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In the past one hundred years, things have gotten crazy in the sailing world.

After Joshua Slocum circumnavigated in his 36 foot sloop in 1895, the world realized it was possible to make a singlehanded sailing voyage around the world. Solo circumnavigations started out as a trickle, and by the 1960s, the trickle turned into a torrent.

The first singlehanders regarded a solo circumnavigation as the Everest of the ocean. It was an austere experience, and the people who did it were fairly hard core.

These hardy sailors voyaged without amenities - no water makers, autopilots, or electronic navigation. It was celestial navigation all the way. If they wanted to drink water, they would have to collect it by catching it from the sky. Solar panels did not exist, and even if they had them, there would not have been much to use them for except a few weak lights.

They could generate scant electricity by towing an electric generator through the water. That might give them enough power for lights in cabins and electricity for a short wave radio for time ticks, but little else.

The early circumnavigators lit their boats with kerosene lamps. They even had running lights made from kerosene lamps.

Autopilots didn’t exist. These solo circumnavigators had self steering systems that ran off the wind. Their wind vane steering was extremely effective and did not require electricity.

Wind vane self-steering like the Aires did extremely well going to windward, on a close reach and a broad reach, but was less effective on a downwind run.

A significant number of the early circumnavigators had tiller steering, and it was possible to set up a sheet to tiller self-steering rig if you could not afford wind vane self-steering.

Sheet to tiller steering consisted of a rope, a couple of turning blocks, and some rubber surgical tubing. There’s not much to break or much to fix on the self steering if you are running a sheet to tiller rig.

I admire the early circumnavigators because they did it in small boats using systems that were easy to maintain and fix.

The early circumnavigators made their voyages in a non-digital world. They needed an accurate watch to keep track of GMT so they could do celestial navigation. In those analog days, the time pieces either ran fast or slow, and the sailor had to figure the rate on the watch to be able to compute the actual GMT.

Once short wave radio came into being, they could calibrate their watches with time ticks from radio broadcasts, and the accuracy of their navigation increased.

Virtually every circumnavigator used a calibrated timepiece, a sextant, a compass, and paper charts to plot their voyage around the world.

This is a partial list of solo circumnavigators and the boats on which they sailed.

1895 Joshua Slocum circumnavigated in Spray - a 36 foot 9 inch sloop
1921 Harry Pidgeon circumnavigated in Islander - a 34 foot yawl
1942 Vito Dumas circumnavigated in Lehg II - a 33 foot ketch
1955 John Guzzwell circumnavigated in Trekka - a 20 foot 6 inch yawl
1956 Joseph Havkins circumnavigated in Lammerhak II - a 23 foot yawl
1957 Edward Allcard circumnavigated in Sea Wanderer - a 26 foot ketch
1962 Adrian Hayter circumnavigated in Valkyr - a 25 foot sloop
1962 Jean Gau circumnavigated in Atom - a 30 foot ketch
1964 Pierre Auboiroux circumnavigated in Neo-Vent - a 27 foot sloop
1965 Robin Lee Graham circumnavigated in Dove - a 24 foot/33 foot sloop
1965 Rusty Weeb circumnavigated in Flyd - a 29 foot 3 inch sloop
1965 Alfred Kallies circumnavigated in Pau - a 27 foot sloop
1966 Wilfried Erdman circumnavigated in Kathena - a 25 foot sloop
1966 John Sowden circumnavigated in Tarmin - a 24 foot 7 inch sloop
1966 Wolf Hausner circumnavigated in Taboo - a 32 foot sloop - catamaran
1967 Leonid Teliga circumnavigated in Opty - a 32 foot 4 inch sloop
1968 Robin Knox Johnson circumnavigated in Suhali - a 32 foot 5 inch ketch

Nine of the seventeen boats in this list were under thirty feet in length. One circumnavigator completed his epic voyage in Trekka - a 20 foot 6 inch yawl.

The largest vessel in this list is Spray, a 36 foot 9 inch sloop on which Joshua Slocum completed the first solo circumnavigation of planet earth.

Even Sir Robin Knox Johnson did his circumnavigation in a ketch that was only 32 feet and 5 inches long.

It’s readily apparent that size has nothing to do with seaworthiness.

Sailing around the world is more about seamanship than the size of the vessel.

All of the sailors in this list had an intimate knowledge of the sea and of the vessels on which they sailed. They had uncomplicated vessels with no bells, whistles, or bling. These were “just do it” vessels and “I am willing to do whatever it takes” sailors.

Their barebones voyages were done at a time in which self-rescue was the only option if you had a problem. There were no EPIRB beacons that you could fire off, and you would have a helicopter overhead in a couple of hours to save you. If you didn’t know what you were doing, and you had a problem, you probably died.

