Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print

First woman single-hander around the southern capes

Jan 1, 2009
Naomi James during one of the tense moments of her circumnavigation when she was approaching Cape Horn.  (From Alone Around the World)

Naomi James during one of the tense moments of her circumnavigation when she was approaching Cape Horn. (From Alone Around the World)


New Zealand native Naomi James wasn’t actually the first single-handed female circumnavigator. That honor belongs to Polish national Krystyna Chojnowska who took 401 days to circumnavigate via the Panama Canal.

James was, however, the first woman circumnavigator who sailed the clipper route east to west, around the world south of the major capes. She completed the passage in June of 1978 in 272 days, beating Sir Francis Chichester’s record.

Although she had wanted to do the circumnavigation non-stop, she was forced into Cape Town for new parts for her self-steering unit. Later she had to stop in the Falkland Islands for rigging repairs.

James fell into sailing by falling in love with Rob James, one of the preeminent ocean racers of the day. Soon after she was crewing on charters. Rob James was working at the time for Chay Blyth who had just completed the first around the world race on British Steel.

Although she would get terribly seasick, Naomi James was the kind of person who kept pushing her comfort level, and after only a year at the most  she got it into her head that she would like to do a solo circumnavigation. Far from being discouraging, Rob James and Blyth, both seasoned round the world racers, encouraged James to find a sponsor. When that proved difficult, Blyth gave her use of his 53-foot ocean racer, Spirit of Cutty Sark renamed Express Crusader, designed by Van de Stadt and a veteran of the 1968 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race. After the usual rush to get things completed, James departed on Sept. 9, 1977.

What is most amazing when reading her book, At One with the Sea: Alone Around the World, is that she was technically ill-prepared for her undertaking — and she knew it. Despite her lack of knowledge, James had the utmost self-confidence in her abilities. Of celestial navigation she knew virtually nothing, having only received some quick coaching by her husband before she departed.

James was such a tyro at navigation that she made a classic beginner mistake. She used the longitude scale on her chart instead of the latitude scale to measure her distance run between her sextant sights.

She couldn’t figure out what she was doing wrong until she was able to contact her husband via radio. He immediately solved her problem.

Let’s join James aboard Express Crusader. She makes mention of using a plastic sextant, probably an Ebbco, and taking a sun sight and then calculating that the index error was a whopping 34 minutes. For the sake of this problem we will have James on December 20. We will use the 2008 Nautical Almanac. She is doing a sun sight and her dead reckoning position is 43° 25’ S by 95° 37’ E. Time of the sight is: 10:47:27. Height of eye is 10 feet and there is a sextant error of 34’ on the arc. The Hs of a lower limb shot of the sun is 24° 36.9’. Find the following: Remember we are in east longitude, so find the LHA accordingly.



A. What is the Ho?
B. Reduce sight and find the intercept.