Oldest woman to sail around world solo, non-stop ends journey in Victoria

Jeanne Socrates arrived back in Victoria's Inner Harbour early today on her sailboat Nereida, setting the record for the oldest woman to complete a solo, non-stop and unassisted circumnavigation.

Socrates, a 70-year-old British grandmother and retired mathematician, left Victoria on Oct. 22 on a third attempt to sail around the world without stopping or accepting help. She sailed past Ogden Point breakwater, the official finish line, at 2:20 a.m.

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The previous two attempts were halted by bad weather and equipment issues.

“I’m a very happy person, on a definite high,” said a beaming Socrates as she greeted friends and well-wishers later in the day.

She urged anyone contemplating a similar adventure to “just go for it, do it.”

Don’t let your age stop you, she said.

She had to remain on her 38-foot sailboat, moored in front of the Fairmont Empress, until Customs officials could give her the go-ahead to come ashore.

The wharf was crowded with friends and Victoria folk like Janis and Norm Ringuette who saw her sail out of Victoria and followed her journey through her online blog.

“Isn't it just great?” said Janis. “She looks amazing. I’m thinking, how would she learn how to sleep again for more than a few moments at a time?”

Norm said her accomplishments “are pretty special. She has to be pretty brave to do this by herself, in the middle of a night in a big storm. “She looks like she’s in pretty good shape.”

The eight-and-a-half month voyage had its ups and downs, said Socrates.

Somewhere off Tasmania, Socrates had to climb the mast to repair a vital piece of equipment.

“I thought it was calm enough to go up, but even with that little bit of swell...was suddenly trying to jerk me off the mast,” said Socrates, adding that she was “clinging on for dear life.”

That episode left her covered in bruises.

Then there was the time the sailboat rolled over enough to knock loose the radar and wind-generation apparatus which kept her heater operating. She also lost use of her wind-steering rudder. The weather cleared and she was able to make repairs.

The best part of the voyage was being out in the open ocean with the albatrosses and shearwaters keeping her company, she said.

She also had the company of ham radio operators.

“I could either be doing my thing out in the middle of the ocean — just me and the ocean — or I could be in contact with people all the time,” she said.

She admitted to being a little bit sad to see the great adventure come to an end.

Socrates and her husband learned to sail 20 years ago. After he died from cancer, she set a new course as a solo sailor.

She is raising money for the Marie Curie Cancer Care, a British program that offers free home nursing for terminally ill cancer patients. Links to the charity can be found on Socrates’ website at www.svnereida.com.

She chose Victoria for the start and end of her circumnavigation to satisfy the regulations for record setters, which call for the voyage to be in excess of 40,000 kilometres.


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