When Donna Lange brings her boat to the Herreshoff Museum dock in Bristol, Rhode Island, United States, at the end of this month, she will have sailed alone for 10 months. Severe southeastern Pacific storms forced her to stop at the Panama Canal for repairs instead of sailing non-stop as planned. Lange has overcome one obstacle after another to complete her circumnavigation.

It marks the 54-year-old yachtswoman’s second solo trip around the world in her 28 foot Southern Cross sail boat.

When Donna Lange left Bristol, Rhode Island, United States on 31 July last year, her ambition was to be the first American woman to sail non-stop alone around the world. That goal was put out of reach by Pacific gales that knocked her boat down three times – pushing her mast down into the water.

Donna Lange route

The first knockdown, just after she rounded the Cape of New Zealand, broke her aluminium boom in two. Using boards, fasteners and glue she put the boom back together well enough to continue sailing.  This unique boom repair at sea is now widely praised by sailors around the world, as is her decision to continue the trip rather than call for rescue services.

The second and third knockdowns occurred as she got closer to South America’s Cape Horn. The second damaged the wind-driven power generator, the long distance radio and a satellite communications system that provided email, weather and phone. There were also rigging failures.

Lange had difficulties with the self-steering mechanism throughout the journey. This, in part, helped provoke the knockdowns by making it impossible for her to manoeuvre the boat in the high winds and rough seas closer to Cape Horn.

After the third knockdown, Donna Lange faced the most crucial of many decisions she had to make. Should she continue fighting bad seas with a newly-repaired boom and communications that could now only reach nearby boats? Or would it be wiser to do a U-turn and head up the coast of South America to the Panama Canal?

Lange chose the canal and it became her only stop. Thanks to many sailors who had followed her website she arrived at the canal as somewhat of a celebrity. She was well-assisted in making the canal transit. Without an engine she needed costly alternative aids – such as an outboard motor.

Her storm-damaged equipment was repaired after she passed through the canal and was docked at the Shelter Bay Marina inside the Canal breakwaters. Lange gives special thanks to the Seven Seas Cruising Association for generous help given. Other cruising sailors she met were also helpful with their expertise.

Donna Lange repairs

Going through the Panama Canal will deprive Donna Lange of the ‘non-stop’ feature of her trip. But she assures followers that the trip has not failed in any way because of these events. Lange’s valuable goals of spiritual growth were fulfilled by her extended time alone with nature. She also began the core of a book about her experiences alone at sea.

Lange’s ground team leader and life partner Bob Philburn said: ‘The events that occurred along her detour to the Panama Canal allowed Donna to be the ‘Unintended Cruiser.’ She touched so many people, and they touched her.’

Donna, who is Chairman of the Board of OceansWatch North America, added: ‘The Panama Canal is the gateway between the Caribbean and the Pacific.  My time with other sailors at both ends was a perfect platform for me to share the OceansWatch vision with them.’

Donna Lange

Donna Lange

Donna Lange’s global trip added valuable data to ocean research and safety at sea and enabled sponsors to test new ideas and products.

Lange said: ‘I greatly appreciate Global Marine Networks for their RedPort Aurora satellite system.  It provided a full communication system for email, weather forecasting, phone, and texting as well as posting my location to the website.

‘This eased family tensions dramatically, since 11 grandchildren watched my progress this time around. Being able to hear my voice regularly reassured them Noni was doing well.

‘My boom repair work was executed with sponsor Jamestown Distributor’s ‘Total Boat’ adhesives, sealants and other tools,’ she added. ‘The entire refit prior to leaving was made possible by a generous supply of their entire line of Total Boat products.’

Lange was provided with a thorough offshore medical kit by Dr Andrew Nathanson, an emergency physician at Miriam and Rhode Island hospitals in Providence, RI.

‘The medical kit was a vital resource with many situations that arose.  I am relieved to say I did not have any major medical issues other than a whopping black eye after the third knockdown when my knee found my face.

‘An important added sense of security I had during this journey,’ Lange says, was based on the emergency inflatable equipment installed by a local company, Subsalve USA. Luckily, I did not need to deploy the system. Knowing it was ready lowered my anxiety level. The same can be said for the Pilot kite system designed by Peter Lynn of New Zealand.  It would have acted as an emergency  propulsion in case of dismasting.’

Plans to complete the global sail using traditional sextant methods instead of GPS were often disrupted by her small boat’s reactions to rough seas. ‘My Weems and Plath sextant and other instruments donated to me were magnificent tools,’ she said. Lange did augment her celestial navigation sights with tracking positions available, though she had to navigate by sextant, compass and dead reckoning for many periods throughout her journey.

Food sponsor Bell Plantation of Tifton, Georgia provided its PB2 powdered peanut butter which became a staple of her diet providing both protein and energy. Lange praises this product for the pleasure it added to her limited food options.

In the second month of the trip Lange provided useful data to a researcher at a Mississippi college regarding massive mats of Sargasso seaweed in the Atlantic Ocean. She also made Geiger counting readings throughout the voyage to add to the baseline data of radiation levels and also did ocean mammal and birding surveys.

Between sailing adventures, 54 year-old Donna Lange is an international boat delivery skipper and an assistance towing captain as well as a master’s prepared Registered Nurse. Her efforts include humanitarian and conservation activities which benefit from her solo sailing. As Chairman OceansWatch, North America, she recruits sailors, marine biologists, and yachts for Reef Guardian programs, coral reef restorations, and sustainable livelihoods for isolated island communities.

She also instructs sailing seminars to build the confidence of crews going offshore and has self- published books teaching young people awareness and respect for oceans. As an instrumentalist, singer and songwriter she has produced several musical CDs and has been an entertainer in Rhode Island, New Zealand, Ireland and the Virgin Islands.

The public are invited to the ‘Welcome Home Reception’ planned at the Herreshoff Museum between 27-31 May. Details of her weather-dependent arrival will appear in her blog: www.sailblogs.com/member/sailtwicearound.