Jon Sanders is nearing the end of his 11th solo circumnavigation around the world.
Elaine Bunting finds out what drives him to keep seeking out the solace of the sea
Who is the greatest sailor of all time?
All-knowing Google suggests it may be Sir Robin Knox-Johnston or Bernard Moitessier or Dame Ellen MacArthur. Or maybe Robin Lee Graham or Eric Tabarly. In fact, it proposes over 30 contenders, but nowhere among them is the name Jon Sanders. Yet Sanders ought to be in the top rank of that list.
Sanders ahead of his triple circumnavigation of the world in 1986-88.
He still holds the record for the longest distance sailed non-stop by any vessel.
No one comes close to the Australian in terms of solo miles or time alone at sea. His sailing career is simply unmatched in the cruising world. The latest chapter was nearing its conclusion on 22 October 2020 when the 81-year-old made landfall in Bundaberg, Australia after almost 11 months into his attempt to solo circumnavigate the world for an 11th time.
Sanders’ circumnavigation in his 39ft S&S design Perie Banou II began in October 2019 in Fremantle nearly two years after a circumnavigation many (not he) had billed as his swansong. During the voyage, tagged #NoPlasticWaste, he has collected sea water samples which he sent off to Curtin University in Western Australia to determine the quantity of microplastics in our oceans.
Sanders sailed first to Mauritius, where he stopped to reprovision and make some repairs, then Cape Town before continuing onwards to St Helena and St Maarten. There he was halted by the COVID-19 lockdown. In June he set free from St Maarten for the Panama Canal.
Sanders started his 11th circumnavigation of the world in October 2019, leaving from Freemantle. Credit: Rolly Tasker Sails
Then, to avoid a succession of restrictions in the Pacific he sailed over 4,000 miles direct to Tahiti and a final 3,000 miles to Bundaberg.
He kept a regular blog (jonsanders.com) so understated it can seem uneventful.
At one stage Sanders ponders that he may be ‘a bit boring’. Maybe that is how life alone at sea looks when you’ve done so much of it.
He makes observations about what he has seen on AIS, sometimes reflections on sea birds (very few in the Tropics, except near land), running repairs, and food.
His old-school diet would have comforted Sir Francis Chichester: powdered milk and egg, tinned fruit, meatballs, rice, Nescafé. Vegemite, of course. His sitreps say: ‘Boat and me going v v good,’ or ‘All well here’. Any future screenwriter panning for nuggets of drama and angst will be on short rations. The bone-dry humour could be a challenge, too.
Yet Jon Sanders has quietly set records in mind-bending quantities. In 1982, he was the first person to sail twice round the world solo, non-stop and unassisted, on a double circumnavigation of 48,000 miles. He was at sea for 419 days.
Four years later he set out again, this time making three circumnavigations back-to-back, again solo, non-stop and unassisted.
Many thought Sanders’ 10th circumnavigation would be his last, although going around the world again was never ruled out by the veteran skipper. Credit: Rolly Tasker Sails
The voyage still tops the Guinness Book of Records sailing list with the longest distance ever sailed alone continuously – 658 days and over 70,000 miles. He has also done lots of ocean racing, including seven Sydney Hobart Races and three Cape to Rio Races.
If you were to add it all together, Jon Sanders has spent more than a tenth of his life at sea. He might be a celebrity if he weren’t so uninterested in fame and after coming ashore again he immediately went to ground. He did, however, speak to me before this voyage, and talked about his background and thoughts on yacht design and seamanship.
Who wants to be ordinary?
Jon Sanders was born and grew up in Western Australia. His father was a professor of education at the University of Western Australia and his mother a teacher and novelist, who wrote 42 books under the name Lucy Walker. At school he got into trouble for bunking off cricket and football to mess about in boats, but his mother stood up for him, saying: ‘Who wants to be ordinary? Why don’t you be original?’
After school, Sanders went to work shearing sheep. Over the next two decades he ran a team of up to 20 men, travelling to remote stations at the head of long dirt tracks and shearing up to 40,000 sheep per station before sorting, pressing and baling the wool. This tough life took all autumn and winter, but it left the summer free, and he could go sailing.
He and his brother, Colin, bought an S&S 34 built from the same moulds as Sir Edward Heath’s first Morning Cloud, and named her Perie Banou, after the fairy in Arabian Nights.
The 47ft Parry Endeavour, which Sanders sailed around the globe three times in succession, is now on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Freemantle.
