Jeanne Socrates, solo circumnavigator, looks back on her journey
by Nancy Knudsen on 9 Sep 2013
Jeanne Socrates pulled into Victoria Harbor at just before 3 a.m. on Monday, July 8, aboard her Najad 380, Nereida, to become, at 70 years old, the oldest female sailor to complete a non-stop solo circumnavigation. In this article Jeanne tells the inside story of her amazing achievement.
Jeanne just after her arrival in Victoria SW
Her previous two attempts at a non-stop circumnavigation were cut short due to engine issues which forced her to stop in Cape Town and a knockdown near Cape Horn that damaged her boat and caused her to stop to make repairs in Ushuaia, Argentina. Jeanne has been recorded by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (which doesn't acknowledge age records) as the first female solo circumnavigator to depart from America.
During her latest journey she had to climb the mast multiple times, lower herself upside down into the wake water to repair her rudder, and for the last several weeks has been relying on ham radio buffs after she lost all her communications gear in heavy weather.
After a hero's welcome, since has been an exciting ride for Jeanne, who didn't even learn to sail until she was in middle age. 'I've had a great reception from people in all the places where I've stopped in 'Nereida' recently - both in B.C. and over in Washington state. Many friendly people have come by to see me and chat, often telling me they've followed my travels for quite a time, even though they might not have emailed me at all... It's made my landfall, and the weeks following, really enjoyable. Also the unexpected generosity of some people helping with 'gifted'work, haulout, berthing, use of car, etc has been much appreciated.'
However, Jeanne is still the essential cruising sailor, with lots of 'boat jobs' to be done, especially after such a long time - 260 non-stop days - at sea, not to mention the previous failed attempts.
'The boat has been in chaos since wiring and instrument repairs/work done in Westport Marina,' says Jeanne, 'and even more now since last week when I retrieved cushions, doors, dinghy, outboard from storage. I thoroughly washed forepeak and aft cabin wooden bunk tops of salt and dirt accumulated over last two RTW attempts. Still have a lot of cleaning and organising to get done to get boat shipshape. Need a new mainsail - old one has ripped after just two circumnavigations - and headsails have needed repairing after one RTW.... Expensive!'
I asked her last week how she FELT to have done something so extraordinary
With typical understatement, Jeanne told me, 'I don't feel that I did anything extraordinary - it was my third time around in the Southern Ocean,so it felt 'normal' to be back there but I definitely learned from the previous experiences.'
But the boat which was set up for a long range solo adventure needs some changes. 'I have lots of repairs and cleaning/organising to do on board - plus changes/additions needed to make 'Nereida' ready for 'normal' cruising.
Looking back now, I wondered what were her lowest moments. There was no hesitation in her reply. 'Frustration over lost time due to unhelpful weather systems, so many calms and so few days of really good Distance Made Good. Then there were the times that I had to climb mast - VERY difficult - had to really force myself to get to the top and then often couldn't achieve what I'd set out to do...
But Jeanne's journey was not all low moments. Trying to describe her best moments set Jeanne remembering. 'Occasional rough weather surrounded by lots of birds; impressively big seas, strong wind, sailing well... ;satisfaction at overcoming some of the difficult problems; but nothing really surpassed the last fast sail along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a brilliant sunset and finally making it over the line in company, with a group on the harbour entrance breakwater end as well, despite the time of night and especially the lovely welcome afterwards both while at the Empress Dock for a week and recently - so many people have made a point of coming by to congratulate me, often telling me how long they've been following me and how pleased (often proud!) they were that I made it.'
While Jeanne's amazing voyage and her homecoming may have provided her with some very great 'highs', she overcame what seemed to be almost insurmountable difficulties during her journey, all of which, one way or another, she overcame.
