The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm



- 39 -

From Adams to Zantzinter

         People who are unhappy here and go some-
         where else are usually unhappy there, too. It's
         a thing from within. I don't think anybody can
         escape from themselves. People who complain
         about dragging off to the office every day, would
         complain somewhere else about the heat.(1)

the esoteric Slocum Society, and perennially frustrated editor of its
infrequent publication, The Spray, once gently chided the stoic
small-boat adventurers of the world for the maddening lack of news
of their whereabouts.

         Now, there are two kinds of sailors who hose the deck
         with a sense of relief when land drops behind the horizon
         the Loners and the Sharers. Some singlehanders are
         Sharers and some families are Loners. Born and brought
         up to a world they have not created, they have turned in-
         ward and out to a new world of their own, a world
         which had to be and which each one alone recognized.
         Physically they appear here, reappear there, and disappear
         for long periods of time. They do not know, nor care,
         who follows in their wake. The Sharers have remained
         open to the world of their fellow men. They have found
         a measure of peace and want to share their discovery
         with kindred minds.

           ~ 339 ~ 

         But both are headaches to the editor of The Spray.
       The Loners can only be caught by accident and what a
       tale they usually have! The Sharers are all ready to share,
       but preferably over a bottle of rum in some quiet harbor,
       not over a typewriter, pounding out a written message
       to a distant and somewhat anonymous organization. (2)

  In the closing years of the nineteenth century, when Captain
Joshua Slocum, "born in the breezes, and cast up from old ocean,"
hewed the new Spray out of solid New England pasture oak, and
sailed into immortality, the world had not yet experienced the two
"world wars," nuclear power, or even air travel, to say nothing of a
man walking on the surface of the moon and sending back via tele-
vision such poignant messages as, "One small step for man, one giant
leap for mankind."
  Although Slocum's circumnavigation alone in Spray is regarded as
the first small step for the anonymous seagoing rebels of the world, it
was also a giant leap toward acceptance of world cruising in small
boats. Everywhere that Slocum went, he was welcomed warmly, not
only because of his own innate Yankee charm and intelligence, but
because he became a symbol of all the restless urgings of all men
  The hundreds and perhaps thousands who have circumnavigated
since Slocum profited by this acceptance, whether they meant to or not,
and not a few exploited it to their own advantage. It is significant
that, where Slocum was received cordially, more recent circumnavi-
gators such as Richard Zantzinger on the Molly Brown, seventy-five
years later, found the welcome mat ripped up and shredded. Zant-
zinger reported how, arriving at the gentle family autocracy of
Keeling-Cocos, he was warned by a cable station attendant, who
rowed out to meet him, not to anchor over in the family lagoon. In
Slocum's time, the good captain noted in his log how he was held
there from departing by the kpeting, the legendary crab of the chil-
dren's tales. Even in Durban, that fantastically hospitable port for
world wanderers, harbor restrictions and red tape have taken over,
and even that long-time local greeter, Dr. Hamish Campbell, in a
recent letter, told how he no longer could find time to keep track of
  In Slocum's day and for years after one could wander the seas
and put into exotic places almost at will (except possibly at the
Galapagos Islands, where local petty officialdom often made life

   ~ 340 ~

miserable for unsuspecting yachtsmen). In many cases, not even a
visa was needed, to say nothing of a passport. Earlier voyagers fre-
quently mention the arsenal of arms and ammo they had with them
for sport and self-defense (Slocum had several adventures in which
only his faithful Martini-Henry repeating rifle helped assert his
independence). Today's more effete generation of voyagers not only
eschew such "crudity," but also report the crushing burden of suspi-
cion and red tape that everywhere results from declaring any firearms
  In short, the world today, after a half century of war, subversion,
hostilities, crusades, and revolution all in the name of freedom from
fear and want, has gained none of the freedom and lost little of the
want, that characterized Slocum's world.
  Yet, each decade finds more and more voyagers setting out upon
the oceans, many of them never to be heard of again, but most of
them doing their thing, with or without publicity. Indeed, some of
the more able and adventurous of them seem almost anonymous,
such as Sir Percy Wynn Harris.


