We are a sailing family of four — Dad, Paul Robertson; Mom, Sima Baran; and children, Alexander and Aylin. We completed a nine-year sailing journey around the world between 2007 and 2016. Well, “we,” is a bit of a stretch, as the kids didn’t actually sail the whole way.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here! Let’s start at the beginning.
Paul and Sima got engaged in the summer of 2006, and began to talk about the next steps of their life together. Paul is an attorney by trade, and Sima a management consultant. They were certainly comfortable in their careers, but were also aware that life goes by quite quickly.
Their jobs did not allow them much time for extracurriculars, but one that had caught their fancies was sailing. They had begun taking sailing lessons the year before, in 2005. Sima, on the Thames, while working in London, and Paul, in Boston Harbor. During a phone call late one night, while both were still at work, they got to talking about their career paths. At one point, Paul asked, “Well, what would you do, if you could do anything you wanted to? Right now?”
“I’d sail around the world!” Sima blurted out. “But maybe that is a crazy idea.”
Or maybe not.
They began to play with the idea, and the start of a plan developed. They would buy a 35 footer, and continue to sail in earnest, improving their sailing skills year-by-year. Then they’d buy a bigger boat, go on longer trips, and begin to get a better sense of what was feasible. As they winked one eye and looked into the future, they thought that maybe that, in ten years or so, they could realistically think about a longer blue-water voyage.
We also sought out and spoke to other couples who were actually out sailing. From these discussions, we began to realize that the ten-year plan might not ever come to fruition, for a couple of reasons.
First, it came to us that the only way to meaningfully prepare for sailing around the world was, well, sailing around world. For sure, exploring the coast line around home and going on a more adventurous trip or two each year would help somewhat with our sailing growth, but there is a definite ceiling on what can be learned. For example, when the engine breaks down in such a situation, the local mechanic is relied upon for a fix. Not only do you need to become an expert diesel mechanic, but you need to develop excellent navigational and meteorological skills as well. We eventually learned that other skills were needed too — how to maintain and repair electronics and work with epoxy and fiberglass. Last but certainly not least was sailing, including sailing in heavy weather for long durations of time. These were things that could only be learned by doing.
The second problem we identified with ten-year plans is that they often stay just that — plans! We are certainly proponents of planning and preparation, but it struck us that many long-term planners never actually go. Careers get sticky. Kids come along with connections to sports, friends, and schools. And some who waited for “later” to do such things never got there.
It came onto us quite quickly then. There is no time like the present. The discussion became not how could we do this, but, instead, how could we not? We had some money saved up, we were healthy, and we had the time.
We spoke to our boat broker. “We’re going to need a bigger boat, Matt.”
Matt Leduc was our boat broker, and we spent several frigid weekends in late 2006 and early 2007 in Matt’s company touring boat yards in distant corners New England. We were looking not at boats for sale, exactly, but samples of every blue-water boat we could get our eyes on. We were shopping not for the boat that we wanted to purchase, but the model. We figured that, once we found the right model, we could go back on-line to the various broker inventories and find the actual boat that we wanted — in the best condition for the best price — anywhere in the U.S.
It was with this approach that we first saw a Bristol 41.1, Center Cockpit, late one Saturday afternoon in February. We were excited, and felt that the boat might be a good fit, even if the iteration we were viewing in the yard that day was a bit worn. Bristols are extremely well-made boats, and blue-water capable. Bristols, built between the late 1960s to early 1980s, have impeccable credentials. They have aged quite well.
It was the interior that sealed the deal. Paul is 6.3, and so headroom below was critical. The 41.1 has plenty of that. It also had an aft-stateroom with a lot of space to move around, and an enormous sleeping berth. We are not fans of the cramped and shallow aft berths that an aft cockpit creates, and liked the idea of a separate and substantial aft cabin in which to sleep.
It’s sailing credentials, too, could not be challenged. With a drop keel, it would allow us to be shallow and, at 4′ 4”, sneak up into rivers and shallow bays, while allowing us to drop the board to a full 10′ when needed.
We then quickly found, and purchased, a 41.1 located in New Bern, North Carolina. It was in stellar shape. We likened it, however, to inheriting grandma’s old house. The structure was sound, and the woodwork phenomenal, but maybe that old Victrola needed to go, and the wiring updated to the 21st century.
