There is something about sailing alone that appeals to some people. It may be the challenge of a single-handed race, the opportunity for a cruising sailor to have time alone with their thoughts, or the plain antisocial nature of certain individuals. Regardless of the reason, sailing alone is a unique experience.
Why do they do it?
For many sailors accustomed to having family or friends aboard, it is only when they are on their own that they come to really appreciate the experience of sailing. Friends have told us that they didn’t really hear the complexity and variety of sounds on their yacht until they were alone. Now they were able to distinguish the sounds that the wind makes at different speeds, and were more aware of the sounds that the water makes against the hull in various sea conditions.
Sailors often describe the “liveliness” of their yacht which, to non-sailors, may sound like a mere romanticism. But to someone who has sailed alone and is in tune with their yacht, it is simply describing the physical response to different conditions that they have come to know so well.
How do I know if it’s for me?
Sailing alone isn’t for everyone. To be a single-handed sailor you’ve got to be comfortable with yourself and believe in yourself. If you are going to spend days, weeks, or even months alone, you need to know that you aren’t going to go stark raving mad or fall into a fit of loneliness!
And knowing that you have no one else to rely on, you must be prepared to deal with every element of the yacht. As the saying goes, there are no plumbers at sea! That applies equally to electricians, shipwrights, and sail-makers. A solo sailor has to be able to fix, or at least jury rig, anything that goes wrong.
The ups and downs of people who do this.
After spending time alone at sea, you also come to appreciate how noisy and distracting life ashore can be. The legendary sailor, Bernard Moitessier, famously didn’t finish the 1969 single-handed British Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world race and come ashore. He chose instead to keep on going and circumnavigated the globe again via the Southern Ocean.
This was the same race in which Englishman Donald Crowhurst is believed to have gradually gone mad and drowned himself somewhere in the North Atlantic.
Even conventional sailors can feel that trepidation of returning to life ashore. Bob describes bringing a yacht to Hawaii and seeing the lights and intense activity on shore as he approached. Unwilling to part with the serenity of the sea, he turned around and went back the way he had come for a couple of days before finally relenting and sailing into port.
The earliest sailor to take to the sea alone to circumnavigate the globe was Joshua Slocum in 1895 (pictured above). He described his eventful, three-year circumnavigation in his book, Sailing Alone Around the World, now a classic piece of nautical literature. This short account is still available, and is a fascinating read.
A recent radio documentary by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC Radio) on solo circumnavigations highlighted excerpts from Slocum’s book, with narrative by more recent round-the-world sailors, Derek Hatfield and Dee Caffari, on their experiences. You can read the background to the program, Ideas with Paul Kennedy, and listen to this 54-minute broadcast here.
Whether you sail alone around the bay, or have a bigger goal in mind, we hope that you enjoy this unique experience!