The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 37 -

The Same Girl in Every Port

         My voyage from Cape Town to Helgoland was
         uneventful, except for the fact that I sailed
         straight from the Equator to the entrance of
         the Channel against northeast winds. It was
         very hard for me and the boat.(l)

he made a singlehanded voyage across the Atlantic in his seventeen-
foot Solveig II. On his return he put together an 8 mm movie
film of the adventure, and through lecturing earned enough to pur-
chase a larger boat and plan a three-year circumnavigation of the
  In the summer of 1966 he bought Solveig III, a Condor-class sloop
of fiberglass, twenty-four feet length overall.(2) She was built at Lake
Chiemsee in Upper Bavaria, along with forty others from the same
mold, but was a day-sailer, not intended for ocean cruising.
  On August 3, 1967, Solveig III was taken to Italy and launched at
Portofino near Genoa. Four days later, Rollo departed on his circum-
navigation. The first leg took him to the Mediterranean where he was
joined by his girl friend, Birgitta Lundholm, for sightseeing in Spain
and Morocco. On this part of the cruise, he experienced the first of a
long series of difficulties with the ten-horsepower diesel engine. On
the second day out, the exhaust pipe began leaking and the engine

    ~ 318 ~

compartment filled with water. They put into Minorca for repairs,
but the damage had already been done.
  "Never again," said Rollo, "shall I go on a long cruise with a new
boat. I think something has to go wrong."(3)
  Final repairs were completed in Gibraltar, except for the generator
which had been ruined by seawater. In late October, the couple
reached Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Here Birgitta left for
home. Gebhard stayed until he could complete bottom painting and
prepare for the Atlantic crossing. On December 12, he cleared for
Barbados, which he reached on January 7, 1968.
  He was joined by Birgitta, who obtained a free ride from Sweden
to Grenada, and together they cruised the islands from Grenada to
Antigua. There, Birgitta left again for home, and Rollo continued on
to Bonaire and Curacao, the Dutch Islands, where he had a pleasant
stay among hospitable people. He became ill here with an infected
tooth, which had to be extracted.
  The passage to Cristobal was a rough one. In Panama, he had to
enlist a crew to get through the canal. Returning to the yacht club at
about noon one Sunday, he was attacked from behind in broad day-
light, mugged, beaten severely, and robbed. He lost his watch and all
the money he had on him to the robbers, and was sick for several
days after.
  He transited the canal on July 6, and in Balboa outfitted for the
Pacific voyage. On July 17, he left for the Galapagos, taking extra
fuel along in deck containers. But the exhaust pipe began leaking
again, and he had to sail the entire distance in fluky winds. It took
twenty-one days to make the nine hundred miles fairly good time
under the circumstances. After cruising among the islands for six
weeks, he departed directly for Tahiti.
  "After Panama," he wrote, "I was a bit tired; and after visiting a
dozen uninhabited islands with some dangerous anchorages, I made
the great mistake of not stopping in the Marquesas and the
  His girl friend, Birgitta, again flew down to be with him, and they
spent two months in Papeete and two more in Moorea. On the way
to Fiji, they stopped at Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Aitutkaki,
Suwarrow, Apia, and Suva. At Suwarrow, they spent two weeks with
the legendary New Zealander, Tom Neal, who had lived alone on this
atoll for ten years. Neal, in his little dinghy, took them on trips to
other tiny motus of the atoll, showing them how to live off the land
and sea.

