- Hometown: Berwyn, Illinois
Cape Town, South Africa
What path did you take to have the experience and desire to take on around-the-world racing?
I can trace my passion for adventure back to when I grew up sailing on the Great Lakes. I did my share of buoy races, but I most enjoyed the races from port-to-port. When you are 12 or 13 it is a big adventure sailing all of 30 miles from downtown Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana. It was the enjoyment of sailing to a destination that has been fundamental to my sailing career.
At the age of 24, a year after I completed school, I delivered a German Onion Patch boat (the ‘S&S Pinta’) to Europe and went on to sail in my first Cowes Race Week in England. I became hooked on the European racing circuit and set myself up with a base in Hamble near Southampton. I would go on to do several more Cowes Race Weeks, races in the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Sardinia Cups, and so on. But, since the world of pro-sailing as we know it had not yet arrived, I had to find other ways to make ends meet rather than through competition. As a result I ended up doing general boat work and many deliveries in between ocean races and regattas. That all led to the 1977 Whitbread. I secured my berth over a pint of ale in the Fountain Hotel Pub in Cowes to navigate aboard ‘Kings Legend’.
How did you get into racing around the world? What compelled you to take on this challenge?
You had to be passionate about what was then living out of a sea bag and taking opportunities as they came. And the Whitbread was one of the biggest opportunities.
In the early days Whitbread racers were looked upon as crack pots by the top American racing sailors for racing around the world. For me it was a logical evolution, going back to my passion for exploration developed as a young sailor on the Great Lakes. In line with that, my first around the world race in the 1977-78 edition of the Whitbread was a romantic voyage in the style of a Conradian novel. I was 25 and the navigator for ‘Kings Legend’ a Swan 65 that took second place in the event. And, mind you, that was navigating with a sextant and time piece – that was it. It was a lot of responsibility for a 25-year-old by today’s standards of due diligence and experience.
The reason I continued in the round the world race game was of course to try and win, but it was also a way for me to keep traveling. I enjoyed being offshore in the middle of nowhere. I loved that.
What led you to go from racing Whitbreads to cruising and exploring around Antarctica?
During the Whitbread’s I really enjoyed sailing in the Southern Ocean. It was the ultimate adventure sail. Often we would pass close aboard to sub-Antarctic islands, round Cape Horn, wondering about what hid ashore, we would just glimpse the mountainous hinterland of Tierra del Fuego and skirt by the Falklands without a clue what was beyond the coast. Being well before the internet age, there was scant information about these places. The only solution was to go there or wait until someone else did. I wasn’t going to wait.
Before I started on my fourth and final Whitbread campaign, this idea had really taken root. After the conclusion of my 3rd Whitbread campaign in 1986, two of my crew and I decided to contribute equal shares to build the 54-foot ‘Pelagic’, a belt and braces cruising boat which we would use independently, taking turns every third year. I had year one in 1987/88 and used the boat for climbing expeditions in Antarctica and South Georgia, basing ourselves in Tierra del Fuego. Afterwards I went straight into the Fazisi Whitbread campaign skippering the Soviet entry.
After the conclusion of that 1989-90 Whitbread the other two partners of ‘Pelagic’ wanted to sell. But I had to go back to the Antarctic again for sure. As a result I had to buy out the other two guys and the only way to do that was to start chartering in the area, an entirely new concept and not so easy. I and five other French boats began the Antarctic charter business at the same time and are now recognized as the pioneers of the high latitude charter genre.
What is your favorite part of taking people on expeditions?
Seeing the charter participants take part in the running of the boat. I wouldn’t be a good charter skipper in the classic sense of serving the guests. I revel in taking people out on an adventure and seeing them get stuck into things and experiencing the struggles that we face down there. And they love it. It can be really fun when you get some high profile people on the boat. At times we have had several CEOs on board and, being competitive, they wind up seeing who can wash the most dishes or bake the best bread. With all the deck work, mooring and landings we do, all very physical, they can honestly feel that they have contributed to the expedition.
This October I’m going on a trip with Professor Paul Mayewski from the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. It’s his second trip on the boat and we’ll be taking ice core samples on the glaciers of South Georgia. I am really looking forward to combining another adventure with making a contribution to a science project.
What can you tell us about the Blue Water Medal you recently received?
I received the medal from the Cruising Club of America, a prestigious group of very serious offshore sailors. One thing that makes the club special is that one cannot join without being vetted extensively and proving you have done the miles – membership is by invite only. The Blue Water Medal is recognized world-wide as the highest honor in cruising. It is given to one person a year, either for a single voyage or for a life’s work. I received it for my life’s work in high latitude expedition cruising.
What are some of your favorite places to explore? Where do you want to go next!?
I’d like to do more in the Canadian Arctic. We attempted the North West Passage in 2005 but were unable to complete it because of ice conditions. But to do that in a single season is not really relevant as a travel experience in my book, as you have to keep going with no time to stop to get to the other end. I would rather take it in stages over a three-year period, leaving the boat iced-in for the winters.
Also, the coast of Chile north to Puerto Montt still provides enormous scope. The island of South Georgia is one of my favorites, from the trekking and mountaineering viewpoint it is exceptional; the wildlife is prolific, there is some greenery, and the weather is more dynamic to say the least. While Antarctica has become quite familiar I never get tired of returning to these places in spite of the fact that more people are thinking the same – but I suppose I am partly responsible!