climber turned voyager, began a circumnavigation from England. He
sailed through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, then down
the west coast of Africa to Gambria, where, as a former governor of
this colony, he had been invited to attend the independence cele-
  From there, Sir Percy sailed to the West Indies, went through the
Panama Canal, and on to Tahiti. With his son aboard, he detoured
to New Zealand for a six-month visit. Then he sailed to Australia and
up inside the Great Barrier Reef, through Torres Strait, and across
the Indian Ocean, reaching Durban in time for Christmas, 1968. His
last stop before returning to England to complete the circumnaviga-
tion was in Bermuda in July 1969.
  His circumnavigation was completed thirty-five years after he had
failed in two attempts to climb Mount Everest in the days before
portable oxygen was available.

          BILL NANCE

length overall, had been built for Dr. David Lewis, a London physi-

   ~ 341 ~

cian of New Zealand birth, who sailed her in the first Observer Sin-
glehanded Transatlantic Race. She was purchased from Dr. Lewis
by Bill Nance of Wallaby Creek, Australia, and in September 1962
Nance departed England alone for Melbourne via Buenos Aires.(3)
The 6,800-mile passage, west-about, took 75 days. He arrived in
Freemantle with the main mast broken 16 feet above the deck, under
a jury rig.
  Leaving Auckland on December 1, 1964, he sailed along the high
southern latitudes, around Cape Horn and up to Argentina, mostly
under a working staysail and main, well-reefed, steered by a wind
vane. On December 30, at 51S, running before a gale under bare
poles with thirty fathoms of warp astern, he reported "a sea bigger
than any I have ever seen before," which crashed aboard, broke the
tiller and rudder head, and forced him to lie ahull.
  "I have no great faith in lying ahull," he said later, "and probably
only survived because the weather eased and by the following day I
was able to fit the spare tiller."
  Near Cape Horn, the barometer dropped to 28.73. On January 7, a
landfall was made on Diego Ramirez, and later the same day he ran
close to the Horn in a rain squall, 38 days and 5,000 miles from New
Zealand. He still had 1,600 miles to go to Buenos Aires, and a long
struggle through the tide rips of Estrecho de la Maire. His circum-
navigation was completed in Argentina, and his was the smallest
vessel at that time to sail around the world and he had done it the
hard way, most of it in the Roaring Forties. He averaged 121 miles a
day for 6,500 miles on the last leg.           
  From Buenos Aires, he made another fast run to the West Indies,
averaging 123 miles a day. From Antigua to Nassau, en route to
Florida, he logged 180 miles from noon to noon on one occasion, the
best day's run of the entire circumnavigation, and an astonishing
record for a vessel of only 21 feet 6 inches waterline length.
  In 1968, he was reported married and living on the Oregon coast,
building a larger vessel for his next circumnavigation, this time an
east-to-west Horn passage.


Bernadette, that he would take her to the ends of the world, would
she say yes. He meant it literally. Their honeymoon trip started in
the fall of 1960 and lasted seven years.

   ~ 342 ~

  After leaving Cannes, they spent most of 1961 cruising the Medi-
terranean, before crossing the Atlantic to the West Indies, and then
on to New York for Christmas. Leaving New York after the holidays,
they sailed to the West Indies, and nearly lost their ship, the Saint
Briac, in a winter storm. From there, they followed the usual route
through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to Australia, and up in-
side the Great Barrier Reef, and returned to France via India, the Red
Sea, and the Suez Canal.
  At home, the Saint Briac was put up for sale, and Didier Depret
had found a life-long career at home building dream ships for
erstwhile voyagers.


