TANIA AEBI’S VARUNA: Abandoned and Up for Grabs in the Eastern North Atlantic

5 Sep

Varuna at dock

I have this straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, as Tania just dropped me an e-mail to help scare up some publicity. Though it no longer belongs to her, she’d really like the boat to be recovered. The boat (seen in a recent photo up top) being her old Contessa 26, Varuna, in which she sailed around the world alone as a teenager back in the 1980s.

Varuna was last seen on August 25, some distance west of Gibraltar, per Tania’s succinct missive:

Contessa 26, sloop, burgundy hull. Tony is the fourth owner since me–all men who aborted grand sailing plans in favor of wanting time with new grandchildren. He bought her two years ago, fixed her up really nicely with all kinds of equipment, such as radar even, and took off in June. Stopped in the Azores and installed new batteries and regulators, which failed again once underway to Gibraltar. Boat got wet, as she would, engine failed for some as yet unknown reason, so did new regulators for solar panel. He was scared being out there with all the shipping, trying to make an engineless, radar-less, electronic-less landfall on Gibraltar. At dawn on Aug 25, he called a passing ship via VHF with his last bit of electricity and climbed to safety, leaving her adrift about 600 miles west of Gibraltar. He has already reported position, etc., to Azores SAR and Portugal SAR, though I don’t know it with any more precision. By now she must have been carried some distance south.

Tania on Varuna

Tania aboard Varuna back in the day

Those who have read Tania’s book about her circumnavigation, Maiden Voyage, and have an appetite for irony may recall that Varuna’s status at the time of her abandonment mirrors much of Tania’s experience with the boat. These small low-slung Contessas are very wet offshore and it can be hard to keep systems running properly.

The last passage of Tania’s epic adventure was non-stop from Gibraltar to New York, more than 3,000 miles, in the fall of 1987 and took 52 days. A challenge, to say the least. For a while she lost comms capability and, per a sensational headline in the New York Post, was presumed to be lost at sea.

Varuna in NYC

Tania aboard Varuna in New York Harbor on November 6, 1987, the day she finished her circumnavigation

Tania w/Post

Holding up a copy of the Post’s erroneous headline, Harry Truman style

This time Varuna truly is lost. But I reckon there’s a very good chance someone will spot her. Soon there will be a thousand or more yachts charging west across the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean. You all keep your eyes peeled out there, and maybe take along an extra crew member or two, so you can salvage her when you find her.

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Tius Zweep


    I met Tony this year in Horta. With a number of sailors we have tried to help Tony after a heavy 2 month crossing from Florida to the Azores. Three storms, motorcycle breakdown and a torn main sail later Tony arrived exhausted in Horta. With only a tri-sail and a genoa Tony has left for Gibraltar. A month later, Tony emailed me that he had left Varuna on the ocean. He was greatly affected by leaving Varuna behind. Perhaps something to think about before making harsh judgments about this. Perhaps I have the latest photos of Varuna (made in Horta). Can she share if I get an email address.

    S / Y SYA
    The Netherlands

  2. Lynns

    Wannabe sailor,,,. Surely someone can do something to recover this wonderful yacht which has more than proved itself worthy of sailing the worlds oceans, In these days of overwhelming technology, is there no room for sentiment and a heartfelt need to save something that cannot just simply be relaced? This yacht has touched the hearts of all who have sailed her and read about her adventures.
    Please!!! somebody out there …….Do Something!!!

  3. G-Roc

    It would have been completely foolhardy to attempt Gibralter without radar and radio. Approaches to Gibralter and navigating the straight to make port surrounded by an endless line of shipping traffic in either direction requires one to be in constant communication shipping vessels 360 degrees.
    I have not missed the point! It does seem a shame that, at that point in time, he could not have chosen a more suitable port for a Contessa 26 with no radar or radio and tried a “traditional” entry.
    It should be difficult for anyone to pass judgement on a navigator and his psychological state following a long passage fraught with challenges and problems. I agree that it is a shame considering Varuna’s iconic status.

  4. Monica

    It’s called a SAILboat for a reason. What a sorry state we have come to, when people think that an engine and electricity are vital to making a safe passage/landfall … it’s difficult to imagine any other yacht better suited to sailing – vice motoring – than a Folkboat / Contessa 26.

    Why “Tony” thought he needed an engine or radar is anyone’s guess. Shame on him for abandoning a boat in working order and in good weather. If he was frightened by all the heavy traffic around Gibraltar, he had other options, including but not limited to returning to the Azores.

    Dan, sure hope you grow a pair soon.

  5. Dan

    Don’t be too “quick” with your judgments. It is a pretty boat and I love the book, but I always wondered – is that really a “sailing,” when you are trying to use the boat for an ocean crossing, which does NOT created for that purpose, or simply “posing?” In case of Tanya that was definitely a proof to herself whatever a young gal at that time wanted to proof. It’s done, it’s recorder, it’s became a legend.
    Now what?
    Do one really have to endanger his/her life to proof something he/she doesn’t care about?
    Have you sail through Gibraltar without engine and radar? It’s like driving on the highway on the wrong side with the steering broken!
    I think the current owner (well, former owner) did the absolutely RIGHT thing every sailor have to learn to do – he saved his life! For future adventures, or for the sake of those who love him. Well done!

  6. Sam

    The story is never really about the vessel. Instead it is always really about the the sailor. Tania was a real sailor down to the bone, while the new owners were merely ‘want a be’ sailors.

  7. Capt. Peter Watkins

    Yes, I too have read Tania’s lovely book, I was fortunate enough to skipper a Bayfield 40 with Tania to do a news cast for CBC, on Lake Ont., I was a CYA Instructor at Humber Colledge I believe the News Lady’s name was Brown. I read Tania’s column with interest, in Cruising Outpost Mag.

    Hope the lovely Contessa, Varuna can be salvaged and restored for more sailing adventures.

    Best wishes to Tania and family…………..Peter Watkins….r.h.p.watkins@gmail.com

  8. Gregg

    I read my autographed copy (thank you Tania!) of Maiden Voyage every year. Was even in touch with one of the subsequent owners (I think not this one) several years ago who had purchased Varuna – sent me a picture of her sitting on a trailer in his driveway – it was almost a religious experience for me, seeing THE boat. He said he could see where Tania made repairs and improvements she mentioned in the book. I thought, how lucky can you be to actually buy this boat.
    Very sad to read about Varuna today. Fussy to the end with engines, maybe she was just tired and finally ready for a long rest. Glad the owner is OK. Hopefully some passing sailor will find her afloat and be lucky enough to step on her decks, and bring her back home.

  9. Randall Johnson

    We wake up and say one day and say…….”No Way”

    Then reality sinks in She is/was Bitchin’

  10. Bob Talbot

    What a shame if they can’t find her. Hopefully the current owner secured her, battened down the hatches and removed her sails before he abandoned her. If so, she’ll be found.

  11. Dennis

    How times have changed. I read Tania’s book about her round the world voyage and she was always radar less, often engineless and electronic less and she made it around the world as an eighteen year old.

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