What sailing around the world meant to us

Having been back in South Africa for a few months, the dust has settled a bit and we have had time to reflect on our circumnavigation.

Sometimes, the most difficult part of a journey is simply deciding to do it. For us that was the easy part; fortunately, at the outset optimism and ignorance insulated us against knowledge of the challenges to come. There was a huge learning curve to climb in so many different technical disciplines. Only now, having sailed almost 60 000km to complete this voyage, do I feel properly prepared to commence such a venture!

Personal relationships

On a personal level, one gets to know oneself and your sailing companion VERY well.  I was extremely fortunate that Karin was keen to share the experience with me, as I would not have enjoyed sailing solo for five years. However, to pretend that circumnavigating is one long, rosy romantic endeavour would be untrue.

We had our differences, mainly due to our different backgrounds. Thanks to the example set by my father, fixing things out in the wilds of Africa in the 1950s and 60s, my inclination was to repair whatever broke on the boat myself. Karin would sometimes have preferred to get “professional” help as she never saw her father fixing anything himself.

Karin would also have preferred to use the engines more, such as when our steering failed in the mid Pacific ocean, or to get to more places (like in Indonesia where there was little wind) and to hasten our arrival when a landfall beckoned after a long crossing. I preferred to reserve their use mainly for anchoring and emergencies.

When together 24/7 in a small space, some interpersonal niggles are inevitable, yet neither of us would have undertaken this adventure without the other. Having company gave us both someone special to share it with, which enriched this amazing experience all the more. This was especially so in our favourite, far-flung places that were still completely unspoilt and generally impossible to reach without one’s own boat.

Our favourite stops

St. Helena Island, our first mid-ocean island stop where we met with incredibly friendly islanders and marvelled whilst swimming close to Whale Sharks in the warm, crystal clear Atlantic water.
The three hundred and sixty tropical, rain forest clad islands of the Ihla Grande Bay, to the west of Rio de Janeiro, with their wonderful snorkelling and plentiful, uncrowded, safe anchorages.
Remote Ihla dos Lencois river estuary on Brazil’s northeast coast, with a tidal range of six metres and huge, wind sculpted sand dunes that towered over us at anchor.
Man O’ War Bay at Tobago, with its excellent snorkelling and fishing, where we spent months waiting for the hurricane season to pass in the Caribbean just to our north.
Picture perfect Cariacou Island, Caribbean, the famous ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ filming location and source of the most potent rum we were to encounter in our voyage – 85% alcohol.
Bequa Island, Caribbean. A neatly kept, quaint island with a continental atmosphere and friendly folk. We marvelled at the small, colourful sea creatures found underwater here.
Jardine de La Reina, on the edge of deep water 100km off Cuba’s south west coast. We received a very warm and generous welcome from the few local Cubans there and were spoiled with some of the most amazing snorkelling.
We found Cuba absolutely fascinating.

Those Tuamotus atolls we visited in French Polynesia. The sheltered lagoon of each atoll has to be entered via a pass, or opening, in the encircling reef. These passes provided the most memorable snorkelling experiences, as we drifted through them in the warm, clear waters just above the myriad of colourful corals, beautiful fish of many species and the patrolling reef sharks.

Isolated Kelefisia Island, Tonga, (close to the Hunga Hapai volcano that recently erupted) where we anchored in a sandy nook, surrounded by coral reefs just off this tropical island with its verdant vegetation.
Minerva Reef – an ‘almost atoll’ in the middle of a vast expanse of deep blue Pacific ocean, where just a few rock tips protrude at low tide. It is south of Tonga and Fiji and remarkably, gave us mid ocean shelter and lobster aplenty.

New Zealand with its vast, cruising friendly coastline off North Island, where safe anchorages are plentiful, most within one day’s sail of another. The fishing is excellent and my life on board was hardly impacted by the Covid pandemic, apart of course, from Karin being detained in RSA for fourteen months.

New Zealand offers great hiking opportunities.
Visiting Milford Sound fiordland on South Island was amazing!

Fulanga Island in the Fijian Southern Lau Island group, with its warm, clear, island cluttered lagoon and beautiful entrance pass filled with amazing corals, colourful fish and incredibly good fishing.

Great fishing!

Komodo Island, Indonesia which provided a wonderful array of underwater attractions in one small spot, plus the iconic Komodo Dragons, the largest lizards on earth, known to eat prey as sizeable as water buffalo!

What we didn’t enjoy

My least favourite places included deep-water anchorages (Indonesia), a lack of wind for sailing (Indonesia) and greedy, rapacious officials or business owners who regarded yachtsmen as cash cows, ripe for milking. Fortunately we encountered few such, apart from at two marinas where we had to clear into the country; one in the Dominican Republic and another in Panama. We also had an unfortunate experience in Vanuatu during an emergency stop, where it appeared that the responsible official made it as slow and difficult as possible for us to effect emergency repairs, before finally extracting a supposed ‘security surveillance’ fee from us as a pre-condition to granting us clearance.

We never had any problems with security, either at night on Moondust or when ashore. We took normal precautions to lock the boat when we left her or at night when asleep.

Red tape and bureaucracy are unavoidable and at best will just take up your time, with no costs. However, entrance to places like Fiji and Indonesia was very costly, as we had to retain local agents and complete time consuming paperwork and clearance procedures both prior to and upon arrival.

Visas were a source of irritation as Karin and I travelled on passports of different nationalities; thus one of us always needed a visa which involved careful planning ahead, as well as time and expense.

Seeing so little of our families. Covid put paid to two of my planned visits back to South Africa to see my family, including two grandchildren, of whom my granddaughter was born after we started sailing.

