The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 35 -

The Impromptu Circumnavigation

         I had no intention of sailing TARMIN around the
         world when I bought her. She was very run
         down and I purchased her with the view only
         of fixing her up as a winter project and then us-
         ing her as a day-sailer the following summer in

tonner, designed by Robert Clark and built by William King & Son
at Burnham-on-Crouch, England, in 1948. She was in extremely run-
down condition when John M. Sowden found her on the beach at
Majorca, Balearic Islands, Spain, in October 1966. A boat's good
qualities, like a woman's, often are mainly in the eyes of the beholder,
but Sowden thought he saw possibilities in Tarmin as a summer
coastal cruiser. Besides, he needed a winter project. So he bought her.
  She was just under 25 feet length overall, 21 feet on the waterline,
with a 7-foot 10-inch beam and a draft of 4 feet 7 inches. A previous
owner had changed her from a cutter to a masthead sloop with a
short bowsprit.
  Once he had her, however, Sowden thought it would be more
pleasant to do the work in a milder climate that winter, so with only
minimum repairs he left Palma on November 1, 1966, with a friend
who accompanied him as far as Gibraltar. Here more repairs were

   ~ 307 ~

made, and with another companion, a young Englishman who had
never been on a yacht before, Sowden sailed to Casablanca, arriving
on December 13. His destination had been the Canary Islands, but
had been unable to get through the Strait due to currents and head
 In Casablanca, where many sea vagabonds spend the winter wait- 
ing for better weather to make the trade winds crossing of the Atlan-
tic, he met for the first time the mysterious Pole, Leonid Teliga, a
circumnavigator who had built his own dream ship in his backyard,
and when he could not get a license to sail out of the Baltic, shipped
his yacht Opty as deck cargo to Africa.(2) Sowden was to encounter
Teliga many times in the coming months.
  On December 18, in light and variable winds, Sowden left Casa-
blanca for Las Palmas, arriving December 28. His English companion
by then had had enough. He had been seasick most of the passage.
Never again, he told Sowden, would he set foot on a yacht of any
  Las Palmas was a filthy port, infested with harbor thieves, but
there was much work to be done on Tarmin before she could go
anywhere. Leon Teliga arrived and left soon after for parts unknown.
The work finally done, Sowden thought it was too early to return to
Majorca, so on an impulse one day he decided to go across to the
Caribbean before the hurricane season started. For this passage, he
installed a Quartermaster self-steering device, which had been air-
freighted down from England. He cleared Las Palmas on March 23,
1967, for Barbados. He had never been alone at sea before, but things
looked "right," so he left, knowing that once out into the trades he
was committed.
  It was a slow passage of forty days, much of the time becalmed.
He discovered that in light airs there was not enough torque from the
wind vane to operate the rudder, and he had to attend the tiller
himself. Arriving on May 2, he found Leon Teliga and Opty waiting
for him. Several weeks were spent cruising the West Indies. He went
up to St. Lucia and Martinique, and thought about going down the
coast of South America, but changed his mind after reading Ocean
Passages of the World. This was when he decided to go to Tahiti.
  He left for Panama on June 26, stopping along the way at various
ports on the leeward route. He found Leon Teliga waiting at Colon
to transit the canal. Sowden's two-cylinder, two-cycle engine had
already expired, so he had to obtain a tow from a tugboat and
thereupon endured the most harrowing experience of the trip. The

  ~ 308 ~

tug almost towed Tarmin under at ten knots, which was far above
the yacht's design hull speed. While at Balboa, he met John Riving,
who was circumnavigating in his famous Sea Egg.
  On September 2, he departed for the Galapagos Islands, without
an operative engine, and discovered what hundreds of sailors had
learned over the centuries just getting out of the Gulf of Panama
against prevailing currents and winds was an accomplishment. It took
twenty-three days of slogging, with a broken roller reefing gear, to
make the passage to Wreck Bay, Chatham Island. Here he spent two
weeks, during which time he learned that Teliga was at Academy
Bay. Before he could rendezvous, however, the harbormaster reported
that Leon had already left.
  Sowden departed for the Marquesas on October 30 and on the
long downwind sail chalked up the best run of the entire voyage, 150
miles on one noon-to-noon observation. He found the anchorage bad
at Hiva Oa, so left immediately for Nuku Hiva, arriving on Novem-
ber 27. Three days later, a familiar sail hove in sight. It was Leon
Teliga and Opty. Leon, now adorned with a heavy black beard,
dropped anchor alongside. Sowden remained at Nuku Hiva until the
middle of December, loafing and enjoying the company of six other
yachts there.
  He arrived at Papeete on Christmas Eve and spent the entire
hurricane season in the harbor. The time passed easily, as there were
usually a couple dozen bluewater yachts in port. Leon came in and
moored stern-to alongside him. Still later, another solo navigator,
Johann Trauner, arrived with his Folkboat, Lei Lei Lassen, from
Toronto, Canada. These three singlehanders, who rightly regarded
themselves in a class apart from the usual Papeete yachtie crowd,
stuck together much of the time while in Tahiti.
  "While none of us is young, except at heart, we managed to do our
share of dancing at Quinn's," Sowden wrote later.(8)
  During his stay here, Sowden had the engine repaired with parts
sent out from England, but by now he had become accustomed to
sailing without it. He next visited Bora Bora, then headed for Ameri-
can Samoa, arriving at Pago Pago on June 9. Due to the $25 harbor
fees, he left as soon as he could take on food and water for Suva.4
  He was becalmed only fifteen miles from Suva harbor, and his
engine was again inoperative. But he was delighted to find Leon
Teliga also waiting to sail into port. By now, Sowden had decided on
a circumnavigation and two months were spent in Suva, refitting and
outfitting Tarmin. One night, harbor thieves broke in and stole $300

