australia’s Cape Leeuwin
Today, on Day 109 of this voyage, there is good news and bad news.
The good news is that we will pass the last two capes—Tasmania’s South East Cape and New Zealand’s West Cape—in the next 2,500 miles. The bad news is we will be in close proximity to land, both off Tasmania and New Zealand, in an area that is known for its violent weather. I’m not only a little concerned, but praying to a higher power for a little help on this one.
Today one of my biggest fears nearly becomes reality when we are slammed by a rogue wave, and I’m tossed across the galley. My right shoulder slams into the edge of the open aft cabin doorway, and my head snaps back into the same sharp edge. I see stars for several seconds. Luckily, my stocking cap was rolled up and absorbs some of the battering. Nonetheless, I will be hurting for a few days, and all the daily tasks suddenly seem much larger. Tasmania’s South East Cape is 210 miles away, and my top speed of the voyage so far is 14.1 knots.
Next morning I awake to sunshine and a northwesterly wind that is driving me to the south, forcing me to gybe to get back on course. I’m beginning to realize what it is like to live on a survival basis. It’s almost like an experiment, where you isolate yourself from all sources of replenishment and any interaction with other people. Mother Nature provides the challenges you must deal with daily, and good planning on your food supply will determine how well you hold up. What fascinates me the most is the opportunity to study survival up close on a personal level.
I know hunger is man’s strongest driving force, with sex being second. But I will wait to cover that in the next adventure! What I have learned out here so far is that with a year and a half to plan and obtain my needed supplies, I have still fallen short in some areas—and that was with the knowledge that I needed supplies for five to seven months.
Day 117 — BARE POLES AGAIN
24hr run: 142nm. Position: 46°23’S, 142°25’E. Wind: WNW 45kts gusting 60+kts. Seas: 15-30+ft. Cabin temperature: 55°-58°. Barometer: 986mb.
Today the winds are blowing 45-plus knots, and the seas are running 20ft. I’m sailing under staysail alone and exceeding 7 knots at times. The low continues to strengthen as it moves to the southeast toward New Zealand.
At 1330 I’m forced to go to bare poles as the winds are gusting past 60 knots, and by 1900, after recording boatspeeds of over 12 knots, it’s time to set out the drogue. After the failure of the factory drogue, I decide to use two fishing floats in a rope webbing with a swivel and about 30ft of 3/8in chain attached to 400ft of 5/8in three-strand nylon line. It seems to work, and we slow to less than 5 knots.
The difference between this storm and the previous one is that it doesn’t last as long, and the sustained winds are a little lower, not producing the same enormous seas. Still, we are slammed many times by breaking waves, the sailing is precarious, and it seems there is always something new to be experienced. This time it is what has to be a white squall, with sustained winds of 50 knots. Under sunny skies, I first notice what appears to be a long white cloud that seems to be lying on the surface of the water as it draws closer from astern. Soon afterward, the wind screeches and screams and begins pummeling Sailors Run as I dive below and batten down the hatches. Fortunately, it is short-lived, and within 15 minutes its deadly force is gone, a truly remarkable first-time experience for this sailor.
After that, the wind howls throughout the night, and on many occasions, Sailors Run is slammed by powerful breaking waves, though little water finds its way below. I roll out of my berth at 0300 after riding to the drogue for eight hours and decide to winch it in. This thing really bites into the sea, and it takes nearly an hour to get it back aboard. Afterward, I decide to remain under bare poles until the squalls subside a bit. It is late in the day before the wind begins to drop.
After 119 days, 4 hours and 11 minutes, Sailors Run now sails abeam of Tasmania’s South East Cape! It’s our fourth cape, and we are now off to New Zealand and Cape No. 5, about 850 miles to the east-southeast. Late in the day, the wind increases to 45 knots, and we are pummeled again by very rough seas overnight, sailing under staysail alone.
