Let's see," says 58-year-old American Bob Taylor. "We're currently on our fifth. We completed our fourth circumnavigation in 2002."
Bob's a sailor's sailor: a man of great passion, boyish enthusiasm, and a boundless thirst for offshore adventure. A liveaboard child, he can't seem to get enough of sailing. And during those rare moments when he isn't sailing, he's surfing.
He's a larger-than-life, gray-haired surfer dude who loves to joyously shout, "Hang loose! Hold tight! And live while you're alive!"
It isn't easy keeping up with Bob. I had to fit this interview in between his morning surf run, afternoon siesta, and all-evening every-evening mega beach party ashore.
"My father was a Transpac racer, and we owned Corsair, a 12-Meter built in 1912, then a Lapworth 36, even a 65-foot trawler," says Bob. "I was always around boats, and my parents took me cruising to Mexico when I was 3 or 4. Boats are the one constant in my life. Well, surfing too!"
Bob and his nice-but-tough-as-nails Canadian wife, Glenda, are currently in Fiji and have been for a while. Why? Because there are five good surf breaks within 15 minutes of their boat. But as nice as it is here in Musket Cove, Malololailai, Bob and Glenda are leaving soon for Indonesia. Why? "Even better surf breaks," giggles Glenda.
Bob and Glenda hooked up while Bob was working as a deep-sea diver for a Southeast Asian oil company. "When he asked me to go offshore with him, I figured why not have an exciting week or two of sailing?"
The rest, as they say, is cruising history.
"Before I met Glenda, I was a tad wild," Bob admits. "I never checked the weather. I'd just leave whenever the boat was ready. Now I watch my weather and don't push my boat as hard. I'd rather be comfortable for eight days than fast and miserable for six."
One of Bob's strangest experiences was being hired to deliver a boat from Australia to Greece. The owner never paid him, so Bob sued and ended up with Neptune's Car, a 40-foot, center-cockpit, steel ketch. "I sailed it around the world in celebration," he laughs.
His current vessel, the 45-foot fractional-rigged Nero, is a 1978 sloop designed by John Lidgard and cold-molded from kauri wood. "We're really pleased with her after all these miles," reports Bob. "Nero is fast, stable, and, best of all, well built. After all she's been through, she's in better shape than ever. We recently added a fixed dodger and better backrests in the cockpit. What a joy she is to cruise aboard."
What's next on the itinerary?
"Well, we've only been to 93 countries," says Bob with a grin. "I'd like to make that at least 100 before I hang up my Topsiders."
Circumnavigator Michael Grunstein, however, is a completely different story. The New York real-estate investor-he's married to a concert violinist, and they have two sons-was 50 years old before he jumped into sailing.
It didn't take him long, however, to become enthralled with the cruising life. "I'm having a tremendous amount of fun," he says. "I'm having new, exciting experiences my friends can only dream of."
His current boat is Yonita, a 53-foot ketch-rigged Amel Super Maramu 2000. She has all the toys: washer/dryer, dishwasher, watermaker, bow thruster-even electric reefing and main/jib sheeting.
"We're quite happy with her," says Michael with a smile. "The company builds a great boat and really stands behind it. We had almost no problems, and the small issues we did have were remedied immediately. I can't say enough about the boat and the company."
Michael first sailed around the world from 1995 to 2000 on board a Cheoy Lee 42 while his wife, Nily Grunstein, continued with her musical career in New York and Israel.
"I had a wonderful time," admits Michael, "sometimes with pick-up crew and sometimes singlehanding. But now that Nily's with me, it's even better."
Nily's the first to admit that she finds the cruising life a challenge and hasn't adjusted completely yet. But she's also quick to point out how fascinated she is with the whole process.
"I've got a background in psychology as well as music," she says. "I find the sailing life very strong, very rich. It's a different life from ashore. I even sleep and dream differently. The whole world strikes me as a playground now. I've undergone a sort of purification of mind. Everything I see, smell, and feel seems more intense. I feel like I'm being healed and cleansed at the same time."
Michael smiles at her carefully chosen words. "She gave a Bach concert to a couple of yachties who were anchored off a deserted island at Suwarrow Atoll, in the Cook Islands, playing her violin that was handcrafted in the time of Captain Cook."
He pauses. Thinks. Sighs. "It was as lovely as it was unexpected."
Where to now?
"Thailand, then across the Indian Ocean to Africa," says Michael. "After that, one of our sons wants to use the boat for a year, so we'll use the time to land travel. Then we hope to rejoin the boat and sail to Brazil, where our other son lives with our new grandchild."
Any plans to sell the boat?
"No," says Nily. "We like her too much. Look at the woodwork. It's lovely, isn't it? Michael wanted to put a picture on the main bulkhead, but I stopped him. It's so beautiful just the way it is. Just like living in a violin!"
Kiwis always have a lovely way of understating things, and Paul Hickey is no exception. With his wife, Ann-Marie, Paul currently sails the 46-foot masthead sloop Solara, a lovely German Frers design that was cold-molded in kauri wood in 1982 by Brin Wilson.
"When we finally rejoined the fleet of circumnavigators on the Coconut Milk Run in French Polynesia and heard all of their horror stories of transiting the Panama Canal-crushed boats, bent stanchions, ripped-up toerails-I was happy that Ann-Marie and I took the easy route!" he says.
Easy route? That's how Paul casually referred to the couple's Cape Horn rounding in 2000 aboard their previous vessel, the 36-foot Harlequin, which was also built by Brin Wilson.
"We hardly ever mention that we've sailed around Cape Horn," notes Ann-Marie, bouncing their 2-year-old son Daniel-aka Captain Handful-on her lap. "It's sort of a conversation stopper. People think we're weird."