  ~ 319 ~

  "It was really hard to leave him, and I shall never forget seeing his
figure on the beach getting smaller and smaller as we sailed away."
  Birgitta returned to Europe on a cruise ship from Suva. Rollo
continued his circumnavigation, departing for the New Hebrides and
New Guinea. He paused long enough to explore these island groups,
and at one point made a roundtrip by air over New Guinea to Port
  It was a great pity, he commented later, that so many yachtsmen
who pass through Port Moresby never see this most interesting part
of New Guinea. Most of them are traveling on a tight budget and
cannot afford the luxury of side trips.
  From Port Moresby to Bramble Bay and through Torres Strait, he
encountered bad weather and tricky navigational hazards. He de-
parted from Thursday Island for Durban, South Africa, on September
12, via Christmas Island, Keeling-Cocos, and Mauritius. Approaching
the latter after the long Indian Ocean crossing, the weather was so
favorable that he decided to go straight on to Durban.
  In the Mozambique Channel, he ran into Force 11 storms, but on
November 30 saw the lighthouse at Durban. He used most of his
remaining fresh water to clean up, with the anticipation of going
right into port. Within the hour, however, the north wind increased
to Force 11 again and he had to lower sails and heave to. He drifted
to leeward for twenty miles by morning, and had to sail back against
the four-knot Agulhas Current, and the wind from the north. The
next day, he was hit by a southerly gale and drifted seventy miles the
other way. The second time, he made it to within ten miles of
Durban, only to have the wind drop to a dead calm. Only five miles
from the harbor entrance, he was caught by a tidal current and was
sent southward again. The next day, he was thirty miles from Durban.
Once more he tried to sail in, but the wind dropped to a calm, then
came on from the north.
  "It was dangerous and pointless to fool around any more, trying to
reach Durban," he wrote. "So I decided to sail around the Cape."
  At this time, he had almost no water, his batteries were dead, he
had no gasoline left for the little Honda generator, and the diesel
engine had not worked since Thursday Island. One sail had been
damaged off Madagascar, the bottom was a floating garden, and one
hatch leaked all things he had planned to remedy in Durban before
attempting the Cape.
  He sailed through the heavy ship traffic around the Cape in this
condition, without navigation lights, enduring three more gales. He

   ~ 320 ~

arrived at Cape Town on December 17 to learn he had been listed as
missing by German news services.
  He started at once to get repairs completed, but again was inca-
pacitated by pain with an infected tooth. All the dentists in town
were on holiday until January 15, he learned, and even then were
booked up weeks in advance. The tooth would have to wait their
pleasure and he was not free of pain until late February.
  He stopped at St. Helena, then went on to Madeira where he had
friends, crossing his outbound track to complete the circumnaviga-
tion. He had sailed from Cape Town on February 25, and arrived at
Funchal May 5, only one hour before a prearranged date with
Birgitta, who had flown down. Her plane was one hour late, other-
wise the rendezvous would have been kept precisely on time after
5,500 miles of sailing, 2,500 of which were beating against head
  He and Birgitta enjoyed two weeks of vacationing with friends
from home. After their departure, a movie company came on board
for two weeks of shooting. Then the yacht was hauled, and the
bottom scraped and repainted.
  On June 17, he left Funchal and sailed north, meeting light winds
and averaging only twenty-five miles a day. In the Bay of Biscay, he
encountered calms, but in the channel the winds freshened to Force
6 and he arrived at Portsmouth on July 10, three days after his forty-
ninth birthday.
  He spent a week in London with his brother, then departed on the
last leg of the voyage July 17. He found hard going in the Straits of
Dover and North Sea, where he was also greeted by fog and much
ship traffic. He took extra care not to have a mishap on the final leg
of the journey. He was convinced by now that the best way to sail
from Cape Town would be first to Rio, then to the West Indies, and
from there to Bermuda and New York and across.
  The German television and newspaper people wanted to shoot
pictures of Solveig III from the air, and a meeting was arranged by
telephone from England at a point fifty miles from Helgoland. Rollo
was there at the appointed time, to the minute, at 1400 hours on July
22. A seaplane from the German navy with six reporters on board
flew over him at an altitude of from seven hundred to one thousand
feet at 1403 hours and came back ten minutes later for another
pass and failed to see him.(4)
  So, after a leisurely three-year circumnavigation, Rollo Gebhard
returned home to Garmisch and an enthusiastic reception from the

  ~ 321 ~

German television and news media. He spent the rest of the year
editing and recording sound on the films he had taken, and looked
forward to settling down with a modest income as a minor celebrity
and the girl he had had waiting for him in every port.

   ~ 322 ~
 - end Chapter 37 -

To Chapter 38.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Thirty-seven 1. From a notice published by the Slocum Society in the club bulletin, Summer 1970. 2. The Condor-class sloop is 24 feet loa, 8 feet beam, and 5 feet draft, with a sail area of 280 square feet. 3. For all the things that can and do go wrong with a new boat, even with veteran circumnavigators, see Sou'West in Wanderer IV by Eric Hiscock (London: Oxford University Press, 1973). 4. This once more illustrates how difficult it is to spot a small boat in a running sea. Once, not long ago, I accompanied a search and rescue mission for a 40-foot boat disabled in the Gulf of Alaska. Although we had constant radio communications and had the vessel on the radar screen with perfectly clear weather and only a moderate sea, the vessel was not spotted until we closed in to only a few hundred yards.

To Chapter 38.

Return to Table of Contents.