On July 8, 2013, three weeks shy of her 71st birthday, Jean Socrates, a retired British mathematics university professor, crossed the finish line and completed a nonstop solo journey around the world in her 38-foot sailboat, SV Nereida. Jean left Victoria, British Columbia, and 10 months later returned without ever touching land during the entire 27,000 mile nonstop journey.
Two weeks later her boat was tied up at our island dock and she was sitting on our porch telling some of our neighbors and friends about this remarkable achievement as we celebrated her birthday together. Most of them could not believe that this woman could accomplish such a trip.
This was her fourth attempt at such a long journey. On the first trip her husband developed prostate cancer and they flew back to London, where she unfortunately lost him. Jean’s second solo attempt to circle the world ended 60 miles short of completing the voyage when the boat’s self-steering gear malfunctioned in the middle of the night and she ran into a sand bar.
Jean returned to England and then to Sweden where she outfitted a new thirty-eight-foot sailboat and set out on the same journey once again.
On her third attempt, again alone, some of her rigging on her boat was torn away and her boom was broken. However, she was able to make it to Ushuaia for some repairs then to the Falklands for more and finally then, limped to Cape Town, South Africa to complete the repairs and return to the west coast of North America.
Last October, she set off from Victoria, British Columbia, to try it once again. She sailed down the west coast in October 2012. The journey then continued south to Cape Horn and then east to the Cape of Good Hope and then east below Australia and Tasmania then up between New Zealand and Australia. From South Africa to Tasmania she had to stay far to the south to avoid the pirates and, at the same time, avoid the Antarctic icebergs drifting north that were more prevalent this particular trip. Then she continued north through the Pacific.
Plagued by light winds in the sails and growing barnacles on the bottom, she had to weave her way through the South Pacific and the thousands of islands that dot that part of the world. For a journey this long, she had to plan her three meals a day for more than 10 months.
Jeanne was the first woman to circumnavigate the world alone, nonstop, from the North American continent. After our dinner with Jeanne and our neighbors, I still had another thousand questions to ask her.
Where do you stow the thousand meals? How many fish did you catch? How did it feel to always wear clothes you had to wash in salt water? How many gallons of water did your reverse osmosis machine make in an hour? Did the albatross that you saw really have a wingspan of 12 feet?
When asked if she had a message for anyone else who is a senior citizen, she said simply, “This day is the only one of this date you will ever have so you better enjoy it to its fullest.”
I am very lucky to have spent 20 years sailing, but it was only in Southern California. The longest journey I ever made was only 20 miles to Catalina on my catamaran.
Several other people at her birthday party asked her, “Why did you do it?” My answer to that question is very simple. “If you have to ask that question, you will not understand the answer.”
Actually, she had a much better answer: she did it to raise awareness and money for the Marie Cure Cancer/Hospice Care group that give amazing care and help people stay in their homes instead of a hospital during their final days. Go to her website: svnereida.com to learn more about her.
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