The adventurers, by Liesl King

Sailors are usually divided into two categories, those who race and those who cruise. Given that modern day sailing mainly consists of regattas, from Wednesday beer can races to the foiling giants of the America’s Cup, and cruising, whether it be a sunset champagne sail or blue water cruising in the Med, this division is logical. Yet I have come to the conclusion that there is a third category, one that dips its toes into racing and cruising and yet belongs in neither. I will simply call these sailors the adventurers.

Interestingly if one delves back in history, that is precisely what the sailors of old were. The first adventurers appear to have been the Austronesian people between 3000 and 1500 BCE sailing from what is now Southern China and Taiwan to the islands of Southeast Asia and from there to Polynesia and even Madagascar. The Age of Exploration (1400 and 1550) began under Henry the Navigator in Portugal, sending ships out to explore the west coast of Africa. It expanded to European ships sailing around Africa to China and Japan and across the Atlantic to North and South America.

These vessels were designed for exploration. Shallow drafts, a small crew and large cargo space enabling journeys of up to a year. Their aim initially was to discovery ocean routes to the fabled lands of spices, India and the Far East. Expeditions to the Americas discovered gold, silver and new land to colonise. For the owners and backers of these exploration voyages it was all about making money, but for the captains of these ships it was about adventure and fame.

These journeys were fraught with danger. Ships often got lost, crews never to return. And still these captains set sail, heading off into the unknown. True adventurers at heart. Yet somewhere along the line, the adventure spirit of sailing seems to have been lost. There were no more lands to conquer, nutmeg could be grown elsewhere, and sailing became commercial. Ships were for transporting cargo and passengers. Sailing was for pleasure and racing.

Recently, something interesting happened as I sat listening to Kirsten Neuschäfer talk about her entry in the singlehanded Golden Globe race around the world. I realised that she was not merely a sailor who likes racing. She was foremost an adventurer. She has cycled from Europe to South Africa, a journey of 15 000km that took roughly a year. She also worked for Skip Novak for a number of years on his Pelagic Expeditions to South Georgia, The Antarctic Peninsula, Patagonia and the Falklands. The Golden Globe race for her is the “ultimate adventure” and I realised that she is not alone.

Kirsten Neuschäfer | Photo credit- Netwerk 24

We have actually had several ‘adventurers’ through our marina in recent years, we may just not have recognised them as such. The most recent being Yann Quenet in his 4m boat, Baluchon. Yann is on a solo journey around the world in the tiniest of boats without an engine. He barely fits in himself and describes storms as “being inside a washing machine”. Currently Yann is somewhere between Recife and the Azores. Another is Dustin Reynolds, known as the Singlehanded sailor. A double amputee, who uses his teeth to winch and who had never sailed before, he recently completed his solo journey around the globe.

Go back a couple of years and we had Yanne Larsson and Calle Andersson from Sweden arrive in the marina in the floating bar named Albatross. What on earth made two middle aged, seasick electricians, with no sailing knowledge whatsoever, decide to buy a boat and sail around the world? It was the lure of the adventure.

The world has become a known and populated place. There are no more ‘lands’ to discover, everywhere you go there are people and lots of them. Even Everest nowadays has a queue of people waiting to summit. Hence those born with that adventurous spirit in their hearts face a dilemma. Yes, you can head to the Empty Quarter of the Arabian desert, where there is truly nothing but sand and heat, or you can make your way to the Alaskan Wilderness, but you probably won’t be  alone.

That is why I think we have come full circle. Turning to the oceans again in order to quench our thirst for adventure. The last place of openness, vast expanses of nothing but water, waves, and skies. I think it is that emptiness, that feeling of being completely alone that lures the adventurers, that makes them buy or build, forces them to set sail and to simply keep going. Kirsten will surely find a new adventure on the ocean once she finishes the Golden Globe race, Yann is already planning to build the next Baluchon, this time 5m, he tells me. And Dustin is coming to visit us again on his next trip round the world.

I think Yann summed it up best when I asked him why? Why would he set sail in a 4m boat with no engine, where lying down or sitting up are the only options if the hatch is shut and where he is unlikely to see another living soul for months on end? “For the adventure”, he explained. “Out there in the ocean, I am truly alone with my thoughts, my boat, the wind and the waves. It is challenging, it is wonderful, it is an adventure.”

How lucky are we, as sailors, to have this gift of being able to experience, explore or just to simply enjoy the ocean. To go where the wind and our boats take us, whether it be as a racer, a cruiser or an adventurer.

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