Capt. John Crupi and the crew of M/Y Dorothea III returned to Ft. Lauderdale in April after two years and four months making a circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean.
Upon hearing that news, many yachties might think to themselves, “lucky ducks.” But Crupi insists luck had nothing to do with it. A trip like that — which took the 147-foot Cheoy Lee and its seven crew away from yacht support for months at a time — took ferocious planning, constant tweaking, and a small army of shore-based support troops.
Not to mention an owner with patience and a sense of humor.
“You can’t do this alone, as a captain,” Capt. Crupi said. “We’re lucky to have a boat owner who is a true yachtsman. … That’s our job, to plan the trip.”
Much of 2012 was spent shaking down the old Marco Polo, bought in July 2011 with worldwide cruising in mind, through the Caribbean, Galapagos and across to the Med.
In late 2012, they returned to Ft. Lauderdale to provision for a trip that would take them through the Panama Canal, back to the Galapagos, and off on that 28-month loop that started in the Marquesas and South Pacific, and took them over to Brisbane in late 2013 in time for the tradewinds.
They left Australia in early 2014 to cruise Southeast Asia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan, stopping for fishing excursions all along the way.
They saw Russia’s Kuril Islands en route to the Bering Sea, but they didn’t stop; the weather and seas were too calm not to take advantage of smooth sailing.
“Flat calm was the motto of the trip,” Capt. Crupi said. “In 65,000 miles, about 1,000 miles were in seas over 6 feet. The rest of the time, it was calm.”
Don’t tell him luck had anything to do with that, either.
“It was planned that way,” he said. “There’s no luck in how successful we were. The amount of planning that goes into the logistics of a trip like this is what relates to what people call luck.
“Were the seas calmer than forecast? Yes,” he said. “But were we ready to bail out if the bad weather did come off? Yes. We were ready for it, but it didn’t form, so we kept sailing.
“The thing that’s significant,” Capt. Crupi pointed out, “is that we towed a 32-foot Cabo sportfishing boat the whole way.”
That’s why the yacht held fast to its weather advisories and why it followed the downwind, down seas plan the whole way.
“You can’t do it in less time, otherwise you are skipping seasons and find yourself in unfavorable conditions,” he said. “You can’t have a schedule and travel in seas that exceed the safe limits of towing.”
Although there was no hard-and-fast schedule, the crew created a window of time for the owner to visit in each place. He and his family were onboard for two weeks at a time every couple of months.
“The key is having enough time for travel and preparation to get from point A to B to allow for choosing a safe weather window,” First Mate Jenifer Rosser said. “In 14 years, we have never canceled an owner’s trip.”
As alluring as it sounds, it’s not a trip for everyone.
“We spent 635 days at anchor” in three years, Capt. Crupi said. “And you’re on your own for everything.”
He remembers pulling into Australia about a year after leaving Ft. Lauderdale, feeling a sense of relief that they would soon be around other large yachts and the camaraderie and support that typically follows. But there were only about 10 yachts around.
The yachting brotherhood was even more sparse up to Southeast Asia. From Singapore to Seattle, a section of the trip that took three months, they saw no other yachts.
Not even in Alaska?
“In Alaska, the agent in Dutch Harbor said he’d seen two boats in five years,” Capt. Crupi said.
By then, of course, the crew of the Dorothea were used to being on their own. Exhilarated even. Out at sea on a calm, sunny day, they each swam across the equator.
“The rawness of it is what’s interesting,” Capt. Crupi said. “It is full on.”
Network of ground support
Planning for this trip started with a collaboration with the meteorologists at Weather Routing.
“We did a climatological survey,” Capt. Crupi said. “The idea was to get west, and we had the requirement of the tow boat. You’re in a search for the following seas and the downhill run.
We were looking for fishing grounds and adventure, then fill in the blanks as you go.”
The help they got from Weather Routing was just the beginning of what Crupi calls the network behind the trip, the technicians and support staff that helped them make this trip successful, companies such as Al T. Marine, which handles all their audio-visual electronics; Elite Marine for air conditioning and watermakers; DH Marine Engineering for power management; and Griffin’s Yacht Services for plumbing and sewage.
That’s not to say things didn’t need replacing. But they didn’t break, and that’s significant.
“It’s one thing to buy a boat, it’s another thing to use a boat,” Capt. Crupi began. “And it’s another thing again to really use a boat. We just wear everything out.”
On a visit to Derecktor Shipyard in early May, he was overseeing the removal of one of the yacht’s three generators. Another was to be removed the following day.
“Equipment that’s expected to last 10 years on a normal boat lasted with us two,” he said.
