The two words that most come to mind when you think of sailing are 'freedom' and 'adventure'. Just stepping onto the boat can give you a sense of both, but in 2012 there were those who took their adventure seriously. Here's a round-up of the most adventurous non-racing sailors of the year, some of whom were attempting to be the 'first', some trying for speed records, others just sailed for the love of it.
The year began with Australian Paul Larsen announcing that he was going to try - yet again - to beat the world sailing speed record in Namibia in a strange craft called SailRocket 2, and he spent the year doing it - more of Paul later.
Still in the speed stakes, in the middle of the month, French sailor Loick Peyron with a crew on Banque Populaire V, completed a journey which would have thrilled Jules Verne - a new world circumnavigation speed sailing record, in under 46 hours.
Before January was finished, 16-year-old Dutch/New Zealand teen sailor Laura Dekker completed her own circumnavigation of the world, becoming the youngest (by far) person to complete such a voyage.
During February, tearaway Norwegian sailor Jarle Andhoey, whose three crew had died the year before in Antarctica when their boat Beserk II was lost in a storm, had returned in another newly purchase boat, Nilaya, to 'investigate what happened.' Controversy followed him all the way, with illegal departures and stowaways, lack of permission to enter Antarctic waters, false radio information and the flying of pirate flags.
Intrepid almost-seventy-year-old solo adventurer, British sailor Jeanne Socrates, set off from Capetown to return via the Southern Ocean to Vancouver where she intended to commence yet another attempt at a solo non-stop circumnavigation. On arrive in Vancouver she had already become the oldest woman to solo circumnavigate the world, but this wasn't enough.
Also in March a Ukrainian yacht crew on a sailing boat called Scorpius, skippered by Sergei Nizovtsev, claimed a new world record in sailing further south than any other boat had gone. This was challenged in a number of quarters (including a moth which had sailed IN but not TO Antarctica and Beserk II, which had sunk) but it was a tremendous achievement for the 98ft boat.
In April the most spectacular adventure sail to be completed was by American sailor Matt Rutherford, who sailed a 27ft boat in the first ever non-stop solo circumnavigation of the Americas. Towards the end of the voyage, which took approximately ten months, most of his electronic systems and his motor had failed, the wind generator and solar panels had also failed. He reported his position with a failing cellphone. But, against the odds, he did it, and arrived home to a hero's welcome.
All the adventures weren't by solo sailors in small boats. The world's tall ships are mostly used these days for sail training, and it's not only the well-known sailing nations who undertake these tall ship adventures. In May a replica of Captain Cook's famous vessel, the HMB Endeavour, returned to Sydney following a 400 day circumnavigation of Australia. Indonesia's tallship, the Dewaruci arrived in Miami Florida, just half way round a circumnavigation for dozens of lucky sailing students and their crew.
It was June when most cold-adventure-seeking yachts set off for the Northwest Passage, the warming of the planet making it a possible, but still extremely difficult and dangerous journey. Among them were Canadian Sailor Nicolas Peissel and Swedish sailor Edvin Buregren, sailing a 31st Hallberg-rassy, Belzebub II. The difference was they were going for an even more northerly route than 'usual'.
In July British sailor Ludo Bennett-Jones, sailing a 16ft Wayfarer dinghy, completed a circumnavigation of Britain, being the youngest to complete such a journey. He did it two-handed, sometimes solo, and in so doing raised substantial funds for the Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust.
In August word came through that Belezebub II had conquered the McClure Strait in the Northwest Passage, while in the other hemisphere Laura Dekker, who had become the youngest ever circumnavigator back in January, had sailed to New Zealand to make it her home, rejecting the Netherlands, who had used all their powers to prevent her from going sailing.
Scorpius, which was last heard of in the Antarctic in March, had sailed north to conquer the Northwest Passage. She had been stuck in heavy ice flows in the Northwest Passage (in the East Siberian Sea) but had now broken free and was continuing her journey.
The Northwest Passage was still making the news with about 40 boats this year taking it on. In October the Italian sailing world was celebrating because the first ever Italian sailing boat, Best Explorer, a 51ft steel cutter, skippered by Nanni Acquarone, conquered the once-dreaded Passage.
Remember Australian sailor Paul Larsen? Announcing in January that he would again try to break the world speed sailing record? All year he's been there, trying, recalculating, redesigning, trying again. It's taken most of the year, but in November he was able to announce he had actually sailed at 68knots, and had set a world speed sailing record over a sustained period of a mind-boggline 65.45 knots.
Also in November the indomitable now-seventy-year-old Jeanne Socrates sets off from Vancouver on her 38ft Nereida to attempt, once again, a non-stop solo unassisted circumnavigation. As the year ends she is heading for the curling tail of South America and worrying about reports of heavy ice in the vicinity of Cape Horn. Good luck Jeanne!
November seemed to be a good month for starting sailing adventures. Early in November Indian naval officer and sailor Abhilash Tomy set off in an Indian-built Hallberg-Rassy designed yacht aiming to become the first ever Indian solo nonstop unassisted circumnavigator, while in China a 47-year-old former scientist and experienced sailor, departed in a Class 40 boat, a light racer, hoping for the same achievement.
In December 23-year-old Andrew Lewis, a Trinidadian sailor, successfully crossed the Atlantic between Tobago and Trinidad in a 14ft Laser. In addition, adding to the number of adventurers in small craft, British sailor Pete Goss, well known to more than very keen sailors because of a heroic rescue that he carried out in the Southern Ocean some years ago, has set out with a friend to circumnavigate Tasmania by sailing kayak.
So it was quite a year. Sail-World Cruising followed all these adventures, reporting on them from time to time. It's time now to congratulate them, one and all, for following their star and embarking on what, without exception, was the stuff of dreams for most of us.