San Francisco man completes 'figure-8' sail around the world in one season

Randall Reeves is the first person to complete a "figure 8 voyage" around both the American and Antarctic continents in one season by himself.

Posted: Oct 20, 2019 11:40 AM
Updated: Oct 20, 2019 11:40 AM

Randall Reeves was destined to be a seaman.

His father was a naval captain, and Reeves, now 57, grew up surrounded by sea lore. His childhood home was decorated with his father's sextant and other navigational tools and charts, old uniforms and an underlined copy of Herman Melville's classic 1851 seafarer novel "Moby Dick."

The family bought a boat when Reeves was in high school and the first time he rode on it, he remembers, "It was this epiphany, this physical feeling of, 'Oh. Oh! This is what I'm supposed to do."

Based in Oakland, California, Reeves is fulfilling that heritage now, 40 years later. On October 19, Reeves sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, where he stepped off his 45-foot sailboat, Moli, completing his year-long journey: a solo "figure-8" sail around the world.

Record-making

The finish marks a world record, the sailor says: Reeves claims to be the first person in the world to complete this difficult route alone. (There's no certifying body that regulates voyages of this type, but an international community of sailors, the Ocean Cruising Club, commemorated Reeves with a plaque after his landing.)

He departed from San Francisco down the Pacific past South America, made a hard left through the Southern Ocean above Antarctica and went once around the globe, before turning north.

Reeves sailed through the Atlantic and into the Arctic Ocean, and circled the globe once more before heading back south toward home in California.

He rounded the American and the Antarctic continents and approached both the North and South Poles in the span of one calendar year, but over just the summer season, as this kind of journey couldn't be made to either pole in the winter.

This is the second time Reeves has attempted the figure-8 in the past two years -- his previous attempt in 2017 ended with an overturned boat post-storm in Tasmania. Only one other sailor has attempted a similar figure-8 route, but didn't complete it, Reeves says.

35 pounds of coffee

Leaving home in northern California on September 30, Reeves completed the 40,000-mile journey without power winches or power sails, refrigeration, or on-board water purification; he carried all his food on board -- including 365 Clif Bars, 35 pounds of coffee, 36 pounds of powdered milk, and 84 cans of stewed tomatoes -- and water for the year.

Truly a solo adventurer, Reeves subsisted 200 days without human voice contact, and 230-plus days of sleeping in only 90-minute stretches -- he figured out quickly, by trial and error and starting with only one hour at a time, that 90 minutes was the minimum duration necessary to avoid hallucination.

The brief periods of rest allowed for him to still maintain the boat on course. Before embarking on the course, Randall says, he was fit from regular walking and running, though not "marathon fit."

Describing his days on the precarious Southern Ocean, where the waves can be as high as two-story houses and winds can reach 50 miles-per-hour in stormy weather, Reeves explained the draw to CNN Travel, "There's no coastguard down there. No one's going to come pick you up if you have problems. You have to figure it out on your own. To put yourself into a part of the world that is absolutely and utterly wild, to be in a place where humans simply aren't, to deal with what nature dishes you, it's a huge privilege."

One thrill of the journey was viewing Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America, close up and unobstructed, twice -- the only two times Reeves saw land in 237 days -- from a sailor's perspective, which he describes as "like looking at Mount Everest from the peak."

One with nature

The sailor was also awed by his solo encounters with pelagic birds, those who, like Reeves this last year, spend most of their time on the ocean. He recalls during a storm, a bird crashed into his boat and got stuck in the cockpit. To help it back onto the sea, Reeves picked up the bird. "I'm holding this wild animal in my hand, thinking it's probably never seen a human before. To be able to let it go back into its environment was amazing."

As to what journey Reeves and Moli will take on next, he isn't sure. He dreams of undertaking the figure-8 route again, but more slowly, "say, in five years as opposed to one," Reeves says.

"It would be grand to just explore the route. There are a great number of islands spread out between Antarctica and the continents that I didn't get to see. I didn't get to stop where the seals and walruses and penguins live. But that's a big commitment. We'll see how that flies when I get home."

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