Every generation has its heroes, and in the long-distance
sailing world it's people like Miles and Beryl Smeeton,
Peter and Anne Pye, Eric and Susan Hiscock, and the
famous singlehanders Bernard Moitessier, Francis Chichester,
and John Guzzwell. All these sailors have made voyage
after voyage to distant corners of the world, and they've
made these passages not once or twice but year after
year. In fact for most of their lives. Unfortunately
their names are probably strange to most yachtsmen of
today because the books of these sailors are largely
out of print and forgotten. And regrettably, all these
men and women have passed from the scene. All, that
is, except John Guzzwell who at the age of sixty-eight
completed the 1998 Single-handed TransPac Race from
San Francisco to Hawaii in a sleek wooden yacht of his
own design that he also built himself.
Trekka Round the World is the story of John's first
great voyage. He had completed his apprenticeship as
a yacht joiner (a specialist carpenter), and entirely
by himself built Trekka, a jewel-like twenty-foot six-inch
light displacement wooden yawl designed by Laurent Giles.
At the age of twenty-five he set out to see the world.
The year was l955.
John sailed round the world by way of Hawaii, New Zealand,
Australia, South Africa, Panama, and back to Victoria,
stopping en route at several remote islands. He started
out with cotton sails. He navigated with a sextant.
This was long before the days of satellite navigation,
single side-band radios, compulsory life rafts, VHF
radios, watermakers, auxiliary charging plants, etc.
Instead of an inboard diesel engine, John had a tour-horsepower
outboard and four gallons of fuel that he kept in a
locker. In those days there were no marinas or specialized
yacht harbors. You anchored with the fishing boats or
by yourself. That was it.
It's a remarkable achievement to make a sailing trip
around the world in a smart and seamanlike fashion by
yourself. To even manage such a small yacht in storms
and calms is a wonder. To have anchors and warps and
spare sails, clothing, plenty of food, charts, navigational
equipment, books to read, Band-Aids, sail needles, and
a thousand other things requires a very orderly person
and miracles of stowage. And to make the journey in
a twenty-footer that you've constructed yourself is
the ultimate capstone. I salute John on his wonderful
John's sailing was simple and uncluttered, but wonderfully
satisfying with a purity that most of today's overladen
and overpriced yachts fail to achieve. Outgoing and
affable, John made friends everywhere, and his account
sparkles with humor and good fellowship.
But what gives this book a kicker was John's chance
meeting with a yacht named Tzu Hang, a 46-foot wooden
ketch owned by two keen sailors named Miles and Beryl
Smeeton. John and the Smeetons saw one another in various
harbors, occasionally sailed in company, and became
fast friends as they worked their way across the Pacific.
The Smeetons decided to sail from Melbourne, Australia
to the Falkland Islands via Cape Horn. They wanted a
third person as crew to make the watches easier.
"Will you hold up your trip and come along with
us for a few months?" asked the Smeetons. "Of
course," said John. It was a fateful decision.
So halfway through his trip around the world, John stored
his yacht ashore, moved aboard Tzu Hang, and used his
skills to help prepare the big ketch for the Cape Horn
adventure. At the end of 1956 the threesome set off
on the 6,700-mile run to the Falkland Islands. However,
about 1,000 miles west of the western entrance to the
Strait of Magellan they had an experience that was to
change their lives.
While Beryl Smeeton was steering, a colossal wave waterfalled
onto the yacht and capsized and pitchpoled the vessel.
Not only did Tzu Hang lose her masts, bowsprit, and
rudder, but the huge wave stripped the decks clean and
even tore off the stout wooden doghouse. This left a
great hole in the deck through which water poured below.
Beryl was injured, over the side, and thirty yards away.
The yacht was flooded. It looked like the end of the
affair. Beryl managed to swim back to Tzu Hang. The
men pulled her on board.
"I know where the buckets are," she said,
and set everyone to work.
John tacked sails and bits of wood torn from below over
the opening in the deck. Meanwhile the Smeetons bailed
from below. In the days that followed, John used his
boatbuilding skills and constructed new masts from the
inside woodwork that he took down. The threesome cut
smaller sails from the spare sails. They built a steering
oar, gradually converted the wreck into a seagoing proposition,
and somehow managed to sail to Coronel, Chile with the
jury rig. It was an incredible achievement, and one
that you read with tears in your eyes. They had literally
come back from the dead. It's a story that all explorers
and sailors and adventurers know-or should know.
"There was a wonderful feeling of comradeship between
the three of us," writes John. "We all realized
that without the other two we would never have survived
and though we all wanted to get into Coronel, I think
we also realized that we would never be this close again."
These modest words belie the greatest adventure of his
Whisper, St. Michaels, Maryland, 1998
Hal Roth is the author of seven books including
Two Against Cape Horn, Two on a Big Ocean, Always a
Distant Anchorage, and Chasing the Long Rainbow. He
holds the prestigious Blue Water Medal of the Cruising
Club of America.