We began to plan and work now in earnest. We took steps to wrap up our work. The wedding was planned. And we began to make arrangements for boat upgrades to prepare the boat for a long-term trip. We found a boat yard, and contracted with them to make a number of upgrades.
In August we returned, ready to do some final work on the boat and take off. The yard was supposed to have finished our work, but, instead, they hadn’t even started! A completion date of August 1 has slid to September 1, and the thought of moving slowly down south was being cramped by the close of the season.
We went to work ourselves on the boat. We also had a falling out with the boat yard. In addition to being late on the work, they were also ringing up an enormous bill. We paid $75/hour for the proprietor to work on the boat, but we soon noticed that he had all five people in his yard, including a summer intern, working on the boat at that rate, doing things that included polishing the mast. He had a number of responses, including this one, “Well, I learned my lesson when I first got a boat, and got taken to the cleaners by the boat yard. So I guess you’re getting yours.”
We got the boat out of his hands as soon as possible, and took on the remaining projects on our own.
It was not until the start of October that we were finally ready to go.
People would ask us what our route would be around the world, and we often felt defensive about this. I mean, if we actually planned on making it around the globe, shouldn’t we know the route?! We did know the “milk run,” though, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Red Sea, Med, etc., etc.
But the very first part of this was to take us across Boston Harbor. From Marblehead to Scituate. Our log entry for this day, the very first one in the book, reads as follows:
Friday, Oct 12, 2007 First day to sea. Bound for Scituate Harbor. . . . Fierce wind. White caps. Waves breaking with boat. . . . Second reef came when wind hit 30. . . .
What our log entry doesn’t capture is how miserable we were that day. The seas were such that the boat was moving all over the place, and we were seasick for most of the trip. Paul was concerned — we’d quit our jobs, put all of our stuff in storage, said our goodbyes, for this?! This was miserable. The thought of doing this for another day — let alone trying to get around the world, seemed nonsensical.
Sima says that her thoughts that day, as the wind howled and the boat tossed about violently, which much more simple and concrete. “We’re going to die,” she thought. “I mean, for real.”
We sat on the deck that night in Scituate Harbor, with the wind still blowing hard, in somber moods. What had we gotten ourselves into?
The sail for the next day was to complete the sail down Massachusetts’ South Shore and, if we timed it right, coast through the Cape Cod Canal with the current, and stay in Onset Harbor for the night. And as bad as the day before had been, this day was wonderful. We motor sailed a good part of the day, and wrote this in our log:
Clear, sunny, perfect fall day. . . . Spectacular run through the canal. . . . Leaves just hinting at color. Fisherman on banks. . . . Yesterday we thought we might not like this. Today, we could do this forever. . . . A new moon set soon after the sun. Champagne on the foredeck.
And so we were introduced to the yin and yang of cruising, as was to be the theme for several years to come. There were some passages where, for days on end, we were as miserable as two people could be on this side of being alive. Seasick, enormous, confused, violent seas. Broken equipment. And we’d think — what are we doing? We’re doing this for “fun?” And not only are we not getting paid, but this is costing us money?!
But then there were the counterbalance. Passages that lasted for weeks in the Pacific where, in the end, we didn’t want to make landfall. The sense of achievement and exhilaration when we stepped off of Leander and onto the customs dock in New Zealand. New Zealand! Visiting islands in the middle of the Pacific that we had to ourselves. Mingling with Bedouins in the Egyptian dessert. Living for seven months next to the Tower of London. Taking Leander up through the middle of France through its network of canals and rivers. Finishing the last of pirate alley off the coast of Yemen with three Kalashnikov bearing Yemeni Coast Guardsmen to protect us. Watching Alexander learning, as second nature, words in Turkish, French, Swedish, and Spanish.
This list of the good things that we experienced could (and actually does) fill pages and, in the end, heavily outweighed the negative aspects of what we experienced.
But we are again getting ahead of ourselves! We were still in Onset Harbor!
From there, we pulled out of the water again in Rhode Island to do some more work on the boat, including the installation of a single side band radio. By the time that we departed again, on Thursday October 25, we had made some considerable upgrades to the boat, including:
- entirely new electronics system, including dual chartplotters in cockpit and nav station, new single sideband radio, new vhf radio, new radar, AIS system, GPS, and autopilot
- new navigation lights at masthead
- new starter batter
- solar panels
- water maker
We were in New York City for Halloween, and begin to make our way down the southern U.S. coast through the month of November. We began to feel a little bit pressed for time, now, as we were coming to marinas that were, now, closing down for the season.
