Although he’s American, Gary wanted a French name for his Allures 45: Illimité (in English, Unlimited). It’s a particularly well-chosen name, in keeping with his sailing programme and his own philosophy on life. Following the route of his desires, listening to his own intuition, meeting people. Always in search of the most beautiful dive spots, he celebrates slowness and adaptation.
Gary, how did your circumnavigation project begin?
I spent part of my youth in the Florida Keys boating and diving. It was then that I decided I was going to retire at 55 and live on a sailboat. I did a lot of reading about other people travelling, meeting people, different cultures, diving, fishing, sightseeing and of course sailing. What is there not to like? I used to say I was going to set a record for the slowest circumnavigation!
How did you prepare for this long journey?
Long term preparation of this many years journey started in my youth. I knew I had to pick a profession that I could save enough money to retire at 55 -I thought 55 realistic financially and still young enough for the physical demands – and eventually became a surgeon. This was a profession I really enjoyed, but always in the back of my mind was my long-term goal. I somewhat arbitrarily picked 55 as my goal as
Short term preparation started about 10 years before buying a sailboat. I was not having much experience sailing as I had been working too hard. So I did a US SAILING “Fast Track to Cruising”, a 10 days course in the British Virgin Islands. It gave me three certificates including a Bareboat Certificate which then enabled me to do bareboat charters. I started doing one or two bareboat charters a year for more sailing experience and to learn more of what I needed in a boat. I also started a spread sheet of features that I thought were important in a boat. I think my reading of Jimmy Cornell convinced me of the value of an aluminum hull and centerboard. Then one year before retiring I signed up with Mahina Tiare Expeditions with 5 other guys for a passage from Hawaii to Prince Rupert, Canada. This was so I could have more offshore experience and a documented ocean crossing for my insurance company.
Can you introduce us to the crew of Illimité?
The first two years I always had 2 to 4 friends with boating experience with me for ocean crossings and long passages. I did some sailing solo, but only passages less than 24 hours as required by my insurance carrier. I would personally take no watch or reduced watch but asked to be involved with any sail change or other issues that arose. Also as I provisioned the boat and knew what we had aboard and where it was, I did all the cooking. This arrangement worked well for me and the crew.
Then in August of 2017 I was joined in Tonga by my girlfriend, Noelle, whom I had met earlier in the year in Florida. She had already done a couple weeks sailing with me in Panama as a trial run. Since she joined me I have not had any other crew needs. We do 3 hours watches at night but then are flexible during the day. Noelle does the cooking and again I ask to be involved in most sail changes.
Exactly, what pace do you sail at?
We have a definite routine at sea, with meals and the watch schedule. Noelle does not like to lay down right after dinner so after I get the dishes washed, I lay down at 2000 and we start our 3 hour watches. This allows me to start the last watch of the night at 0500 so I get the sextant out and put out the fishing lines. I let Noelle sleep until she wants to get up, then I take a long nap during the day but the times vary. During the day I will usually download weather using the satellite phone and my subscription with OCENS and will send off a noon position to Commanders Weather if we are using weather routing. We do our own separate breakfast and lunch but Noelle always cooks a nice dinner. We do not prepare meals ahead of time. I have yet to be in conditions where we could not cook a fresh meal.
When you’re not sailing, how do you spend your days?
Boat maintenance, cleaning, weather and route planning and provisioning takes up a lot of time. I know some people think we are just sitting on a boat bored and wondering what to do but we actually usually feel that there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week. I do fill in some down time with reading. I usually have a Kindle book going on the ipad and a paper book at the same time. I would say my current hobby that I have taken up is underwater photography. Which goes along with another hobby, scuba diving. I have a photo gallery of about 750 species that grows every dive. I also try to post a blog about weekly “Garysboat.blogspot.com”.
Another hobby, when at sea, I try to do celestial navigation before every sunrise. Sunset occurs with dinner so doesn’t usually work out for sightings and noon sights I don’t find as rewarding. It brings a lot of satisfaction when I get within a couple of miles of our GPS position with star/planet sights.
