Sargassum, Water Ballast and an Uncomfortable Night

From St. Augustine to round Bermuda took six days. Alarm rang every hour and my first job was to clean the two hydro generators from masses of sargassum that was clogging then up.  No sooner would I lower the first and start on the second it would often clog again. I just could not generate the power I needed.  The batteries steadily declined from 100% when leaving St. Augustine to 20% rounding Bermuda. This meant no hot water, no refrigeration, freezer sealed shut but still the battery power dropped. Rounding Bermuda that all began to change, less sargassum and power has started to build again.

I was feeling good but as the wind gained strength I needed to fill my water ballast tank on the upwind side as without water in it (or crew to sit on the rail) and with winds of 22-28 knots the boat heeled over to some 50 degrees instead of say 20 degrees with full ballast tank. Problem, the pump that fills the tanks refused to cooperate.  Emails were sent to my team, instructions came back as to how to dismantle the pump and clean it out. I decided I could not do it at night in a rough sea, pounding off waves and anything unsecured taking flight.  Besides the autopilot was acting up and had “let go” three times during the day causing me to have to jump to the helm and get things settled down before turning it over to autopilot again. It was a sleepless and uncomfortable night.

The job went well but it was not sargassum that I found, but rather a metal chard the size of my thumb nail that was fouling the pump.  That and some other fine filings removed and I put it all back together.  I crossed my fingers and – sweet joy it worked. As I filled the windward tanks with the equivalent of eight husky men on the rails, the boat came more upright and gathered more speed as now it captured more wind.

With the power up, boat stable it seemed time for my first hot shower in ten days, do I feel good. Tomorrow, I tackle the primary autopilot.  The next day – oh yes there will be something.



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Bermuda Rounded and On My Way for the Existing Records

After six and a half days I crossed the 900+ miles to Bermuda and at 1:46 pm EST I crossed the start line with a strong breeze. Bermuda radio which directs all shipping traffic were most cooperative logging start time etc. I am also being monitored by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) which has a transmitter on board. I also hit the yellow brick messenger sending up a location point as I crossed the line and before bearing off onto my new course – southeast to the Caribbean and points beyond. Click on the yellow brick link on my home page.

Back in the 1970′s Bermuda was home to me. I moved from Boston, bought a 120 guest hotel and 28 acres. As owner/manager, I turned the hotel into a health resort complete with nutritious menus, exercise, yoga, hiking, a health and beauty spa and a medical and physical therapy clinic. Sports included swimming, tennis and yes we had five small Sunfish yachts. Bermuda is only one and a half hours from my interests in Boston and so I did not feel I had left America. I would spend the mornings in the clinic and the afternoon and early evenings in the hotel. Yesterday it was fun to round her coral protected shoreline and to remember the beautiful pink sand beaches and diving amongst the reefs often to retrieve edible clams. For a moment I thought of pulling into St. Georges Harbour for a cool draft beer – but that would have broken the rules.

My wife said the first blog was fine but there was no mention of her. So after that last sentence I guess I am covered it this time!


Loving Husband of Catherine

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Leg One to Bermuda

The wind is down to 9 knots (10 mph) blowing just east of north while I struggle to the northeast to round Bermuda placing it on my starboard (right) side. I move at 7 knots and at this speed I will not make the start line in Bermuda until 9:00 pm or later Friday night. This is not good. Rounding a reef enclosed island and having to within a mile of the shore and half a mile from reefs with uncertain winds behind the island is not something I shall attempt at night. I will no doubt heave to and drift the night away so as to approach on Saturday morning.

I have been at sea now for only four days on this the first leg of a solo circumnavigation beginning in St. Augustine to set a new record but restarting without stopping in Bermuda to challenge the existing 150 day 6 hour record set by Dodge Morgan in 1986. It’s going to be a long voyage.  No serious problems as of yet but its early days.