We self-insured and apart from both maintaining our South African Medical Insurance for continuity purposes upon our return, this was of no use to us overseas, so in effect we both travelled uninsured. We did not insure Moondust either as I felt that these funds could be put to much better use.

Attention grabbing moments

  • Unearthing the main Trinidad/Tobago undersea power transmission line when we tried to raise anchor. A hasty swim enabled us to disengage this huge cable and drop it back on the sea floor. The loud music on shore continued unabated, thankfully!
  • Losing our genoa off Guadeloupe in a squall when the sheet snapped. We heard a sound like a rifle shot, followed by the ear splitting flogging of canvas. About a metre of the trailing edge of the genoa had split from the bulk of the front of the sail, which was completely uncontrolled, flailing wildly and wrapping shreds of canvas and the broken line around the shrouds. It took quite an effort to get this chaos under control.
  • Losing our steering in mid Pacific and the subsequent abortive efforts to link up in large swells with the Motor Vessel Pacific Islander for assistance. Then the ensuing series of repairs and fabrications which enabled us to handsteer Moondust for seven days on one rudder, like a Hobi Cat. On our way to Tonga, we sought shelter to make repairs at Palmerston Island, which must be one of the most remote inhabited islands on the planet. Only three families live there.
  • Battling against a 25 – 35 knot headwind for two days on our way to New Zealand from Minerva Reef. For fear of damaging Moondust’s sails and rigging, we finally deployed our sea anchor, turned on our anchor light and got some sleep.
  • Sailing into extremely strong currents, notably in Indonesia near Komodo Island where, despite moving at almost six knots north through the water, Moondust made no headway over ground. Again, on the passage out of the Lombok Strait, we raced south at 11 knots over ground, driven by wind and current, with Moondust’s bow actually pointing west at 90 degrees to our true southerly direction of travel. This was in an effort to avoid what appeared from some way off, to be a continuous line of breakers, caused by the strong southerly inter-island current colliding with the Indian Ocean waves, driven by the southeast trade winds. As we approached this line, thankfully it resolved itself into discrete breaking waves, which posed little danger.
  • Dragging anchor towards another yacht in 40 knots of howling wind in New Zealand, whilst on board solo on one stormy, pitch-black night, previous practise raising the anchor on my own led to a safe outcome.
  • Hunkering down anxiously at Musket Cove in Fiji, waiting for a tropical storm to pass, whilst most of the other yachts had departed to shelter in the mangroves at Denarau. We had non-stop rain for days before the local winds peaked, gusting to 45 knots. The next morning the tropical storm was named Cyclone Cody and we were most thankful to see it on its way south, rather than veering towards us.

Our most rewarding experiences

  • Discovering the amazingly rich and colourful world under the sea was the absolute highlight of our sailing experience. When at anchor, our favourite pastime was snorkelling, followed by freshly baked bread and hot coffee.
  • Our first ocean crossing, across the vast Atlantic, appealed so much to our sense of adventure and independence. For weeks we sailed non-stop, often marvelling at our progress across this huge ocean, especially at night, when under a good breeze, the water would roar past our stern and leave a trail of silver, starry phosphorescence.
  • Learning to sail Moondust solo when Karin was stuck in South Africa and being able to move completely at a whim, gave me a great sense of freedom. Careful planning enabled me to use all the sails, including the powerful gennaker.
  • Upon the encouragement of wonderful Swedish sailors, Ulla and Pelle, I bought a ukulele as a 70th birthday present to myself. I then taught myself to play it and have collected a few hundred of my all-time favourite songs, which has led to many happy hours, playing and singing, with Karin whistling along. 
  • Family visiting us in Brazil, Antigua, Cuba, New Zealand and Indonesia, plus the most amazing surprise dockside family welcome we received in Richards Bay upon arriving back in South Africa.
My son, Steve, visited us in Indonesia.
  • Fishing was always a joy, both in New Zealand where red snapper abound, and on our ocean passages, where we caught the most beautiful dorado, tuna and many other species. Cleaning and vacuum packing them for the freezer was hard, messy work but it was rewarding to seldom run out of delicious fish for our dinners.
  • The passage through the Torres Straits, between the north of Australia and Indonesia was very challenging but rewarding, as it is a shallow area between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, beset with strong, fluctuating tidal currents. Due to electrical problems at the time we could only rely on one engine if needed, so it took very careful planning and expert help with up to date satellite imagery sourced from South Africa to cut west of the formal shipping channels and use the shortest, safest overnight sailing route through this maze of islands and sandbars.
  • Living completely ‘off the grid’ was wonderful! In five years whilst away from South Africa, Moondust was at a marina dock for just one night and for a few other nights we tied to a mooring ball. For the remainder we were either crossing oceans or mostly anchored at places of our choosing.  We produced our own fresh water, relying on our water-maker when out in the ‘deep blue’, or collected rain.  Additionally, the 1120 watt solar array we installed provided us with ample electrical power under most circumstances, enabling us to heat shower water, operate a microwave oven, electric toaster and kettle, without needing to generate power or re-stock with fuel. The bread maker, along with a good supply of yeast and whole-wheat flour, turned out to be an indispensable appliance.

With Moondust stocked with essentials, we were able to sail for months at a time out in the wild, blue yonder. We led a life of incredible variety, met lovely islanders as well as pleasant, interesting, like-minded cruisers and experienced a marvellous feeling of independence, self-reliance and self-satisfaction. Nothing more was needed to make this whole venture a thoroughly fulfilling experience of a lifetime!

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