These sailors were experts at heaving to, deploying drogues, and running off under bare poles. When they were in a storm, they knew what to do and when to do it, because their survival depended on it.

Weather did not come in the form of tidy reports from international weather services, and there were no weather routers. Circumnavigators learned to read the sky, and they lived by the Rule of Storms.

The aneroid barometer let them know what was coming and how bad it was going to get. When the barometer dropped a millibar an hour for twelve straight hours, a meteorological bomb was heading their way.

Mariners read the sea like a book. They studied ocean swells because they knew that hurricanes and tropical storms sent large ocean swells for hundreds of miles in every direction, and when they encountered larges swells that were out of the norm, it meant bad weather was on the way, and it was time to take evasive action.

These circumnavigators defined seamanship for generations of sailors to come.

And then the world changed.

By the start of the twenty-first century, sailing became popular, and vessels became floating condominiums. Yachts became recreational vehicles that happened to float on the water.

Instead of building vessels that were circumnavigation tough, the new generation of yachts were built to be marina tough. The yachting industry knew that most vessels would leave the marina only a few times a month, and the chance they would actually embark on a circumnavigation was infinitesimally small.

The seaworthiness of vessels plummeted and their complexity increased.

Big became beautiful and complexity was no longer a liability.

That’s where we are today.

Seamanship has been replaced by EPIRBs, and we have vessels that have been constructed to the lowest possible standards that will still float.

This is not a complaint. It’s just the way things are, and it’s important that newbies understand the facts of the sailing life.

Every time I visit a sailing forum, I find a thread where a person says, “I have $100,000 to $200,000, and I want to buy a boat that will take me around the world. I have never been sailing. Which boat should I purchase?”

I even read a forum thread in which the person stated he wanted to purchase a boat, fix it up for a few months, take some sailing lessons, and start his circumnavigation in less than six months. He knew nothing at all about boats, sailing, the sea, the weather, or seamanship, but he was sure that in a few short months he would be on his way.

I would like to tell these newbies, that big is not beautiful, and complexity is not an asset when you are heading out to sea. These wannabe sailors need to invest in an EPIRB and test it frequently, because there is a good chance that they will need it when their lack of seamanship creates a demolition derby offshore.

What I really want to say is that small is beautiful.

A 30 foot yacht with simple systems that are easy to maintain may not be a floating condominium, but it will keep you safe, and it will be affordable. A seaworthy small boat will forgive your mistakes until you learn seamanship, and it will take you on great adventures anywhere you want to go.

The solo circumnavigators have shown us the way.

Small is beautiful.


One of the happiest days of my life was when I purchased my Westsail 32 in Puerto Rico. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I had a sailboat that could take me around the world.

My love affair with the Westsail wasn’t the result of a slick marketing campaign. I had read the stories of the early circumnavigators, and I knew that a Westsail 32 was up to the task of taking my family on a circumnavigation.

The Westsail was big enough for the job, and in my eyes it was beautiful. My opinion has not changed after all these years.

People who see me sailing my small Catamaran - Exit Only - around the world may wonder what happened to my monohull dream.

Although my catamaran is not Westsail tough, it comes in a close second. We are a heavy displacement catamaran with robust construction that stood up to an eleven year circumnavigation without any structural issues.

We have been through storms at sea with winds to 50 knots, and we have deployed our parachute sea anchor and trailed drogues behind our boat to weather those gales.

My catamaran has other features that make it circumnavigation tough. Two engines, two rudders, two steering wheels, collision bulkheads, sea anchor chainplates, and water tight bulkheads are assets my monohulls never had.

Although I no longer have my Westsail 32, I would not sail around the world on Exit Only if it was not circumnavigation tough.

During our eleven year circumnavigation, I was never afraid on board Exit Only. There were times when I had to resort to extraordinary measures, but fear was never a part of those experiences. That’s what happens when you sail on a boat that is circumnavigation tough.

Dr. Dave

Captain Dave - David J. Abbott M.D.





Exit Only

See what it's like for a family to sail around the world on a small catamaran

Captain Save Our Souls

Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.

Red Sea Blues

Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.

Red Sea Chronicles Trailer

If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 1 - When Flying Fish Attack

Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 2 - Pirate Alley

Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 3 - Aden, Yemen

Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 4- Gate of Sorrows and Sandstorms

After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.

Save A Tree Bookstore

Although I like the feel of a paper book in my hand, I love trees even more. When people purchase an eBook, they actually save trees and save money as well. Ebooks are less expensive and have no negative impact on the environment. All of Dr. Dave's books are available at Save A Tree Bookstore. Visit the bookstore today and start putting good things into your mind. It's easy to fill your mind with positive things using eBooks. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pull out your smart phone or tablet and start reading. You can even use electronic highlighters and make annotations in your eBooks just like paper books.