Jeanne Socrates, 80, is setting sail solo again, but this time for a more relaxed voyage
Jeanne Socrates – the oldest person to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world via the Southern Ocean’s five Great Capes – is embarking on a new adventure.
The 80-year-old is about to depart Mexico to sail across the Pacific.
But unlike her last record-breaking voyage, this time Jeanne Socrates intends to cruise her Najad 380, Nereida, stopping at islands along the way.
“It is about a cruise, although I will probably set another record as the oldest woman to cross the Pacific,” said Socrates, who is planning initially to sail to the Marquesas and then through the Pacific islands to Fiji and then reach New Zealand by the end of October.
“I want to go on Australia (where she spent 25 months circumnavigating the country by campervan during the COVID-19 pandemic), I want to get to New Caledonia on the way, as it is definitely a place to go cruising in. At the moment, my plan stops in Australia and then we will see. It should take me a couple of years.”
She said with Britain leaving the EU, there would be restrictions as a UK passport holder in French Polynesia, but she is hoping to “really slow down, take my time and start writing.”
The boat is now 14 years old and has completed three-and-a-half circumnavigations of the world, endured a “couple of big knockdowns and lots of heavy weather in the Southern Ocean.”
“It has been quite an eye opener seeing what I had left behind. When I did the nonstop circumnavigations I didn’t need a trolley for putting my jerry cans on. You don’t need a dinghy and an outboard,” explained the former maths lecturer.
“Then you need to think about shading, awnings, and cushions. When I did the nonstop circumnavigation I took out all of the cushions in the forepeak and aft cabin so I had access to what was below them – spares, the water maker, the course computer and the steering gear. Now, I need to think about shade and have just finished making new curtains for the boat.”
Jeanne Socrates battled equipment failure during her 2018-2019 circumnavigation of the world. Problems included broken reefing lines, genoa furling lines and lazy jacks, badly damaged windvane steering and a badly ripped mainsail, which took her months to repair.
Always resourceful, she has fitted new TruDesign seacocks to Nereida, replaced deck lights, pipework and taps in the galley, which were corroded, and replaced LED lighting.
“It is all the wear and tear over the years in the sea environment,” she said.
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British yachtswoman Jeanne Socrates has repaired last month's storm damage and resumed her record-breaking quest aboard her 38ft yacht Nereida.
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The yacht’s 8mm and 10mm rigging was replaced in 2016 and has been checked again. She has also had to buy a new boom after sailing through heavy weather from Canada to San Francisco on her way down to Mexico.
“I got into much stronger conditions than I expected and I hadn’t put a preventer on the boom. We were going downwind and then suddenly the swell got up so much that the boom moved over and bang, it went back again. And then when I got to San Francisco, the rigger commented that I would need a new boom as I had a dent in it. Suddenly, there I was needing a new boom.”
She also needed to deal with a cracked manifold in the engine caused by overheating as she didn’t hear the alarm; it was replaced before leaving San Francisco. The mainsail also needed major repair as it tore on coming away from the mast track.
Jeanne Socrates is hoping to leave Mexico by Monday (17 April 2023).
What drives her to keep sailing solo over long distances?
“I don’t have a problem with solo sailing. It has been pretty wonderful coming south from Canada and it has been lovely as so many people see the name on the boat and want to chat or take pictures with me. It’s been absolutely wonderful. In the cruising community, I know quite a few people who are sailing the same route so we will be meeting up in the Marquesas. To sail by myself is no problem. I will be vlogging and uploading videos to my YouTube channel (@jeannesailingsolo). I have the radio. I will be keeping in touch with people.”
Jeanne Socrates, who learnt to sail aged 48, has not ruled out another solo, nonstop and unassisted circumnavigation of the world. She will be spending her 81st birthday “somewhere in the middle of the Pacific”
“I’ve not ruled anything out but I would just like to enjoy the boat. I’ve already got the record for the oldest person to sail solo, nonstop unassisted around the world via the Southern Ocean’s Five Great Capes, and I am still the first woman to sail solo, nonstop unassisted around the world from North America. At the moment, my plans stop in Australia.”
For her record-breaking sailing, Jeanne Socrates, who began solo sailing in 2003, has received numerous accolades including the Blue Water Medal and The Royal Cruising Club Medal for Seamanship; there is even a dock named after her in Victoria Harbour in British Columbia.
Her first solo round the world voyage attempt in 2007-2008 ended just 60 miles off the finish, when her Najad 361, also called Nereida, ran aground on a beach north of Acapulco in Mexico; that attempt was with stops.
With a new cutter-rigged Najad 380, she started her first non-stop attempt around the world in 2010, but this ended in Cape Town due to rigging and other problems.
Her second nonstop attempt ended in Argentina when she had to make repairs after the yacht was knocked down off Cape Horn, although she continued sailing, circumnavigating via the Five Great Capes of the Southern Ocean – Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, South East Cape of Tasmania and the South Cape of Stewart Island.
Her third (successful) attempt took 258 days and earned her the world record title in 2013 of the oldest woman to sail single-handedly around the world. She was 70.
This was followed by her 2018-2019 non-stop, solo and unassisted circumnavigation of the world, which took 339 days.
Jeanne Socrates says she feels “uncomfortable” with being described as an “inspiration” for women sailors, but is proud to have encouraged more people into sailing.
“A lot of people tell me that reading about my sailing has really encouraged them to keep going or maybe do a bit more with regards their own sailing expertise, particularly if they are a couple. I am always saying you have to do whatever your partner does on the boat; you have to be able to sail the boat if something happens,” she stressed.
“Many tell me they feel really uncomfortable in the rough weather, but you have to be in a situation where you know your boat, you trust it and you can sail it, then you know what the boat can do in rough weather and you can relax. I ask then, have you thought about the rough weather? Have you really got the boat prepared for the rough weather, not just for sailing in the assumed calm and lovely conditions? It’s nice to hear from people that they really appreciate what I’m doing or think that it encourages them. I love hearing that.”
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