The Background Story....
I was lucky to be able to retire early to take to the high seas in Nereida - an excellent, if small, ocean cruiser. She proved to be both sturdy and safe in difficult conditions whilst being an excellent sailing boat - ideal for serious blue water cruising. Never having sailed before June 1990, when I first tried out both dinghy-sailing and windsurfing, I eventually took up yachting in 1994 with a Competent Crew course on the Solent - and never looked back! After my husband & I took delivery of Nereida in Sweden in July 1997, we sailed her via Norway, Denmark & the Netherlands to England. In June 1998, we set sail from the Hamble for Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar and eventually left the Canaries in November 1999 to cross to the Caribbean.
During 2000, we explored the Windward and Leeward Island chains before heading north, eventually making landfall in the USA in New York from Bermuda, continuing on to Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia) before heading south for the winter. 2001 saw us heading down the ICW to Miami and on to Grenada via the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico & the Virgin Islands. In September, George was diagnosed with cancer - it was not until May 2002 that he got back on board in Prickly Bay, Grenada, and we headed for Tobago & Trinidad, finally setting sail for Venezuela in late August, enjoying the uncrowded island anchorages and spending time in Puerto La Cruz & Merida. By late December, we had reached Bonaire, via the beautiful Los Roques and Las Aves. We had hoped to return in the New Year but that was not to be - George's body gave up the fight in March 2003.
On Alone: 2003-2006
2003 - 2004
I continued on alone - but it was quite a daunting task, getting to know the various systems on board Nereida and dealing with a variety of problems - fortunately boat friends (then, as nowadays) would come to my rescue with helpful advice, useful tools, perhaps some muscle, often expertise I lacked... and lots of moral support! But it soon became clear to me that, if I wanted to persevere with sailing and living on board Nereida, practical problem-solving was something I had to expect to have to learn to cope with. The actual sailing was a mere detail!! (After many practical yachting courses and theory exams taken from 1994 onward, I had finally gained my RYA Yachtmaster Ocean qualification in 2000, with sextant sights taken during our 1999 Atlantic crossing - but there is always something new to learn...)
Late in 2003, I had decided I would sail Nereida to Fort Lauderdale to have her shipped around to Vancouver ready to take part in the Ocean Cruising Club's B.C. Rally in September 2004 - I knew several friends from the Caribbean were expecting to be there and it seemed a simple way of getting Nereida into what I'd heard was a good cruising area and into the Pacific. I was still very concerned about the safety aspects of single-handing overnight - especially on extended passages and was, at this point, trying to persuade various friends and acquaintances to join me on the long passages, having decided to head first for Cartagena (Colombia) and then the San Blas Islands of Panama before sailing north from Colon to the Florida Keys via Guatemala's Rio Dulce and Belize. Why miss seeing what were reputedly some beautiful places on my way?
By early February 2004, I was ready to leave Bonaire - with or without crew! As I sailed over to Curacao, I heard via the VHF that a reliable young Dutchman was ready to join me - Daan, who was a good sailor, joined Nereida and stayed until we reached Colon (where I was fortunate to be able to line-handle a boat through the Panama Canal). Having Daan on board enabled me to get back into sailing mode and improve my rusty skills a little. From Colon, I was by myself - for several extended passages - and several major learning curves! But Nereida stood up pluckily to all my mis-management and I gradually gained in confidence as we headed up towards Providencia, the Honduras Bay Islands, Rio Dulce, Belize, the Yucatan, past Cuba and in to anchor off Key West, U.S.A.... what a happy landfall!
Over to the 'Pacific NW' (British Columbia & Alaska), California and Mexico
The cruising area of B.C. and Alaska proved to be every bit as lovely as I'd heard - I thoroughly enjoyed my cruising around the Gulf Islands & Desolation Sound. From the Vancouver area, I sailed south to San Francisco in October 2004 and then slowly explored the California coast, reaching Mexico by February where I cruised down the Baja and on to Zihuatanejo ('Guitar Fest' in April). Then back up to La Paz where I shipped Nereida up to Ketchikan to cruise spectacular SE Alaska over June/July 2005. Major repairs and a refit were needed when I got down to Vancouver, resulting in a delayed departure south - & eventually too many problems resulting from my refit. (see Problems after Vancouver Refit) forced me in to Port Townsend (Washington state, U.S.A.) to deal with them over the winter months - but what a lovely place to be 'marooned' in!
