Dan Stroud completes circumnavigation!

Dan Stroud completes circumnavigation!

On Jan 28, 2020, the OCC presented the honoured Jester Medal Award to solo sailor, Dan Stroud. May 24th, 2020, Dan successfully completed his two-year, nine-month, circumnavigation.

By - 02/06/2020

One might say kindred spirits united, as the ship -- the 31ft Rustler, Aisling, built in 1969 -- and its captain were the same age. What makes this voyage noteworthy, is that Dan wasn’t previously a sailor. He is, however, an inveterate traveller and adventurer. When Dan was 14 years old, he told his sister that his dream was to travel the world. Since that day, he has never given up on that dream.

You might wonder what inspired this voyage. After a cycling trip from Plymouth to Istanbul, travelling by bike all the way through Europe on his own, Dan was spending a reflective moment sitting on the shore of the Greek coast. An epiphany seized the moment. He made the decision to buy a boat and live on it. That decision led to the realization that he wanted to solo sail around the world.

In the spirit of pursuit and perseverance, Dan purchased a simple, no-frills, yet seaworthy vessel and set off to accomplish what most men only dream about. Having no previous sailing experience, Dan relied on his passion to hold his course and follow his dream.

“Guts, Courage, craziness, and a lot of faith. Opening ourselves to experiences and going out to meet life and then life comes to meet us. It doesn’t happen sitting at home.”

It would be safe to say that most cruisers who plan to sail the world begin with some sailing experience. Before their voyage begins, there may be years of planning and updating electronics and systems on their chosen vessel. Dan was the antitheses of the ordinary. He wanted everything on his boat to be simple and low key.

For one year, Dan lived aboard s/v Aisling, learning to sail and getting to know her. Vociferously reading tomes of sailors, mostly from the 1960s, his maiden voyage was a circumnavigation of the UK in June 2017.

On September 21, 2017, Dan departed for his global solo circumnavigation on the eve of the Autumnal equinox. Dan preferred having only the basic necessities on board, so equipped with a few electronics, no refrigeration or shower. Dan set off to sail, in his words, “by a baptism of fire.”

“I'm not a special case, I just try not to let these bastard neuroses get in the way of following my heart. Because that's all they are, these fears, not lions and tigers, just bunny rabbits in disguise. Keep one eye open to that and keep moving forward, anything is possible.”

After reading about the voyages from the legendary sailors of the ’60s, Dan expected that much of his time would be devoted to making repairs. Repairs are a plague not only of sailors from the past but are preoccupations of most sailors in the present. The simplicity of his boat and gear, and the steadfast construction of his boat, seemed to except Dan from the repair protocol.

Dan had time to invest in learning celestial navigation instead of staring at a computer screen. He plotted charts, learned to read the sea state. For all intents and purposes, his first year at sea was in fact, smooth sailing.

Encountering few storms at sea, Dan’s roughest spot along his journey was the Beagle Channel. Many sailors choose this inland passage rather than attempting to round Cape Horn. Dan and Aisling were met with 60-knot winds and waves on the nose. Dan tried to find refuge in a harbour but found himself seriously dragging anchor and being slowly swept out of the bay. After dragging his anchor and making no headway, Dan was assisted by a Chilean boat.

The pains of the passage didn’t outweigh the outcome. Dan arrived safely in Patagonia. His experience left him breathless. Patagonia was Dan’s favourite destination on his world tour. Dan described it as, “1,200 miles of remoteness. Unspoiled, raw, probably the same as it was thousands of years ago.”

As Dan’s voyage continued, the weight of lengthy passages alone at sea began to take their toll. Two days after arriving in the port of Honokohau, Hawaii, Dan began to have doubts about completing his passage.

“I wanted my trip to be over. Having sailed 18,000 miles in the last year and a half, I was tired. The longer passages were no longer enjoyable. I realised how isolated was the life I was living and I felt a need to be around people and to be settled, to make a passage of a different kind, quite possibly harder than the one I had just made, launch myself into the arena of human relationships, connections, intimacy, all the stuff I've been trying to avoid for years!”

Giving up was not in the cards. Dan was told by the authorities that it was in violation of his cruising permit to sell his boat in the U.S. Not only that, but he also wasn’t allowed to leave his boat in the harbour and fly off for a break. “My options were thinning down rapidly to just one, keep on going...” A week later, Dan had his charts ordered for the southward journey through the Solomons, to Papua New Guinea (another favourite destination), past Indonesia, and on to South Africa. The season was right to head in that direction. During his time in Hawaii, Dan provisioned and met new friends.

This period of self-examination and reflection allowed Dan to remember the reasons he was on this journey. It was time to carry on, continue to learn, and grow as a person. His sailing journey was his path to actualization.

“Perhaps this is all about letting go of dreams, ideas, visions, fabricating false identities, learning to be here now. Learning how to connect with myself and the people that I meet along the way. Reframing some habitual negative perspectives in my ongoing journey. Learning to love, to be loved, to be in love, and trying to manage all the gooey sticky meh that arises along the way. The journey continues!”

All was going well. Dan was continuing to hone his seamanship skills, discover new countries, and learn more about his relationship with the planet. As the world unfolded before him, it allowed him to see it from a new perspective. Some of his discoveries surprised him. Least expected was the community of people he encountered in the sailing world. Every place he turned up, he made new friends. He learned to live apart from the world, but still manage to survive. The voyage opened up the way he saw life in the overall picture.

“Having that distance between me and the rest of the world, with all the chaos and craziness going on, enabled that to happen. I didn’t expect that.”

Just as the distance finally reduced between Dan and the completion of his voyage, the world stopped turning. At least it felt that way to those who became victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sailors like Dan were not immune. His first word of the pandemic was from St. Helena. At that point, the virus was mostly in China.

The second to last leg of Dan’s voyage was a stop at Grenada after a 40- to 50-day passage from St. Helena. It was a gruelling passage and got caught for a few days in the doldrums. He had been in contact with the country of Grenada and obtained permission to stop and provision.

Tides turn, as they do. Two days from making safe harbour in Grenada, he received word that he was no longer welcome there. Their advice? “Head up to the next country. Maybe they will take you.” Certainly not what he wanted to hear, running low on food and supplies, Dan contacted Bequia, a small island in the Grenadines. His flag of hope, now at half-mast, was finally raised. Bequia agreed to let him into their port and he sailed as quickly as the winds would allow to gain safe harbour.

Bequia was not long in following suit to the countries that closed their borders to foreigners. They closed their ports to outsiders two days after Dan made entry. Fortunately, it was a stop Dan needed, so close, yet two more passages away from returning home.