An Open 40, the Southern Ocean and Babies on Board

Babies on board - Photo by Somira Sao
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Lots of cruising families take their small children sailing, but not like James Burwick and Somira Sao. They and their kids Tormentina, 4, and Raivo Max, 2, started their voyage on an Open 40, a thorough racing, not cruising boat, in Portland, Maine (USA). They sailed the Atlantic to France, down to Cape Town in South Africa, then across the Southern Ocean to Fremantle, Western Australia. Here is an excerpt of their leg in the Southern Ocean from Fremantle heading east, told by Somira.

The third week of September, the boat was ready, we were ready, and the weather looked good for us to depart Freo.

By then I was six months pregnant, and moving slower. This trip would be the second Southern Ocean passage for baby No.3 in the womb. During the previous voyage from Cape Town, I didn’t realize that my excess seasickness and fatigue were just first trimester symptoms until we arrived and I started to investigate the cause of what became a rapid case of the 'landfall belly.' Check-ups, scans, and tests were all healthy and good, and everything low-risk. Our sailing tribe would now be complete and Anasazi Girl would be making miles with her biggest crew yet.


In Freo, Tormentina and Raivo celebrated their fourth and second birthdays. Both of them grew up fast in the four months we were in WA. Raivo especially, who was now off the breast-milk, talking like crazy, and in the first weeks of September, he had trained himself to use the toilet. This would be our first passage without diapers! What a nice reprieve with the upcoming arrival of No.3.

Babies on board - helping Dad
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Our plan was to depart Fremantle and sail via the Bight to the south-side of Tasmania. If we needed or wanted to stop, we could pull into Hobart, but if the boat and everyone were well, the weather forecast favorable, then we would continue non-stop to New Zealand.

The day before we left, my friend Madeleine Stephens helped me do a final provisioning with my wild kids at the supermarket. That afternoon & evening, we said goodbyes to all the good friends we had made in Freo. Super nice to have so many people call, come by the boat, and send us their good wishes.

On Sunday, September 23rd at 3:45 am we untied our lines in the dark.

Just after 4 am, we were on our way, booking it south to get ahead of a low pressure system that was forecast for the Bight. Big relief for me to finally be on the water again, away from the land, in motion, and on another adventure with my family.

Babies on board - Anasazi heading into the Southern Ocean
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By Day Three we were rocking and rolling, the miles melting away. We had passed Cape Leeuwin, and were moving along nicely ahead of the big, slow moving front. As we headed toward Tasmania, it was uncomfortable with big waves, bumpy seas, and wind speeds building up in the 40s and 50s.

Babies on board - watching dolphins in the Southern Ocean
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Moving around underway was more difficult with my big belly and I was still finding it hard to keep the food down. The kids and I were hunkered down, safely tucked into the berths, not moving around much in the cabin. No trips to the head solo for either of the kids, no using the stove, & just eating simple food that required no cooking. These were the conditions I had expected for the Southern Ocean.

Then things got complicated.

James came down below to tell me that one end of the main sheet traveler car had exploded, and all the balls went flying into the sea. I took a deep breath. In the 13,000 miles we had traveled on the boat with the family, I realized that this was the first time we had really broken anything critical. James immediately went back out to deal with the problem.

I opened the door and looked out at him standing in the cockpit surrounded by a mess of lines, the boom secured, but still swinging. I remember thinking it was scene that should be photographed. But I decided I should probably stay hands free to keep the kids safe and help James if needed. He said he would need to make a 2 to 1 mainsheet system, and got right to work sorting us out.

Down below, I listened and waited. Big conditions we were in, and big appreciation for being there with James who always kept his head together in tough situations. He worked alone steadily, and it was a big relief when all the unusual noises on deck stopped and Anasazi Girl was cruising along smoothly again. James came down, totally bummed about the traveler car. He said the new system was a little inconvenient, but that it would work.

Babies on board - the joy of the Southern Ocean
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Everything ran smoothly until late that night when I heard creaking noises outside and felt unusual vibrations in the hull. I woke James up to investigate. There had been some slack in the lazy main sheet and it had wrapped itself around the port tiller. He freed it, and said we were super lucky.

The next day, James focused on possible temporary fixes for the broken car. He also made some emails and sat calls to line up parts for us for the in-port repair. We found out the end caps for the traveler car were now being fabricated out of aluminum instead of plastic, but that the parts were in-stock, off the shelf, and easy to get. As we continued onward, James watched how the boat performed, we discussed our options for continuing as we were, or pulling into port.

Unfortunately, we were so focused on the traveler car, that after the first close call with the lazy main sheet line, we made a big mistake and did not clip the line back away from the tillers.

Later that day, we had a terrible repeat: excess slack in the line that looped itself around the tiller. This time, the wrapped line, pulled up by the force of the snapping main was strong enough to tear our starboard tiller off, and away into the sea. This caused the rudder to stop momentarily, putting an intense resistance on the starboard autopilot, which sheared right off its mounting. We didn't hear a thing as the mount pulled, but James immediately sensed that there was no response from the pilot, and he switched to our secondary pilot right away.

We gybed to head north and get into calmer conditions to assess the damages, this time with the excess lazy main sheet clipped back with a biner and webbing to prevent the possibility of losing both tillers.

A small mistake, and a cascade of bad events, and we suddenly felt f*#@'d! being left without our back-up systems.

James worked quickly, remounting the pilot so we would not be without a secondary, crossing his fingers that his fix would work. We discussed options for making a spare tiller with the materials we had on board, and discussed options for pulling into port. I laid awake with James that night, listening to the heater blowing as we waited for the epoxy to go off.

On Day 6 we were back in business. The mount was fixed and holding, that pilot was driving again, and the 2 to 1 was working perfectly. As we gained confidence in the repairs, the stress of the previous day's drama finally eased.

Unfortunately, we had slowed down enough during all the repairs that the big system had caught up with us. We were now dealing with Force 10 winds, and realized that there was no way we could safely push south as planned. We were forced to head east toward Bass Strait.

We talked things over, and though we felt we could continue now, we made a decision to head to Melbourne for the repairs. The sailing conditions completely mellowed out as we committed to our new course.

On Day 8, October 1st, 2012 - with the help of Chris Disney and Brett Avery, Anasazi Girl slid into a berth at the Sandringham Yacht Club. Simultaneous feelings of relief that we were safely in port were mixed with exhaustion, and sadness that our trip was cut short. Difficult to stop just as we were starting to get into the groove and rhythm of sailing.

About the couple:
James is a professional climber/sailor with a vast foundation of experience in extreme environments. Somira is a professional photographer, adventurer and soon to be mother of three. The kids have sailed over 13,000 ocean miles; descended Argentina's Rio Santa Cruz (400km from the Patagonian ice cap to the sea); cycle toured Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, the Atacama Desert, and Southern Iceland; and have traveled to 15 different countries. To follow their journey, go to their www.anasaziracing.blogspot.com!website.