We had it in our mind that we would be safest doing these day trips. But it came to us, over time, that coastal cruising is not guarantee of safety at all. Much like an airplane in the sky, a boat out to sea has nothing to bump into. It’s when planes get close to land that they get into trouble. And so with us — it was the coming in and out of new harbors, inlets, and rivers that caused us problems, including the scariest moment of our entire trip, our nighttime entry into Chincoteague Inlet, in Virginia. We made it safely in. It was clear, early on, that this would be a challenging endeavor. Maybe, too, we would have a little bit of good fortune on our side.
We made Bermuda by December, and celebrated Christmas away from home. We were in the Carribean in January, 2008, and had moved a little bit south and west by the end of February. We began to look at maps and timing, and scheduled out two possible scenarios. Do a grand circle around the Atlantic, or head further south, through the Panama Canal and, maybe, around the world.
We went to the canal. We spent several weeks preparing on one side of the canal, and then the other, and then headed out into the Pacific, with stops at the Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotos, Tahati, and Tonga. These were some of longest passages in the trip, but also some of our most pleasant. The Pacific Ocean provided some of our most enjoyable passagemaking in the trip. More yin, before some later yangs.
Sitting in Tonga in August 2007, we had to move out of the tropics, and go south, as cyclone season approached. The trip down to New Zealand was approached with some trepidation — four sailors had lost their lives the year before — and the trip itself was, at times, quite bruising. A good friend of ours who left two days after we did got caught in a storm and was dismasted. He was also washed overboard, while soloing, and was saved only by his teather, which dragged him along in the sea after his boat.
We made New Zealand in the dark on August 21, 2007, after catching our first good sized tuna at sea. New Zealand felt a long way from home, and the feeling of accomplishment that we, novice sailors, felt while stepping onto the dock was powerful.
We spent the full summer in New Zealand, purchasing a used car for the latter part, and touring the south island. We absolutely loved it.
As the southern hemisphere’s summer arrived, we pushed off from New Zealand heading north to Vanuatu. We tried to time our sail to take advantage of the winds driving north in between a departing low and approaching high. It worked, in theory. In practice, we got the living daylights kicked out of us, and it was easily the most challenging passage of our entire trip. Exhausted after seven days at sea, we made Vanuatu on September 1, 2009.
Vanuatu was remarkable, and one of the highlights of our trip. We developed wonderful relationships with some of the inhabitants. We also lost a fellow sailor who took a homeopathic treatment as a prophylaxis for malaria.
From Vanuatu it was through the Torres Straights on the way to Australia. We took refuge one night in a cove on a deserted island in the middle of the Straight, and watched a magnificient storm roll through. From there it was on to Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Terroitory, where we stayed long enough to realize that Australia is not America, and Darwin is not Australia.
We made our way, then, to Indonesia, spying a Komodo Dragon on the beach one morning, before moving on to Singapore, where we arrived for Christmas. We moved from there up the Malaysian coast, stopping in Penang, where we enjoyed the best food of the trip. From our base in Penang, we went north to explore Thailand and then Cambodia.
It was here that we looked at our watches and realized that we were not going to get around the world in two years. Or probably even three. We were supposed to be starting a family during the trip. Could that work?
We sailed on to Sri Lanka, were we stayed for a couple of weeks in Galle, and then sailed west to the Maldives, the low flat islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Now, another choice — we had a substantial hurdle in the waters in front of us — Somali pirates.
The pirates had taken a family two years before. Many other groups were sailing in convoys, but it seemed to us that this made no sense. We thought that we could get through unscathed if we went due north, first, along the Indian coast, and then took a sharp left hand turn west, at about Cochin, India. It worked, and we made Sallalah on the 45 of June, and Aden, Yemen, on the 15 of July.
We took a trip north, in Yemen, to the capital city of Sana, where we were introduced to to a close friend of a friend, who was well-connected in the Arab business world. Haitham set us up with three Kalishnokov-bearing Yemeni coast guards men, who guided out out of the Gulf of Aden, through Bab al Mandeb, and into the Red Sea. We made a last stop in Hududah and then pushed north.
