May 20, 2012

southern ocean / 30 days: simons town to fremantle

by Somira Sao

We departed the dock in Simon's Town at 9 pm on Thursday, April 12th 2012.  With the kids tucked warmly into the port side berth, me squeezed in beside them, and James on deck sailing in the dark, we rounded the Cape of Good Hope around 12 am on Friday the 13th.

James asked me if I was superstitious as we were about to begin our biggest family passage through some of the most radical ocean on the planet.

No, I was not, but I was certainly feeling an elevated sense of apprehension and excitement.

When Anasazi Girl was on the hard stand at the South African Navy Dockyard, we stayed on our friend Dale Smyth's boat, Shining Star.  It had every comfort that Anasazi Girl didn't - a four-burner gas stove + oven, soft berths with sheets and blankets, a saloon with soft cushions, floors, opening port-holes, boxes full of toys, and a huge collection of sailing books.   The kids were very excited about all the toys and we ate well & slept comfortably the three weeks before we left port.

I read Derek Lundy's Godforsaken Sea for the first time while were staying on board Shining Star.  Although this was the most extreme version of the Southern Ocean we were about to sail, I wondered if we were totally nuts for getting ready to make this passage with our kids on board.

The entire time we were in South Africa, James and I had agonized together and separately about the upcoming voyage.  Up until just days before we departed, I wasn't even sure we were going to do it, as we had gone back and forth so many times about whether or not we would make this run as a family.

We were leaving later in the season, which meant longer, colder nights, but less risk of cyclones, hopefully less need of having to run super deep down south, and less risk of bergs.  We knew that no matter how much preparation, care, and caution we had taken to get the boat and ourselves ready, we always had to contend with chance and the risk of the great unknown. 

We thought about South Africa and all of the other dangers of the world and wondered where we had the greater chance of getting hurt - staying there on the land or going out into the Southern Ocean.  In the end, we decided we were ready to manage the risk of being at sea, and that we would sail this stretch of ocean as conservatively as possible.  James’ previous experience in the same stretch of ocean put me at ease, especially as he had made it into the port of Albany unassisted with a broken rig during his solo circumnavigation in 2007.

We departed the Cape of Good Hope with an enormous amount of trust in the strength of our carbon composite home, Anasazi Girl, as well as trust in our own strength as adventurers, sailors, and parents.

As captain of the vessel, James had the biggest weight resting on his shoulders.  He did all of the really hard work: all of the boat preparations in port, checks and maintenance while underway, sail changes, weather forecasting, and navigation decisions.  He was always on the night watch, and his objective was to keep us sailing safely, conservatively, and as comfortable as possible.  He kept us moving constantly in the flow eastward, maintaining the boat between the latitudes of 37°S and 40°S, and avoiding any big low pressure systems that could wreck us.

My primary responsibility was to keep the kids safe, fed, clean and healthy while underway; secondary was to be supportive to James; third was to be a photographer. 

The voyage turned out to be one of the most challenging things I have ever done - a huge test of physical and mental endurance as well as patience.  It was right up with there the last week of being pregnant and the intense labor of giving birth - only it was a sustained effort for 30 days straight.

During our one month passage, the kids and I were literally on deck for only four days out of the thirty.  Many times, when the seas were very aggressive, we were bound to our berths all day, sometimes for two to three days at a time.  Conditions were so rough at times, that we were not even able to boil water on our one-burner alcohol stove.   To top things off, the second week into the trip Tormentina got sick with a nasty cold bug that we had picked up in South Africa.  Raivo got sick second, then myself, and James – so the voyage was extra challenging as we nursed our coughs and runny noses for nearly three weeks under extremely tough sailing conditions.

The kids were unbelievably patient, present and positive - with endless stories, movies, songs, lessons, art projects, bird-watching, and games to keep them entertained and cabin fever at bay.  They were also incredibly brave, as we got hammered by several powerful gales and had huge waves that often knocked us on our side.

Raivo really started talking during this trip, and some of his frequently used phrases were :   “boat, loud!” and “wow, big kaboom!”

Tormentina at age 3 still had her tantrum“time-outs” in the sail locker, but always with James or me to keep her company, as it was rather scary up there alone.

My level of respect for James and all of the solo sailors who had ever made this passage had been enormous while reading Lundy's book.  But after our own trip across, my respect for the Southern Ocean and any sailors who had passed through it (solo or not) shot through the roof.

Thanks to James’ incredible ability as a seaman and our strong boat Anasazi Girl, we arrived safely in Fremantle on May 12th, 2012 at 9:30 pm.  We tied up to the dock, extremely relieved from the pressures of the passage and very grateful that we had made it in safely and with no damages.


  1. Yo amigos
    absoulutley legendary and what a first voyage for the wee ones...Andy of Zephyrus here except now in the Gambier Islands on Baltazar our new home afloat a 52 ft Damien II en route to NZ...We also now live in NZ hope to catch up with ya'll antipodean styleee soon...Only one thing to add surley the fastest trip ever! exactly 1hr from C'towm to Free'o,,,pretty conservative sailing aye!

    1. Thanks Andy!! Gracias for proofing too - I am still a bit tired out from the trip. Enjoy your voyage. Besos, Somira

  2. Great story and amazing pictures. You and your kids are incredibly brave! Yay you! You made it! Fantastic! We're tied up at a grubby dock in a friendly marina in Salvador, with the mast in a workshop. For the last FOUR days we've been all ready to do the last big patch work, but it's been super pouring rain rain rain and pouring some more so we're waiting for dryer days... Hard to come by in "winter" here. Now we both have colds too: introuction to a new set of bugs I guess. John snurfling from allergies. So right now, we're a bit blah, but actually, repairs are going very well. We're more or less finding what we can use until we bring rigging back into Brazil from Canada ourselves (the ONLY way NOT to pay both duty and tax as well as shipping. Not just great photos, but very moving and lovely too. all the best from Fran & John, dismasted in Brazil, sniff... but ONWARD! :) Let us know what you get up to there in Freemantle.