Day 121 — SAIL REPAIR
24hr run: 78nm. Position: 45°41’S, 150°58’E. Wind: Variable 5-15kts. Seas: 8-15ft. Cabin temperature: 58°-65°. Barometer: 1020mb.
Have you ever had one of those days you wished you had just stayed in bed? This morning I decide to pull Patches (the genoa) down for repairs. Once I’m up on deck, though, I notice the staysail sheet is chafed down to the core.
Now I must pull everything out of the lazarette—the 60lb CQR anchor, 1,000ft of line and miscellaneous other items—to get to the replacement sheet. I replace the chafed sheet and reverse the other one, as it seems to chafe on the forward lower shroud of the mast. I’ve just loaded the caulking gun with silicone to plug some leaks when I hear a loud pop, and there goes the mainsail. Closer examination reveals that the sheet has parted, and the 4in block attached to the clew is flying wildly about. This is an easy fix, as the mainsheet is extra-long and only 7ft of it was beyond the break.
Finally, I roll out Patches and get her down on the deck, where I’m pleasantly surprised to see that she only has the one tear, as opposed to the two or three I usually find once she’s down. Soon the patch is on, and I begin to feed the sail into the foil on the furler. This is not easy to do singlehanded, and after about six trips between the foil and the mast, I only have the sail halfway up. Then, on the seventh trip, a 15-knot gust blows the sail off the deck and over the side.
At first, I’m not too concerned, as I believe there isn’t enough sail to even reach the water. Much to my surprise, though, as we roll to starboard a 15ft swell comes through, and Patches scoops up a ton of water and is destroyed right before my eyes. I watch in horror as the sail rips all along the foot just above the UV cover, and then up the leech. At the same time, a seam goes in the middle and yet another section gives way. Eventually, I’m able to drag the pieces aboard, but as I look at what’s left, which is now covered with blue bottom paint, I am tempted to toss the whole damn thing right back over the side.
No! I can’t throw the sail away. There are just too many miles left to go. The repairs might take weeks, but I can do it, so why not?
It’s Day 123, and Sailors Run is sailing along nicely on course for New Zealand’s South Cape. I have an interesting study going on with the various types of mold I find aboard and have come to realize there are some major differences. Take the green mold that grows on the cheese and four-month-old bread: this mold has a kind of a sharp bite to it, like extra-sharp cheddar cheese, but let me tell you it is nothing compared to the black mold that lurks in the bottom of my oatmeal box. One day I take a bite of that black oatmeal and—Holy Hell!—next thing I know I’m spitting the stuff out and can’t get that taste out of my mouth and throat no matter how I try. Fifteen minutes later my lips start feeling numb, my face starts to tingle, and even my hands feel funny. Now I’m starting to get worried. Finally, I make myself a cup of lime juice, put a couple of shots of rum in it and guzzle it down, which makes me feel much better. I don’t know what to say, except to hell with the “waste not want not” program I had going.
It is on day 127 that I have my first conversation for I don’t know how long with another real person. It is a struggle to talk to my longtime cruising friend, Edd on the boat AKA, who is running a single sideband net from New Zealand. It turns out that talking is one of those use-it-or-lose-it things, as I could barely make my voice loud enough to be heard.
By Day 146, Patches not only has 43 patches on her but her most recent disaster required an average of seven hours a day of sewing for 23 days to make it right once again. You can only imagine how carefully I hoist the sail this time around.
Day 152 — STEERING FAILURE.
24hr run: 150nm. Position: 41°54’S, 148°48W. Wind: W12-15kts. Seas: 6-10ft. Cabin temperature: 60°-65°. Barometer: 997mb.
I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of luffing sails and discover we are 60 degrees off course. I get my foulweather gear on and go topside. Disconnecting the wind vane, I give the wheel a spin and am shocked as I watch it spin like the wheel of fortune. Once again a steering cable has failed. This sends a wave of fear through me, as I have been unable to find the spare cables, and each fix shortens the wire to the point where eventually it won’t be possible to make a repair. One cable is broken, and the other cable has some broken strands where it attaches to the chain, which means it needs to be remade as well.
