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Student challenges self with solo sail

To help promote education through sailing and the importance of personal growth through challenge, a Northeast college student sailed 1,200 miles mostly single-handed.

To help promote education through sailing and the importance of personal growth through challenge, a Northeast college student sailed 1,200 miles mostly single-handed over two months this summer from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“From the planning phase and the financing, to the actual sailing and seamanship, this trip has been a learning experience for me,” says Canlin Frost, who is 22 and of Winter Park, Fla. “The three most important things I learned from this experience are the importance of financial planning, overcoming adversity and the importance of challenging yourself. These three things are paramount to success.”

Frost, a senior at Vermont’s Norwich University, a military academy, learned to sail as a child with his grandfather, Robert, aboard an 18-foot sloop. In April Frost purchased a 27-foot Hunter sloop in East Dennis, Mass., that he named Essayons (French for “let us try”). He devised an ambitious plan to make his first single-handed voyage sailing the boat from New England to Florida.

“I found the idea of sailing a boat of this size by myself on such a long passage exciting,” says Frost. “As for the sailing, it was a challenge. I feel that a lot of emphasis in life has been placed on education. But, really, it’s a supplement. If all you do is go to school and don’t put what you learn there — about life and about yourself — to practical use, then it’s a waste. This trip put everything I’ve learned in life to the test.”

Frost launched Essayons last spring and pushed off from East Dennis on May 24. He loaded the sailboat with provisions including dried noodles, fresh fruit, canned tuna and water. Frost carried a handheld GPS, handheld VHF, flares, PFDs and fire extinguishers. He did not have an EPIRB.

“From the start I was nervous,” Frost admits. “Sailing single-handed means it’s all on you. There’s no one to ask for help. You just have to check the sails, valves, electronics, make sure the hull fittings don’t leak and get going. I just wanted to work my way down the coast, slowly, safely.”

Not straying more than three miles from the coast, Frost pushed Essayons south hoping to sail for 10 hours and average about five knots per day. He had planned to complete the passage in four weeks and to make it to Florida with time to spare before the beginning of the fall semester. “As much as I love sailing, I had to try to be realistic,” says Frost. “I just don’t have the time to be out sailing for months and months at a time.”

Frost faced a number of obstacles during his time at sea — including wiring corrosion and bad weather — that made his voyage more challenging. One storm in particular, in June as he was attempting to round Cape Hatteras, found Frost sailing at night in rain and what he estimates were 25-knot winds and seas more than 10 feet. “I had put two reefs in the main and had the jib rolled up significantly but with the strength of the wind I took the cleated furling line into my hand and began to take in more sail,” he explains. “With a loud snap the line ran out of my hands and the jib sprang out, exposing the 130-percent genoa to the howling wind and was immediately blown out.

“Mustering my courage I crawled forward to the pitching bow,” he continues, “dodging the jib sheets as they flailed at eye level and took down the jib and stuffed it down the foredeck hatch.”

Without a jib and unable to motor through the Gulf Stream current, Frost pointed Essayons north toward Roanoke Island. He was relieved to reach land. “I had never been happier to be tied up next to a dock in my life,” he says.

After the storm, Frost was joined on the island by his sister, Elise, and Joe Cruz, a friend from high school. Both accompanied Frost during the remainder of his voyage. “I had [them] join me because I had to finish the trip because of my college obligations,” Frost says. “With two extra hands on board I could keep the boat under way 24/7.”

Frost and his crewmembers pushed Essayons to Cape Marina in Cape Canaveral on July 20 — 58 days after getting under way. “When I finally got a chance to sit down and take in all that I had experienced I was extremely relieved to be home,” Frost says. “My life didn’t revolve around the weather or the miles passed under the keel, it was a huge burden off of my shoulders. Even now, however, there is still a large part of me that wants to be out there on the ocean, enjoying the challenges of an adventure at sea.”

This fall Frost traveled to Shanghai, China, where he was spending the fall semester studying Chinese. Although he sold Essayons because he could not afford to keep her while he was away at school, Frost says he plans someday to undertake another sailing adventure.

“There were a lot of miles between Cape Cod and Cape Canaveral, and I made it,” Frost says. “I set out to do this thing and I did it. I took the leap and lived the dream. I hope this voyage inspires others to live their dreams, too.”