The following are from the Changes in Latitudes section of that great Left Coast sailing magazine, Latititude 38.

©2000 Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc.

Aug 2000

Breta - Columbia 34
Roy Wessbecher
Second Circumnavigation
(Santa Clara)

Back in 1993 - after a tough six-day offshore run from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas - I signed in for Latitude's then 'Some Like it Hot Rally'. In so doing, I got a now-famous bright hot pink t-shirt with a green jalapeno pepper on the back. But when the 'Some Like it Hot' list appeared in the next issue of the magazine, I'd found that I'd been dubbed 'Lonesome Roy'.

"The nerve!" I thought to myself. "Do they even know me? That's defamation!" Sure, I was singlehanding my old Columbia 34 Breta at the time, and sure, it would have been nice to have the right partner along, but I was doing fine. So I let it go.

Now, having covered 31,700 ocean miles and visited 35 countries, 'Lonesome Roy' and old Breta are back. I finished the trip as I began it, singlehanded. But while enroute I had a total of 17 crewmembers, all of them vegetarians - and all of them female. Cynthia, a Dutch girl, even lasted through the whole ugly Red Sea leg from Sri Lanka up to Israel - and that 4,400 miles took 147 days. Susanne, a Swedish girl, did the Atlantic and the Caribbean with me, which was 3,400 miles and 109 days. Maus, my cat, accompanied me all the way around.

By the way, I kept an exact record of all my expenses during my circumnavigation. In the four years, nine months and nine days it took me from Puerto Vallarta to Puerto Vallarta, I spent an average of $14.66 a day. That's $445 a month, $5,350 a year, or a total of $25,300. I had budgeted $20 day, so I came out way ahead. Those numbers include every single expenditure. I did two bottom jobs, one in New Zealand and one in Thailand. I had no major breakdowns and didn't fly home.

Now I have a bigger and better boat - a LaFitte 44 - and am presently preparing to head out for a second circumnavigation. I'm still single and again looking for veggie crew - but this time I demand that you come up with a more appropriate name!

- roy 6/22/00

Roy - Relying on various businesses in Cabo to keep an accurate list of cruising boats and cruiser names has always been an exercise in extreme futility. We apologize for the nickname somebody bestowed on you. But how's this for a better one: 'Roy the Ramblin' Romantic'? After all, 17 women during one circumnavigation may be some kind of record. Readers - probably male - who want to know how this came about, should tune into next month's Changes.

Sept 2000

Breta - Columbia 34 MKII
Roy Wessbecher
How I Did It
(Bay Area)

This is in answer to some questions Latitude asked in response to the Changes I wrote for the August issue, as well as some clarifications. By the way, I think Latitude did a good job of piecing together my disparate emails into the Sightings and the Changes - but 'Roy the Ramblin Romantic'? I dunno, I think I liked 'Lonesome Roy' better.

The first question was about the boat I used for my nearly five year - at $450 a month for everything - circumnavigation. Yes, my Columbia 34 was a Mark II that had been built in 1971 - a design Latitude notes has often been criticized for oil-canning in rough seas and for possibly having excessive freeboard. Sisterships to this boat can be found in almost any large California marina. It's difficult for me to compare the boat to other designs, because she was the first and only boat I owned - until last year when I bought a LaFitte 44. But having said that, here are my impressions:

I like the Columbia 34 design - which has a flush deck - very much, although I don't think the workmanship was particularly good. But it was obviously good enough to get me around the world. As for the high freeboard, I didn't find any major disadvantages - except that it's ugly and tends to make the boat more lively at anchor during strong gusts. The advantages of high freeboard are that it provides a tremendous amount of interior space - the Columbia is still one of the biggest 34-footers around - gives the boat a lot of reserve buoyancy, and makes for an extremely dry ride. Because she's 10 feet longer, my LaFitte has almost as much freeboard as the Columbia, but is actually a wetter boat. Of course, the LaFitte is far heavier and averages a knot faster, so she tends to plow through the waves rather than lift over them. Incidentally, I think high freeboard only works on a flush-deck boat, as the overall windage of a high-freeboard flush-deck boat is not significantly greater than that of a cabin top design.

It's true that my Columbia 34 - I still own her - was prone to pounding. This happened a lot while going up the Red Sea - a passage notorious for being rough on boats and crew - with the result that some spider cracks in the gelcoat seemed to get even longer. Despite this, the Columbia actually did great in the characteristically short and square seas of the Red Sea. One reason is that the bulky looking hull is actually quite narrow: just 10 feet of beam.

The 'oil canning'- meaning the flexing of relatively thin and unsupported areas of the hull - was more a concern during the two haulouts than while in the water. The problem was that the hull on either side of the engine pan is poorly supported and could have easily been deflected inward if the stands hadn't been properly placed. I made no hull modifications before leaving, but could have beefed up this area with some stringers.

