Bitter End Yacht Club’s (BEYC) beloved watersports director, Jerome Rand, sailed 28,000 miles into an epic, solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. His sail-thru North Sound, British Virgin Islands, lingering just off of BEYC brought tears to the eyes of Virgin Gorda locals, and inspired thousands stateside via his “Sailing into Oblivion” Facebook page. But did we mention that this solo circumnavigation is on a 40-year old 32 foot sailboat that finished his journey north of Coastal Connecticut in Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts?
In the 271 days at sea, supplies and food fell short, equipment broke, and the harsh environment took its toll. Being farther from land than rescue crews can reach, it was up to Rand to deal with the problems, all the while living in isolation aboard the tiny boat. (He lost 45 pounds during the trip.)
Jerome is not one to shy away from challenges. In 2012 he hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail. A pretty cool accomplishment for mere mortals, but child’s play compared to circling the globe, alone. Less than 300 people have done this. Subtract out those who have done it as part of a supervised race, or those who transited thru one of the canals, or stopped for repairs, and the number comes down under 30. And those who have done it on a boat less than 33 feet, you can count on the fingers of one hand – an elite club.
Bitter End is no stranger to solo circumnavigators. In 1971, a teenage named Robin Lee Graham (of the book and movie “Dove” fame) stopped at BEYC and helped build the original Hillside Villas. He stopped many times during his voyage, but was most notable for circumnavigating at such a young age. In 1990-91, the Hokin family sponsored Captain Bill Pinkney, the first African American to circle the globe solo. An amazing story, relayed to millions of inner-city school children across America, as it was happening. Sailing’s first “internet sensation” if you will. But Captain Bill stopped six times during his voyage.
Jerome has slowed, but never stopped during his months at sea. He left with enough supplies to last him the length of his voyage, or so he thought. But a 32-foot boat would burst at the seams with food for eight months. So arrangements were made for a “hand-off” in the Falkland Islands (and some treats in the BVI). His boat, named “Mighty Sparrow,” is sturdy as they make them, and Jerome made sure she was up to the task. To his mates at BEYC (who affectionately call him “Zookeeper”), and for those of you guests who know Jerome, you know that on the surface, he comes off easy going, and relaxed. But behind the scenes, he sweats the details. He’s a “can do” kind of guy. There’s an old saying: “it takes a lot of work to make things look easy.” And Jerome always makes things look very very easy, even this voyage.
The Zookeeper and Mighty Sparrow passed by all five Great Capes, skirting South Africa, crossing the unforgiving and unpredictable waters of the Southern Ocean, and passing south of Australia and New Zealand before sailing across the South Pacific and around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America. His sail north from the Falklands to the Caribbean seemed frustrating – one day painfully light wind, the next day brutally heavy. But as he approached the Caribbean, he could smell land, and see the sahara dust – the finish line was not far off. Just some friends to see in the BVI first!
After leaving Virgin Gorda he wrote: “I’ve never wanted to put down an anchor more than when I was in North Sound.” We think he could sense how much support and love was behind him.
We once asked him why he was embarking on this voyage. Amidst all the standard non-committal answers like “I’ve always wanted to do this,” and “it’s an accomplishment,” and “because it challenges me,” he also let on that he feels most at home on the open water. We asked if he meant “solitude?” He shook his head as if that word didn’t really cover it. He never settled on the exact “why.” Perhaps inner peace. Perhaps just because he needed to know that he could. Deep down, we think that’s the crux of it. Self reliance. And when he sailed into Gloucester Harbor in late June, he accomplished what few sailors and adventurers can say they’ve accomplished. And he did it, relying entirely on himself.
Re-live an incredible non-stop solo voyage around the world – completed in one of the smallest boats ever to make the journey – in a special presentation by sailor Jerome Rand on Thurs, Jan. 24 in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.
His Aquarium presentation is a story of perseverance and just trying to hold mind, body and boat together while sailing the most dangerous oceans on the planet.