Here is her list of equipment problems overcome while on passage and failures which couldn't be repaired:
- Broken lower shroud fitting at lower end - replaced;
- Winch malfunction when pawl spring became dislodged & wedged out of place + several winches needed full servicing when grease dried out;
- Several problems with genoa pole jaw fitting - circlip went missing and mast car used to raise/lower pole lost connecting shackle when pin went missing;
- Main engine and genset sea-water pump impellors both needed replacing after they failed (used for charging batteries)
- Iridium satphone (Xmas morning);
- Wind generator - fell off post on minor knockdown and trashed itself against stern arch in swinging on its cable;
- Loss of radar usefulness as a result of breakage of welded joint between horizontal support and upright pole - radar was aiming down at sea, not ahead, as result of same minor knockdown before Tasmania;
- Loss of original liferaft when slipped off vertical cradle on pushpit;
- Electric windlass failed;
- Damaged mainsail track insert (partly due to previous knockdown - I overlooked dealing with it before start of present attempt and my 'fix' dating from Ushuaia wasn't good enough, so insert started coming away from mast again, threatening use of mainsail - from then on, well before Horn, was only confident in raising 2-reefed mainsail at most. Slowed me down in light winds...) ;
- Wind instrument 'fix' on stern arch failed 3-4wks after abortive trip up mast - no wind info down below from before Cape Horn and only visual info on direction (compass+use of surface ripples) and approx speed (Beaufort scale!) possible from then on;
- Two laptops and a remote screen failed - so normal radio emailing and receipt of grib files became impossible ('hams' helped me then via voice contact using HF radio comms. - had dedicated weatherfax using paper available to me as fallback, TG!);
- Windsteering rudder replaced after it fell off when pin rusted away and two parts of mechanism had to be repaired at different times while hove-to;
-Problems with genoa sheet cars which kept chafing/cutting sheets;
- Genoa furling problems - caused by halyards etc catching in top furler;
- Gas solenoid cut-off valve failed - had to remove solenoid from pipe run to enable flow of propane to galley for cooking;
- Solar panel wiring chafed - had to re-connect after cutting away corroded wires;
- AP system had a few minor problems - mostlywith rudder reference unit- needed multimeter measurements of volts and some resistances - fixed with help via email, but I finally found AP system worked OK using COG from GPS input, (i.e. without use of RRU - its'fine-tuning' was not essential) so long as wheel was centred each time AP switched on; - - Gimbals of cooker wore through by end of trip - had to wedge and lash cooker in place to prevent it breaking free - made cooking a bit difficult;
- shackle of running backstay broke - replaced from spares - as were several other shackles and bits and pieces - a good thing my spares were very comprehensive!! Anything that could come loose did so..... caught several just in time....
I wondered whether her long periods at sea had changed her as a person. Her answer was, as I should have anticipated, practical and focussed on others. 'I am more confident in being able to cope at sea in all weathers as well as more appreciative of people and their innate goodness and desire to help.'
What advice does she have for other would-be female solo sailors? 'Go for it and don't be put off by other people's doubts,' she said, 'but I'd assume a fair amount of sailing experience before sensibly going solo.
However, her next comment might be the difficult advice to follow for many female sailors: 'But be prepared for all the fixing needed when things break down - not difficult, if comprehensive tools, manuals and spares are on board. Other boaters are often happy to give advice and/or practical help - but don't depend on it.'
I asked Jeanne what was the biggest thing she learned about sailing in her long journeys, and her reply was classic common sense. 'I learned that you must always pre-empt weather changes (to cope with S. Ocean Cold Fronts) . ..... Take your time, act early...'
One of the most memorable things about Jeanne's voyage was how the ham radio world stepped in when she had lost all her communications gear except HF radio failed. She is now full of appreciation for the help that they gave her.
'Rick, WA1RKT, set up the email system via radio voice contact, after my computers were down. We'd been in contact for last two years; Jim,WB2REM, was often in radio contact several times daily, via a strong station in Florida - we'd been in contact nightly beforehand for some time, from Australia onward; Tom, N5TW, had been extremely helpful soon after I started my journey, beaming his stack of antennas my way to help me with radio contact in the S. Pacific, around Cape Horn and across the S. Atlantic and was again able to help later when the other two lost good radio contact as I came back up the Pacific.
More than anything Jeanne is grateful now for the help she received along the way, 'I received so much help from a lot of (sometimes very newly-made) friends and new contacts, who offered help whenever they could. So many offers and a lot of support all the time - either via the (voice) ham radio connections I made along the way, or emails via my website 'Contact' page.
Jeanne will be once again honoured at the Southampton Boat Show, but then she is back to more sailing. 'I plan to sail down the California coast, slowly making for San Carlos, Mexico, for the winter, to finish outstanding work there, she told me recently, 'I am hoping to get boat into good shape, ready for extended cruising next year.'
So Jeanne, after spending so much time at sea, still plans to stay on her boat and keep cruising! Extended cruising? Maybe sometime you'll see her along the way!
Jeanne, a retired maths teacher, didn't even learn to sail as a kid, not taking it up until her late forties, with her husband. In 1997 she and her husband commissioned the first Nereida and sailed from the UK across the Atlantic.
After her husband's death from cancer in 2008, Jeanne started a steep learning curve that resulted in her deciding to carry on sailing single-handed.
She has been raising funds to support the Marie Curie Cancer Care Foundation by using her sailing to highlight the work it does in providing home care to terminally ill patients.
Jeanne is a member of a member of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), and was honoured with the Duchess of Kent Trophy by the Cruising Association of Britain in 2011.
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