An abandoned voyage but no regrets

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Glenn Wakefield’s record attempt was cut short when his boat was rolled in the Southern Ocean

Glenn Wakefield’s record attempt was cut short when his boat was rolled in the Southern Ocean

A Canadian hoping to become the first North American sailor to complete a nonstop westward circumnavigation, against prevailing winds and around Cape Horn, called it quits after his 40-foot sloop suffered major damage in a rollover off the Falkland Islands.

“I would not have made it,” says Glenn Wakefield, 57, of Victoria, British Columbia. “I felt like I had been in a car wreck. I am heartbroken about my boat, but if I look at my life or my boat the choice is clear. I was thinking of my family.”

Wakefield set out from Victoria in September 2007 aboard Kim Chow, a 1969 Phil Rhodes-designed Offshore 40, determined to leave the Horn to starboard — a feat few sailors have accomplished. In the first seven months of his voyage, Wakefield traveled 20,000 miles and nearly made it to the Falkland Islands. But on April 24 (Day 215), storm-driven seas rolled his 21,000-pound vessel about 357 miles southeast of the Falklands. Wakefield initially thought he could continue, despite the damage to his boat, which included a broken self-steering system, inoperable 50-hp Perkins diesel, and torn-off hatches.

Wakefield’s wife, Marylou, had created a Web site to document the voyage (www.kimchowaroundtheworld.com ), and in an entry dated April 27 (Day 218) she wrote: “Kim Chow was starting to take on water through the damaged hatches and companionway. After carefully considering the options, Glenn felt he could not safely round Cape Horn and has made a very personal and difficult decision, and the only logical one under the circumstances, which is to end his circumnavigation. His decision was greatly influenced by the love for his family back home, and he reassured us he is doing well.” (The Wakefields have two grown daughters, Nicola and Claire.)

Wakefield worked on the boat — built by Cheoy Lee in Hong Kong — for four years in preparation for the voyage, mainly on nights and weekends. Work included rebuilding the Perkins, removing the teak decking and replacing it with fiberglass, and installing new winches, rigging (including a new boom) and propeller shaft. Kim Chow was equipped with a new generator and an array of navigation electronics, including a Furuno radar, ICOM 802 single sideband radio, two solar panels, a wind generator, and a collision avoidance radar detector.

“If there was a best shot, he gave it,” says Steve Brossard, 54, Wakefield’s business partner. He and Wakefield run Wakefield Contracting, a construction and carpentry business in Victoria. “He certainly was well-prepared. It just

didn’t work out. If anyone could have made it under those circumstances, it was Glenn.”

Wakefield reported he was battling 30-foot seas and 60-knot winds during the storm that ultimately ended his lifelong dream. Wakefield caught the boating bug when his father took him on fishing trips for salmon in a 12-foot wooden skiff. “We were always the last ones fishing, and on the way home I would be rowing when the wind kicked up and water would come over the transom,” says Wakefield. “My father would say, ‘Just keep the bow into the wind, and we’ll be fine.’ ”

Wakefield’s father was fascinated with circumnavigators, and his son grew up reading and listening to stories about such sailors as John Guzzwell and Sir Alec Rose. Sailing became a big part of Wakefield’s life. He bought Kim Chow five years ago and planned to renovate it to go voyaging with his family. Two years later, he suffered a severe heart attack.

“I realized I had a second chance,” he says. “I realized I wanted to do this, and I had a lot of resources to do it.”

People along the way

While Wakefield is disappointed his trip was cut short, he says he has no regrets. “This voyage was not about the world record or about any of the stuff I thought it was about,” says Wakefield. “It was about the people I met along the way.”

He connected with people in two ways — answering e-mail through the Web site and by talking to ham radio operators. “In one night I talked to 30 different people,” he says. “The ham radio played an enormous role in [the rollover and rescue].”

Wakefield and Kim Chow actually endured two rollovers, and the ham radio was not damaged.

“Conditions have worsened since yesterday,” writes Marylou in an April 24 post on the Web site, the day that marked the beginning of the end of Wakefield’s voyage. “Glenn reports Kim Chow has rolled over, and both he and the boat have had some damage. Glenn has suffered a blow to the head and has had a concussion and scratch to his scalp. Kim Chow has lost her life raft, both solar panels, the dodger and one hatch. … Glenn reports that he will be fine, and he is confident he can make it through this and on to Stanley [on EastFalklandIsland] on his own without assistance.”

Navy personnel at the Maritime Centre in Argentina and the Royal Navy in the Falklands monitored Wakefield’s situation and stood ready to help. A day after the storm, Wakefield was still determined to forge ahead. “Glenn intends to continue unassisted to Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands when there is a break in the weather,” his wife wrote. “Contrary to some media speculation, Glenn has not indicated that he is abandoning his circumnavigation.” Two days later, however, Wakefield concluded that the beating he and Kim Chow endured had proven too much.

The Argentine naval vessel Puerto Deseado picked up Wakefield April 28. “Words alone can’t express his deep appreciation for the bravery and kindness of the captain and crew who stood by for 48 hours until weather and sea conditions would permit his safe transfer to their vessel,” the Web site said. An Argentine coast guard vessel took him to Stanley, and he returned to Victoria in early May.

“I abandoned Kim Chow,” says Wakefield. “I left her with all the sails down and lashed. She was in pretty rough shape.”

The Offshore 40 is the Cheoy Lee knockoff of an original Phil Rhodes design, the Reliant 40 (also built by Cheoy Lee), according to Ben Stavis, who maintains a Web site for Reliant and Offshore owners (www.astro.temple.edu/~bstavis/reliant.htm). About 112 Reliant 40s and Offshore 40s were built from 1963 to 1976, and one of the differences between the two boats is the keel design. The builder changed the keel ballast from lead to iron and moved it from outside the keel (bolted on) to inside, according to Stavis. “It was a cost-cutting move by Cheoy Lee,” says Stavis, who owns a 1964

Reliant 40. “Iron is cheaper than lead.”

Stavis says he can understand why Wakefield chose an Offshore 40 for his odyssey. “It’s a strong, fast seaworthy hull form,” he says. “It’s a good all-around boat that does well in all types of winds and is strong enough to handle rough weather.”

Stavis is surprised Wakefield’s boat rolled. “It has a deep keel and fairly narrow beam,” he says. “It’s tough to knock down. This is the first time I’ve heard of one of these boats rolling over. I’ve heard about one or two knockdowns. It must have been a sharp-breaking wave that hit him the wrong way. You have to remember that Glenn was going the wrong way in the worst spot.”