‘I did 200- and 300-mile races and got more confident,’ he says. ‘More importantly, I was reading all these books by Sir Alec Rose and Robin Knox-Johnston and I thought: “I could do that”.’ He completed his first solo circumnavigation between 1975 and 1977, mainly through the tropics, and soon began to think of another. In 1981 he left again in Perie Banou, this time sailing west to east via the Southern Ocean, and twice looping the Antarctic and round Cape Horn.
At 80 years of age, Jon Sanders AO OBE, the greatest solo-circumnavigator in history, will embark on his 11th circumnavigation of the globe.
At an age when most people are entering nursing homes, Jon defies all expectations and sets a new bar for what can be achieved in later years of life.
Defying all odds against him, Jon will set-sail in his custom yacht the Perie Banou 2 for an 8-month solo journey around the earth with global sustainability at his heart.
Working with scientists from Curtin University, Jon will test for micro-plastics in the sea and establish a base-line for all future data on ocean pollution- a major global issue affecting life on earth. Jon has been described as "a most humble, self- deprecating person who shuns the lime-light, loves the sea, uncomfortable on the land, and simply wants a deck under his feet and the wind in his face".
This is one of the most important circumnavigations in history and there is no-one more qualified that Jon Sanders to undertake the task.
His voyage was the first time anyone had circumnavigated twice alone and, by the finish, he had spent 419 days at sea and sailed 48,510 miles. That still wasn’t enough. Jon Sanders wanted to go further, for longer.
He knew that at 34ft Perie Banou wasn’t large enough for the fuel and provisions required, so he bought the 47ft Parry Endeavour and consulted engineers and naval architects to prepare. ‘You have to have a really sound boat,’ he says. ‘We reinforced the boat in case of knockdown. We added stringers and a bit more glass, a different keel and reinforcement in way of the keel. I skimmed out furniture I didn’t need, weight in locker doors and floorboards. Add more strength, add more lightness, add more simplicity. If you can make your boat strong and light, it will go faster and further.’
‘I like simplicity,’ he continues. ‘I never think I’m the smartest guy in the world, and then you go on to boats and think: “That’s complicated.”
There’s lots of running rigging, purchases, winches, blocks and things to whack you on the head. Why not have the rope going straight to the winch?’
In 1986 he left Fremantle again on Parry Endeavour on an even longer voyage, this time attempting to circle the globe three times in succession.
Each time, he shaped a course north of the Equator to round St Peter and St Paul Archipelago off the coast of Brazil, ensuring that his course encompassed both hemispheres.
His closest scrape of the entire voyage was when he collided with a trawler off the Falkland Islands.
‘I had wind vane steering and the wind changed but it was seriously cold and I was a bit reluctant to get out of bed though I knew there were trawlers around. I hit, bounced off and went on. I bent the bow and broke one of the forestays, which I repaired. Every single stay on the boat was duplicated. ‘I learned to make my bed with normal rugs so you get annoyingly hot and don’t mind sticking your head out and having a look,’ he says.
The 71,022-mile voyage took 658 days, then the longest distance sailed continuously, and the longest time at sea (it was beaten in 2009 by American Reid Stowe, who joggled around the Atlantic for 1,152 days). Jon Sanders has never tired of sailing round the world. In 1990, he made another circumnavigation, again between 2010 and 2012 and another between 2013 and 2015. In 2015 he underwent open heart surgery but, once recovered, he went again in 2016 in Perie Banou II, and once more in 2019.
While happy to sail short distances with crew, Sanders prefers to be solo when sailing long-haul. Credit: Royal Perth Yacht Club
So what is it about solo voyaging that keeps him coming back? ‘That’s easy,’ he laughs. ‘It gives me something to do.’
He insists he is not a loner, just indifferent to being alone.
He has never married. ‘I have people who sail with me who I like and I enjoy their company. I’ve had guys start at a very young age now in their 40s who have done thousands and thousands of miles with me. But long-haul that’s difficult.’
Sanders proceeds in a fashion that coastal sailors might consider under canvassed. On Perie Banou II his favourite sail plan in winds up to around 15 knots is one reef in the main, and the jib flattened with a few furls. His jib is small by most measures – ‘a small No 3 in the scheme of things,’ he says. ‘Steady progress. No load on the gear.’
On both the first Perie Banou and on Parry Endeavour, survival conditions were tackled with a storm jib or trysail and trailing warps or a drogue. He is no fan of heaving to. ‘All I can say is, the last thing you’d want is to be blown on sideways to wind, so just a teeny mainsail fully reefed and pointing into the wind and I’ve never [been rolled] past 90°.’
He took a drogue on this latest voyage, but the attachments failed, so he fell back on an old car tyre he had picked up in Mauritius. ‘I just hung a rope out and dragged it in a U tied from the starboard corner of the stern to the port corner of the stern. Then I just let the tyre slide down the rope. It works well.’