Slocum and Pidgeon tradition. As a lad, he spent six years, from 1911
to 1917, on a windjammer whaler in the Arctic, where he learned
about small boats as a chaser in a 32-foot whaleboat.(4)
  After World War II, living in Los Angeles then, he built by hand
in his backyard a stainless steel version of Thomas Fleming Day's
famed Sea Bird yawl. As a former shipyard welder during the war, he
was able to do all the work himself. He modified the original plans
somewhat, eliminating the cockpit and bringing the trunk cabin
aft, leaving only a tiny hole after of the mizzen mast for steering.
  With a 25-horsepower Universal engine as an auxiliary, he loaded
aboard 120 gallons of fresh water and 150 gallons of fuel in the
hollow keel tanks, and six years' supply of dehydrated foods, plus a
stock of canned foods, meats, vegetables, and fruits. His vessel, the
Seven Seas II, floated eight inches below her load waterline.
  Sailing from San Pedro with his wife, Ceice, they visited Hawaii,
Tahiti, and Samoa. Ceice became ill and had to return to a cooler
climate. Bill waited until the hurricane season was over, then sailed
alone to the Fijis, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, New Guinea,
Australia, and through the Arafura Sea to Timor.
  At Christmas Island, he was caught by a hurricane in the exposed
harbor. Weak from a local bug, he put to sea and rode out the storm,
using an automotive tire with a cable bridle as a sea anchor. He could
not put in at Keeling-Cocos or Rodriguez because it was the season of
the year with frequent gales. He sailed about a hundred miles a day
under bare poles, the 5,100 miles direct to Africa. In Mozambique

   ~ 343 ~

Channel, a gale drove him toward Durban, and he arrived after 53
days passage from Christmas Island.
  In Durban, again loaded below the waterlines and again at Port
Elizabeth, he upset the local gamblers by getting around the Cape in
the wrong season. He carried, in addition to his supplies, two Northill
anchors of twenty-five pounds each, an enormous amount of ground
tackle, with spares for everything, plus much gear of a survival nature.
For fourteen days, he logged less than four hundred miles, and passing
Cape Agulhas, he was hit by a northwest storm off Danger Point, and
had to heave-to for five days. At Cape Town, he was reported
missing, but Bill's wife, waiting for him, insisted he would show
  "Bill knows the ocean," she told reporters, "and he knows his boat.
He'll make it."
  When he showed up between the breakwaters, the whole city
turned out to welcome him. Horns and sirens announced his arrival.
A case of champagne was donated by two Australians, one of whom
had lost a 10 note on a bet.
  One of his many innovations on Seven Seas II was the seven-to-one
worm gear steering, which held a positive course on any point of
sailing. During fair weatller, he used spinnakers mostly, rigged to
hollow stainless-steel poles attached to goosenecks on the mast and
hanked to jackstays. With this rig, he sailed thousands of miles hands-
off the wheel.
  Completing his circumnavigation in 1952, he became the first to do
it in a stainless-steel vessel.


Holcomb, set off in 1953, with Mrs. Holcomb and miscellaneous crew
members on a voyage around the world aboard the 46-foot schooner,
Landfall 11. OfEcial departure was from San Francisco on September
18. During the first ten months, they visited Panama, Ecuador, the
Galapagos Islands, Pitcairn, Gambier, the Marquesas, and Tahiti.
  Later, after a rough passage of the Tasman Sea, Landfall II was
badly damaged by a hurricane that struck while in port at Brisbane.
  The next leg took them up inside the Great Barrier Reef to Thurs-
day Island and then to the island of Bali. At Benoa, the yacht was
swept up on a reef, but refloated and powered into Surabaja for

   ~ 344 ~

  Next came Singapore, Penang, and Colombo. On the passage to
Aden, a giant swordfish rammed the hull below the engine bed and
made an inaccessible hole in the plank. Due to bad sea conditions,
repairs had to wait four days, until they reached harbor at Cochin,
India, with the pump manned one hour out of four. For the emer-
gency repairs, Dr. Holcomb was forced to pay excessive charges.
  The passage up the Red Sea, in December 1955, was unusually
mild, with temperatures almost cold. Visits were made at Port Said
and Suez. The Middle East weather also was unusually cold and
stormy, but they stayed in the Mediterranean until spring, then
departed Gibraltar for England.
  After two months in the United Kingdom, Landfall II crossed the
Atlantic via the Canaries and Barbados.(5) The passage from Las
Palmas to Bridgetown took a casual thirty-three days.
  After cruising the West Indies, Landfall II sailed to Miami via
Cuba, then up the coast to New York, back down to Bermuda and
Great Inagua in the Bahamas; then on to Jamaica, Panama, and
through the canal.
  A fast passage was made uphill to San Francisco, with a stop at
Acapulco, completing a circumnavigation in just three days short of
four years. For the voyage, Dr. Holcomb was awarded the coveted
Blue Water Medal of the CCA for 1957.
  During the voyage around, as a dentist, Dr. Holcomb was much in
demand everywhere he went. On one remote South Pacific island,
with the assistance of Mrs. Holcomb, he extracted free more than
one hundred teeth from the mouths of long-suffering natives.(6)


