Q&A: Donna Lange

Donna Lange is not just a grandmother of 11—she’s a musician, songwriter, registered nurse, delivery captain, the founder of OceansWatch North America and one of the few American female sailors to circumnavigate solo. In 2007, Donna sailed around the globe and stopped twice along the way. Now she’s planning to again circumnavigate solo on her Southern Cross 28 Inspired Insanity, this time non-stop.
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Donna Lange is not just a grandmother of 11—she’s a musician, songwriter, registered nurse, delivery captain, the founder of OceansWatch North America and one of the few American female sailors to circumnavigate solo. In 2007, Donna sailed around the globe and stopped twice along the way. Now she’s planning to again circumnavigate solo on her Southern Cross 28 Inspired Insanity, this time non-stop. She’ll leave Bristol, Rhode Island, in July and return in May 2016. Along the way she’ll raise funds for OceansWatch. To fund her trip, Donna is producing a CD and the book, Finding My Way in Song.

SAIL: What inspired you to circumnavigate solo again, but this time without stopping?

Donna Lange: I’m circumnavigating west to east, traveling with the Southern Ocean Current, like I did in 2007. I started sailing when I was 38 years old and my leaps of faith landed me on the ocean in my own sailboat. This trip allows me to extend my time offshore to 270 days. During my last trip, I had email communication, so I wasn’t solitary and didn’t complete my personal goals. Sailing is a philosophical journey that allows me to become immersed in nature and focus on my work and myself. I want an opportunity to share my experiences through songwriting and need this extended time to do so. I hope to communicate new pathways of knowledge as to how we, as individuals, can understand our intrinsic mental and physical energy.

SAIL: Why do you plan on using only a sextant for navigation and SSB radio to communicate? 

DL: I learned to sail aboard a traditional tall ship skippered by Virginia Wagner, a renowned instructor in celestial navigation and an advocate for traditional sailing and seamanship skills. This voyage will emphasize the need for traditional seamanship skills to safely navigate offshore. I’ll enhance my experience by being tuned into the energy of the ocean and the celestial bodies. The most exciting aspect of my adventure will be finding my way by being connected to my inner self and immersed in the environment. The SSB allows me to access weather reports, transmit email logs to my website and provide adequate communication while I’m sailing. I will have a transponder so I can be followed and located if I have any safety needs, but I should be able to navigate accurately.

SAIL: How will you incorporate sailing for marine safety and conservation into the voyage?

DL: My background includes years working in parasailing as crew and as a captain for SeaTow, so I have experience using a kite as an emergency sail if a boat is dismasted. Having been a part of salvages that required airbags to raise sunken boats, it seems obvious that we should be able to equip a boat with a bag inflation system that can be deployed if a boat is holed in order to keep it afloat. Subsalve Inc. is working with me to provide a floatation system. They have already created prototypes. Peter Lynn, a New Zealand kitemaker, and I are collaborating to provide an appropriate kite system and attachment apparatus for this trip. As the executive director of OceansWatch North America, I will be using marine conservation and research surveys developed by OceansWatch, perform radiation surveying and collaborate with a research team to take water samples along the way.

SAIL: What did you learn from your last circumnavigation that will be of most use on your second journey?

DL: I’ve become a better sailor, and I plan to make the boat more solo-friendly. Inspired Insanity is a capsule of change and growth for me. I learned that sailing singlehanded is a tremendous opportunity to become healthy in all aspects of my body. After investing in my skills and being challenged by my previous circumnavigation, I’ve built my confidence, which will only continue to grow as I prepare mentally and physically for this journey. Truly, this will be a healing journey.

SAIL: What are you doing differently this time?

DL: It’ll be a challenge to pack the proper clothing to keep warm and dry, especially in the Southern Ocean. However, because of the timing of this voyage, this trip won’t be as cold as the last. Last time, I departed Rhode Island in mid-November, so at night it was 20 degrees on board. This time, I’ll have a late summer Atlantic crossing. I also plan to focus on a healthy diet and onboard exercise, so I’ve developed an exercise and stretching routine.

SAIL: What are you most looking forward to, and what do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of the voyage?

DL: I’m excited about finding my way celestially and becoming a whole, healthy being. I can’t wait to be able to focus on my own needs. I believe this itinerary will offer me a less traumatic experience. This trip should be downwind, faster and on better points of sail. The most difficult aspect is the physical challenges of sailing. I’ll miss my family, but I know they’ll care for one another while I’m gone.

SAIL: How can we follow your progress?

DL: There will be daily logs and sponsored video and photos that will be streamed from my boat. A transponder will show my position on my site for folks to follow. Go to donnalange.com.

Photo by Billy Black

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