Heineken Cape to Rio veteran Aussie sailor on eight circumnavigation

Heineken Cape to Rio Race 2011
Heineken Cape to Rio Australian sailor, Jon Sanders, has a good few hundred thousand sea miles behind him, and is veritable old sea-dog. He has been sailing his 39-foot Sparkman and Stephens design Pierre Banou IV for 22 years now across the oceans of the world, and on other yachts, including the previous Pierre Banou, a 31-footer, he did much the same, including in the 1976 Cape to Rio Race.

Now he is back in Cape Town, where it all began, and when the start gun goes at noon on Saturday, he will be off on another Cape to Rio Race.

Tall and lanky, and still looking amazingly fit, 'you get a lot of exercise on a boat, always moving about', his speech is laconic, perhaps even shy, he is the ultimate lone sailor. In fact probably the most experienced single-handed sailor in the world.

After that first race, from Rio he sailed north, through the Panama Canal, and via the Galapagos across the Pacific back to his home port of Perth in Western Australia. That was his first circumnavigation. And after the Cape to Rio, which starts on January 15, when he again returns to Perth it will be the eighth,.

Been there, done that, and now at 71, still doing that. This time he sailed to Cape Town from Perth single-handed. Very single in fact. 'There were no birds, no ships, no whales or dolphins. Just a big empty ocean. Only south of Madagascar did I see bird-life again, and I had just light winds, between eight and 15 knots.'

Before he took to the sea, for 17 years Jon Sanders was in the wool industry. He owned a contract sheep-shearing concern, working on the huge sheep stations in Western Australia. It would take him and his team a month to clip the wool from up to 30,000 sheep, grade and bale it. His own niche was the key task of grading wool.

Among the three crew joining him in Cape Town will be his nephew Andrew, a senior sailing instructor who has just finished an eight-year stint organizing sailing in Singapore. He will be co-skipper. 'He's sponsoring this trip, and we'll sail back via Panama and the Galapagos again, he wants to see the Galapagos islands before crossing the Pacific, seeing some of the islands.'

But hang on? Eight times round the world? Well, between 1986 and 1988 he did three non-stop circumnavigations back-to-back. That has to be some sort of record?

'Yeah, maybe, I started in Perth, came past Cape Town, up to the equator, so it counts as a circumnavigation, then down the South American coast and round Cape Horn, and then across the Pacific to Western Australia, round Rotnest Island off Perth, and then back the other way round, twice.'

He did not stop anywhere, so had to carry a lot of stores and water. 'The boat was quite loaded down.' Why did he do it? 'Well, I suppose for the same reason people climb mountains, it's a challenge. The world is my oyster, literally.'

Yes, it is a record, in the Guinness Book of Records, for the longest distance sailed continuously by any yacht ever, 48,510 miles (78 000km) and the longest time alone at sea 419 days and 22 hours. But Jon also says nothing about sailing single-handed twice around Antarctica in 1981, for which he received the Chichester Award. He has also written classic novel on his experiences, Lone Sailor.

Mishaps have included a collision with a fishing boat in the Falklands. 'I should have kept better watch. I knew they were in the area, but it was in winter in the middle of the night, very cold, so I didn't want to put my head out. I T-boned them, no damage to them, but squashed the front of my boat, luckily nothing too serious.'

Then there was a hurricane in the Pacific that lasted 12 hours, and blasted his yacht flat on the water. And oh yes, he has been rolled a couple of times, once in Antarctica, when his yacht was completely upside down, a 180 degree roll. It takes a fierce frightening sea to do that.

Does he feel fear at sea?
'No, not fear, but I do get apprehensive. You see a big storm coming, it's worrying, but it's happened before, you get used to it, you know the boat will come through.'

Jon admits he is not too good with computers and modern weather technology. 'I mainly look at the barometer and the wind. When the barometer falls, and the wind goes to the north, you know a storm is coming.'

'I think that is why I did well in the Sydney Hobart Race last year. The modern youngsters worry about currents and expected weather and try to go round it. I just go straight through. I placed 13th, but was lying fifth on handicap most of the way.'

Nowadays he works as a delivery skipper, moving a yacht from one port to another for a busy owner, though the pay isn't great. 'These days it gives me something to do. It keeps me from sitting in pubs and drinking beer. There is always something to do on a boat, I am always busy.'

Western Australia has a windy coastline, he says. 'Well, we think we have wind, but they should just come to Cape Town,' he says, gesturing at the rigging clanking in the forty knot south-easter. So when the noon gun goes, it could be quite a breezy start for Jon Sander's next voyage, mind you, just a small one for him.

http://capetorio.heineken.com/