Ultimately, the repair takes eight hours, and I have to drill out the chain to get a shackle to fit onto the end to make up for lost wire. I also use my Makita cutting wheel to carefully cut the copper crimp off the cable, saving 4in of much-needed length. Even after taking these steps the cables just barely go back on the quadrant, and if this should happen again, I will have to resort to the emergency tiller and make changes to the lines from the wind vane to be able to steer the boat.
Next morning, I am once again awakened by flogging sails. We are off course again, and it doesn’t take long to discover the servo rudder on the Monitor has broken off for the third time and is once again trailing in the wake behind the boat. This will not be an easy fix either, as the winds have risen to 30 knots, gusting to 40, and I must drop the mizzen as well as the small portion of Patches that is still flying on the furler.
Now we are under staysail alone. In these steep, breaking 15-20ft seas, neither running off nor heaving-to are safe options. I play with the balance of the boat and eventually get her sailing just a little downwind, so that she seems to nearly be sailing herself, allowing me to hang off the back of the boat and make the repairs to the windvane. After just four hours of precarious goings-on, we are being steered by the windvane again, on course at good speed.
Now, on Day 155, I have a choice to make. I can wait and take the faster route back to Ecuador, sailing close to the Chilean coast and riding the Humboldt Current north, or I can turn north a little sooner and get to warmer weather that much more quickly. In a moment of weakness, I decide to take the easy way out, because the conditions can get pretty savage off the Chilean coast, and things don’t look great according to the weatherfaxes I’ve been receiving. By turning north a bit sooner there should be less likelihood of severe weather—and both Sailors Run and I have just about seen enough of that! So far we have sailed 20,938 nautical miles, and in 814 miles, at 110°W, we will turn north.
Day 161 — DAY OF RECKONING
24hr run: 64nm. Postion: 40°29’S, 129°19’W. Wind: N-NE5-40+kts. Seas: 8-15ft. Cabin temperature:66°-68°. Barometer: 989mb.
The day of reckoning is upon us as the winds steadily build and the barometer plunges. Just after dinner the wind heads us, pushing us south, and rises to the point where I decide to drop the mainsail. I tack over onto starboard, pounding to weather on a heading of 345 degrees, giving up progress to the east. The seas are now rising to 10-12ft, and Sailors Run bashes into them head-on.
Now I begin to wonder if I have tacked too soon and am giving up too many hard earned miles. In no time the wind is gusting over 40kts, and even though it is dark and time to sleep, the Jefe gets none. I squirm in my bunk, the safest place in bad weather, and wonder what kind of Pandora’s Box I have opened by heading directly into this low.
Although Sailors Run has been my warhorse so many times before, on this voyage, I still feel my stomach muscles tense as she vaults off one huge wave and comes crashing down into the face of another. The mast shudders, the entire hull vibrates, and I wonder how long she can withstand this brutal punishment. I ask myself what I can do to ease Sailors Run’s struggle. We are sailing due north and sometimes making 20 degrees of easting, actually gaining some ground, but at what seems like a huge risk of catastrophic failure. I run through the abandon-ship drill in my mind—mayday call, ditch bag, “Gumby” survival suit, deploy liferaft.
It is after being launched off one particularly large wave that I finally say, “That’s it,” and roll out of my berth to suit up and go topside. Once in the cockpit I hurriedly alter course away from the wind and waves by about 10 degrees, although I can’t fall off too far for fear of taking a large breaking wave on the beam and getting knocked down, or worse, rolled all the way over.
Once safely belowdecks I check the barometer. It is now reading 990mb, and we are obviously beating through the squall-filled outer wall of the low. I wonder how long it will take to reach the core.