When the radar was removed, there was little left but a pile of metal bits. The guys at Al T. Marine joked that they would be posted on the company’s Wall of Shame.
Key among Dorothea’s support is Derecktor’s itself.
“They did excruciatingly high quality fabrication and mechanical work before we left, which led to nearly zero mechanical failures,” Capt. Crupi said. “It’s not cheap, but they’re organized and, more importantly, they’re honest and transparent. The same holds true for all the companies we worked with.”
Right crew for the job
Capt. Crupi joined yachting in 2000 as the mate/engineer on the original Dorothea under the command of Capt. Mark Drewelow, which was then in the midst of global travels. Although the boats have changed — that original 107-foot wooden yacht was destroyed in a fire in 2007 — he’s still with the owner, and can’t see himself working for anyone else.
Four of the seven crew were aboard for the entire trip, but that wasn’t luck either.
“I don’t hire anybody without seatrialing them,” Crupi said, enumerating the series of interviews, daywork, and crew integration all new hires go through. The more time and effort you put into finding the right people, the more luck you have.”
Crupi waxed philosophical a bit when asked why he thought more yachts don’t travel far and wide as Dorothea always has. He put the onus on captains to urge owners and yacht managers to take the time to care for the boat first.
“If everybody would just stop and make decisions based on what the boat needs, owners would enjoy them more,” he said, likening the sometimes constant use of some boats to a hamster wheel. “Owners and managers don’t allow the time to do it properly. You have to take out that demand that lies within the industry, that owner demand.”
By that, he meant the all-too-common push from an owner to get to a destination by a certain date, regardless of weather and maintenance.
“Has anybody sat down with the guy who says that and say if that’s what you want, these are the repercussions? Are you ready for that?” he said.
Those conversations — and the insight that they bring — must occur before yachts and the professional crew who run them can set off on extraordinary adventures.
“These are the jobs, the cornerstone of the industry,” he said. “It’s what everybody epitomizes with exploration yachting.”
For Dorothea, it starts with an owner who once told Crupi, “I’d rather do it than read about it.”
Professional crew and owners have to meet in the middle and shake hands on an understanding that both have the same goal: the best experience for the owner.
“The owner is a smart and intuitive man, combined with the fact that he recognizes he’s got good managers taking care of his boats,” Capt. Crupi said. “The potential for people to do this sort of stuff is out there.”
Dorothea III World Cruise
M/Y Dorothea III departed Ft. Lauderdale on Nov, 15, 2011 and returned April 18, 2015 after two global trips. Here’s a breakdown of how some of that time was spent.
Duration: 1,250 days or 3 years, 5 months, 3 days
Countries visited: 51
Oceans crossed: North Atlantic, South Pacific, North Pacific
Longest passage: 3,866nm or 15 days
Days under way: 519
Days at anchor: 635
Panama Canal transits: 4
Total generator hours: 42,289
Total engine hours: 6,932
Total oil changes: 202
Total fuel burned: 481,096 gallons or $1,924,384 at an average of $4 a gallon
Total watermaker hours: 6.932 or 1,122,984 gallons
Total loads of laundry: 7,746
Total amount of coffee consumed: 565 pounds
Total wash downs: 748
Capt. Crupi and Rosser aren’t the only crew who started their yachting careers on Dorothea. Stew Jess Thomson joined yachting and the yacht in Australia. She recalls the “long interview process”, including two weeks of daywork during which she was interviewed every day. But it paid off. Her favorite part of the trip, Alaska, was also the hardest.
“We were down one crew member and it was a long trip down,” she said, smiling as she remembered all the wildlife and scenery. She plans to return to a land-based job.
Second Mate Thomas Price grew up in Florida, but Dorothea was his first job, too. After more than three years at sea, he’s earned enough sea time and experience to move up and hopes to run his own boat one day.
“I know I won’t find anything like this,” he admitted. The time, “has just flown by.”
His favorite part: visiting 51 countries and seeing remote Indian tribes that most will never see.
“Experiencing all the cultures and people changed everyone onboard,” he said, remembering bringing school supplies and soccer balls to kids in villages around the Pacific. “We went to so many amazing places.”
The hardest part: Being away from friends and family so long.
The entire crew worked hard during the trip, Capt. Crupi said, but it was more a labor of love.
“The key to it is I have a great crew,” he said. “It’s not a job for them. This isn’t a vehicle to get them to what they really want. It’s a team getting the boat to where it needs to go. Everyone participates in it.
“That dedication is why we’re successful, or why we’ve been so ‘lucky’.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.