Solo sailor, 76, on home stretch back to Victoria; boat damaged, but has lots of food

It’s been a rough past few weeks, but Jeanne Socrates has made it past New Zealand and is officially homeward bound.

“I’m heading north now,” she said via satellite phone from her 38-foot boat, Nereida.

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“As soon as I came around the cape at Stewart Island [the country’s sparsely populated third-largest island], I was heading north.

“It feels really, really good.”

Proceeding in that direction will, hopefully, bring the 76-year-old, around-the-world sailor back to Victoria’s Inner Harbour by late July — about two months later than originally planned.

“I should’ve been finishing now,” she said. “But I’m provisioned well, I’ve still got lots and lots of food on board. I’m not worried about going hungry.”

Her staples include canned salmon and tuna.

Socrates said she and Nereida are a team that take on challenges together.

“It’s always ‘we,’ ” she said. “Everyone says: ‘Who’s the ‘we’ if you’re by yourself?’ Well it’s Nereida and me. She looks after me.”

Socrates started her journey from Victoria on Oct. 3, with a goal of becoming the oldest person to complete an unassisted, non-stop circumnavigation by sail. The current record-holder is a Japanese man, Minoru Saito, who accomplished the feat in 2005 at the age of 71.

Not long before she was pointed north, Socrates came to the realization that her sailing days so far below the equator have come to a permanent end — after this voyage and the 3 1/2 solo trips that preceded it.

“I made a note that Nereida won’t be coming this far south ever, not with me on board, anyway,” she said with a laugh.

Socrates heads into the final, albeit lengthy, stretch of her journey after a “knockdown” in mid-May that left her with significant problems. A knockdown happens when a sailboat is hit — often by a wave coming at a right angle — so it goes over far enough for the mast to reach the water.

“It’s like hitting a wall, a great crash, violent impact,” Socrates said. “The impact is so violent that anything that’s not really sturdy just gets taken away.”

That’s just what happened with both of her solar panels, she said.

And an air vent was torn off, leaving a hole in the cabin roof.

“I had a ton of water coming down top of me,” Socrates said.

“I was stunned, I couldn’t understand what was happening.”

It was “wet chaos” below deck, she said, and things are still pretty damp.

“Being sea water and salty and the temperature being 15 C, nothing dries,” Socrates said. “I’ve got stuff hanging up from weeks ago that is still wet.”

Her bedding was soaked, but she luckily had extra in storage.

One positive point is that she is heading to warmer climes.

“Then maybe things will dry and I can maybe put it away and it won’t go mouldy.”

While food has never been a concern, her water-desalination system was a different issue, including a problem with the gauges on her tanks after the knockdown.

She managed to make the fix, and in the meantime had enough bottled water and other fluids to get by.

On top of all that, she has been without a mainsail for some time after it suffered a three-metre rip in bad weather. She is working hard to get it back in action.

Socrates said she isn’t averse to talking to herself as she goes about her business on Nereida, but she also has plenty of conversations with people all over the world on her ham radio.

“The ham radio is such a useful thing on the boat,” she said. “I just know that there are lots of friends and people out there.”

That includes a large contingent of admirers from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Socrates said.

She said the radio has also brought her together with people who have guided her through various repairs.

While she is considered an inspiration by many, Socrates is just happy to be on the water.

“I know a lot of people do regard me in that way, they take heart from what I’m doing.” She said she just hopes she can inspire people to “go and do something, be active.”

For Socrates, a retired mathematics professor who took up sailing at the age of 48, that has meant persisting after two similar circumnavigation attempts in 2016 were stymied by weather. That was followed in 2017 by the mother and grandmother falling from a ladder on her boat, leaving her with a broken neck, nine broken ribs and a concussion.

But she knew she still had something to accomplish.

“If you have a dream, as long as you’re not harming anyone else by acting out your dream, why not make it happen?” she asked. “It would be far better to enjoy the satisfaction of having done it.”

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