made by the Swedish couple, Sten and Brita Holmdahl, on Viking,
an ancient revenue cutter and fishing boat, which the couple pur-
chased in November 1951 and rebuilt. Sten was a boatbuilder by
trade and his wife, Brita, a seamstress.
  Being frugal and hard-working people, the Holmdahls, were able
to do most of the work themselves. The basic hull was of sturdy oak.
They rebuilt it into a beautiful ocean-cruising yacht rigged as a ketch.
There was no motor, except an outboard for the skiff, and a small
gasoline-powered generator to charge batteries for the lights.(7) Every-
thing except the rigging screws and a pair of doors was made by hand.
They had a sextant and a radio aboard, but no chronometer (the

   ~ 345 ~

radio was used for getting time ticks). A good compass and set of
charts and pilot books completed their list.
  In June 1952, the couple left Gothenburg for Marstrand with a
friend aboard, during which the only accident on the circumnaviga-
tion occurred someone dropped a sugar jar on the cabin floor. Sten
was not only a skilled sailor, but never took a risk unnecessarily.
  Leaving Marstrand alone, the Holmdahls sailed to Denmark,
thence to Dover, Falmouth, Douarnenez in France; then on to
Cascais in Portugal, down to Madeira and La Palma (not Las
Palmas). They crossed the Atlantic in thirty-four days to Barbados,
cruised the West Indies, spent Christmas in Antigua. Passing
through the Panama Canal, they sailed directly to the Marquesas in
fifty days, then went on to Tahiti, Fiji, New Hebrides, Port Moresby,
Darwin, Christmas Island, the Keeling-Cocos Islands, Mauritius, and
Cape Town.
  They spent Christmas in South Africa, then started out from Cape
Town on a passage to Falmouth, which took seventy-eight days. They
saw land at St. Helena and the Azores, but did not stop. From
Falmouth, they went on to Dover for a brief stop, and then to
Denmark, and finally home to Gothenburg, arriving June 22, 1954.
  For the voyage they were awarded the CCA Blue Water Medal for


wife with a brood of growing kids. No one would have suspected that
she aspired to be a circumnavigator. But late in 1961, she departed
San Francisco with as crew: Rick, seventeen; Jon, sixteen; Sue, eleven;
Patrick, seven, and two friends. They sailed their 58-foot gaff
schooner, Fairweather, to the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, and Fiji.
Then they spent five months in New Zealand, where a bottom job
was done, before departing for Noumea, New Caledonia. A hurricane
was encountered on the way, but port was made with minimum
damage. Six weeks were spent in Noumea before sailing on to New
Guinea, the Torres Strait via Thursday Island and Darwin; then
across the Timor Sea to Bali, Java, and Singapore.
  They spent seven months in Singapore while work was done on the
schooner by Chinese craftsmen, who carved panels, doors, and chests
of teak. On May 13, they departed for the Nicobars, through boister-

