Solo Circumnavigator Recounts Lucky Trip

From Ocean Navigator #131
July/August 2003
Tony Gooch, an Australian-born sailor based in Victoria, British Columbia, recently returned from sailing solo, nonstop around the world aboard his 44-foot aluminum cutter Taonui. Gooch, who has lived in Victoria for the past 35 years, is the first person to complete a solo, nonstop circumnavigation from a West Coast port. (The fact that he is 63 years old should count for something, too.)

The journey began in Victoria in September 2002, wrapping up 177 days later. The voyage was several thousand miles shorter and several weeks faster than anticipated, Gooch explained. “There was a lot of luck involved with this trip. I had thought that I would sail about 27,000 miles, but I actually sailed more like 24,300 miles on account of being able to cut several corners,” Gooch said. “I was able to sail a lot closer to Antarctica than I initially thought. I sailed to 47° south – instead of 44° – and that saved me quite a bit of time.” And when sailing past New Zealand, for example, Gooch headed north almost immediately. “The usual route involves sailing east until you reach 150° and then heading north. But it all worked out, so I went for it.” And lastly, as a final bonus, Gooch said he was able to avoid the Pacific High and sail straight home from Hawaii. “The high pressure went off to California, so I sailed straight across in 17 days, these huge winds pulling me home!”

Gooch and his wife Coryn found Taonui (Maori for godwits, a large ocean bird) in 1996 in Germany after sailing an Arpege 29 for many years. Built in Germany in 1989, Taonui features a full keel, deep bilges and a fixed pilothouse. The vessel’s Seldén rig features a double-roller Harken headsail system that can be poled out downwind, and an inner forestay for a staysail or storm jib. All of the vessel’s sails, including the three-reef main, were provided by Sanders Sails in Lymington, England. Gooch and Coryn sailed across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean that year, passing through the Canal and continuing to Chile and eventually Antarctica. The couple logged tens of thousands of miles aboard the boat, returning to northern Europe the following year and eventually cruising Iceland, Spitsbergen and Scotland. Gooch also used the vessel for single-handed adventures, sailing to South Georgia island in 1999 and then sailing around Antarctica in 2000.

Why a solo circumnavigation?

Image Credit: Tony Sheridan

Tony Gooch departs Victoria, British Columbia, in September 2002 aboard Taonui, a 44-foot aluminum pilothouse cutter, for his record-setting, nonstop solo circumnavigation.

“I guess the idea came from getting too old,” Gooch explained. “Coryn and I have done a great deal of sailing, but a solo, nonstop circumnavigation is the ultimate challenge. Taonui is a great boat; I wanted to do it while I still had plenty of energy. I really love sailing the Southern Ocean, as well, having done lots of sailing down there.” Gooch investigated the possibility of setting a record, determining that such an attempt had never been completed, according to the World Sailing Speed Record Council, and was careful to work within the organization’s guidelines.

On his circumnavigation, Gooch carried three staysails of varying sizes, which he would hank to the staysail stay and use to replace the roller jib when conditions declined. Although he carried a storm trysail – he used it only once when his boom broke while in a gale off the coast of Chile – his strategy typically involved running with a small jib in storm conditions. If conditions became extreme, he deployed a series drogue off the stern and ran under bare poles. This effectively slowed his vessel to 1.5 to 2 knots in a 55-knot gale.

Although not a scientist, Gooch is an avid birder and enjoyed the company of the wandering albatross and storm petrels. They are still seen in abundance in the Southern Ocean, according to Gooch, but an ongoing study of nesting pairs suggests a decline as a result of long-line fishing – the birds dive for hooked bait and then drown.

Taonui was steered by a Monitor wind vane, which worked flawlessly, according to Gooch, despite weathering numerous gales that included winds well in excess of 50 knots. Redundant steering was provided by a Simrad AP2000 autopilot connected directly to the rudderstock.

For more details on Gooch’s adventure, visit www.taonui.com.

Categories: Offshore Sailing