What was your original programme?
My initial program was to do a rather direct circumnavigation followed by a more wondering route. I sort of stuck to this until we reached Australia and Noelle asked if we could go up to Thaïland. I told her no, as we were a little late in the season for the correct monsoon. But you know how women can be so we speed up a little to catch the tail end of the correct monsoon and made it up to Thailand and the Andaman Islands in India. We were initially planning to head back down to Bali and continue the circumnavigation but decided we missed some good diving in Raja Ampat, Indonesia so we headed back east. We are currently enjoying Raja Ampat and we were planning to head south from here and continue the circumnavigation but after over a year in the heat of SE Asia, Noelle says she wants some cool weather. So now we are planning to head to Alaska from here.
Any surprises along the way?
I would say that my most unexpected event would be initial emotions. You would think that when I flew to Cherbourg to take delivery of my dream boat in May 2015 after decades of planning and preparation, I would be bubbling over with excitement. In reality, the sum of the changes in my life created a feeling of depression. Fortunately, after about a week and my first solo voyage to Alderney on my new Allures 45, that feeling pretty much vanished.
Have you met a lot of people so far?
I would say that one of the highlights of cruising is the people you meet. We have met cruisers from all over the world that have become close friends that we keep in touch with. The cruising community is filled with wonderful people.
The local people also can be amazing. Especially when you get off the beaten path. So many people go out of their way to help and want to share their world with you. Of course, they do all want a selfie taken with you! Here in Indonesia, it is not uncommon to have several canoes of children paddle out asking to come aboard.
Sometimes the interaction goes to the extreme. We now have a good friend in Malaysia who offered to give a us a short ride to a store. About 12 hours later we finished touring and eating, and he would take nothing in exchange. While in New Zealand some friends gave us their farm truck to drive around for a month. People generosity can be amazing.
What’s next on the programme?
We will leave Indonesia in January and head across the top of Papua New Guinea where we are told some good diving is to be found. Then up to Micronesia, Guam and Japan. After watching the cherry blossoms bloom will head to Alaska for some salmon fishing. Then down to Mexico for the winter and diving in the Sea of Cortez. Then back to French Polynesia and on to Australia. Plan to head south in Australia this time and visit Tazmania and then New Zealand again. Then start heading west to South Africa. I originally planned to make it to South Africa by December 2018, looks like now the earliest will be 2022, but I am sure these plans will also change. That is one of the things I love, we constantly change our plans.
Some indelible memories already?
Oh yes, we’ve already accumulated a great many unforgettable moments, but if I had to share three of them with you today, I think they would be as follows:
One scary, entering the lagoon on Samana Cay, Bahamas. A very narrow entrance through the reef that I really could not make out because of the surf with 20+ knot winds. I was solo and would have gone on by but a friend in a 46 foot Oyster had just gone through and verified that the charts were correct. Since I had the tough go anywhere boat how could I chicken out! I surfed in with no problem.
I also had a frightening experience in Australia. We got tired of a rocky anchorage off the west coast of Australia after a wind shift and raised anchor before daylight. I quickly put a route to follow in the chart plotter and we were off to Magnetic Island. My youngest daughter was with me at the time asked in a somewhat startled expression if that was a rock going by us. I turned and looked, expecting to see a dolphin and saw a rock sticking out of the wave trough not 3 meters away. I had placed my planned route right over Salamander Reef which was just a dot covered up by my route line. We have all read about the consequences of not zooming in with electronic charts and never thought I would be guilty. Never again!
But the most magical souvenir I have is while we were on a mooring ball outside of Bait Reef, Australia when a humpback whale surfaced and took a breath less than 3 meters abeam of us. We had seen some whales and Noelle just commented that it would be cool if one came near us. This one was a little too close and Noelle didn’t even get a good picture she was so startled.
Follow Gary’s navigation on his well written and richly illustrated blog you can visit here