My wife, Carolyn, and I first met Paul and Ann-Marie just after their Cape Horn rounding. After some 40 days at sea, they landed on Hiva Oa, in French Polynesia, with no money, no liquor, and very little food.
As their anchor rode paid out, we immediately delivered them the equivalent of US$100 in French Polynesian francs, a six-pack of cold beer, a bottle of rum, a bag of ice, and a sack of gourmet treats.
"But you don't even know us," they said in wonder, as we piled all of the loot in their cockpit.
"No," I admitted. "But if you've been around the Horn, I admire you!"
We became fast friends and enjoyed each other's company on various Pacific islands during the 2000 season. We were delighted to bump into them again six years later in Fiji.
"Our 1997 to 2000 circumnavigation was really fun," says Paul. "We sailed from New Zealand across the Indian Ocean to Cape Town, South Africa, up to England, back down to the Horn, and home to New Zealand."
"Having Daniel aboard makes cruising a bit different," says Ann-Marie. "We used to sail six-on/six-off and always be rested. Now if I come off watch at dawn just as Daniel's waking up-well, forget sleep! He's full-on all day!"
"But he's a good sailor," says Paul, the proud parent. "He's never seasick, and if we're in heavy weather, he just sits in his car seat and amuses himself."
"But I wouldn't want to go around Cape Horn with a child," laughs Ann-Marie. "It isn't hard, but hey, it's cold down there!"
"I just enjoy sailing," says Paul. "I love all aspects of sailing and cruising, even heavy weather. We once crossed the Agulhas Current off South Africa in 45 knots-wow!"
"We'll return to New Zealand for the summer," says Ann-Marie. "Then we'll do more of the western South Pacific the following seasons, including Vanuatu and New Caledonia."
"Any major trips planned for the future?" I ask.
"Not really. With the baby, we just take it one day at a time," says Anne-Marie. Behind her Paul is grinning, nodding yes in response to my question, and putting a finger to his lips in secrecy.
Then I see it again; that flash in his eye, as if he can stare at things that make other men tremble. The Cape Horn glint, I call it.
"You never know, Fatty," he laughs. "This new boat sails pretty good. It would be a shame to keep her in harbor, eh?"
There's one thing immediately obvious about Alicia Lavigne and Alfredo Vogliardi: They're in love. Every time she looks at him, it's as if she's gazing upon a handsome movie star. Every time he glances at her, he grins as if he can't believe his good fortune to have found such a fun-loving and adventurous life partner.
Alicia Lavigne was about 2 years old when her father began to teach her to sail. At the age of 10, in Mobile, Alabama, she purchased her own vessel, a beat-up Sunfish and started out on her own. In 1996, she and a former boyfriend took off to sail around the world aboard On Vera, a Rafiki 37 designed by Stan Huntingford.
In 2002 she was in Chagos, a mainly deserted archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and jumped ship after falling in love with Alfredo, a dashing fellow-and former lingerie salesman.
The Italian sailor had been singlehanding for more than seven years aboard his 34-foot steel boat, and he didn't take kindly to Alicia's fussiness as a navigator.
"She's good but worried with the charts," says Alfredo. "I'm more laid-back, more intuitive."
Unfortunately, off the coast of Brazil, with Alicia in her bunk suffering a high fever, Alfredo "got careless for one second" and hit a reef. Within two minutes, his boat-only six days from completing the circumnavigation-was gone. The life raft failed to open. And, of course, the inflatable wasn't inflated.
"A can of cocoa floated by," recalls Alfredo, "and I collected it. I passed by some toilet-paper rolls and a jug of diesel fuel. It didn't seem real."
"We didn't panic," Alfredo continued. "But we were sort of in shock. I mean, one moment everything was fine, then we were swimming."
It was six miles to shore, and there was a strong current. Luckily, after only a couple of miles they came upon a swimming platform, had just enough energy to climb up on it, and were rescued by a passing dive boat a short time later.
"I made a mistake," Alfredo says sadly. "One minute I pay no attention. I pay for it big."
"But," chimes in Alicia, "we immediately got a ride aboard a sailboat headed to Trinidad, where, within two days of our arrival, we were hired to skipper a brand new Hallberg-Rassy 64. Even more amazing, when my former boyfriend found out about our situation, he gave us his boat-the boat I'd originally set out on to sail around the world."
The world of circumnavigators is a small one. Unusual things happen. People who live this life make decisions and help each other in ways at which landlubbers can only marvel.
"We decided, hey, we have a new, good boat," says Alfredo, logically. "So we sail around again."
"Only this time," notes the chart-watching Alicia wryly, "I do the navigation, and we just take our time."
Where are they headed to next?
"Alicia has talked me into sailing from New Zealand to Chile," laughs Alfredo. "So we'll lash on the storm trysail, bolt down the floors, and see what happens next!"
"I like a challenge," says Alicia. "New places, new people, new horizons. We have no children, no careers. We aren't tied down in any way. Why not live free?"
Yes, there's something strangely addictive about The Big Fat Circle. Life, once tasted at this level of freedom and fulfillment, is forever desired. I know. I, too, can't seem to get enough. But sailing without end isn't all roses. Like anything else, there are downsides.
"If you can't find the time to tell me exactly where you are," said one testy e-mail from our now-citified daughter, Roma Orion, "then at least inform me what continent you're sailing to next!"
But most of the time she understands. She recently asked me, pensively, "Do you think circumnavigating was the coolest thing you've ever done?"
"No," I said.
"No. Continuing was."
Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander are currently preparing Wild Card in New Zealand to sail through Micronesia toward Southeast Asia.