I bought my Columbia 34 in 1988 for $20,000, then lived aboard for five years while I slowly fixed her up while working and saving. When I bought her, she was supposed to be my 'practice boat' and a way to live inexpensively. My plan was to wait until the year 2000 - a nice round number - and buy a 'real cruising boat' at the age of 42. For various reasons I decided to leave earlier with less money and a less-than-ideal boat. I figured that my relative youth - 35 years of age - would make up for not having a roller furler, dodger, refrigeration and experience. Besides, some of the local dockside experts kept saying "those old Columbias are good boats, you don't need another one." For once, it seems they were right.

Like most cruisers, during my years of cruising I slowly formed an opinion of the 'perfect cruising boat'. I leaned toward something like a Freya 39 or a Corbin 39 - until I came across the LaFitte 44. But in many ways, a boat is a boat. When the waves are just the wrong size for your boat, the guy in the smaller boat and the guy in the larger boat will be better off than you - until the size and frequency of the waves change.

So much for my Columbia 34. When choosing my navigation equipment, I opted for a somewhat unusual combination of a 'black-box' GPS - it has no controls or screen - and a cheap 286 IBM clone laptop. The computer had a black and white screen and ran MS-DOS because it couldn't handle Windows. I also had a sextant and a back-up handheld GPS - neither of which ever got used. The black-box/laptop combo allowed me to store every single waypoint - including harbor entrances and anchorages for my entire circumnavigation. There were about 1,300 of them, and I've recently split the mass of waypoints into smaller 'routes', and converted it all to a Windows-friendly format. I'm thinking of selling it if there's interest. Cruisers are always asking, "what's your waypoint", at some entrance or anchorage, so I think it might prove useful. I certainly could have used it when I started out.

In the last issue, you stated that I originally intended to circumnavigate single-handed because I didn't feel I was a good enough sailor to take crew along. This is essentially correct, but a bit overstated. Even in the early days of my circumnavigation I considered myself to be about as competent as the next Mexico bound beginner, but I felt taking on unknown crew - especially of the fun-loving backpacker variety - would be an additional responsibility that I didn't want at the time. Having someone new aboard is usually interesting and sometimes fun until the crew gets 'acclimated', but until then they can making running the boat even harder than if you're by yourself. You need to have complete confidence in your abilities to handle the boat alone before you take on any untried crew, and by the time I got to Oz, I felt I was a good enough sailor to consider some crew and companionship.

The event that precipitated it was meeting a backpacker at a party on the Gold Coast of Oz one night, who told me that he and every other backpacker he knew would kill to get aboard a boat such as mine for a sail up to the Whitsunday Islands. 'You could get boatloads of sheilas" - Aussie for 'young women' - "as crew and make 'em pay for the privilege", is a polite way to express the jist of his advice. After thinking about it for a while, I visited some of the hostels and posted flyers that read as follows - "Boat headed north. Looking for crew. Share expenses. I discriminate in favor of vegetarian females."

To make a long story short, the guy was right. I soon had many more applicants than I wanted, almost all female, and all either claimed to be veggies or willing to convert for at least the duration of sailing with me. My original email stated that I had 17 crew during my circumnavigation, all female, and all from my 15 months of cruising in Australia. Actually, that's not correct. I really had 18 crew. One of them, in fact the first, was a guy. Another was a German girl I met while she was backpacking in Bali.

While 18 crew might seem like a lot, I often took them in pairs. Often times I couldn't decide who among them to take, so I took two or even three. Only one of them had any prior sailing experience. Some left the boat too quickly for my liking, others stuck it out for longer than I preferred. But a number of them became 'regulars', joining Breta months - and even years - later for the second or third time. As I said, I usually ended up taking pairs of females on board. Sometimes both jumped ship together, sometimes one stayed. In general, I found both stuck around longer if they hadn't come aboard as travelling buddies. For some reason three strangers on a boat seems to be a good mix. Then you just add some natural splendor, some lumpy seas and a black cat, and see what develops.

In any case, Oz is where I started my crew search - and pretty much ended it, too. For before long, I'd built up a small core of individuals who would join me again later, so I stopped searching - until now, that is. Most of my old core group have either married or had children - or both - which is not ideal crew for a solo guy.

As you know, there are many crew horror stories making the rounds of the world's oceans, and I witnessed some on other boats before I decided to take on crew. Happily, I can honestly say that I never had a really bad crewmember. In retrospect, I think it had a lot to do with how and where the crew search took place. My notices contained a sort of prescreening, as the phrase "I discriminate in favor of fit vegetarian females" kept most of the backpacking public away. Despite this, some couples and single guys would show up at the boat. In fact, my very first crew was an Ozzie professional cook looking for a chef's position at one of the resorts up the coast. I thought he did really well - considering the lumpy seas we encountered and the miserable old alcohol stove he had to work with. Nonetheless, he jumped ship fairly quickly - and I can't say that I blame him.