The send-off from St. Augustine was at 10:00 am Sunday, November 9th and as requested much smaller than last time.  Towed to the start, my son Alan and project manager Steve Pettengill were both on board to assist in getting sails launched and so I could wave to those taking photos.  Both Alan and Steve are circumnavigators. Short of the start Towboat US held my bow  to the wind, the mainsail was then hoisted and I began to sail to the start line, a line due south of the Sea Buoy.  Alan and Steve jumped off onto the Towboat as it came along side and I let fly the large genoa. I crossed to line and was soon doing 12 knots – the fastest so far on this voyage.

Tomorrow Bermuda.

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10:00 am Departure, Sunday November 9th

Departure from City Dock is confirmed for 10:00 am Sunday.  It’s a go and all is ready. Kiwi Spirit is chomping at the bit almost ripping out her dock lines! Tomorrow morning she will move to the city dock where she will stay till 10:00 am Sunday.  Tow Boat US will tow her out as engines are sealed and the bow-thruster has been removed. We are to go green again and no extra weight. My son Alan, a circumnavigator in his own right, has flown in from New Zealand for the occasion and will be on board for the tow out and sail hoisting. He will then jump off to a Tow Boat US boat before I cross the official start line. The official start of the voyage, monitored by the World Sailing Speed Record Council will be from the outer buoy about one mile offshore.  At that point the tow will be released and the bow pointed to Bermuda, the first leg of the non-stop solo voyage. Kiwi Spirit is ready and so am I. To all who follow this voyage I know you wish me well. Be assured I intend not to disappoint.

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On the Road Again – Sunday, November 9th at 10:00 am

With respect to Willie Nelson I am to be “on the road again.”

Three international offshore yacht races, two of which I gained line honors (first to finish) and a third in which I was the first two handed home, left me feeling confident personally and about the boat’s ability. But it was not to be. Fifty days into the solo circumnavigation and the boat had developed too many breakages – some of my responsibility but the most major being a under specking of the pins that attached the rigging to the deck. All has been repaired and corrected. Additional winches installed, latest chart plotter, more safety hand grips and a better sense of the challenge leave me feeling more confident that we (the boat and I) are ready but aware that unlike in running a marathon where success is say 95% up to the runner, in my case it may be only 20-30% up to me as the boat and luck will play a big hand. I am aware that only one attempt in three have succeeded and that this is my second and final attempt. Final because life is short and Google only gives me 9.2 more years.

Once again I must point out that I am going solo which means me alone, no crew.  It is also to be non-stop by which is meant I cannot go to port and re-supply – everything I need, food, spare parts, repair materials must be on board. Any help, even a newspaper or cookie would disqualify me. Those are the rules. Also I have added the challenge of wishing to be the first to do it green – and by green means that I shall not use any diesel or gasoline, propane or butane. I shall only use electrical power generated from solar, wind and water.

In just finishing non-stop I will at 77 years be the oldest to have done so. Hopefully I will break the Bermuda and back to Bermuda record of 150 days set by Dodge Morgan at age 56 in 1986, and will have set a St. Augustine to St. Augustine record in the process as well as broke the now fastest record of Yuan Chang from China back to China which he did last year in137 days.

Projected departure from St. Augustine, Sunday, November 9th at 10:00 am. Stay tuned and follow my progress on Yellow Brick from my web page at

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Eight Days to Go

With only eight days to go it may seem strange that I am in England, having just left France this morning on the super-fast Eurostar train. Well it’s October 30th and my wife Catherine and I are celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary.  You could conclude that I am not paying attention to the solo circumnavigation ahead and that I should be at the boat in St. Augustine. To the contrary, I need to be with Catherine for a few days, visiting some favorite places and some old friends, to strengthen memories and bonds from which I derive great pleasure and will seek to enjoy again thus serve to strengthen my resolve to sail fast and safe to return again.

As I write we are nearing Dartmouth in south west England to visit a colleague Iain McCall, a radiologist of renown who taught for the university for many years at our annual Vail seminar weeks. I asked him by phone if I would recognize him and we agreed he should come to the train station waving an old X-Ray – preferably of his lumbar spine.

