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B.C. man completes 266-day solo sail around the world by chart and sextant

Solo Saskatchewan sailor could be person safest on Earth from coronavirus
This Canadian sailor could be person safest on Earth from coronavirus

Call it the ultimate act of social distancing.

A B.C. man made landfall in Victoria on Saturday after 266 days, alone at sea — having circled the globe via the five capes using only traditional forms of navigation.

Bert terHart of Gabriola Island left Victoria in November, making just one brief landfall in San Francisco before it was just him, a 46-foot sailboat packed with food, and the ocean.

Read more: Solo Saskatchewan sailor could be person safest on Earth from coronavirus

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The Line The Equator at dawn. And with daybreak, the last of the milestones turned. By my reckoning 0 00 154 59W. We ghosted across in less than 5 knots of breeze doing just over 3. It has been that way all night. Even under cumulus showers the wind would not waver. Something less than a freight train, but we were on rails. Stomping grounds and familiar stars. Polaris at night and the sun, although still North and heading further still, back where I know it best. And it is summer. Just like that in fact: One moment winter, the next summer although here there is little to choose between the two. Now it feels like the home stretch. Now it feels as if it's possible despite the odds. Now the obstacles seem molehills instead of mountains. Now is the Northern Hemispheree. #equator #homestretch #instantsummer #svseaburban #aroundalone #sextant #penandpaper #circumnavigation #sailor #sailing #nonstop #5capes #onehandfortheship #occadventuresailing #sailinglovers #adventureisoutthere #occchallengegrant #instasailing #sailboatsofinstagram #captainbert #onemanshow #brave #sailinglife #sea #ocean #sailboats #zhik #sailingaroundtheworld #predictwind Follow my tracks in real-time: https://bit.ly/svseaburban

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Only about 300 people have successfully sailed solo around the world. Just six people — with terHart being the only North American — have done it navigating by pen, paper, charts and a sextant.

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A crowd of well-wishers — including family, friends from college and even a Grade 3 classmate — was there to greet him.

Simon DuBois sails around the world
Simon DuBois sails around the world

“I expected no one to be here, so to be back in the city I love with these people here … It’s mind-numbing,” he told Global News.

“There just aren’t words for it, and (knowing) everybody in the whole world was cheering you on, pushing you to succeed, it’s powerful.”

There was no COVID-19 when terHart set sail, and he said being isolated as the pandemic broke was surreal.

Read more: B.C. woman aiming to set record as oldest person to sail solo around the globe

“It was really hard because there’s nothing you can do,” he said.

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“You’re not at risk in any way, of course — I’m at risk of the elements and the weather, but I’m prepared for all that … you’re literally a thousand miles away from anyone, even if I wanted to help, it would take a month to get there.”

TerHart, who described himself as already a “square peg in a round hole” in the pre-COVID world, said he was still very anxious about making landfall in a world that had completely changed.

Woman sets out to circum navigate the World.
Woman sets out to circum navigate the World.

TerHart’s brother Jan was among the well-wishers and said his brother was alone, but never lonely at sea — thanks to radio and email.

“The one advantage he’s had over people who have tried to do this in the past is that despite ancient navigation techniques, he had modern communication techniques, so he was always in touch with people onshore,” he said.

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“He kept pretty much to himself when things were getting terrible because he didn’t want us to worry. But I know that he was facing, for weeks on end, gale force winds (of) 30-40 knots … 30-foot waves, he was just a small speck in a very big ocean, really at the mercy of the elements.”

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That Didn’t Work The weather model forecasts had called for SE 15-25 knot winds building gradually over 24 hours. As the front approached and passed over me some 30 hours later, a brief period of 30+ knots and then winds of SExS 25-28 for the following 12 hours. All well and good for getting north. Not easy, but doable. Expecting the model forecast to get at least one of the either direction, strength, or to timing correct didn't seem too much ask. I should have known better. I was finally blown off my intended course last night with winds blowing East at 40-42 knots and gusting close to 50 some 12 hours before the forecast peak winds, Wind waves and swell were over the forecast height of 5 meters, very steep and breaking almost continuously. The secondary and tertiary swell, both running at 45 degrees to the primary swell but in opposing directions, was also large and breaking. To put it mildly, we were in the wrong spot at the wrong time. If the above all seems rather academic and mundane, let me put some perspective on it. Hold on to your science hats for a bit: Most would think to increase the force exerted by a 25 knot wind, the wind would have to blow at 3 times that strength, or 75 knots. Not so. The force exerted by the wind increases as the square of the velocity. A wind blowing at 25 knots exerts a force proportional to 25×25 or 525. A wind of 30 knots exerts a force proportional to 30×30 or 900. If you are still with me, you will see that the 5 knot increase from 25 to to 30 very nearly doubles the force. If the wind is blowing 40, the force exerted is proportional to 40×40 or 1600. That is more than three times the force exerted by a 25 knot wind. A relatively small increase in wind, especially at higher velocities, translates into a much larger force. The difference at sea is that the waves generated by a 25 knot winds cannot overwhelm the boat. At 40 knots, they not only can, but statistically will. Overwhelm is a very polite way of saying 'turn Seaburban upside down'. *extended post on “Around Alone” Facebook and www.the5Capes.com

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B.C. woman tries record-setting voyage again
B.C. woman tries record-setting voyage again

TerHart, who grew up in Estevan, Sask., packed scientific instruments on his trip to collect data, and said inspiring citizen scientists, young and old, was among his motivations for the epic voyage.

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In fact, about 2,000 children from Kenya to New Zealand to New York were following along with him from their classrooms.

“I wanted to engage kids in something that really would stretch their imagination,” he said.

“They would get my post, the teacher would go over it, they would pin my little location on the map, they’d ask questions about how big is the ocean, how deep is it. They’d email me questions — I still have kids writing me letters.”

Along the way, terHart says it was that kind of support that kept him going in rough seas and tough mental days.

“In my lowest, weakest moments I’m human, so I was afraid, I was uncertain, I was doubtful,” he said.

“In those moments, the people that are cheering for you are actually making a massive difference in your ability to succeed.”

You can check out terHart’s Instagram here and read his blog here.