   ~ 309 ~

 worth of clothing and equipment. During his time here, his step-
 mother flew down from the United States for a visit. Teliga applied
 for an Australian visa, but it was denied him so he took on supplies
 for a nonstop passage from Fiji to Casablanca!
   "I may stop en route," Leon told Sowden, "but not unless I have
 to for repairs or medical reasons."(5)
   Sowden cleared Suva on August 29 and sailed to Vila on the island
 of Efate in the New Hebrides. He spent a week in Port-Vila, then
 went on to Port Moresby, New Guinea, arriving on September 27.
 He remained until October 16, hauling out Tarmin for hull inspec-
 tion. Here he applied for a cruising permit for Indonesia, and
 obtained the necessary inoculations required. He left for Timor and
 Bali, navigating the Torres Strait without an engine, taking only five
 days for the passage, and anchoring four nights in the lee of small
 islands. This anchoring cost him two anchors as a result of coral
 heads, a fisherman and a Danforth. This led him to pass up Thurs-
 day Island, arriving at Dili, Portuguese Timor, on November 3. Here
 he found his cruising license wanting for him at poste restante. He
 also found the American consul at Djakarta most helpful a decided
 contrast to the experiences of early voyagers such as Long, Robinson,
 and the Fahnestocks.                          
   Tarmin was one of the first yachts to visit Bali in the postwar
 period, although the Crowes had cruised there in the early 1950s.
 Sowden stayed in Benoa, Bali, until March 25, 1969, during which
 time another yacht came in, the trimaran Cetacean, from California,
 also on a circumnavigation.(6)
   The crews of the two yachts took turns guarding the vessels, and in
 this way they were all able to enjoy a leisurely exploration of the
 island which had long been off the tourist track.
   Sowden left for Surabaja to find a slip for bottom painting, and
 made a difFicult passage up the narrow, uncharted, and unlighted
 straits, taking 11 days to run 250 miles. He spent three weeks trying
 to get Tarmin hauled out and painted, during which the vessel was
 damaged when a shoring slipped. The work still undone, he left for
 Singapore to get competent help. While there, he got word of his
 father's death. Leaving Tarmin at the Singapore Yacht Club, he flew
 to the United States to help with the estate matters. When he re-
 turned to Singapore, it was too late to go to the Seychelles.
   "As a matter of fact," he told friends, "it was too late to go
   The southeast monsoon was now well-established, which would

   ~ 311 ~

of having been without the use of an engine from Panama to Cape
Town But an engine certainly makes things easier and removes a
great deal of anxiety in maneuvering in restricted waters."
  He had a fine sail to St. Helena. After a short visit, he went on to
Ascension, and, on May 7, left for the long haul uphill to the Azores.
He crossed the equator for the fourth time at 25d W and never
encountered the doldrums. The wind went from southeast to east
and at 30d he was in the northeast trades. He got on the starboard
tack and stayed close-hauled most of the time. On May 29, at 20d N
and 33d W, he crossed his outbound track between the Canaries and
Barbados, completing a singlehanded circumnavigation in three years
and forty-nine days.
  He stopped in the Azores for a visit, sailed over to Ponta Delgada
on San Miguel Island, and on July 13 departed for Gibraltar. On
August 14, with a fair wind, he breezed through the Strait. It was so
much fun that he kept his genoa on too long and it blew out. With
Gibraltar now a lee shore, he put into Algeciras, Spain, then worked
back slowly to the Balearics, stopping at Gibraltar and Cartagena. His
cruise was coming to an end, and he wanted to make it last.
  On September 8, he tied up again at the Club Nautico in Palma.
Thus ended a short holiday cruise that turned into a solo sail around
the world, almost completely devoid of incident or accident, in a 25-
foot sloop.

   ~ 312 ~

 - end Chapter 35 -

To Chapter 36.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Thirty-five 1. From a letter by John H. Sowden, The Spray, Vol. Xlll, No. 1, Spring 1969. 2. See Chapter 36 on Leonid Teliga and Opty. 3. The Spray, Vol. XIII, Spring 1969. From Papeete, the three single- handers, Sowden, Teliga, and Trauner, wrote a long letter to the Slocum Society about this. Among other things, they asked that a list be compiled of all solo circumnavigations a list that remains to be compiled, and probably would be impossible. 4. Complaints about foreign harbor fees and red tape are common among American voyagers. Few of them realize that other aliens have similar problems at times in U.S. ports. 5. No one suspected at this time that Teliga was already suffering from terminal cancer. 6. For the story of Cetacean, see Chapter 38. As of this writing partly due to the post-World War II "pioneers," Bali is again becoming a yachtsmen's mecca, and a tropical, exotic Far East paradise, replacing such places as Tahiti as a romantic waypoint. 7. In a recent letter, Dr. Campbell told me that voyagers no longer will find Durban a haven of hospitality. The welcome mat is no longer out. Dr. Campbell, himself a sailor and a long-time host, found his medical practice too demanding, and any spare time was spent sailing a Solent on inland waters.

To Chapter 36.

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