Webb Chiles completed his sixth circumnavigation, singlehanded, aboard the Moore 24 Gannet, an ultralight racing sloop, on April 29 in San Diego. Part 1 of this story in the June issue covers the first leg of the journey — which included four Pacific passages starting from San Diego and ending in New Zealand — along with background on Chiles, his previous boats and achievements, and his choice of the Moore 24 as the vessel for his selfdescribed "final world tour."
ebb Chiles reached Opua in New Zealand's Bay of Islands September 20, 2014. He suffered a shoulder injury at the end of that leg that was ultimately diagnosed as a near-complete tear of part of his left rotator cuff. Opting for physical therapy over surgery, Chiles took 2015 off from the circumnavigation. Chiles returned to Gannet in Opua in March 2016, and, after his usual methodical preparations, he departed New Zealand April 26, with the port city of Bundaberg, Australia, his next destination. By the second day, he was surprised at the severity of Gannet's motion in the first 24 hours at sea. "The waves were not big, but they were steep and Gannet was thrown around. And so was I." That, in turn, gave Chiles the answer to an open question as to Gannet's remaining itinerary. Chiles began this circumnavigation in 2014 with most of his intended route set: He would sail westabout with various stops, including Opua; Darwin, Australia; and Durban, South Africa. What he had not decided, however, was if he would sail from South Africa to Panama for his return to the Pacific, or if he would attempt Cape Horn instead. He now had the answer: "There will be no more talk of Cape Horn. Those were harbor thoughts. Yesterday brought back vivid memories of the gale of 2014, and that was only 40- to 45-knot wind." While not looking forward to the transit of Panama, he concluded that would be his best route home. Early in the passage to Bundaberg, Chiles set up sheet-to-tiller steering for the first time of the voyage. On prior boats, Chiles had sailed more than 35,000 miles by sheet-to-tiller steering — which, like a wind vane, can hold the boat on a steady angle to the wind and, unlike an autopilot, takes no electricity. From San Diego to Opua, however, Gannet's sailing angles and position relative to the sun had given the solar panels enough exposure to keep the batteries charged during almost continuous use Page 76 •
• July, 2019
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY WEBB CHILES UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Webb Chiles said that this perch in his Moore 24 'Gannet's "great cabin"was his preferred seat.
of a tiller pilot. Now, sailing in a northwesterly direction in the austral autumn, the sails blocked the sun from the solar panels, which then could not keep up with the demand of the tiller pilot. Chiles would use sheet-to-tiller steering much of the rest of the way around. New Zealand to Australia would prove to be one of the most pleasant legs of the journey. "Joy," Chiles noted as he neared Bundaberg. "Nothing particularly special. Just Gannet steering herself through the ocean beneath a pristine sky." Although light winds had made for slow going for much of the 1,300-mile transit, Chiles was pleased. "Any passage to or from New Zealand that does not include a gale is a success." After a week, Chiles left Bundaberg for Darwin on May 16. For the journey to the Cape York Peninsula, the Great Barrier Reef was the major navigational challenge. First, he sailed east of north for more than 200 miles to clear the southern end of the great reef, then turned NW for another 500 miles along the outside. By May 21, Chiles was abreast of Cape Grafton, near Cairns, and he slipped through the Grafton Passage in the Great Barrier Reef, dropping anchor in a cove named Mission Bay — coincidentally the
name of his point of departure from San Diego two years earlier. The 720-mile sail from Bundaberg, while at times more than 150 miles from land, had essentially been a coastal passage — with the Great Barrier Reef to port, many off-lying smaller reefs to starboard, and shipping traffic in between. From Cape Grafton, Chiles continued up the coast inside the Great Barrier Reef in a succession of daysails, averaging 40 or so miles per day and anchoring each night until Cape York, which he reached on June 5. The passage, from Cape York across the Arafura Sea to Darwin, was another difficult stretch, marked by "no wind; too much wind; boom fell off; loss of solar charging and use of the mainsail. None of these were permanent. I fixed them underway, and the mainsail didn't need fixing, I just tried to reef it in the wrong sequence and almost pulled the Tides Marine luff track off the mast in 30-knot winds." By June 12, however, Chiles was anchored in Fannie Bay, near the Darwin Sailing Club, which provided him a welcome shoreside base for the rest of the month. By the end of June, Chiles was rested, repairs to Gannet were complete, and
The July 2019 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.