I was able to leave Pt Townsend in May 2006 and headed down well offshore to San Francisco - with major problems of all descriptions on the way (see Challenges...), ending up with no steerage and unable to make way (crabpots!), having to be towed in from Point Reyes by the Golden Gate CG - with some impressive boathandling by them in big seas! I then had a lot of repairing to do to get ready for my next intended passage - to Hawaii and thence north to Alaska around the 'N. Pacific High'. I'd found Alaska so beautiful and wild that I wanted to re-visit it (despite the cold!) - but I was determined to sail there this time - no more 'chickening out' by shipping Nereida up north!! As I was busy with my repairs, I began to hear of a 'Single-handed TransPac' Race about to start on 24th June from the Bay area - to Hawaii.... the rest is history....!! (See Challenges..., my Daily SHTP Race Reports', and the Single-handed Sailing Society - a group of friendly, welcoming people who bent over backwards to clear the way and help me so I could join in the Race as a late entry - thanks to you all!)
After my race finish in Kauai, I headed up towards Sitka, beating into big seas and quite strong winds, until finally reaching the calm of the Pacific High when I went to use my motor - nada! Another major learning curve, as I struggled with the result of seawater in my diesel fuel - not a happy engine! Triumphantly, I got the engine going again, after 5 days of struggling, changing one injector (who me?.... that was only supposed to be in my spares for a mechanic to deal with...!!) and checking the others, ... but it failed as I came in to dock at Sitka on 15th August 2006.
I was happy to have completed a 'NE Pacific Loop' by sailing to Sitka from Kauai, having left Sitka the previous year to sail down the Inside Passage to British Columbia, on to Puget Sound and then on offshore to San Francisco. But reaching Sitka with a failed engine resulted in starting a 3-week 'mechanics course' in full earnest - thanks to Alan Horoschak for his kindly tutoring and help. (See Challenges...). Eventually, as I was getting worried about being 'trapped' in rainy Sitka over the winter, with the weather already deteriorating after the worst summer they could remember for a long time, my engine was sounding sweet, I was full of new-found knowledge & expertise & I was able to head hurriedly south - to the West coast of Vancouver Island and the most amazing 'Indian summer' weather.... There I was, ambling from one lovely deserted anchorage to another in bright sunshine around the beginning of October - it was out of this world! The downside was that my radio was no longer transmitting (see Challenges...) and had been down for quite a time - so no emails or weather info via Winlink were possible - fortunately, not a major concern at this time.
The rest of 2006 was spent sailing down to San Diego from Port Townsend (See Challenges...) - amazingly, the only problem with the offshore passage down to SF from Cape Flattery in October was the 35-40 knot winds (resulting big seas - See Challenges...) off Cape Mendocino - I had no mechanical or electrical problems for a change!! A great sail was had to and past Pt Conception, the motor being used minimally most of the way from SF to San Miguel Island. (The opposite was true from Santa Barbara to Marina del Rey to San Diego - motoring most of the way!)
As a result of these ocean passages, and having to overcome the many and varied boat problems that cropped up en route, I gained in confidence tremendously and set my sights on sailing around the world - to be started from Zihuatanejo (Mexico) after their Annual Guitar Festival in March 2007. So, in San Diego from December 2006 on, I prepared Nereida for a planned one-year, 'stop-everywhere', 'cruising-style' circumnavigation,
First Solo Circumnavigation, 26th March 2007 – 19th June 2008
In San Diego, I did a lot more work on the boat with my circumnavigation in mind. Then came a fast journey offshore down the Baja (Mexico) in February, ending eventually in Zihuatanejo (Mexico) from where my first solo journey around the world finally started on Monday 26th March 2007.
Cairns (Australia) was reached on 11th July 2007, Richards Bay (South Africa), on 16th November 2007 and I left Trinidad for Colon on 1st May 2008, transiting the Panama Canal soon after. After crossing the Tehuantepec to reach the west coast of Mexico from Guatemala, I was making for San Francisco to start the 2008 Single-Handed TransPac Race but was then incredibly unlucky to lose Nereida on a steep, deserted surf beach north of Acapulco, before dawn, less than twelve hours and about sixty miles short of Zihuatanejo ... on 19th June 2008. (In June 2016, that final leg, from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo, was completed in Nereida II, thus 'closing the loop'.)