    ~ 346 ~

ous seas and adverse currents. They were chased by pirates when
leaving Great Nicobar, and with the auxiliary inoperative, the boys
crowded on all the canvas they could and slowly pulled away. They
then sailed on to the Chagos and Seychelles, on down to Zanzibar and
Mombasa, Kenya, where they spent a month.
  Rich was married there to Melanie, who had joined the crew in
New Zealand, and the honeymoon was spent on safari to the Tsava
Big Game Reserve.
  It took a month to sail from Aden to Suez. A five-month stay was
spent in Rhodes, Greece, and there Suttie became a grandmother
with the birth of a daughter to Rick and Melanie.
  They leisurely cruised the Corsica coast, stopped in Italy, sailed on
to Las Palmas, crossed the Atlantic to Barbados, cruised the West
Indies, passed through the canal, and sailed up the coast of Central
America and Mexico, arriving at San Francisco on May 18, 1965.
  During the entire voyage, there were no complaints not even
from experienced hands about the lady skipper. As for the children,
they developed into real sailors on the voyage, in addition to growing
up into young adults and teen-agers. Strict study hours were main-
tained aboard during passages for the youngsters, and during long
stays in New Zealand, Singapore, and Rhodes, they went to school on
shore. Patrick, who was only seven when they left, quickly learned not
only how to hand, reef, and steer, but became a whiz at taking noon
sights and plotting positions with H. O. 214.


tredges, who circumnavigated in their Svea, were another almost
anonymous couple. Robert Y. Kittredge started early on his lifetime
of adventuring, with a 3,000-mile trip down the Danube in 1928,
at the age of 18, in a folding canoe. The voyage took him from
Rosenheim on the Inn to the Delta. For 15 years prior to World
War II, he was a sculptor and architect, designing among other
things a housing development in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona.
  In the spring of 1960, Kittredge and his wife, Mary, bought a 38-
foot Danish double-ended ketch, SveaSvea at Fort
Lauderdale, where Bob conducts a school in celestial navigation.


when World War II broke out and the German Blitzkrieg rolled
over Belgium and France. Both were of staid, respectable bourgeois
families Louis, slender, sensitive, close-mouthed, with an engineer-
ing bent; Annie, short, vivacious, somewhat tomboyish, and game
for anything. Both shared a longing to be sailors and go to sea on
long voyages which was what brought them together during the
  The war meant five years of miserable oppression for Belgians
living in the homeland, although the colonies prospered during it all.
Courtrai is a small town thirty-five miles from the sea, through which
the Lys River meanders, lined with Flemish houses, where the citi-
zens ate well, dressed well, drank copiously, and thought only of
business until the Germans came.
  At sixteen, Louis applied for navigation school, but was rejected for
nearsightedness. He then took a dreary job in an office, but soon
resigned to enroll at the University of Ghent. Here he did so well
that he became an assistant professor and met Annie, who was also a
student. Later he joined the Resistance and went underground.
When the Allies liberated Belgium, he joined the British navy. After
the war, he was demobilized and returned to Ghent to find his
parents both dead. Now he and Annie became engaged and set about
designing, building and outfitting their dream ship.
  The name had already been selected Omoo. This was a Poly-
nesian word meaning "one who wanders from island to island" at
least that's what Herman Melville said in his book of the same name.
Omoo was designed by Louis and naval architect Fritz Mulder, and
built of steel by the firm of M. Meyntiens in Antwerp. She was 46
feet overall, 37 feet 10 inches on the waterline, 12 feet 4 inches of
beam, drawing 6 feet 4 inches, and displacing 18 tons. Ketch-rigged,
she had a total sail area of about 200 meters, plus a twin staysail
system for self-steering. Auxiliary power was a Kermath-Hercules
diesel of 27 horsepower, plus a small 12-volt lighting plant. Her lines
were conventional, with long keel and fairly easy bilges. Similar, in
fact, to the famed Alden schooners.

