Grandmother attempts global sailing record
A 76-year-old grandmother and retired mathematician from the U.K. is half-way around the world after leaving B.C. in October 2018 in an attempt to be the oldest person to sail solo, single-handed and non-stop around the world without the help of a motor.
Jeanne Socrates has already circumnavigated the globe three times and currently holds a world record as the oldest women to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted by a motor. She accomplished that feat on July 8, 2013 after 259 days at sea.
That trip also made her the only woman to have circumnavigated solo, non-stop and unassisted from a start in North America. She likes to start her trips from Victoria, B.C., and says the weather is just right in late summer or early fall for a trip south.
In late February, Socrates’ current record attempt had her reach 55 degrees east and she was sailing in the treacherous Southern Ocean, with the bow of her Najad 38 sailboat called Nereida pointed at Cape Leeuwin in southwest Australia.
The Australian cape would be the third great cape she passes on this record-breaking attempt at another circumnavigation.
Her position was south of the Mozambique Channel, and southeast of Africa, heading east across the Indian Ocean towards Australia. She had passed south of the Cape of Good Hope (and Cape Agulhas) on Feb. 13.
Cape Horn was passed safely on Dec. 19 2018, although Socrates had to dodge storms on the approach. And a series of strong weather systems slowed her progress across the Atlantic from the Falklands, putting her behind schedule for her latest record attempt..
“A big worry for the sailor are the possibility of cyclones coming southeast towards Nereida in the Indian Ocean, and she must keep a careful eye on their possible formation and track if she’s to be able to keep clear of them,” says a report on the sailor’s trip.
“As a last resort, she can stay safe by deploying a Jordan series drogue which stops the boat and keeps it safe in really bad weather. She has done that a few times on previous passages,” says a press release on Socrates’ progress.
She plans to pass Cape Leeuwin in Australia well to its south in about a month or so “depending on how well Jeanne manages to avoid being caught and becalmed in the frequent highs to be encountered on the way – and how well she negotiates the gales in between,” says the report on Socrates, released while she’s on the ocean.
“It’s famine or feast down here,” she says – either too much wind or too little!” ”
Socrates had hoped to be a lot faster circumnavigating this time around – but has had a lot of bad weather and gear problems to resolve on her passage so far with “many happening well before her reached Cape Horn”.
Her wind instrument failed and later all onboard instruments went down, solar panels stopped charging, and the boom vang or kicker (which supports the boom) connection to the mast fell apart after all its rivets failed.
In addition, the line-handling clutch broke, shackles went missing, a reef line broke, and the genoa sail had to be retrieved from the sea after a furling line came loose in strong winds.
“Amazingly, all were dealt with successfully except for the wind instrument failure – so she has no electronic wind info now,” says the release.
“But now she has no use of her mainsail, after a recent bad tear occurred which she has been unable to finish repairing (on deck) in the constant big swell of the Southern Ocean.
“She has the use now of her trysail (which works fine in strong winds), the genoa and small staysail. So speed is good in strong winds, especially heading downwind, but not so good upwind or in the frequent light winds of the highs which frequently come in between the strong winds of the Southern Ocean lows.
This is her fourth time on a long solo passage in the Southern Ocean and this is also her fourth solo circumnavigation of the world, while two were made with stops along the way, says the release.
“Weather has been stronger than in her last non-stop rounding of the globe,” and she has been making good use of a loaned Aurora wifi terminal for downloading big weather files in addition to her SSB radio for regular emails and daily voice communications with people around the world.
Socrates also has a tracker unit and a donated email and phone usage system and makes use of the Iridium satellite system. The constant communication “keeps me sane!” she reckons!”
Her current record attempt is in aid of the RNLI – the U.K. Lifeboats charity whose unpaid volunteers daily save lives at sea.
Socrates began sailing with her husband, George, after she took early retirement and they bought Nereida, a Najad 38 ocean cruiser in 1997 — only seven years after Socrates tried sailing for the first time — in Sweden, and sailed the boat back to the U.K.
“Never having sailed before June 1990, when I first tried out both dinghy sailing and windsurfing, I eventually took up yachting in 1994 with a competent crew course on the Solent – and never looked back!
The couple set off again in June 1998 and sailed together from the U.K. to Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and the Canary Islands in November 1999 for a jump across the Atlantic to the Carribean. They sailed north again in 2000 to Bermuda and the U.S.
The couple continued on to Baddeck on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia before heading south for the winter on the ICW. They visited the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic , Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and ended up in Grenada.
That year, George was diagnosed with cancer and they returned to the U.K. for treatment. They didn’t get back to their boat until 2002, and sailed to Trinidad and along Venezuela and to Bonaire, one of the so-called ABC islands, where George died in March 2003. He was buried at sea.
Socrates kept sailing after the death of her husband, and she had already sailed solo around the globe, via the Five Great Capes of the Southern Ocean, with a few stops mainly for repairs between 2010-12.
“I was lucky to be able to retire early to take to the high seas in Nereida – an excellent, if small, ocean cruiser. She proved to be both sturdy and safe in difficult conditions whilst being an excellent sailing boat – ideal for serious blue water cruising.”
She wanted to leave for her another circumnavigation in late 2017 to better her time of 259 days at sea but was forced to postpone that trip after falling off a ladder while getting her boat ready for the trip. She broke nine ribs, her nose, and hurt her back.
“My latest non-stop attempt definitely having to be postponed for another year…recuperation from bad fall going well – luckily, spinal cord is intact,” Jeanne Socrates wrote in an email from a hospital bed at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.
It was her second attempt at leaving. The liveaboard grandmother tried to leave for an eight-month circumnavigation in October 2016 but was forced back to Victoria because of extensive damage to her boat.
In her travels, Socrates has had more than her fair share of sailing mishaps and disappointments. In 2008, she lost her previous Najad 380 on the beach in Mexico, 60 miles short of completing a circumnavigation.
In 2009, in a new Najad 380, she set out to attempt a solo, non-stop circumnavigation from Lanzarote but rigging failure forced her to stop in Cape Town. A second non-stop attempt, this time from Victoria, B.C., in October 2010, ended with a knockdown in January 2011, west of Cape Horn.
And in October 2016 in her attempt at another circumnavigation, a strong storm caused damage to her vessel off Oregon in October 2016, and then broken gear off southern California in November forced Jeanne to abandon another attempt.
Socrates posts daily news and position updates to her website: www.svnereida.com.