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Ocean crossing on a shoestring budget

Ed Hart, who solo circumnavigated on $100 per week, is crossing the Atlantic to cruise Europe

Ed Hart, who solo circumnavigated on $100 per week, is crossing the Atlantic to cruise Europe

Ed Hart will next cross an ocean in a 29-foot sailboat named Hooligan, not some sorry ketch rescued from the bowels of a boatyard.

A year ago the 72-year-old circumnavigator planned to sail from Chesapeake Bay to Ireland aboard a sailboat that, when he found it, had a foot of water over the floorboards. It was a $35,000 Allied Seawind II that he’d bought for $7,000. The voyage was delayed last spring when Hart, after spending several summers in the marina of a Chesapeake Island Packet dealer, found a 1990 29-foot Island Packet and fell in love. So this spring, he was sailing north from Jacksonville, Fla., expecting to leave the Chesapeake in mid-May on his newer, somewhat pricier — yet still modest — cutter.

Hart, a retired U.S. Marine sergeant who spent three years in Vietnam and later became a postal worker, is proof that a fixed income is no reason not to sail off for distant shores. “Most people have it in their head that they have to have a $100,000 boat [to be a world cruiser],” says Hart. “It just isn’t the case. You don’t have to have a hell of a lot of money.”

His cruising has cost as little as $100 a week, the bulk of that for food. He has no stomach for local foods when he is traveling in the Third World, so he stocks cans of costlier “western” food on his boat. And despite his love of the sea, he doesn’t bother catching fish because he won’t eat them, either. Hart bases his claims about finances on his solo circumnavigation — in another boat named Hooligan — from November 1995 to spring of 1999. The trip was the culmination of 30 years of daysailing and cruising, and of a lot of reading and dreaming.

Born in Newark, N.J., in 1934, Hart left home in 1951 at the age of 17, joining the Marines to escape the city. He served in Korea in the infantry, he says. “We’re all parachuters and divers and all that good stuff.” Eight years later, when the conflict in Vietnam was turning into a conflagration, he was wounded in battle and received the Purple Heart. He returned to Vietnam in 1967 and stayed until 1969, serving in the Marines’ elite reconnaissance forces as a platoon sergeant. He retired in 1971 after 21 years and settled in San Diego.

“I started sailing in 1955,” Hart recalls. “I took sailing lessons in CampLejeune. I never owned a boat. I just rented boats. They usually had some sort of marina wherever I was stationed.”

He bought his first cruising boat in 1983 — a clipper-bowed, full-keel Fuji 35 — and made two trips to Mexico. But the bunks were too short for the 6-foot sailor, and after two years he sold the Fuji. In 1988 he bought an Islander 24 for $2,000 and sailed it to Hawaii. He thought he would sail around the world in it. “Hell, John Guzzwell did it in a 20-footer,” he says.

But he found when he loaded the little boat, it would not sail, so he got a job in a post office in Honolulu to earn the money for a larger boat. He sold the Islander for $1,000 and bought a Cal 25 for $3,000 back on the mainland, sailing it back to Hawaii in just 21 days. “It was a rough trip but good time,” he says.

It was then that Hart discovered he had bladder cancer. He was given a medical retirement from the post office, and when he recovered he studied his options. “I couldn’t work anymore, so I figured I might as well make a circumnavigation,” he says. “That was what I was working up to for quite a while. I didn’t know how long I was going to be around, so I thought with the time I’ve got left I ought to do something.”

He bought a Cascade 29 in San Francisco for $2,900 (having sold the Cal 25 in Hawaii for twice what he had paid for it). The Cascade’s sails and engine were shot, but he sailed it back to San Diego and began restoring it. He found a cheap 22-year-old engine that had never been used and installed it. The refit job was incomplete when, in May 1995, he sailed for Honolulu. He stayed until November, when the boat work was finished and the circumnavigation aboard Hooligan began.

Hart’s course was as unconventional as his cruising philosophy. He sailed to the North Pacific when other cruisers were waiting to head south, because as a military retiree he could restock at the Navy base in Guam. Taking his time, he sailed south to Palau and then to the Philippines and eventually on to Malaysia and Singapore, where he finally joined the flotsam of society that is the cruising community.

The trip had been uneventful until he awoke to the sound of flogging sails early one morning as he was crossing the Sea of Bengal, a windvane doing the steering. He stepped out of his bunk into 4 inches of water and heard the gurgling of a leak. The propeller shaft had broken and slid out, stopped only when the prop hit the rudder, jamming it in place. Going over the side with a diving mask, he made repairs and sailed to Sri Lanka.

On his way down the eastern coast of Africa, Hart encountered the only bad weather of the trip: a gale that slammed Hooligan for more than two days, breaking the boom, shredding the sails and killing the engine. He sailed into Durbin, South Africa, with a ripped genoa and loose-footed main, and was rewarded for his tenacity by being mugged on the street.

These were the exceptions in a voyage that left Hart ready for another circumnavigation, one that he has yet to schedule. Perhaps it will begin after he makes Ireland. A relative told him he should see the country before it loses its identity through absorption in the European Union. So in May he will sail east. He won’t stop in marinas. He won’t buy smokes or booze. He won’t use his engine much. And he will keep his credit card handy in case he needs to fly home to the States for medical attention. Between port fees and food, he still expects his travels to cost less than $100 a week.

He didn’t have radar or a chart plotter during his circumnavigation, but he has them now, because the new Hooligan — for which he paid $69,000 — has “everything I never had on the boat before,” including refrigeration, an autopilot, a chart plotter, a laptop at the nav station that runs his electronic charts, and a flat-screen television mounted on a bulkhead. Otherwise, Hart is following his philosophy of small and simple.

“I saw people going down to Mexico from San Diego,” he recalls. “They have $100,000 boats and all this equipment, and when they come back all they do is complain about this broke down and that broke down and they didn’t enjoy it.”

Hart remembers his friend Don Cuddy, a native of Ireland whom he met in San Diego. Cuddy had sailed from there to New England through the Panama Canal on a $4,000 boat. “He’s the one who showed me you could do it,” Hart says. “He didn’t have any equipment on that boat. He didn’t even have an outboard for his dinghy. He told me it was the best time of his life, those four years that he was cruising.”

When he casts off from his marina in Rock Hall, Md., Hart plans to sail to Bermuda, where he will stop only long enough to take on supplies. Then he will head, via the Azores, to Ireland, where he plans to spend his 73rd birthday. “From what I understand, it’s best to get out of there by the end of August,” he says. “Then I’ll go to France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands and then back across the Atlantic.”

Eventually, Hart plans to pass through the Panama Canal and return to San Diego, where he is on the waiting list for a 30-foot slip at Silver Gate Yacht Club. But remember, this is not a man of stone-chiseled plans. He’s open to another circumnavigation.