The Red Sea was challenging sailing, having to motor sail into stiff winds and heavy seas. We fried our Trojan batteries in the 110 degree heat. Suakin, Sudan, felt prototypically African. We stopped one day in the middle of the Red Sea, finding a reef that extended not more then several feet above the water, where we found protection for the boat. And from there pushed on to Egypt, stopping at AL Garahib, a freshly minted resorts with no on in them but us. From there we made trips inland, to meet Bedouins, and view the Valley of the Kings, with the magnificent tombs, before pressing north to see the pyramids at Giza. It was hot!
We went through the flat and wide-open Suez Canal, with some wreckage from the seven-days war still littering the shores. We got spat out into the Medditerena, and the open sea was rougher than we remembered!
September 1, 2001, found us at Al Ankara, Turkey, and we put the boat on the hard in Fethiye. We flew north to Istanbul where, on November 30, 2010, Sima gave birth to our first child, a son, Alexander. We stayed the winter in Turkey, Sima and Alexander with her parents in Istanbul, and Paul at the boat in Fethiye.
We took off again in April, with Alexander aboard. We visited some of the Greek Islands, growing accostumed to being at sea with an infant. We elected to return to Turkey for the winter, and stayed at Marmaris for the winter of 2011-12.
We began to discuss, in Turkey, how to get home. We could go through the rest of the Med, cross the Atlantic, and then be, well done. But we began to think about taking a northern route, up by Iceland and Greenland. We’d been in warmer climbs for quite some time. It would be a change of pace to see ice bergs. And we felt that our skills were getting good enough to try it.
And then someone tipped us off that to get to northern Europe, one could go through France rather than around it. If one’s boat draws less than 4.5 feet, you can take the mast down, and go up through the rivers and canals. We looked into it. It seemed doable!
The spring saw us pushing off west again, going skipping along the Greek Islands on our way to Athens. From there, we passed through the Corrinth Canal, and spent a particularly memorable night with a group of Italian sailors, including Gipo. From there, we went to the bottom of Italy’s boot, and then around the toe, through the Staights of Hormuz, and to the Amalfi Coast. Rome was magnificent. Pompeii, which Paul had dreamed of seeing since he was young boy, was incredible.
And from there, Marseille, in the south of France, and down came the mast. The trip through France was wonderful, and we made it through even though our Schengen visas had expired. As winter crept nearer in northern Europe, we crossed from Dunkirque, across the English Chanel, and then, after a day at one of the bleakest anchorages we have ever stayed at, Steerness, we made London.
The boat stayed in London for some six months, and we lived in the shadows of the Tower of London, at St. Catherine’s Dock. We left the boat for a while, and took up a rental in Marblehead. By April, we had returned to Turkey, were Sima gave birth to our second child, Aylin, born in April 2011. We were back on the boat by June, pressing north along England’s east coast. We made Stromness, in Orkney, by August 7, and Leander spent the winter there. For visa purposes, we came home for several months again in the midst of the winter. In the end, we ended up staying until the following July, as Paul took on a litigation matter. We set sail again from Orkney in July, heading the wrong way from home, towards Norway and Sweden. The winter of 2014-15 saw us in Smogen, where we spent a wonderful winter, making many new friends.
We left the boat for a few months during the winter of 2014-15, staying in Marblehead, again, for several months.
We were back at the boat by April, as we did quite a bit of work to get the boat ready for an Atlantic crossing. It took a long time for the weather to warm up in Sweden, and the boat was still being covered by a hail-like snow as late as June. We enjoyed a wonderful midssommar holiday on June 21, and shortly thereafter set out south, headed, no, home. Our plan was to go along the coast of Europe, south to the Canary Islands, then cross the Atlantic when the hurricane season was over.
We left Sweden on July 1, 2015, and sailed along the coast of Denmark, to Germany. We crossed through Germany through the Kiel Canal, and then waited in Cuxhaven for fair weather to allow passage across the north sea. We finally got our window, and the timing proved just right to make it to Hugh and Caroline’s wedding, another highlight of our trip.
We got back to the boat to take trip back down along the coast and around the southeast corner of England. We had a challenging sail through a wind generator farm, and then got caught in stiff wind and very rough seas coming into Dover. From there we traveled along to Dartmouth, and then across the English channel in one of our more challenging overnighters, to Aberwracht, in France.
We came around the corner of France at Lands End, and made stops at Brest, where we readied for the Bay of Biscay. We’d read a number of very scary stories about it, and were very apprehensive about it. But it turned out to be a fair sail, and we made A Coruna, on the northwest corner of Spain, without event.