This all started at about 1800, and by 0200 the wind appears to have stopped and all is quiet below, as we find ourselves backwinded in a moderate 17-knot breeze from the north. I reset the sails and the windvane, and soon we are sailing almost due east in a nice breeze. The seas are confused and slam into us from all directions, but they are smaller, and Sailors Run takes them in stride. We are now sailing inside the low, and the barometer is reading a steady 986mb. I wonder how long before the backside of the eye wall overtakes us.
Eventually, I collapse into a deep sleep, and four hours later when my eyes pop open I discover we are still sailing along nicely to the east with the barometer at 986mb. Moments later, though, our world suddenly changes as the eye wall strikes, and the winds go into the southwest at 30-40 knots. I drop the mizzen, and we sail on a broad reach under staysail alone, hitting speeds of 7 knots. The seas are also higher now, reaching 20ft. In the Southern Ocean there is almost always a southwesterly swell running 6-10ft, and when you apply 40 knots of wind to those swells they grow rapidly into storm force waves. In no time Sailors Run’s cockpit is filled several times by waves breaking over the stern, while a few rogue waves strike us on the beam, forcing small amounts of water below. Still, when she’s running before following seas like this, Sailors Run remains fairly comfortable so long as I’m not on deck, and I can actually sleep—sometimes.
Day 164 — OUT OF WATER
24hr run: 123nm. Position: 37°21’S,.123°59’W. Wind: SE 7-12kts. Seas: 6-10ft. Cabin temperature: 65°-68°. Barometer: 1008mb.
I am at last switching over to my last tank of water. I believe it only contains about 15 gallons, and I still have 30-40 days to go. This is a real concern. A couple of days later we cross our outbound route at last, but we also become becalmed in the pouring rain and have our worst day of sailing, only making a good six nautical miles. At the same time, I am lucky enough to gather another 15 gallons of water off the deck.
On day 171 I learn of a devastating earthquake that has caused death and destruction in many parts of coastal Ecuador, including my destination, Bahia Caraquez. My prayers go out to all Ecuadorians. It is days before I will likely hear if I can still get into the mouth of the Chone River across its shallow bar, and I have to consider where I might be forced to sail to after crossing the finish line.
On day 188 my handheld watermaker fails, and I’m forced to pump the last water left on board—the contents of the six-gallon hot water heater. I net five gallons, but the water is very salty, as it has been contaminated by breaking waves forcing saltwater into the air vents of the water tanks. The tank water reads 1,800 parts of salt per million on my salinity tester, and normally you don’t drink water with more than 500 parts per million.
Still, I drink the salty water and worry as to how well this will work out with a thousand miles to go. I’m not only out of water, but the food is rapidly disappearing. I need to get there fast!
The good news is that I have boots on the ground as Debbie has been in Ecuador for three weeks living in a tent and anxiously awaiting my arrival. She has been staying at the earthquake-damaged home of Dan and Amparo, who are my official finishers as they have a perfect view of the line from their beach front home.
Day 203 — THE FINAL HOURS
24hr run: 78nm. Position: 00°54’S, 80°48’W. Wind: S0-10kts. Seas: 4-6 ft. Cabin temperature: 80°-82° Barometer: 1004mb.
Today, with just 40 miles to go, I find myself in light air and up against a tight deadline to finish in time to catch the high tide to get across the bar. I decide to continue steering after already having been at the helm all night because I need to sail as fast as possible in the light winds to make it. In the end, it is not to be, and I miss the tide by about 30 minutes. However, that doesn’t stop Debbie from getting in a panga and delivering not only some of the greatest hugs and kisses I have ever received but fried chicken, French fries, rum and some much-needed fresh drinking water. This all puts a nice ending to a colossal voyage.
After 203 days, 8 hours, 46 minutes and 25,147 nautical miles, and having turned 70 during the voyage, I am now the oldest American to have sailed solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world south of the five great capes.
Thanks to all of you for riding along!
To read the other three installments of Hartjoy’s grueling voyage, go to: Circumnavigation: Alone Around the World
Photos courtesy of Jeff Hartjoy