Anasazi Girl: A Family Sail…Across The Southern Ocean

23 May

James Burwick is an extraordinary sailor, and very unusual Dad. So unusual, he is sailing around the world with his family (which includes his partner Somira Sao, and their two children, ages 1.5 and 3.5!), on an Open 40. Anasazi Girl just completed a late-season Souther Ocean passage, from Simons Town, South Africa, to Freemantle, Western Australia.

Here's a little teaser of what that looked like:


Now, sailing across the southern Indian Ocean, in April/May, on an Open 40, with two rugrats, might be

consdered a bit radical by the Never Expose Your Kids To Any Risk Parenting Association. But Burwick pulled it off in style, and has written a fascinating summary of the passage. There is a ton of wisdom, insight, and practical advice, and humor, which is what you expect when someone has completed an extraordinary journey:

We arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 12 May 1012 after 30 days from Simons Town, South Africa.

Boat preparation was long and detailed.  This was to be one of those trips where it was better to send a report in after we arrived safely, not before.

It was late in the season for sailing in the Southern Ocean in many minds, but not mine.  I felt I could go above 40S, avoid ice, and avoid low pressure cells dropping off of the Indian Ocean summer cyclones. Leaving in mid-April just meant more darkness.   Well, it always seems to happen at night, so with longer nights, maybe the possibility of more bad stuff to deal with.

After approximately 1200 hours of boat preparations by myself, after sailing solo 32,000nm and with the family aboard 13,000nm, I felt the risk could be managed.

We left at 9 pm April 12.  I left some of the dock lines on the dock and rest of the lines went to our friends who let us stay on their boat while Anasazi was out on the hard.  I love to do this, leave at night, and leave the lines.

Three hours of motoring got us to the Cape of Good Hope at midnight, Friday 13th of April.  I pushed hard as the family slept below to get in front of a fast moving low pressure system forecasted by Brynn Campbell at Commanders Weather.  It was uncomfortable with the wind still in front of the beam, but we made it, and soon were going diagonal to 40S.

I cut the corner of the Agulhas too tight and the seas were just a mess of confusion along with one close call with a freighter coming up from deeper than I could understand.  Fortunately, that was the last of the ships we saw for the next month.

The idea for making it across was to keep the highs on our right and the lows on our left.  Just once did a high slip under us and it was not pretty, giving us three days of Easterlies.  Our only option was to go south with it all on the beam, which is not on the beam on my boat, it is in your face as the apparent goes forward fast.

The Easterlies eventually passed and the cold fronts progressed.  Snow was forecast for down south and rain for where we were.  We had dark long nights, and our typical sail combination became a norm of 3 to 4 reefs and only my storm jib, which is full spectra with full battens, and all white.

The storm jib is called a "Tormentina” in Spanish.  Before my daughter was born, I called it my white wedding.  For the first time, I had my Tormentina on deck and my other Tormentina (3 ½ years old) down below, who was aboard with her brother Raivo (1 ½ years old), which is a Finnish name meaning “fury.”

We passed below St. Paul and Amsterdam just in time, as a 982mb low we were surfing finally caught up with and rolled over us.  We were 100 miles past the Islands when the gusty shift nastiness of SW air came and we gybed port tack.

In the dark (always), I made the one big mistake of the trip.  My daughter fell asleep on my lap at the nav station bench. I picked her up and swiveled around to set her in the quarter berth.  A rogue wave knocked on us, and my knee hit the main battery switch.  

All the power went out. The boat rounded up and laid on her side. The Espacher heater didn't like it either, and filled the cabin with smoke.

This was not the first time I have been on my side at night in the Southern Ocean going backwards with 1700 liters of ballast in the side, but it was the first time with my family.  Fortunately Tormentina and the rest of the family were safe in the berths before we were on our side.  Everything was in order so nothing flew anywhere.  I couldn't open the door so I cracked it a few inches and turned on the fans.

I felt like such a loser and looked at my sleeping family.  Somira said, “We trust you,” and winked at me.  I got on my foulies, boots, headlamp, and harness & entered the world that I felt comfortable in.  The world where I never think about money.

Was it cold?
NO.  Down below, I wore bare feet with Crocs, no gloves, Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight underwear on top, Capilene 4 Expedition weight on the bottom, and a Nano Puff pullover.  On deck I used Gill foul weather offshore bibs, a Patagonia M10 jacket used for alpine climbing, and a light weight hat.  That's it.  I spent most of the time down below.  We ran heat 50% of the trip.  We brought minimal clothing.  We shipped our shore clothes and many spares to Fremantle.

What did you eat?
Korean Ramen noodles, oatmeal, granola, canned fish, crackers, cheese, canned and dried fruit.  Got to take those prunes always.  We also had a 10L Seal Line treat bag we let the kids go into once a day and sometimes if it was really rough, twice a day.  For drinks we had tea, Milo and a sports drink that we call “bug juice.”

What did you use in your galley?   
One-burner Origo alcohol stove, one MSR Classic Alpine cook pot, one stainless steel tea pot for boiling water, 2 GSI Fairshare Mugs, and 4 spoons.

Did you get scared?
Fear drives me to tighter risk management which means more thinking before action and slowing way down.  I see this as a healthy and helpful emotion.

What activities did you do with the kids in a confined space?
We had movies on hard drives, art projects (construction & drawing paper, scissors, tape, colored pencils, markers, crayons, beads, string, felt, needle & thread), lessons, and a few books.  They each had one stuffed animal for toys, no more.  Somira told them stories.

What did you use for navigation?
One large scale paper chart, and once a day made a mark.  I used electronic C-map for grib files and Maxsea software.

How is sailing with kids?
It is awesome if you sail within your comfort zone.  Way below that zone and stress levels increase.  I just spent an uninterrupted month, 24/7 with my children in the most pristine environment that I know.  It also in the place I feel most at home. AND with the one of a kind partner that I dreamed of having.  Somira will be sainted someday.

Where to next?
Right now we don't want to ever sail again.  But in a few more days we will be plotting another voyage.

Burwick's partner, Somira, has also written up the voyage from her (much more tentative) point of view. It is a fascinating read, and another perspective that is well worth checking out.

So, what do you have planned for your family this weekend?


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