   ~ 348 ~

  After the usual problems of postwar shortages, delays, and frustra-
tions, Omoo was launched and the initial bugs worked out. With
Fred, a family friend and ironmonger, Annie and Louis (who had
been married meanwhile) made trial runs. Then on August 5, 1949,
the young couple departed Ostend, sailed to Dunkirk, then over to
Dover and Cowes. Fred, on leave, joined the ship for the passage
across the Bay of Biscay to La Coruna, Vigo, Lisbon, and Gibraltar.
Months were spent cruising the Mediterranean, and in re-outfitting
at Nice for a round-the-world voyage.
  There they were invited to sail to Tahiti with Robert Argod aboard
Fleur d'Ocean, a large ketch. Omoo was left with a friend at Nice,
while the Van de Wieles made the voyage to Tahiti and returned to
Europe on a freighter. They found Omoo waiting for them, and lost
no time getting her ready for a circumnavigation.
  With Fred as crew member, they departed on July 7, 1951. The
first passage was Nice to Gibraltar, thence to Alicante for slipping
and bottom painting. They were to haul Omoo many times during
the circumnavigation for repainting, for the metal hull and postwar
paints were not compatible.
  At Las Palmas in the Canaries, they found a veritable fleet of
yachts waiting to cross the Atlantic. Among their owners were a couple
of Texans on the little cutter Festina, and the Smeetons on Tzu Hang.
The Smeetons had just purchased the yacht and were on their way
home to British Columbia with their young daughter, Clio. This was
the very start of their long career of voyaging that took them around
the world, and Annie Van de Wiele's perceptive observations were
the first published accounts of this remarkable couple.
  "Astonishing people, these Smeetons," Annie wrote in The West
in My Eyes. "Miles Smeeton was a retired brigadier-general of the
Indian army. They lived on a farm on an island in British Columbia.
They had crossed the Argentine on horseback, climbed in the
Himalayas, explored North Africa in a jeep, and Central Europe on a
bicycle, not to mention other adventures of smaller caliber. They had
just returned from climbing to the top of Teyde. On mule back."
  Annie also recorded the best description of the Smeetons. "The
crew of Tzu Hang was composed of Mr., Mrs., Miss and a friend, all
well over six feet tall. Alongside them, my two men seemed only
average in height, and as for me I looked as if I was standing in a
hole in the deck."
  "Mrs. Tzu Hang," as Beryl Smeeton was known, also was noted for

    ~ 349 ~

her massive voice, which could be heard all over the harbor when she
called for Clio the latter usually being found in the engine room,
covered with grease, in the dinghy under the counter, or perched in
the crosstrees.        
  "It was undoubtedly the most energetic family I have ever met,"
said the almost nonplused Annie.
  Omoo and Tzu Hang traveled together or nearly so all the way to
the West Indies and through the Panama Canal. In the Canal Zone,
the Belgians had their first contact with Americans and it was almost
overwhelming for Annie especially the American women. Her de-
scriptions of the canal, the passage through, and the people she
encountered are among the best recorded by literary voyagers.
  They were unable to get a visa for the Galapagos due to the
perfidy of the local Ecuadorean consul, and so they bypassed these
islands. They had already visited them aboard the Fleur d'Ocean
anyway. They sailed directly to the Marquesas, next through the
Tuamotus to Tahiti, and then to Bora Bora and Fiji. Of all the places
in the world they visited, the one they most wanted to come back to
was Moorea, the enchanting island near Tahiti and to which they
eventually did return.
  From Fiji, the voyage took them to Port Moresby, New Guinea,
Torres Strait, and across the Indian Ocean to the Keeling-Cocos
Islands. They arrived about the time an Australian transport with a
load of soldiers was in the harbor, and the stay there was a long series
of parties. They also managed to anchor at the exact point where the
transoceanic cables crossed, much to the consternation of the cable
company crew. Then they left, the wireless boys cabled ahead to
Mauritius of the impending arrival of Omoo, and warned them to
watch their cables.
   It is interesting to note the recent visit, in 1973, of the California
yacht Skylark to the Keeling-Cocos. Owner Bob Hanelt reported
there were thirteen yachts anchored at Direction Island, bound for
the Seychelles or Mauritius, including four in the flotilla which
Hanelt had joined. These tiny coral specks in the middle of the
Indian Ocean have become a busy waystation for the bluewater
yachts of the world.
  With stops at Port Louis, and a long stay in Durban and Cape
Town, the Omoo sailed on to St. Helena, Ascension, then uphill to
the Azores, on to England, then on to Ghent for a joyous family
reunion, and finally to Zeebrugge, arriving on August 2, 1953.(8)

    ~ 350 ~
- end Chapter 39 - first part -

To Chapter 39 part b.

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