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Circumnavigation of Bermuda in an Optimist - a first!

by Colin Thompson, Royal Gazette/Sail-World on 19 Mar 2013
Optimist sailing in Bermuda - photo by Somers Cooper .. .

The sailor was Welsh, the island was British, the location was off the coast of North America. Tom Herbert-Evans carved his name in local sailing history this week when he became the first sailor to circumnavigate the Island of Bermuda in a 7'6' dinghy.

It might have been only local historians who are interested, but you can't help admiring his pluck and fortitude when you read the story.

Tom is the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (RBYC) Sailing Academy Director and he achieved the unprecedented feat in an elapsed time of nine hours, 28 minutes and 48 seconds after setting off on his journey under the cover of darkness at 5.15am. Sailing an Optimist for over nine hours would not be any fun. Why did he do it? To raise money for Optimist sailors to compete overseas.

Evans’ circumnavigation began and ended at Hogfish Beacon in the Great Sound.

The 25-year sailor endured a baptism of fire sailing down the North Shore in 15-30 knot northwesterly breezes and five to six foot seas during the first leg of his journey.

'It was treacherous going down the North Shore, we had a very rough time with the waves' Evans said. 'It was like a washing machine at Murray’s Anchorage where the waves were about five or six feet.

'There was a lot of backwash from the oil platform there and we had about three waves break over my head that smashed my little bimini on the boat. It was very messy.'

Evans also found the going tough sailing up wind on the South Shore between Fairmont Southampton and Pompano Beach.

'That was the worst bit,' he said. 'We had 30 knots of breeze going up wind so I stuck to the rocks to keep flat water and when I got to Daniel’s Head it was plain sailing from there.'

Evans’ journey did not go without its share of bailing water out of the boat to keep it afloat.

'I honestly don’t think I dropped the bailer at all, I had it in my hand the whole time,' he said. 'It was a brand new bailer when we launched and it looks like its about 30 years old now.'

Sailing in challenging conditions for nearly ten hours crammed up in an eight foot boat took a physical toll on the RBYC sailor.

'My body feels a bit bruised and battered and it was certainly challenging,' he said. 'It’s a big strain on your body because you’ve got to be constantly active in the boat.'

Evans was accompanied by RBYC high performance sailing coach Sean Evans (no relation) who escorted the sailor on his long and gruelling journey as a safety precaution in the testing conditions.

The certified sailing coach sailed around the Island to raise money to help offset costs for local Optimist sailors to compete abroad and hopes to raise as much money as possible for the cause.

'It’s the furthest I’ve been in an Optimist and it’s just a new way of thinking outside of the box to get people to think about sailing,' he said.

RBYC Commodore Jonathan Brewin praised Evans for his accomplishment and charitable cause.

'I have total admiration and respect for what Tom has achieved,' he said. 'It was done in a very safe and professional manner and all in aid of junior sailing in Bermuda. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club is extremely pleased that he’s been able to accomplish this.'

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