15 lessons in circumnavigation

Choose the right superyacht

With the development in design and technology you might think modern-day circumnavigation is an easy task but girdling the globe is far from a case of setting the autopilot and sitting back.

A panel of experienced owners – Sietse Koopmans (Zeepard), Tom Perkins (Andromeda La Dea, Atlantide, Maltese Falcon), Mike and Judy Ryan ( Tenaz) and the owners of Twizzle – have each completed a circumnavigation and here they share their 15 lessons in circumnavigation.

Choose the right superyacht

The first thing to consider when planning a circumnavigation is your choice of superyacht, says Koopmans – go for the wrong one and you’ll be paying for it all the way around.

“My experience is that yachts are designed in committee by people that have no cruising experience,” he says. “My boat, Zeepaard, is an explorer which is as close as you can get to the best boat. I don’t believe in sailboats – I like day sailing and racing – but cruising with a sailboat is cumbersome. For the same price you have a motorboat with three times the space.”

Pick your crew well

Koopmans learned the hard way to pick crew with great care. “You learn to work with crew and their wits. Generally we had a great crew apart from one criminal chef who made transfers to her own account and disappeared.”

Go with the current and the winds

"Go with the current and the winds, then you will stay in the bandwidth of good weather,” advises Koopmans.  Zeepaard’s circumnavigation started in Malta in 2009. The superyacht cruised the Mediterranean before setting off west across the Atlantic – the best way, according to Koopmans.

Westabout is best for a circumnavigation

The owners of Twizzle have gone round the world twice: east to west and west to east. The best, they say, is westabout. “The most practical direction (taking into account weather and seasonal winds) is to go counter-clockwise. Head for the Panama Canal, then through to the Galápagos and across the Pacific, then on to the Far East, Indian Ocean and Suez. Going clockwise is much more complex to programme,” they counsel.

Avoid Egypt

During Koopmans' three-year circumnavigation aboard Zeepaard, he and everyone on board were held hostage for three days while anchored off a town near Alexandria. “That was the end of our tour in Egypt,” he says matter-of-factly. “I decided there and then never to return.”

Perkins also remembers his time spent in Egypt with some negativity: “I have transited the Suez Canal only once and will never do so again.”

lessons in circumnavigation

Cape Horn should be rounded in December, according to Perkins, but even then it can be calm or horrific.

“We had only a perfect 20-knot breeze on the beam, so we sailed around the island and then on across the Drake Passage to Antarctica. The following year at the same time a friend with a similar yacht encountered 120 knots of wind and was unable to round,” he remembers.

Don't miss out British Columbia

“Everyone talks about Alaska but no one mentions British Columbia and the Inner Passage,” say the owners of Twizzle. “But it is just spectacular and so remote from the rest of the world, with incredible wildlife, whales and animals and the most beautiful scenery in the world.

"Watching killer whales put on a 30-minute performance for us all around the boat, and bobbing about in a dinghy watching 12 humpbacks cooperatively bubble fishing for herrings was, as the Americans say, awesome! The glaciers were pretty good too.”

Prepare for pirates

The homeward journey across the Indian Ocean took Zeepaard into pirate territory, something Koopmans was well prepared for.

“We made extensive modifications, including wrapping her up in chicken fence, barbed wire and electric fencing,” he recalls. “We also stuck a military number – ZP01 – on the bow, fitted shooting bunkers on deck and modified the engine room into a citadel from where we could operate all controls.”

For extra security, four Dutch Navy Seals joined the yacht for the journey.

Watch out for red tape

Another headache on Koopamans’ trip was caused by red tape, most notably in Cuba. “Watch out in Cuba,” he warns. “Eleven government officials came to inspect, fill in and sign the same papers.”

Be careful of jellyfish

Perkins recalls: “There was a crewmember who got stung by a Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish while cooling off mid-Atlantic and went into anaphylactic shock – twice. He pulled through thanks to the extensive medical facilities on board, but still wears the whip-like scars across his back.”

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