This conservative, low-stress style of sailing is one of the reasons he has finished nearly every long voyage he has ever started – that alone must merit him a world record. He knows better than to seek to battle. ‘Probably most of the rest of the world won’t believe this, but it is not at all difficult for me to safely sail a yacht across the ocean or around the world,’ he remarks. ‘It’s very basic and simple. It is a lot more comfortable being a little more cautious. It’s a better ride and less strain on the hull, rigging and gear. Less strain on me, too.’
He takes it as it comes. That motto ‘Keep calm and carry on’?
‘‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants in our achievements, but it is difficult to find a firm foothold on the shoulders of those who have been erased from history.’’
For biologist and writer Danielle Clode, Jeanne Barret is one of those erased giants. A poor, illiterate French peasant woman, Barret overcame seemingly insurmountable barriers to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world in the 1770s, making substantial contributions to taxonomic collections along the way.
A contemporary image of Jeanne Barret.
Yet Barret’s name is almost entirely unknown. Her signature does not appear on any of the thousands of specimens she collected, the most detailed information written about her during her life was just one and a half pages in the diary of a ship’s captain, and only one species was named after her – a name that has since been supplanted.
Despite this scarcity of information, Clode brings Jeanne Barret vividly to life in her book In Search Of The Woman Who Sailed The World. The book transports the reader not just back through time, but also into underwater realms and lush natural worlds now themselves almost entirely lost to the Anthropocene.
Clode’s interest in Barret goes beyond the professional and academic. It is a search for heroes in whom we can see ourselves. There are many connections between Clode and her subject – summoned by the siren song of adventure and exploration, a love of the natural world’s extraordinary diversity, a life spanning land and sea, and even French ancestry − and the author weaves her own story so skilfully in with Barret’s that at times they feel like one character whose passions span centuries. Her admiration for what Barret achieved is clear, describing her as ‘‘fierce, athletic, determined, intelligent and honourable’’.
Jeanne Barret was born Jeanne de Bonnefoi, on July 27, 1740 in the Burgundy region of France. Her impoverished family are known only from parish records, and left no mark of their own in history. Barret’s fate might have been the same had she not gone to work as a housekeeper for a newly widowed Philibert Commerson, a local doctor who in 1766 joined an expedition of scientific discovery as Doctor-Botanist and Naturalist to the King.
The expedition – commanded by Louis Antoine de Bougainville – sailed the Atlantic, down and up the length of South America, and across the Pacific, amassing collections of plants, animals and fossils that can still be seen today in institutions such as the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.
That expedition assured Commerson’s place in scientific history, but less well known is that Barret also joined that same expedition, disguised as Commerson’s male valet. The charade was carefully maintained for many months, although Clode finds hints of suspicions in shipboard diaries of the voyage.
Barret’s unmasking was accidentally done by a Tahitian man called Ahutoru – himself a notable historical figure – who was apparently puzzled by the fact that none of Barret’s own travelling companions could tell she was female. After that, Barret gave up the pretence and was afforded the protection of the ship’s commander.
There are unconfirmed hints that Barret’s gender made her a target later on in the voyage. However, Clode admirably refuses to fall into the trap of assuming that just because Barret was female she would inevitably fall victim to sexual attack, arguing there is no reason why ‘‘this one woman who managed to escape the constraints of her sex to travel the global should be cast as a victim instead of being celebrated as a hero’’.
This book is a celebration of Barret, of exploration, of boats and ships, of the natural world in all its varied splendour. Clode is a beautiful writer who paints wonderfully vivid pictures of worlds both travelled and imagined from the pages of history. She pursues Barret through dusty archives, ancient museum collections, across oceans to the teeming tropics, and through foreign streets, looking for enough fragments of Barret’s elusive ghost to be able to spin a tale of her life.
There is a lot of reading between the lines of historical records and more recent retellings of Barret’s story, a lot of imagining what really went on that often relies more on what isn’t recorded about Barret than what is.
Despite the scarcity of hard evidence, Clode succeeds in fleshing out this giant of exploration and science, challenging the myths and assumptions that would have diminished Barret, and paying overdue homage to this indefatigable, courageous and curious woman.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for this achievement.Unlike other international fisheries management bodies, the commission’s legal convention allows for the closing of marine areas for conservation purposes.
A comparable mandate for MPAs in other areas of the high seas has been nowhere in sight — until now. A new ocean treaty
In 2017, the UN started negotiations towards a new comprehensive international treaty for the high seas.
