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First circumnavigating Lithuanian family sails home

by Linas Jegelevicius, Baltic Times/Sail-World i on 27 Aug 2010
Ragaine II crew - a voyage complete. Skipper Rasa (centre) with her father Andrius Varnas and boyfriend Egoi .. .
They are the first Lithuanian family to do a cruising circumnavigation of the world, and they have just returned to Lithuania to a hero's welcome.

Andrius Varnas, from the Lithuanian village of Minija, his daughter Rasa and her Basque boyfriend, Egoi, have just finished their round-the-world sailing voyage on their yacht, Ragaine II.

Modest, like a lot of cruising sailors with impressive miles on their log, Andrius commented, 'I call it a family sailing trip. Family yacht sailing is the best family-bonding activity I can think of.'

Two years and two weeks it took for the voyage. Their 10 metre yacht, built by Andrius in 1995, covered almost 30,000 nautical miles, entering 44 countries.

'I have always been dreaming of taking the challenge. I have always wanted to criss-cross the world,' the 56-year-old Andrius confessed.

The trip cost him over 80,000 litas (23,100 euros), but he downplays the costs. 'For some, one million euros is not enough per year, while others make their ends meet with a couple of thousand euros. I am far from being a well-to-do man, as I have put most of my savings into the trip,' the seafarer said.

The sailing trio is not the first Lithuanian crew to have embarked and successfully finished the high seas odyssey they hasten to add. However, 'Our predecessors were mostly professional yacht sailors, very well equipped. We were the first Lithuanian family to have ever completed this kind of crossing. We were not going after some records, but sailing slowly, enjoying it. My daughter has dubbed the sailing ‘Sail around the world safely,’' Varnas related to The Baltic Times.

Asked what leg of the voyage was the hardest, Varnas acknowledges the start. 'Pulling off the Minija quay, two years ago, was a tear-squeezing moment for me, as I felt mounting responsibility. Once you are at sea, it eases up, as the focus switches to running the boat,' the seasoned sailor revealed.

As a cadet of Kaliningrad Marine School, he has criss-crossed the Baltic and North seas. He graduated from the school with a degree in ship mechanics and started working in the Klaipeda Seaport. However, his hopes to see the world as a sailor were futile, as he was not allowed to work abroad.

However, even with his life and marine experience, he did not play first fiddle on the boat, as his 28-year-old daughter, Rasa, skippered the yacht. 'She has proved a worthy captain. I was more of a helping crew, one caring for technical peculiarities, especially the engine,' the skipper's father admits.

Asked whether she was up for the workload, Rasa grins, cautiously picking the words. 'Let the other two decide whether my captaincy was good. Frankly, between the two men, sometimes I felt like a coward, preferring safe sailing and reiterating this on every occasion. Thank God, they did not rush me.'

Rasa has been sailing since her teenage years; only Egoi has never touched the sails before. Rasa, however, calls him a 'good yachtsman. The best virtue I have rediscovered in him is his ability to settle any kind of argument with ease and humor.'

The yachtswoman acknowledges the Ragaine II crew may have lacked seafaring and yacht running skills. 'However, we patched up the knowledge gaps gradually, studying books on yachting while sailing,' Rasa tells.

She is proud of her yacht, that has withstood rough seas and currents. 'The same pair of sails lasted the whole trip. She does not need any repair and it is ready for another sea challenge,' the Ragaine II skipper maintains.

The senior Varnas chips in. 'When building the yacht, I did my best to have it strong and reliable for any waters,' the senior Varnas chips in.

Though the yacht bore all up-to-date navigational tools, it did encounter some rough weather. 'On our way from the Galapagos archipelagos to French Polynesia we endured some weird weather, either a calm sea or a sudden gale pulling us off of course. However, it was nothing compared with the sudden storm in the Mediterranean, on the way from Egypt to Crete. The only option we had was to drift against the high wind with storm sails, kind of rugged jibs,' Rasa remembers.

Nevertheless, the biggest danger may have lurked off the coast of Aden, the area widely notorious for piracy. 'Along the Oman shoreline, until Aden’s port in Yemen, in a total stretch of approximately 600 nautical miles, we sailed in a flotilla of 27 other yachts. We were safeguarded against the pirates by an international, U.S.-led military ship flotilla.

Before the crossing, we had done our homework - contacted other yachts in the area, readjusted our sailing schedule and had given all specific information on our yacht and crew, including height, weight and even the hair color of each, to the international marine convoy. Each yacht received a special distinctive call sign; ours was ‘Sakalas 5.’

While crossing the precarious waters at night, we sailed with the lights switched off, listening for any weird sound. On the radio we heard a container ship, 50 nautical miles away, pleading for help, as the pirates’ speedy motorboats were chasing it. The ship was given instructions on how to behave under the circumstances, as a military helicopter was on the way to help the crew,' said Varnas sharing the moments.

The Lithuanians were charged for visas in Australia as well, something Varnases could not understand. However, otherwise, Andrius talks only highly of Australia, its nature and people. 'Definitely, Australians have a very highly developed civilization, which caters to the needs of each citizen,' Varnas says. An abundance of free barbecues along the shoreline also surprised the seafarer. 'One can bring some chicken or beef and barbecue it. You feel very comfortable and safe in Australia,' the yachtsman remembers.

He also was charmed with Eritrea’s paradise-like nature and little habitable islands in the Kuku archipelago, while Rasa cracks up remembering the bewilderment of the local tribesmen over her blond hair and her pale skin in some Pacific islands. 'Had I visited them a century ago, they would probably have accepted me as some goddess.'

She is convinced that their sailing-home, Ragaine II, is strong enough to withstand the challenges of a future voyage as well. 'Longevity-wise, she is quite fine. My dad will not let her rust away. Besides, since we preach safe sailing, we are not going to choose, sailing-wise, the most precarious routes. Sailing is a joy, not a race to us,' Rasa says.

Andrius, while happy to see again his 86-year-old mom, his hound, Sailas, and his newborn granddaughter, is convinced that he will soon long for the rustle of the sails. 'I am trying to get used to my life in Lithuania. Frankly, I miss some good things already. Like tons of the fresh fish, tuna, mackerel, I used to buy at those fish markets. Sometimes I would catch 3-metre tunas, gut them, leave a fillet for myself and throw the rest for the sharks. In tropical countries I would jump on a bike for a ride and pluck off the most delicious fruits on earth,' Varnas says in the languor of recollection.

He reiterates his determination to go sea-globetrotting again, saying he feels younger after completion of the voyage.

'It is bad to retreat only into your own country. Even Europe is too small, to have a better perception of the world. Life is short, so it is worth seeing all the fabulous places out there. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so you cannot miss out on it.'

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