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Circumnavigator Whitall Stokes Goes for a Swim

Everything is going swimmingly for Whitall Stokes on his route around the world — actually he had to jump into the water to cut a spinnaker off his keel in mid-ocean, but more about that later.

Whitall and Sparrow at the dock
Whitall Stokes on the dock on November 7, when a few friends visited to wish him well. Sparrow was berthed in Richmond’s Marina Bay Yacht Harbor.
© 2020 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Chris

Whitall is from Thousand Oaks in Southern California. He’s a long-standing member of the Pacific Singlehanded Sailing Association. He raced in the Northern California Singlehanded Sailing Society’s Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race in 2012, with his Tartan 10 Slacker. Now he and his Open 50 Sparrow are attempting a solo circumnavigation via the Great Capes from San Francisco to San Francisco. The route goes around the Big Island of Hawaii to port in order to gain the distance for an official around-the-world record. Halfway there the troubles began. “One of the larger issues that arose was that the water tank became contaminated,” he writes. “It was cloudy and soapy, and rather a big deal not having potable water.

“I determined that the a hose joint must have leaked, allowing some loose dirty bilge water into the tank. After pumping out the tank, I got the watermaker started. It’s been putting out one gallon per hour for a few hours now.”

After he fixed the water situation, his next problem was sails.

“I wanted an adventure. Looks like I’m getting it. Reader’s Digest version: Spinnaker wrap and my own ineptitude resulted in spinnaker in water and I had to cut it away. I jumped in water complete with knife to clear saildrive.”

The long version is that he waited too long to try to unwrap the chute. He had to go for a swim in order to cut it away and watch it sink. Then it was the Code 0’s turn: “3 a.m. this morning — it’s always 3 a.m. — a squall hit, not too bad at 22 knots. I happened to be awake about to make some coffee. Then, with the full main and Code 0 up, and before I could climb into the cockpit to blow the mainsheet, Sparrow rounded up and broached. I got her going again, then moved to roll in the sail but saw it was in shreds, torn from head to tack right down the luff.”

With both of his faster running sails gone, he’s in cruising mode as they approach Hawaii. “So now I only have sails that furl or hank. I’m very good with that. I will go 1 or 2 knots slower in some conditions such as the moderate air run to Hawaii, but I will get around in control. Definitely cruising mode, but I should have time for my reading list.”

Sparrow sails past Sutro Tower
Sparrow departed San Francisco Bay at sunset on November 8.
© 2020 Margie Woods

He summed up the experience so far: “Not a great day, as I will be slowed down, but I have reliable water, power and plenty of food, so things are actually looking pretty good. I am learning more about Sparrow and how to manage her. In the moments I catch my breath and take in the experience, I find Sparrow to be an amazing boat with smooth motion and reasonably fast so as to be a real joy to sail. I take in the continuous light show that is the Sea, and what a privilege it is to be out here to experience all this. In a few days I will reach a “bail-out” decision point as I approach Hilo. As things look now, I will keep Hawaii to port and head for the Horn.”

Learn more about Whitall and Sparrow at and follow their track around the world at



  1. Ken Brinkley 4 years ago

    Amazing adventure, I wish you well Fairwinds and following seas my friend

  2. Julie Conner-Daniels 4 years ago

    What an adventure! Good to follow you dreams. Fair winds my friend.

  3. Cecile Schwedes 4 years ago

    Slower can be steadier for the long haul! Nice problem solving Whitall!

  4. Caroline B. 4 years ago

    Fair winds and following seas.
    And Happy Holidays ?

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