I will be home in two days after the annual Channel Swimming Association banquet in Dover. My son Alan, (a solo circumnavigator) has flown up from his home in New Zealand to assist my project manager, Steve Pettengill to have all systems ready.  Most of the food is already on board.  Just last minute fresh fruits and vegetables need to be added. The wine cellar is stocked! I will be ready and determined.

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Kiwi Spirit – Is She Bullet Proof?

Not yet on the 1,200 mile delivery from Maine to St. Augustine from where on November 8th (weather permitting) the second and final attempt at a solo circumnavigation will commence, we had a number of failings on the boat. The weather was mild and while not good for sailing it was fine for testing.  Here now is what went wrong:

The motor on one of the three primary winches failed – yet again.  On a second winch, the disc at the top that grabs the rope started to spin – yet again.  The radar guard, a structure meant to protect the mast mounted radar from being struck by a sail came off its mountings and was held by a bungee cord!

- The radar mount itself dropped a screw onto the deck. This we had to fix at sea. You might wonder how we can hear a screw fall onto the deck. Well the deck is fiber glass and the hull is largely carbon fiber and so deck sounds reverberate inside rather like in a base musical instrument.

- Finally two of the hydro generators failed. The first was due to striking some object which stripped the blades off the propeller like generator. This happens and is expected and hence I carry spares. However the second breakage should not have occurred and did so as a direct result of a disconnect switch being mounted in the wrong position such that when the hydro unit swung it crashed into and shattered.

So in just 1,200 miles and with some 29,000 miles to go I have had once again some major problems. Optimistically I assure myself that these breakages are good for we will get them right. I carry spares for almost everything and I added two more manual winches in anticipation of the above problems. But still I have to say that there is a vast difference between a day sailor or an occasional off shore cruiser to what It is I am planning for – a non-stop global circumnavigation during which I cannot put into port, receive any help, spare parts etc. I must be totally independent. Hence I have to say that I don’t think many who manufacture the gear and work in the trade really get it. Just not enough reliability in the system. 

Steve Pettengill, my project manager, may have it right when he says its 60% the boat, 20% the sailor and 20% luck.  I am inclined to agree.





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Kiwi Spirit Leaves for St. Augustine – October 2

A stronger, safer and possibly faster Kiwi Spirit left Lyman Morse yards in Thomaston Maine for the 1,100nm voyage to St. Augustine, Florida for final preparations before a most likely departure on Saturday, November 8th.
It is stronger in that we have further reinforced the end of the boom that broke during an accidental jibe, replaced the fittings of the shrouds, genoa and staysail furlers to the deck with stronger pins complete with a threaded nut and split pin – very impressive. We have also strengthened the stanchions (life line supports) in a number of places. Batten pockets do not open at the aft ends and I won’t suddenly loose a pair of them as I did last time. In the possibly “faster” category we have removed the reaching struts which held the clue of the reaching sails out further, rather like raising the flaps up on aircraft wings to go faster, and replaced them with two spinnaker poles which will also be used on the genoa and staysail. This will aid in going faster downwind and will be easier for me to handle. No one liked the reaching struts. There are also two more winches in the cockpit which will help in sail handling and aid in having some redundancy – winches break at times.
The departure date is “soft” as I wish to make sure I have good winds for the first ten days to get around Bermuda and not get stuck there in a windless hole as happened last time. I suspect I shall be able to give 24 hours notice of departure with earliest date being Saturday, November 8th.
Once again I am getting a little excited but it’s more “unfinished business” this time. However once I get past the mid-south Atlantic where it all ended for me, I am sure the excitement will come roaring back. Last year the record for a solo was 150 days and age 58 and both have now been broken. The new standards set by two different sailors are 137 days and 70 years of age. I will try to beat both those records as well as to be the first to do it green.

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Channel Swimming Relay Aborted Four Miles from France

It was the oldest group to ever attempt to complete a relay swim across the 23 mile-wide, rough and cold English Channel between England and France. All five in our team members were over the age of seventy, with the average age being 74. I was the oldest on the team, at age 77.  A better qualified team of septuagenarians could not have been found. Our team captain was Michael Reid, MBE, who is president of the Channel Swimming Association and holds the record for the most solo swims – 33! The other three swimmers were all British Long Distance Swimming Association champions, two of whom had just returned from Montreal, Canada, having competed in the World’s Masters, where they each won an event. These are truly dedicated swimmers. I have also attempted five solos on the English Channel, and have succeeded twice, as well as two previously successful relay swims, and coached a third from the University of St. Augustine. I am also currently serving as Vice President of the Channel Swimming Association.

