The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 32 -

Opogees Orbit

         I, too, had these dreams, and they burned with
         enough fire to realize them. I had dreamed and
         saved enough, and the voyage was unusual in
         only two respects Opogee was the first fiber-
         glass boat to sail around the world; and one of
         the few yachts that has the very dubious dis-
         tinction of being attacked by a school of

twin jibs as usual. Alan Eddy had gone below to get a dish towel
to finish drying the dishes which he was doing up in the cockpit.
Suddenly the boat jolted violently. He stumbled and fell against the
bunk. Opogee shuddered and trembled from keel to masthead. Had
they struck a reef? Or a floating derelict? Here, in the middle of the
Indian Ocean, seven hundred miles from land?
  He rushed up on deck in time to see a dark shape rolling astern in
the wake. A whale! While he watched, the beast turned over, rolling
in an unusual way, as if hurt. Apparently Opogee had run up on the
sleeping cetacean. Then there came another shuddering blow, rever-
berating like a drum against the fiberglass hull. Then another and
another. A whole school of whales!
  Stiff with fear, Eddy tried desperately to think of an escape. He
had no gun and only a small fish spear which would only antagonize
them. He thought of throwing over dish water, oil, detergent. Futile.
  Then, from another direction, he saw steaming toward him an-
other school of a dozen or more whales, until the ocean around
Opogee was filled with fins and blunt noses. He could have reached

     ~ 285 ~

over and touched the nearest ones. Once more there came a shudder-
ing blow against the hull. He hoped the then relatively untried fiber-
glass skin would withstand the beating. But if several of the whales
decided to attack at once, nothing could stand up to it.
 The tension went on for twenty minutes or more, the whales
swimming alongside, seeming to watch him with their pig-like eyes,
at times striking the hull. Slightly smaller than Opogee, they were
identified as false killer whales or pilot whales.        
  When the whales had broken off the contact and gone, Eddy went
below with much relief to assess the damage and was further relieved
to find no structural defects.(2)
 The whale encounter, which could have been very serious indeed,
turned out to be the only flaw in an otherwise pleasant circumnaviga-
tion for singlehander Alan Eddy. Leaving Hampton, Virginia, in
June 1963, alone in his new 30-foot Seawind ketch, Opogee, he sailed 
south to the West Indies, Antilles, Colombia, went through the
Panama Canal, on to the Galapagos Islands, and followed the usual
track to the Pacific islands and along the trades, around the Cape of
Good Hope and back to the West Indies.
 Until ten years before he embarked, Eddy had never set foot on a
sailboat. He picked up some experience aboard friends' boats and
then on two of his own boats before purchasing Opogee new from
the factory. At the time he left Virginia for the West Indies, he had
never been offshore overnight or taken a sight with a sextant. More-  
over, his adventure was undertaken in a stock boat, built of fiberglass,
which at the time was still a controversial material in some quarters.
 Once the voyage began, he gained experience rapidly, and happily
chose the most trouble-free route: Panama, Galapagos, Marquesas,    
Tahiti, Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, New Heb-
rides, New Caledonia, Australia, Great Barrier Reef, New Guinea,
Christmas Island, Keeling-Cocos, Rodriguez, Mauritius, Reunion,
South Africa, St. Helena, and the West Indies.
 In almost 40,000 miles across three oceans, Eddy spent 50 percent
of his time enjoying a superb Sunday sail, 40 percent in reasonably
good sailing conditions, and only 10 percent in what he called hard
slogging. During one leg, from the Galapagos to the Marquesas,
Opogee averaged better than 160 miles a day, a remarkable record for
a 24-foot waterline vessel. His highest run, noon to noon, was 179
miles; the longest nonstop passage, 3,880 miles from St. Helena to
Grenada, which took 34 days. The second longest run was the 2,990
miles from the Galapagos to Nuku Hiva. Third longest was the