First Nonstop Attempt, started November 2009
The new Nereida was commissioned on the River Hamble, near Southampton Water, over April to June 2009, after being fitted out in Sweden at the beginning of the year. A Najad 380, she's an updated, re-designed version of the previous Najad 361. Due to my many changes and additions, she's not a 'standard' N380 (one obvious, major change is being cutter-rigged, not a sloop). (See 'Boat Details' )
The plan was to trial her thoroughly around the Solent and Guernsey, before setting off on a 12-day offshore passage in early September from St Peterport (Guernsey) towards Puerto Calero in Isla Lanzarote (Canaries). There everything was checked/repaired thoroughly again, eventually leaving in early November – near the beginning of the Southern summer. Starting from the Atlantic, planning to sail east-about nonstop in higher latitudes, passing south of the Five Great Capes, which include Cape Horn, the journey through the Southern Ocean back to the Canaries was expected to take 6-7 months….
I headed down to South Africa.... but rigging and other problems forced me in to Cape Town and this turned into a three-month stop for an unexpected engine replacement with improved installation details. My plans changed and I officially entered the 2010 Single-handed TransPac Race from San Francisco to Kauai (Hawaii).... but time ran out on passage East. With stormy weather encountered in the Great Australian Bight as well as to the East and North-East of New Zealand, I only managed, with difficulty, to reach Hanalei Bay from NZ just in time for the SHTP Awards evening (and party!), on the final day of the Race. By this time, I’d decided to head for Port Townsend (WA, USA) to work on the boat with a view to re-starting another nonstop round-the-world attempt from Victoria (B.C., Canada) later that year.
Second Nonstop Attempt / Knockdown / Circumnavigation via the Five Great Capes: 25th Oct 2010 – 1st Aug 2012
This attempt started from Victoria (B.C.) on 25th October 2010, but the damage caused by a bad knockdown, about 140 miles west of Cape Horn on Day 72 (5th January 2011), ended my nonstop attempt. After rounding Cape Horn under headsail and making basic repairs in Ushuaia (Argentina), I continued eastabout to the Falklands and on to Cape Town (S. Africa). (Reaching there in May 2011 meant I'd actually completed a solo circumnavigation from/to Cape Town via Cape Flattery WA, U.S.A., and Capes Horn, Good Hope and Leeuwin - as celebrated on my arrival!). By sailing on south of Tasmania to Hobart, then south of Stewart Island, New Zealand, on to Tahiti and Hawaii (meeting the SHTP racers once again), I reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 1st August 2012 - thus completing a single-handed circumnavigation via the Five Great Capes of the Southern Ocean from/to Cape Flattery, WA U.S.A.
Third Nonstop Attempt (first successful nonstop attempt!): 22nd October 2012 - 8th July 2013
First Guinness World Record: 'Oldest woman to circumnavigate solo, nonstop, unassisted'.
Also first woman to sail around solo nonstop from/to North America.
This single-handed, unassisted, nonstop attempt was notable both for the many problems arising and the length of time taken... 6-7 weeks longer than hoped for, due to the high incidence of calms and light winds encountered in between the stronger weather (especially on the final, long passage north up the Pacific, where frequent headwinds were thrown in), added to by a mainsail problem. The problems started with my liferaft 'jumping ship', causing a diversion to San Francisco Bay to replace the raft, while adhering to the 'unassisted' rule of the WSSRC who were validating my attempt. Rounding Cape Horn at the same time as the Vendée Globe racers added interest, as did the presence of several large icebergs and many 'bergie bits' to avoid. Timing and position close to Cape Horn were almost identical to that of my January 2011 knockdown on the previous attempt - discomforting...! Almost daily radio contact with onshore 'hams' was enjoyed and the loss of my computers on board two months before finishing (with satphone already having failed on Christmas Day morning) gave rise to immediate help from 'ham' radio friends who were able to maintain my website posting of my daily position and reports as well as dealing with emails.