Crazy is as crazy does

4 Jan

Crazy Eyes – an Open 40 – recently resurfaced

Happy New Year – let’s hope that 2019 is a year filled with crazy sailing stunts. I know, that’s an odd wish, but two sailing related stories in the news caught my eye this past week and it’s worth commenting on them. But first…  It used to be a big deal to sail across an ocean or around the world. My first circumnavigation was in 1981 and we were part of a small group that had made it all the way around the big blue marble blown just by the breeze. It was a big deal but these days circumnavigating has become pretty routine. There are many people who have done multiple circumnavigations and still continue to do them. It’s an addiction. There are records for the fastest, the slowest, the stupidest, the weirdest and recently I read about a true single-handed sailor that sailed single-handed. In the recent Route du Rhum, which is a solo race from France to Guadeloupe, there was a competitor that had only one hand. He was born without a right hand. A  true single-handed sailor.

Abby Sunderland being rescued
With that in mind it’s getting increasingly hard to do something that has not already been done before. You have to be quite innovative and usually the French are the best at coming up with some crazy idea; and pulling it off. But this most recent stunt is the stunt to beat all stunts. A 71-year-old Frenchman has set off across the Atlantic Ocean in a large orange barrel hoping to float to the Caribbean. His name is Jean-Jacques Savin and he left the Canary Islands in a barrel-shaped capsule which he had built himself. Since leaving he has been traveling at one to two knots and he expects to float the almost 3,000 miles pushed by the wind and pulled by the currents. He has no means of steering but hopes that he will end up in Barbados before the end of March – 2019. I have news for him. At his current (pun intended) speed he will be lucky to get there before March 2022. But fear not. Like most French he planned appropriately by stowing away a bottle of Sauternes white wine and a block of foie gras for New Year’s Eve, and a bottle of Saint-Émilion red for his birthday in January.  I dunno. I am all for adventure but seriously. A transatlantic crossing in a homemade barrel? I think going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is a smarter idea.

The other item that caught my eye was the reappearance of an old Open 40 sailboat that had been abandoned in the Southern Ocean eight years ago. The boat was originally commissioned by my friend Alan Paris for the 2002/03 Around Alone race. Alan had a very successful circumnavigation and then sold the boat which eventually ended up in the hands of the California teenager Abby Sunderland. Sunderland had plans to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world and there was much speculation at the time about the motivation behind her voyage. Her older brother Zac had previously sailed around the world to become the youngest person to do so. He was 17 when he returned. The story was that her trip was an attempt by her father to create a reality tv show about it and despite the fact that she had very little experience she took off from California in a woefully unprepared boat. Not surprisingly she only made it as far as Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. That was probably where this misguided idea should have ended but powered by her Christian faith and an overbearing father seeking fame and fortune, she took off again on February 6, 2010 heading for Cape Horn.

Her boat had been renamed Wild Eyes and while she did make it around Cape Horn becoming the youngest person to ever do so single-handed, she stopped in Cape Town to get her autopilot repaired and that effectively squashed her chances of a circumnavigation record. On the morning of June 10, 2010, she was sailing in high winds in a remote area of the Indian Ocean northeast of the Kerguelen Islands, about 2,000 miles west of Australia. Apparently the boat had been knocked down numerous times and it was dismasted. Sunderland set off her EPIRB and she was later rescued.

The reason that this is a story in 2019 is because her boat was recently spotted off Kangaroo Island off the coast of Australia. The boat was upside-down and covered in barnacles but amazingly still afloat. For eight long years Wild Eyes has been a hazard to shipping and other sailors because Abby did not make plans to sink the yacht sink after she abandoned it. I don’t know – I wasn’t there – but methinks that she should have opened some through hull fittings and cut the pipes. There is enough debris floating around out there. I wonder whose responsibility it is now to salvage and dispose of the yacht.

Anyone who reads me knows that I am all for pushing the boundaries and taking chances but I wonder if we are going too far. Jean-Jacques Savin, our french friend in the barrel might be looking for a more simple lifestyle but mark my words; he is going to need to be rescued. That thing he is floating in is more like a cork than a barrel and he’s going to be tumbling like a tumbleweed as soon as the first serious storm heads his way. 

I hope that you enjoyed this blog. I invite you to subscribe so that you will not miss a blog post. You will get a great free gift, a pdf copy or electronic of my book Grabbing Life. Click the pic to subscribe and if you are in need of new sails please contact us for a no obligation quote.

Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. David Scoh

    I have no issues with people putting their lives at risk in pursuit of something that has meaning to them, but I draw the line at getting others involved. Why should merchant mariners (most likely) or coast guardsmen go out of their way to pick up Savin and put their OWN lives in harms way to do so? (I mean other than COLREGS/UNCLOS.) If Savin didn’t do his math or pursue professional guidance, let him bob in his cork as he ever so slowly chases immortality.

  2. David L. DeMent

    I do read and enjoy what you write.. I lived 13 years on a Gemini in the Florida Keys and sailed around the Caribbean and several visits to Cuba before it was legal (so much for the wall) but it was a life I loved and I only have fond memories…

    Please keep up your good work knowing that old sailors like me still enjoy sailing tales and info..

  3. Gus van Driel

    Well said Mark. It is no one else’s business to judge a person for setting and attempting a personal goal so long as they do not endanger others. They do not need someone else’s approval.

  4. Mark F. Sandorf

    So, your objection to the “stunt” was not that a young girl tried to sail solo around the world, but that she did it for the wrong reasons ? Or is it that she was unprepared to do it safely ? I can’t help but wonder if it’s really anyone else’s business ? We have 7.7 billion people in this world. If one gets killed chasing their dream, does it really matter ? I’m for encouraging risk takers. This world has gone soft. We have an insane preoccupation with “being safe”. I equate that with being dead already, but still walking around for a few more years. Do you have any information on where this young lady is today, or what she has accomplished in her life in these last 8 years ?

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