Trekka Round the World

Foreword by Hal Roth


Every generation has its heroes, and in the long-distance sailing world it's people like Miles and Beryl Smeeton, Peter and Anne Pye, Eric and Susan Hiscock, and the famous singlehanders Bernard Moitessier, Francis Chichester, and John Guzzwell. All these sailors have made voyage after voyage to distant corners of the world, and they've made these passages not once or twice but year after year. In fact for most of their lives. Unfortunately their names are probably strange to most yachtsmen of today because the books of these sailors are largely out of print and forgotten. And regrettably, all these men and women have passed from the scene. All, that is, except John Guzzwell who at the age of sixty-eight completed the 1998 Single-handed TransPac Race from San Francisco to Hawaii in a sleek wooden yacht of his own design that he also built himself.

Trekka Round the World is the story of John's first great voyage. He had completed his apprenticeship as a yacht joiner (a specialist carpenter), and entirely by himself built Trekka, a jewel-like twenty-foot six-inch light displacement wooden yawl designed by Laurent Giles. At the age of twenty-five he set out to see the world. The year was l955.

John sailed round the world by way of Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Panama, and back to Victoria, stopping en route at several remote islands. He started out with cotton sails. He navigated with a sextant. This was long before the days of satellite navigation, single side-band radios, compulsory life rafts, VHF radios, watermakers, auxiliary charging plants, etc. Instead of an inboard diesel engine, John had a tour-horsepower outboard and four gallons of fuel that he kept in a locker. In those days there were no marinas or specialized yacht harbors. You anchored with the fishing boats or by yourself. That was it.

It's a remarkable achievement to make a sailing trip around the world in a smart and seamanlike fashion by yourself. To even manage such a small yacht in storms and calms is a wonder. To have anchors and warps and spare sails, clothing, plenty of food, charts, navigational equipment, books to read, Band-Aids, sail needles, and a thousand other things requires a very orderly person and miracles of stowage. And to make the journey in a twenty-footer that you've constructed yourself is the ultimate capstone. I salute John on his wonderful voyage.

John's sailing was simple and uncluttered, but wonderfully satisfying with a purity that most of today's overladen and overpriced yachts fail to achieve. Outgoing and affable, John made friends everywhere, and his account sparkles with humor and good fellowship.

But what gives this book a kicker was John's chance meeting with a yacht named Tzu Hang, a 46-foot wooden ketch owned by two keen sailors named Miles and Beryl Smeeton. John and the Smeetons saw one another in various harbors, occasionally sailed in company, and became fast friends as they worked their way across the Pacific. The Smeetons decided to sail from Melbourne, Australia to the Falkland Islands via Cape Horn. They wanted a third person as crew to make the watches easier.

"Will you hold up your trip and come along with us for a few months?" asked the Smeetons. "Of course," said John. It was a fateful decision.

So halfway through his trip around the world, John stored his yacht ashore, moved aboard Tzu Hang, and used his skills to help prepare the big ketch for the Cape Horn adventure. At the end of 1956 the threesome set off on the 6,700-mile run to the Falkland Islands. However, about 1,000 miles west of the western entrance to the Strait of Magellan they had an experience that was to change their lives.

While Beryl Smeeton was steering, a colossal wave waterfalled onto the yacht and capsized and pitchpoled the vessel. Not only did Tzu Hang lose her masts, bowsprit, and rudder, but the huge wave stripped the decks clean and even tore off the stout wooden doghouse. This left a great hole in the deck through which water poured below. Beryl was injured, over the side, and thirty yards away. The yacht was flooded. It looked like the end of the affair. Beryl managed to swim back to Tzu Hang. The men pulled her on board.

"I know where the buckets are," she said, and set everyone to work.

John tacked sails and bits of wood torn from below over the opening in the deck. Meanwhile the Smeetons bailed from below. In the days that followed, John used his boatbuilding skills and constructed new masts from the inside woodwork that he took down. The threesome cut smaller sails from the spare sails. They built a steering oar, gradually converted the wreck into a seagoing proposition, and somehow managed to sail to Coronel, Chile with the jury rig. It was an incredible achievement, and one that you read with tears in your eyes. They had literally come back from the dead. It's a story that all explorers and sailors and adventurers know-or should know.

"There was a wonderful feeling of comradeship between the three of us," writes John. "We all realized that without the other two we would never have survived and though we all wanted to get into Coronel, I think we also realized that we would never be this close again."

These modest words belie the greatest adventure of his life.
 
Whisper, St. Michaels, Maryland, 1998
 
Hal Roth is the author of seven books including Two Against Cape Horn, Two on a Big Ocean, Always a Distant Anchorage, and Chasing the Long Rainbow. He holds the prestigious Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.

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