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March 17, 2017

Around the World on a 24-Footer

We would ask you to play ‘name that anchorage’, but only one in a million sailors has ever been to remote St. Helena Island, perhaps most famous as Napoleon’s last address.

© Webb Chiles

The instant responsiveness of small, tiller-steered sailboats makes them excellent platforms for introducing neophytes to the joys of sailing. And when under the command of experienced sailors, the best of them — such as Santa Cruz-built Moore 24s — can be successfully raced both around the buoys and offshore. But only a naive beginner would attempt to cross oceans in a tiny Moore, right?

Wrong. As reported earlier, five-time circumnavigator Webb Chiles, now 75, is roughly two thirds of the way through his sixth lap around the planet (westabout with stops) aboard his Moore 24 Gannet. After completing a 23-day passage from Durban, South Africa, to remote St. Helena Island, he checked in a few days ago with this report:

"Gannet is on one of 22 or 23 moorings put down for visiting yachts at St. Helena Island, about 2/3s of which are full. When I was here 29 years ago you had to anchor in very deep water and use your dinghy to get ashore, which, with a lot of surge, was an adventure… This isn’t a harbor, just an indentation on the lee side of the island. The moorings are off a several hundred foot high cliff. Lots of terns flying up there where I assume they nest…

"The weather this year never provided even 72 hours of fair wind along the South African coast. I got tired of waiting and decided to make this an ocean passage rather than a coastal one, and went to sea intending to stay there rather than harbor hop. I expect that Gannet was the smallest boat to clear into Durban this season. I am certain she was the only one to clear for St. Helena. The Immigration officer asked me where it is. Sorry, Napoleon.

"Along the South African coast Gannet had her best day’s run ever, an Agulhas Current-assisted 180 miles. I was routinely seeing SOGs of 12 and 13 knots when we were sailing 8 and 9 knots. Six days later was her slowest day of only 13 miles, when we lay ahull for 12 hours in 20- to 30-knot headwinds, and then were becalmed for 12 hours, forty miles off Cape Agulhas, which we passed three times, twice sailing west, once drifting back east…

"Once clear of Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, we had mostly good sailing except for a couple of days of gale force winds when we again lay ahull. When those winds first reached us during the night I saw an SOG of 14.1 knots before I could reduce sail, the highest I have ever seen on Gannet, though she may have gone higher when I wasn’t looking. Two waves caught us and knocked us down, at least one of which put the masthead in the water because the Windex up there is now broken. That Windex was new in Durban, a replacement for one broken last year in a masthead-in-the-water knockdown in the Indian Ocean.

"The last week was easy trade-wind sailing. I could have gone faster, but just let Gannet ease along under jib alone. I’ve done a lot of hard. Easy was nice."

Mere mortals would have given up the folly of circumnavigating aboard a Moore 24 long ago, but not Webb Chiles. You can follow his progress via his transponder track. 

© 2017 Webb Chiles

The sometimes-San Diego-based author/sailor set sail for points north on Wednesday. To follow his progress via his transponder track, see this site. And to learn about his previous adventures — most of which are chronicled in a series of books — see his personal website.

We have more on this intrepid voyager’s travels in upcoming issues of Latitude 38 magazine.

J/24 Opportunity for Young Sailors

A tight J/24 race start on San Francisco Bay on a sunny, warm day.

© Peter Shumar

The U.S. J/24 Class has launched a program that will help 20-somethings acquire their own boat. The Kelly Holmes-Moon J/24 Boat Grant Program is targeted toward those young sailors who would like the chance to put a crew together and campaign a J/24 of their own but do not have the means to purchase a boat. The Class is offering a young skipper and crew a race-ready J/24, trailer, suit of sails and mentor for the 2017-2018 sailing season.

Will a new J/24 team be joining the friendly local fleet?

©Latitude 38 Media, LLC

The program is open to any team in the continental United States. For more information and details on the application process, see

Crossing the Atlantic the Easy Way

Bertish’s Atlantic crossing was impressive, but not a hundredth as impressive as if he’d gone west to east. 

© 2017 Brian Overfelt / The SUP Crossing

People have used all kinds of ultimate superlatives to describe Chris Bertish paddling an SUP from Morocco to Antigua over the last few months. The Wanderer is here to agree that while it was an excellent effort by Bertish, it wasn’t all that great.

Above all, I question how much of Bertish’s progress can be attributed to paddling. He covered 4,050 miles in 93 days, an average of 1.8 miles an hour.

Let’s compare that with the progress Steve Callahan made on much the same route in his liferaft after his boat sank in 1982. Callahan covered 1,800 miles to Antigua in 76 days, an average of about 1 knot.

At first glance then, more than half of Bertish’s speed can be attributed to… drifting.

There’s more. Bertish’s SUP is not like any SUP we’ve seen before and is actually more like one of the boats that people row across the Atlantic every winter. Surely it is very light and was built to be as fast as possible. I’d like to see how fast his SUP would go in 20 knots of following wind, with him standing up as a ‘sail’ and/or standing and holding up a sheet as a sail. I bet it really moves.

However Callahan’s liferaft, which was designed to stay in place, was nearly as fast. In those terms Bertish’s achievement doesn’t seem that impressive, does it?

Here are a couple of other contexts. The founder of Klepper inflatable kayaks had no trouble drifting across the Atlantic in his kayak, nor did the founder of Bombard inflatables.

Then, too, about 30 years ago a French guy crossed the Atlantic — on the same wind- and current-friendly course — on a mooring ball! And years later a Frenchman ‘swam’ across the Atlantic.

I’m not going to knock Bertish’s bravery, courage, skill or any of that. But if any of these Transatlantic people want to impress the Wanderer, they are going to have to go from Antigua to Morocco.

Alamedan Wins National Award

An Alameda sailor was named as the 2017 Educator of the year this week by the US Power Squadrons. Hailing from Ballena Bay in Alameda, Dr. Luther ‘Lu’ Abel has taught more than a hundred classes to thousands of boaters over the last 35 years in both the Bay Area and Boston. Dr. Lu has instructed students in boating basics, celestial navigation, and weather forecasting, among other maritime subjects.

Dr. Luther Abel (known by his friends as ‘Lu’) receives the US Power Squadrons’ 2017 Educator of the Year Award from Chief Commander Louie Ojeda (right).

© 2017 Steve Ericson / U.S. Power Squadrons National

As the world’s largest recreational boating organization, US Power Squadrons has been a premier maritime educator for over 100 years. Dr. Lu serves as the Northern California administrative officer for the organization. He teaches classes in Silicon Valley, Alameda and Oakland, plus monthly seminars co-sponsored by Ballena Isle Marina at the Ballena Bay Yacht Club, where he’s vice commodore.

Because the five archipelagos of French Polynesia comprise a French Overseas Territory, it’s proper to fly a French courtesy flag when you arrive.