The Sparrow has flown. Whitall Stokes is on his way in an attempt at a solo circumnavigation. He departed from San Francisco Bay yesterday, Sunday, November 8, 2020. Whitall and Sparrow passed under the Golden Gate at 5:45 p.m. on an eastabout journey, taking the Great Capes to port, with an estimated arrival back in San Francisco in April.
Sparrow is an Open 50. She and Whitall both have ocean racing experience. He has a Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race under his belt (in 2012, with the Tartan Ten Slacker). By leaving on Sunday evening, he planned to get out just after the weekend’s gales and before a calm sets in. “I’d like to have wind, even if it’s too much, rather the predicted light winds later this week,” he said. “Once into the trades, it looks like an easier run.”
His route will take him around the Big Island of Hawaii to port and then south toward Cape Horn. Once in the Southern Ocean, his plan is to stay in the ice exclusion zone set up by the Vendée Globe race, which also started on Sunday. “It was nice of them to publish the limits online,” he commented with a laugh.
We caught up with Sparrow and Whitall at Marina Bay Yacht Harbor in Richmond on Saturday afternoon. Also visiting was Randall Reeves, who two years ago sailed his boat Moli in a figure-8 circumnavigation around the Americas. Randall gave Whitall advice on how to make it all the way around. Part of it was simple: “Stay warm in the high latitudes, keep up with your sleep, and keep up with boat maintenance.”
Whitall has no heater onboard. Randall, who is planning a return to the Arctic, advised paying attention to keeping hands and feet warm. Whitall has a 12-volt truckers’ electric blanket that he hadn’t tried yet.
At the dock, a few friends and well-wishers from Southern California’s Pacific Singlehanded Sailing Association and Northern California’s Singlehanded Sailing Society discussed shorthanded racing and the current boom in circumnavigations.
Lately, there have been three attempts and one success in singlehanded circumnavigations leaving out the Golden Gate, first with Randall Reeves’ incredible voyage around the Horn and through the Northwest Passage, then Philippe Jamotte’s westabout attempt just last month on his Open 40 Changabang. (He had to turn back due to boat damage, and returned to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay.) And now Whitall’s attempt.
When asked if he was ready and would be successful, Whitall simply said, “I don’t know. I’ve never done this before, but we’ll see.” Learn more about Whitall’s adventure at https://svsparrow.com/mission and follow the tracker at https://share.garmin.com/Sparrow.
Years ago boat builder Cree Partridge and naval architect Jim Antrim came up with the idea of a San Francisco-to-San Francisco singlehanded race that never materialized. Maybe Whitall’s attempt could be a test for something bigger in the future.
While Sparrow was preparing to slip out of Richmond into the Pacific, 33 solo sailors in the Vendée Globe headed out into the Atlantic for their world-rounding attempt. We’ll have an update on that event on Wednesday.