We started out the swim in fair weather, which promised to be moderate. It was not to happen. As Michael exited the pilot boat and swam to the beach to begin the swim, he raised his arms to signal his re-entry into the water and the start, we were all very optimistic.  At the end of each hour, the next swimmer would drop into the water and pass by the current swimmer who would then exit. No passing a baton in this relay. I was the final swimmer in the set of five, anchoring the group, and then we would cycle through again. We each swam well, and while two of us experienced cramps, they were managed in the water by the swimmer without assistance, as the rules dictate. By mid Channel, the winds were at twenty knots (22 miles per hour) and the waves were building, especially when the tide went against the westerly wind. With three hours to go, the winds had reached a steady 25 knots and were gusting to 30 knots as night was falling, but still we were all swimming well. And then the weather took a turn. I completed my second one-hour swim and Michael followed. On board we were hanging on for life – seriously – the boat was being thrown all over the place. Two decks chairs, where we rested, broke completely. It began to rain and there was no shelter for us swimmers, as the temperature dropped to 45 degrees – we could not stay dry.  I crouched on my hands and knees, bracing myself against the dingy and hanging on. I actually felt better in the water than on deck.

France was only three to four miles off, with a landing on the Cape Gris Nez. The nearest point was out of the question, as it was far too dangerous for a swimmer to attempt a landing on the rocks in such a storm. The distance to the nearest beach was some hours away and the weather still was building. The decision was made, and agreed to by all, that it was unsafe in these conditions to complete the relay. Had it been a solo, and if that swimmer had been in mid-life, then he/she may have pushed on. But discretion became the best part of valor, and we headed for home disappointed at the failure, but enriched by the adventure.

I went to Dover beach Sunday morning to meet with those training for their upcoming swims, surrounded by family and supporters. I found myself greeted by applause for our effort. Small, yes, but significant compensation – the approval of one’s peers.

Now I prepare to come home, hike a little with Catherine on the Appalachian Trail, and be at the boat yard as Kiwi Spirit is re-launched for the upcoming solo – circa November 8th.


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Kiwi Spirit Sails ahead of Hurricane Arthur

We had an uneventful four and half day sail from St. Augustine, Florida to Newport, Rhode Island. There we met with North Sails, Harken and others to help plan repairs, upgrades and alterations to Kiwi. That accomplished, and with an eye of hurricane Arthur moving toward us, we made a fast trip to the Lyman Morse yards in Thomaston, Maine. There the boat was soundly secured for the approaching winds, which she weathered well. Now the work begins.

The sails will all be removed and inspected. I fully expect to acquire a new mainsail as it already has 26,000 miles on it in just the year and half since launching, and that’s more than most boats will do in their lifetime. Should a head sail fail, I have five others but only one mainsail. No risks to be take here. Two spinnaker poles are being added, which will enable easier handling for downwind sailing on genoa and staysail. Adjustable genoa cars, two more winches, more snatch blocks and viewing windows to see if the rudders or keel get fouled with weed or nets are all being added. Most of the work will be accomplished in a month with a few loose ends after that. But once the electronics are sorted out (many failures here), and sails are returned, we will head south to St. Augustine for solo circumnavigation departure on November 8th or soon after – weather dependent.

The date of departure for the solo circumnavigation will this time be according to a ten day weather projection. Last time for family, friends and spectators, the departure was as close to the advertised date as possible. But that left me arriving in Bermuda with little wind. Five days after rounding Bermuda, I was already two days behind the record pace set by Dodge Morgan on American Promise. This time I shall wait for a favorable “weather window.”

But for today, I am off to the “Y” for an hour’s swim, as at the end of next month I, and five others over the age of seventy, will swim the English Channel in a relay.

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