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Lessons from a Circumnavigation Part I: Crews and Boats

By webmaster last modified Aug 18, 2002 06:17 PM

Published: 2002-08-18 18:17:20
Topics: Cruising Information

The following material was written by Michael Frankel who sailed as crew on Hornblower II, a US boat that took part in the Millennium Odyssey Canarias round the world rally (1998-2000). Michael generously provided these notes in the hope that his experiences and comments may help others prepare for their own offshore voyage.

Part I: Crews and Boats in the Millennium Odyssey

One can hardly sail all the way around the world for a year-and-a-half without having a few miscellaneous thoughts that do not quite fit the running travelogue. In this section I included reflections, advice, and odds 'n ends on several aspects of the circumnavigation: pros and cons of sailing in a rally, a list of Millennium Odyssey boats and their participants, cost of cruising, administrative preparations, communications, notes on boating equipment, selected references, and other useful information for cruisers planning long passages.

Thousands of recreational sailors have gone around before me, and I learned much from many of their cruising books and magazine articles. Thousands will undertake similar passages in the future. Maybe a few will find the following information useful.


World Cruising, Ltd., the organizers of the Millennium Odyssey, put together a diverse group of European, American, and Australian boaters for this 1999-2000 'round the world rally. Americans were in the minority with eleven of the thirty six boats, or about one third of the total. Compared to European, and two Australian entrants, this suggests either a lack of interest in rallies in the United States and/or more marketing for the rally in Europe. A planned start on the west coast of the United States was abandoned for lack of interest. In the end, only four American boats started in Florida while the other seven started in Europe. In general, I would say it was largely a European rally. The citizenship of the participants did not always match the boat registration, and in several instances the couples were of mixed nationalities. (In the list below I noted the owner's nationality and not the boat's registration.)

The median size boat was 52 feet in a fleet of thirty-six boats that ranged from 37 feet to 73 feet. Fabio on TARATOO, who participated in a similar 'round the world rally five years earlier, said that boat lengths in rallies is slowly getting longer. This may be due to power winches and power furling gear that make large-boat handling easier. It may also reflect an inflation in people's wealth and ability to afford larger boats.

Fabio also noted a decrease in the number of young people in the rally. Through dockside conversations, I compiled an informal list of crew and owner ages. I estimated that the average age among all participants in this rally (based on the fleet composition in Tahiti) was about forty seven. The average age of owner-captains was around fifty nine. The tendency toward older owners/crews may be due to modern technology that requires much less muscle power to operate larger boats. A sizeable number of boats, about a third, were crewed solely by a couple. Apparently, well-designed fifty-footers with plenty of power assisted gadgets present no special handling problems for their fifty- and sixtysomething owners and mates.

The youngest crewmember in the rally was an adorable, six-year-old Italian seductress, named Ginevra, on the catamaran CUSH. She became a special friend when I tried to teach her how to jump rope.

The oldest captains were seventy-year-old Betty and seventy-one-year-old Duke Marx of DISTANT DRUM. They also celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary at our fleet's rendezvous in Tahiti. Their enthusiasm for the adventure and tireless boat handling and maintenance were an inspiration to all who wonder what they will do when they get older.

At the height of the rally, in Tahiti, there were about 112 participants in the fleet. At the end of the rally in the Caribbean and Rome there were 108 participants. The number changed from leg to leg as guests or charter guests joined or left the boats. About thirty-two percent of the crews were women, usually, but not always, the mates of the owner.

Most of the boats in the fleet were sloop or cutter rigs. Nine of the thirty-six boats were ketch-rigged and two were schooners. All had Bermuda-rigged sails including a variety of colorful spinnakers and large, light-wind drifter-type sails held out with whisker poles for downwind sailing.

Boat designers and manufacturers varied considerably. There were five Amels, three Swans, and two Hallberg Rassys. The rest were of all different types. There were two catamarans. All the others were monohulls with keels ranging from five to fourteen feet.

Two of the boats, FUTURO and VEGEWIND were charter vessels. Prices for the guest crews varied between boats and different legs of the voyage. They ranged from approximately $50 per day to $200 per day. Duties for the charter guests also varied. On VEGEWIND, guests were expected to stand watches, cook, and clean. On FUTURO, guests did not cook and clean but did stand watches.

What struck me most about the captains, crews, and guests was their language talent. Although English was the common language on the rally radio network, the skippers briefings, and the awards ceremonies along the way, many lapsed into Spanish, German, French, or Italian during radio chats with fellow boaters. Almost all the Europeans were trilingual or quadralingual. For Americans, who are rightly accused of being language challenged, it was always amazing to hear how easily foreigners slip into various tongues.

The participants' language skills reminded me of a humorous piece passed on by my bilingual, Spanish-speaking son about European languages:

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU, rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty's government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five year phase-in plan that would be known as "EuroEnglish."

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c." Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump for joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k." This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f." This will make words like "fotograf" 20 percent shorter. In the third year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e" in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away. By the 4th year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v." During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters. After zis fifz year, ve vil hav a realy sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand each ozer.