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Sailing legend makes landfall in Australia after battling storms and equipment failure

by Jean Perkins 22 Oct 2020 00:19 PDT
Jon Sanders © Stephen Davis

A global pandemic and some of the worst ocean conditions experienced in decades have not stopped world renowned Australian yachtsman Jon Sanders AO OBE from reaching home soil on his record 11th solo circumnavigation of the world.

The 81-year-old sailing legend docked in the Queensland town of Bundaberg this morning after battling three huge storm systems on the latest leg of his journey.

The veteran sailor stared down some of the worst conditions he had seen in decades, with winds exceeding 120km/hour battering his boat and causing damage to key navigation equipment.

The ferocity of the storms forced Sanders to sail with a bare mast, dragging a tyre as a sea-anchor, in an attempt to keep the boat facing into the wind and waves. Despite his heroic efforts, his vessel Perie Banou II took on so much water that the engine was flooded and couldn't generate backup power or be used in an emergency.

As a result, Sanders completed his journey much like Captain James Cook - using only a paper chart and sextant for navigation.

Sanders has sailed more than 40,000km since leaving Fremantle almost a year ago on his journey to raise awareness of plastic pollution - one of the greatest health and environmental threats facing our planet.

Throughout the voyage Sanders has been collecting water samples for analysis by researchers at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. The results will build a more detailed picture of the plastic pollution across the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere.

Given Sanders has spent more than 30 days alone at sea since departing his last port of Tahiti, he has received a quarantine exemption from Queensland Health, subject to a COVID-19 test returning a negative result. He will be required to stay on board the Perie Banou II until the test results are returned.

Estimates suggest that plastic costs over US$2.2 trillion a year in environmental and social damage. This unacceptable cost to humanity led Andrew and Nicola Forrest's Minderoo Foundation to come on board as a supporter for Sanders' solo circumnavigation of the globe.

Minderoo Foundation has established the 'Sea the Future" initiative to encourage every person across the plastics supply chain to leverage their ability to change the way the world uses and disposes of plastic.

"Jon's remarkable voyage and his important water sampling supports our objective to promote the responsible use of safe plastics to governments, regulators and consumers," Sea the Future COO Nakul Saran said.

"He continues to be an inspiration, overcoming major obstacles like the severe disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and now these major storms.

"We hope Jon can now rest and make repairs before continuing south along the east coast of Australia.

"Bundaberg has given him a warm welcome back to Australia, and we're all sending him on with warm wishes for smooth sailing on his journey back home to Perth where he will complete his circumnavigation."

Minderoo Foundation has remained in regular contact with Sanders' Perth-based support team, closely monitoring his progress and health.

You can learn about the #NoPlasticWaste campaign and follow Sanders' voyage tracker at noplasticwaste.org.

Additional Notes from the Editor:

Dr Stephen Davis wrote in just after publication of the above, and his words appear below. All I could say was, "11 laps including the famed triple. Doubt anyone will ever come close..."

Dear John,

Jon arrived this morning at Bundaberg where he was towed in as he does not have a functional motor (lost the motor in a storm about a week ago). I spoke to him as the quarantine authorities were boarding. He was then taken by police to a local hospital for a COVID-19 test after which Jon was escorted back to his yacht were he must isolate until the test results are known. Jon is in good spirits.

Over the next couple of weeks the motor will need repair as will the electronics, self-steering and wind vane. He sailed the last leg much as Lt James Cook using only charts and a sextant. The boat copped quite a hammering three very violent storms in quick succession with winds exceeding 65kts (120kph) at which point the anemometer gave up! Jon was sailing bare pole with a car tyre over the stern as a drogue. The seas were certainly fierce with three bilge pumps going flat-out. With the boat heeling markedly the engine took water into the cylinders. Thereafter no engine either for propulsion or power generation.

Right now it looks like Jon may have a couple of cracked ribs sustained during one of the storms. So he too requires some repairs before sailing south along the East Coast of Australian and then west across the Great Australian Bight which can be quite a challenge. I recall Jon has made more than 40 crossings of the Bight. Thus we expect he will complete his solo circumnavigation in January 2021.

By all measures this solo circumnavigation has been an heroic event and all the more so when one considers Jon is 81 years of age and it is his 11th circumnavigation. What a truly amazing sailor and navigator.

Best regards

Stephen

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