    ~ 286 ~
Keeling-Cocos to Rodriguez, a passage of 2,020 miles. In five years, he
made 400 ports or anchorages alone except for the South Africa to
West Indies passage, on which he carried a girl companion.
  -Opogee's route had been deliberately planned to take advantage of
the trade winds and to avoid heavy weather passages.
  "Different routes are possible," he wrote later, "but less enjoyable.
The fastest route is also the poorest the old wool and grain route in
the Roaring Forties. Any small boat which attempts the three capes
(Good Hope, Leeuwin, and Horn ) has my admiration."
  At the time of Eddy's circumnavigation, modern self-steering vanes
had not been perfected. It was common then to carry twin headsails
of some arrangement suitable to the particular vessel. These had been
used successfully on Trekka by John Guzzwell; on Wanderer III by
the Hiscocks; and on Stornoway by Al Petersen. On Opogee, Eddy
used twin jibs, carrying 330 square feet of sail in the trades. On
occasion, when the wind was abeam or on a broad reach, he modified
this somewhat. His one objection to twin headsails the same one
others have had is the uncomfortable rolling, which is more notice-
able on a narrow beamed hull.
  Altogether he carried a set of eight sails, all Dacron a main,
mizzen, two working jibs, a number two genoa, a storm jib, mizzen
staysail, and a spinnaker. After his experience, he said he would make
only one change, a drifter for a spinnaker under light air conditions.
  For auxiliary power, Opogee had a small Graymarine gasoline
engine, which gave no trouble in the six and a half years he lived
aboard, although it required frequent maintenance.(3)
  Opogee also carried a startling amount of ground tackle for a vessel
of only six and a half tons. This included 50 fathoms of 5/16 inch chain,
50 fathoms of 3/4 inch nylon rope, a 75-pound fisherman anchor, a 40-
pound and a 22-pound Danforth. The weight of all this served as a
large part of the boat's ballast.
  He did all his celestial navigation with H. O. 249, the Air Naviga-
tion Tables, and the Nautical Almanac. On long voyages, he took sun
sights three times a day, weather permitting, and plotted the position
at noon local time. He used star sights only near landfalls and on
difficult passages, such as through the Tuamotus. In only one in-
stance, a miscalculation and an unknown current on a moonless night
put him on a reef near Fiji, where the boat pounded for an hour and
a half before he was able to get off unaided. Only minor damage was
sustained by the fiberglass hull.
  Except for squalls, Opogee encountered gale-force winds only four

   ~ 287 ~

times in the entire circumnavigation. In each of these cases, life
aboard was tense and uncomfortable, but there was never any fear
the vessel could not handle the situation. On one occasion, Opogee
was picked up bodily by an enormous swell left over from a hurricane
in the Coral Sea, and laid over with the mast almost horizontal to the
water. This created chaos below, but there was no hull damage and
the episode was never repeated.
  Only on the passage around the bight of South Africa was it neces-
sary to man the tiller twenty-four hours a day. This was due to the
tremendous ship traffic created by the closing of Suez. At times
between Durban and Cape Town, Eddy would sight from thirty to
forty steamers in one day. Spending Christmas in Durban, as have
most circumnavigators, Eddy found the harbor jammed with yachts
on world cruises (this was 1967), a record number due to the closure
that year of the Suez Canal.
  Eddy's voyage around, aside from the whale encounter and the
temporary grounding on a reef near Fiji, turned out to be a singularly
unexciting experience in terms of high adventure; but it was carried
off so easily by careful planning and on a minimum budget almost
frugally. It was a leisurely journey, never pushing luck or weather,
marking time to assure good passages, being satisfied with only the
necessities of living while at sea and in port, and having a vessel that
required a minimum of maintenance along the way, including only
one haul-out.
  Of all the circumnavigators, Alan Eddy represents that almost
anonymous group who sail on long world voyages without advance
publicity, without commercial sponsorship, without contracts for
subsequent books or television documentaries; and, most important,
without getting themselves into those situations that make hair-
raising reading (if they survive), and require super skills, to say
nothing of blind luck, to extract themselves from. Because they are so
seldom heard of, the anonymous ones never make the headlines and
never take the bows, but there are many more Alan Eddys orbiting
the globe on safe modern vessels like Opogee than there are the
Chichesters, the Dumases, and even the Slocums.

       Should you have the grit and determination to start out
       on a long voyage, there is no better feeling than to see
       your very first landfall lying dead ahead. You know that
       all the planning, hard work, and money invested in the
       trip is just beginning to pay off.(4)

  ~ 288 ~

 - end Chapter 32 -

To Chapter 33.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Thirty-two 1. So You Want To Sail Around the World by Alan Eddy, published without date by the Allied Boat Company, Inc., Catskill, New York, with cover painting by marine artist lames Mitchell. 2. See Appendix for other encounters with whales, one of the most serious hazards of ocean voyaging in small boats today. 3. Opogee was a Luders designed Seawind model, built of fiberglass by Allied Boat Company of Catskill, New York, one of the pioneers in fiberglass sailing yachts. Another Allied Luders was the 33-footer in which Robin Graham finished his tedious circumnavigation. 4. From So You Want To Sail Around the World. In a letter to me, dated February 19, 1974 Albert F. Smith, Jr., sales manager of Allied Boat Co., lnc., reported Opogee still being sailed by Eddy, and still in excellent condition. He also noted that Robin Lee Graham (see Chapter 36) finished his circumnavigation with an Allied Luders 33, one of the company's stock fiberglass yachts.

To Chapter 33.

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