Circumnavigation dreams stuck in COVID doldrums

Oct 5, 2021 by Jeff Werner

For many new yacht owners, the vision of the future aboard their yacht is tied to a dream. Six and a half years ago, my new client was no different. Over lunch at a table covered with a mess of blue crabs in Annapolis, he shared his dream of converting a 135-foot former Danish coast guard cutter into an expedition motor yacht. He was contemplating the last great adventure of his life: completing both the Northwest Passage and doubling Cape Horn.

I grabbed his photo of the cutter and showed it to our waitress and said, “If your husband came home and told you were going to cruise the Arctic Circle in this ship, what would you say?” Her unprintable response set fate in motion.

Two years later, over a dinner of fruits de mare at the port of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France, we toasted the owner’s signing of a new-build contract for a 54-foot luxury sailing catamaran. His dream had morphed into a circumnavigation of the world over five years, and I was both his project manager for the build and his captain for this adventure. At the time, we had both just turned 65 and the race was on — could the circumnavigation be completed before we both became too old to be hoisted up the mast?

As construction moved along at the French boatyard, we made detailed cruising itineraries and dreamed of passage-making and visiting our intended ports of call.

The catamaran was finally launched in 2019, and at the end of the year we completed our 700nm shakedown cruise across the stormy Bay of Biscay to Lisbon. By the time we arrived in Portugal, we had a long punch list of warranty items to be addressed at the boatyard in Lisbon. We planned to return at the beginning of March 2020 to carry on with the first leg of our circumnavigation, cruising the Mediterranean Sea.

When we arrived back at the boatyard, Covid was already devastating northern Italy, but Portugal had been spared. We arranged for a rental crane to splash the catamaran on March 12. However, on March 11, then-President Trump declared a travel ban from Europe to the U.S. We felt blindsided. The catamaran was left on the hard, and we caught the next to last flight out of Lisbon.

I have been lucky to work with an owner who kept me on the payroll through 2020, and I have been able to pursue other captain’s work this year. But for the owner, it has been an emotional roller coaster. He has spent the last year and a half bouncing back and forth between curtailing the circumnavigation or selling the catamaran. The clock is still ticking as we both near 70, and this dream deferred may soon become the dream lost, yet another victim of Covid.