If anyone else is thinking of finding crew the way I did, here's some advice. Take on new crew in regions where the sailing will be coastal hops, as this always gives them the opportunity to jump ship and gives you the opportunity to change crew. I avoided taking untried crew on big crossings, as these should obviously be reserved for tried and true crewmembers. I also tried not to take crew across borders, because in most countries it would have made me as responsible for my crew as a father is for his underage kids. Your crew list can legally bind you to leave the country with the same crew you arrived with.

Finally, there's the money issue. While I'm sure that most of my crew would have been willing to pay at least what they would have paid for staying in a hostel, I decided against that. I didn't want to run a poor man's charter outfit - which would have been illegal most places anyway - but opted for a strict sharing of the expenses for food, fuel and the occasional marina or mooring. All of my crew felt they got a real bargain. I did too, because they did all the cooking. While this might sound like a sexist apportionment of duties, believe me, it was in their best interest, as nobody would have been happy with the stuff I serve up.

There was only one potentially dangerous incident caused by my crew. On one occasion a particularly ambitious crew decided to try my 25-year-old alcohol powered oven, which I had never used before. All went well until the valve stem broke and pressurized burning fuel flooded the galley. I almost lost the boat on that one. Luckily, alcohol burns with a relatively cool flame that can be extinguished with water, and a few big buckets of seawater did the trick. Some singed hair and clothes, fried curtains, melted Lexan, and discolored fiberglass were the only damages. Had it been any other fuel, my boat would be part of the Great Barrier Reef by now.

People often want to know about the worst weather I encountered in seven years. I took my old Columbia 34 through both canals - Suez and Panama - to play it safe, but a couple of rough areas still stick in my mind. The highest sustained winds - excluding squalls and thunderstorms - were probably about 40+ knots. I can't say for sure because I didn't have an anemometer. This happened between Ithatca, Greece, and the heel of Italy. It was on the nose and plenty lumpy, but lasted less than 24 hours.

Another bad period was when I crossed the Tasman Sea from the top of New Zealand to Coffs Harbor, OZ. I timed the weather a bit badly, and thus arrived at Coff's Harbor more exhausted then at the end of any other leg. It hadn't really been a dangerous sail, just days on end of ugliness. The Red Sea was the Red Sea, of course, but I had one of my favorite crew along with me so it didn't seem so bad.

The places I'm looking forward to returning to? None in particular. In fact, this time around I hope to check out the places that I didn't get to last time. That means transiting fewer canals and rounding more capes. But, I suppose my favorite place was Oz, and for many reasons. I spent over a year there: Coff's Harbor to the Whitsundays, the Whitsundays to Sydney, Sydney to Darwin - and really enjoyed it.

Fiji probably had my favorite islands - although Malaysia and Thailand had some great ones, too. Places to skip? New Zealand - but only because I had a big battle with the bureaucracy about my cat. Also, that was the same year they started the now discontinued 'safety inspections'. New Zealand is a nice country with nice people, but nothing sours me more on a place than having to fight officialdom.

Even though I lived on $450 a month, some will naturally wonder how I'm now able to own both my Columbia 34 and a LaFitte 44 - which costs more than $20,000. The answer is a combination of being very frugal, having bought the LaFitte in Mexico, and some good luck. I have to give most of the credit to the booming stock market of the last five years. Had it gone the other way, I'd now be back in the job market instead of getting ready to head out again.

Although I'm very tempted to say, "anyone who puts their mind to it can do as I did", I don't believe it's quite as easy as it was before. The Bay Area seems to be a different place from when I left. Maybe I've been gone too long, but everything seems much 'tighter'. Marinas, for instance, have less room and cost more. Insurance is required everywhere - in fact, I'd never needed it until I returned and a marina made me get it. Living aboard is far more difficult, and the tax assessors are more confiscatory. I could go on, but I don't want to get into a whining mode.

For me there has always been a pull and a push to the cruising equation - something positive pulling me out to explore the world, and something negative pushing me out. I have to say that the push forces are stronger now in the Bay Area than they were then. Northern California is still a great place to visit, but I'm heading out again real soon.

I'm not someone who enjoys publicity, but Latitude's earlier articles added so much to my 'if they can do it, so can I' attitude. As such, I felt it was only right that I contribute something in return. Tomorrow I'll start driving up to Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and maybe parts of Alaska. While in Oregon, I'll be visiting old cruising friends from Nonchalant and Ingrid Princess. They also circumnavigated, so I'll encourage them to send you their stories as well. Mainly I'll be scouting out the coast and the marinas, because I plan to take the LaFitte up that way.

- roy 6/1/2000

Readers - Do you hear that low roar? We think it's the sound of hundreds of newly minted male vegetarian boatowners throwing off their dock lines and setting sail for the youth hostels of Australia.