From there we traveled down the Iberian Peninsula, with stops at Lisbon and then at the bottom, before preparing for another long sail, the Canary Islands. That sail was challenging at the beginning, and evened up as we approached the Canaries. We chose to land on the Gran Canaria, choosing Puerto Mogan as a rest stop. What an absolute home run. We stayed at Mogan for two months. There was a perfect beach for the kids and Sima, and Alexander found his way on to a local soccer team.
We then made a quick stop at Tennerife, spending enough time to climb Toelde, and then on to the island of La Gomera. We stayed there another month, celebrating Christmas in the mountains of the island, and going on hikes in the tropical forest. And we readied for an Atlantic Crossing.
We took off across the Atlantic on March 1, 2016. We expected it to be a long and challenging sail, and it delivered! A highlight was an accidental jibe three days out that happened when our preventer broke when the main got back-winded going wing-and-wing. It tore down the bimini and scared the daylights out of us, but nothing broke. We made repairs, and pushed on.
We made Antigua on April 15, 2015, after 27 days at sea. It was a challenging passage, and we were quite happy to have it, our last significant passage, in the rear-view mirror. Paul was at the same time working on a legal matter that was beginning to heat up, and so we were somewhat pressing to get home. We stayed in Antigua long enough for a shop there to do a terrible job welding the stern rail, and then moved on to Culebra, in Puerto Rico. It was at this point that we met up with where we had started sailing, completing a circumnavigation.
From Culebra, Puerto Rico, we sailed up into the Pass, and then west into the channel between the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. We stayed several days in the Bahamas, and then did another long sail up the U.S. coast toward the Carolinas. We stayed at Beufort, and entered the intracoastal waterway there. We moved up through the intracoastal, coming out in Virginia.
We had the pedal to the metal now, working to get home as quickly as possible. And there was a storm system forming in the tropics and moving steadily north. We would either be able to beat it home, or be delayed for another week or so before we could sail again. We took off, seeking to make it home.
The miles flew by, and, somewhat melanchollically, we passed my many of the harbors that we had moved through ever so cautiiously when we had set out from Boston several years before. What had taken us weeks to pass through many years before was now being gobbled up in days. We were watching the weather closely, though, and moving from one weather pattern into another, timing it just right to catch the favorable winds as we moved north.
We were trying, now, to time our approach to the Cape Cod Canal. Done properly, a traverse takes a couple of hours. But if you time it incorrectly, the trip can take forever. We timed it just right.
And now, we closed on Lynn, MA. My cousin had arranged a berth for us at the local yacht club. But we sailed beyond the club, at first, to do a pass through Lynn Harbor. There, Paul’s mother and father walked out onto the beach, and waved from the sand as Leander, some hundred yards or so offshore, made a final pass before completing its trip around the world.
- , including new vhf radio
- new chartplotters at nav station and in cockpit
We got her up to Massachusetts in June. We left our jobs that month, and left for Istanbul to get married in July. We had a wonderful wedding on the Bosphorus on July 7, and came back to Boston in August. Leander spent most of that month in a boat yard, getting ready to go. In October, we took off.
Our plan was to take it day-by-day. To stay close to the coast. It would be safer, we thought.
Why not buy a sailboat? Why not take some time off after the wedding? Why not strike out and see what it might be like, to t
is a trial attorney and litigation consultant by training, and Sima a management consultant. After they announced their engagement in 2006, they began to think about next steps, after
In 2007, Paul stepped away from his legal career to undertake ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a 41’ sailboat. Over the next nine years, Paul and his wife spent months at a time living in locations such as New Zealand, Turkey, London, Orkney, Sweden, and the Canary Islands. They brought two children into their family during this time. Paul has written extensively about this experience at www.sailingleander.com.
Completed a circumnavigation of the globe about 41’ sailboat. Became an expert sailor, navigator, engine mechanic, electrician, carpenter, and meteorologist. Overcame numerous maritime challenges. Lived with spouse for more than six months in each of New Zealand, Turkey, England, Scotland, and Sweden, fully immersing the family in the culture of these locations. Learned to speak Turkish and improved Spanish, Swedish, and French language skills. Two children born during the trip were raised on board. See https://sailingleander.com/. The story has been featured in a number of on-line and print publications, including Marie Claire, Turkish Vogue, the Lynn (MA) Daily Item, and Interview With a Cruiser.