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Salute to John Guzzwell

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Fifty years ago, a 29-year-old singlehander from Victoria, BC, named John Guzzwell completed an unprecedented circumnavigation aboard Trekka, a 21-ft wooden yawl he'd built with his own hands. At the time, Trekka was the smallest boat ever to have gone around. The book he published about his adventures, Trekka Round the World, became a cult classic among would-be voyagers, and is credited for sparking the dreams of many who have circumnavigated since.


John Guzwell, at 29, sailed Trekka around the world.


Photo Courtesy John Guzwell

As keepers of the 'official' West Coast Circumnavigator's List, Latitude 38 has invited John to attend a special gathering, Thursday, April 16, 2009, at the Oakland YC to honor the 50th anniversary of his historic homecoming. (No host bar at 6:30 p.m., presentation at 7:00.)

WHEN: Thursday, April 16, 2009
WHERE: Oakland YC, in Alameda
TIME: No host bar at 6:30, presentation at 7:00
COST: Free of charge

John will also spend some time at Strictly Sail Pacific Thursday and Friday in the Author's Corner and at Latitude 38's booth #672-674.

In a sport often dominated by massive egos, John Guzzwell is a refreshingly humble hero who normally shuns the spotlight. So we are thrilled that he has graciously offered to share insights from his lifetime of voyaging and custom boatbuilding. He'll show vintage Southern Ocean film footage shot while accompanying Miles and Beryl Smeeton on their ill-fated Cape Horn attempt aboard Tzu Hang in 1957 — chronicled in another sailors' classic, Once is Enough. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading it, let us explain that the threesome got caught in a horrendous storm that pitchpoled Tzu Hang and dismasted her. Thanks to John's carpentry skills, they finally arrived safely in Chile after 87 days at sea.

In those days, of course, the electronic nav and communications devices we now take for granted were the stuff of science fiction. Not only were there no GPS units, watermakers, roller-furlers or solar panels, but there was no accurate weather forecasting. In the far reaches of the world's oceans, sailors — especially singlehanded sailors — were truly on their own.

This special April 16 event will also serve as an informal gathering of West Coast circumnavigators and singlehanders, but is open to all, free of charge, thanks to our partners, the Singlehanded Sailing Society, Scanmar and Waypoint.

Born and raised on Britain's Channel Islands, John grew up around boats, the son of a sea captain. But the tranquility of his childhood was shattered when WWII broke out, as the family was soon interned in a Nazi POW camp. Afterwards, he was trained as a shipwright and eventually emigrated to British Columbia, where, at age 22, he began building Trekka in his spare time to a J. Laurent Giles design. Her light-displacement hull was many years ahead of its time.

John later became a pioneer in cold-molded construction, a method he still advocates at annual workshops at Port Townsend. During his distinguished career as a custom boatbuilder, he has lent his expertise to a diversity of projects ranging from the 65-ft Farr-designed Lively to the 158-ft topsail schooner Tole Mour.

Between projects, John cruised extensively with his family, and in 1994 did the Pan Pacific Yacht Race from L.A. to Osaka, returning via the Aleutians and mainland Alaska. In both 1998 and 2002 (then 71) he raced to Hawaii in the Singlehanded TransPac aboard a cold-molded 30-footer called Endangered Species, a half-sized Open 60 that he designed and built himself.

We hope you'll join us on the 16th in raising a glass to the 50th anniversary of John Guzzwell's historic homecoming. He is one of our greatest sailing heros, and a living legend among singlehanders.

- andy

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This story appeared in the Sightings section of the April 2009 issue of Latitude 38. To order a print copy (complete with images in full color), use the subscription order form, and specify the 4/09 issue, or just drop us a note with a check for $7 to Latitude 38, Attn: Back Issues, 15 Locust Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941.

Please note: After a couple of years, the actual issue may no longer be available, but we will still be able to make photocopies or PDFs of the story.

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