Peter Passano, of Woolwich, Maine, has been a member of the Cruising Club of America since 1975, but it still came as a shock to him when he’d learned that he was the club’s 2007 recipient of its Blue Water Medal. He didn’t even know that he was on the shortlist of nominees. “I was at home in Maine,” Passano says, about learning of his award, “when the commodore called me and told me the news.”
The Blue Water Medal, which has been awarded annually since 1923, is open to any amateur sailor who displays commendable seamanship and a sense of adventure. Well, Passano, who’s now retired from a career in engineering construction, sure fits that bill. He’s sailed a total of more than 125,000 nautical miles on several previous boats and on his current boat, Sea Bear, a 39-foot, steel cutter rig based on a Charles Wittholz design that he and a friend built in 1990.
Passano has crossed the Atlantic nine times and has sailed to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Bahamas, and all over the Caribbean. In the Pacific, he’s sailed as far west as Australia and as far south as Tasmania. More often than not, he has crew along for the ride, but in 1996, he decided to tackle the route back home from New Zealand to Maine alone–around Cape Horn–and sure enough, he encountered a violent storm. “It was pretty scary,” Passano admits. “I had no sail up.” He dealt with Force 11 and 12 winds for more than 20 hours, and Sea Bear was knocked down several times.
“My boat is really simple,” Passano says. “I don’t have any roller-furling or anything fancy.” I do have radar, a depth sounder, and two radios, but I couldn’t talk to anyone during the storm, because there’s nobody to talk to down there.” Though the deck got a little banged up, there was no damage to the sturdy steel hull, and both Sea Bear and Passano eventually made it safely back to Maine.
Passano and his wife, Marina, often winter in the Caribbean, which they get to, by the way, offshore–no Intracoastal Waterway for this pair. But Sea Bear is on the hard for now, so Passano will stay in Maine this winter. “I have some work to do on my boat,” he says, “and hopefully, she’ll be back in the water by early July.”
And if Sea Bear doesn’t hit the water this year, it will give Passano–who turned 78 last week–that much more time to plan his next adventure. “I have a whole bunch of places I want to go.”