The treaty aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine organisms in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
It would also implement a global legal mechanism to establish MPAs in international waters.
This innovative international agreement provides an opportunity to work across institutional boundaries towards comprehensive high seas governance and protection.
It is crucial to use lessons drawn from existing high seas marine protection initiatives, such as those in the Southern Ocean, to inform the treaty’s development.
The final round of treaty negotiations is pending, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and significant detail within the treaty’s draft text remains undeveloped and open for further debate.
Lessons from Southern Ocean management
CCAMLR comprises 26 member states (including the European Union) and meets annually to make conservation-based decisions by unanimous consensus.In 2002, the commission committed to establishing a representative network of MPAs in Antarctica in alignment with globally agreed targets for the world’s oceans.
CCAMLR’s two established MPAs (in grey) are the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA and the Ross Sea region MPA.Three proposed MPAs (hashed) include the East Antarctic, Domain 1 and Weddell Sea proposals.
CCAMLR’s progress towards its commitment for a representative MPA network may have ground to a halt, but the commission has gained invaluable knowledgeabout the challenges in establishing MPAs in international waters.
CCAMLR has demonstrated that with an effective convention and legal framework, MPAs in the high seas are possible.
Such knowledge is important for the UN treaty process.
As the high seas treaty moves closer to adoption, it stands to outpace the commission regarding progress towards improved marine conservation.
Already, researchers have identified high-priority areas for protection in the high seas, including in Antarctica.
Many species cross the Southern Ocean boundary into other regions.
This makes it even more important for CCAMLR to integrate its management across regional fisheries organisations – and the new treaty could facilitate this engagement.
But the window of time is closing with only one round of negotiation left for the UN treaty.Research tells us Antarctic decision-makers need to use the opportunity to ensure the treaty supports marine protection commitments.
Stronger Antarctic leadership is urgently needed to safeguard the Southern Ocean — and beyond.
Without a deal, EU boats would be banned from fishing in the UK’s EEZ – although it would also mean that UK fishing boats would be barred from the waters of nearby EU member states.
This week, the EU proposed a one-year extension to the transition period for fishing to allow a deal to be negotiated, highlighting the significance of the crisis.
Speaking at the end of Friday’s European council meeting of EU leaders, Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission president, said: “We understand that the UK aspires to control its waters. The UK must, on the other hand, understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets built on decades and sometimes centuries of access.”
European and British boats have long fished in each other’s waters; today EU trawlers take around 60% of the catch from the UK area.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has subdivided Area 27 into sub-areas and divisions.
These serve as a basis for scientists who make diagnoses on the state of the resource when they meet in working groups under the aegis of ICES.
These sub-areas and divisions are also used for the allocation of fishing quotas.
A large part of the catch is mackerel and herring – not popular in Britain and so exported – while fish that is popular in the UK, such as cod, is usually imported.
It is unclear how effectively the navy can patrol the EEZ in practice – it may use satellite surveillance to help locate EU fishing boats – and how aggressively the UK government will want to act against French and other EU member states’ vessels when relations with the EU are so delicate.
Fishery patrol vessels have long operated in UK waters, but a no-deal Brexitwould have a significant impact on the tasks their crews would be expected to undertake.
Two of the patrol ships, from the navy’s river class, will be at sea at the turn of the year, while two others will be in port ready to deploy at a few hours’ notice, initially in English waters, because fisheries remain a devolved matter, but they are available for all of the UK.
In theory, other warships could be called on if Boris Johnson wanted them to be used.
Chris Parry, a former rear admiral and ex-chair of the Marine Management Organisation, said ministers should act assertively. “I would seek to make an example and take a [EU fishing] boat or two into Harwich or Hastings. Once you had impounded them, the others would not be so keen to transgress without insurance.”
But Tobias Ellwood, chair of the defence select committee, said he was concerned that the navy would be overstretched at a time when Russian submarines were increasingly operating around the UK.
“Our adversaries will be smiling as the biggest European militaries spar against each other over fish.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The MoD has conducted extensive planning and preparation to ensure that defence is ready for a range of scenarios at the end of the transition period.”
"It’s a way of looking at the world That pays attention to beauty In Australia, the aboriginal say : “you have to look at the world with a soft gaze”. It’s a way of looking at the world That makes you feel like you are part of something that is bigger than yourself That sparkles awe, mysticism, and a sheer sense of amazement That pays attention to beauty When that feeling comes to touch you in the deepest part of your soul You’ve come home . “ Surfer : Anouk Corolleur
Quarantine hasn't been all bad.
Less people in the water, and an amazing automn filled up with perfect waves every single day.