Donna Lange Makes Landfall

Donna Lange set out last May from Bristol, RI on a round-the-world voyage and will be making landfall this week in Panama.

donna lange
Donna lays out her course before setting sail on her voyage.CW

We live in an age of near-total connectivity.

That point was driven home to me late in January when my office phone rang in Newport, Rhode Island. The number on the caller ID was unfamiliar, but not the voice on the other end of the line. It was an old friend, solo sailor Donna Lange. She was literally on the far side of the planet, deep in the Southern Ocean. Whoa.

“So, um, how’s it going, Donna?” I asked.

“It’s a gorgeous day!” she cried. “I’m feeling great!”

Yes, it’s a small world after all. (Unless, of course, you’re trying to sail around it, nonstop and alone, on an extremely well-traveled 28-foot production sailboat.)

It was very good to hear she was having a fine day, because only a week before she’d had a pretty lousy one, when 45-knot winds laid over her diminutive Southern Cross 28 and pinned her mast into the sea, breaking her boom in the knockdown. But I’m getting ahead of the tale.

Talk about your gone girls. Donna was closing in on her sixth straight month at sea, having departed nearby Bristol, Rhode Island, in late July on a journey that was equal parts spiritual, physical and ideological. Having circumnavigated once before, on a two-year solo voyage a decade ago with calls in New Zealand and Chile, Donna plans this time to circle the globe without stopping, in the process becoming the first American woman to do so singlehanded via the Great Southern Capes.

Along the way, she hopes to bring awareness to ocean issues while also testing herself in ways previously unimagined, learning some deep, personal lessons through the experience. At 53, she’s not so much on a voyage as on a quest. Not all of it has been, well, a barrel of laughs.

“I was pretty whiny there for a while,” she admitted during our chat. “I wasn’t myself.” Look, after what Donna’s been through, I’d be complaining too. The initial stretch south down the Atlantic, beset by light airs, took longer than expected. Once in the Southern Ocean, intense storms in her path forced her northward, from 49 S to 40 S, adding more miles to the trip. She’s been tired. And cold. Very cold. “I’m not 40 anymore,” she said. “I don’t have the same energy. Even menopause can’t help. I’m past the point of hot flashes.” At least she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

And it’s funny, but there’s nothing like a busted boom to give a gal some focus and perspective, and even boost the spirits. As we talked, she explained the ongoing repair (“It’s why people like me do things like this — we’re creative engineers.”) and gave credit to her partner and team manager, professional captain Bob Philburn, who’s been a fount of solid technical advice and good old-fashioned encouragement. “He reminds me of who I am,” she said.

There’s more — much more. The sea life and albatrosses, now constant companions, have blown her away. So has the support of her blog readers (“I can feel their energy.”), and even the tint of the sea (“I’ve fallen in love with the blue of the ocean. It’s such a gorgeous color blue.”). She’s working on a book and the craft of writing, and keeps in touch with her kids and grandkids via her sat phone, taking photos of herself and making cards for birthdays and holidays.

Along the way, she’s even changed the name of her boat. “It was Inspired Insanity,” she said. “Now it’s Inspired Sanity. I had an epiphany out here. I’m more positive. I have a more sane take on the world.” Going forward, having passed below New Zealand but still several thousand miles west of Cape Horn, Donna said the short-term forecast calls for fine conditions to work with epoxy and fix the boom; in the meantime, she’s flying the main free, an “interesting experiment” that’s going well.

But there’s high pressure ahead, and soon she’ll dive back south, which she needs to do anyway to round the Horn. Her ETA for Bristol is sometime in May. “I’m excited about going home,” she said. “But I also know it’s a privilege to do something like this. I’m going to enjoy it.”

Donna Makes Landfall

Donna made landfall this week at the Panama Canal's Pacific entrance. Her boat and most of her electronics were damaged in a series of knockdowns as she approached Cape Horn, forcing her to sail northward toward the canal and abandon her hope of completing the voyage as planned.

Now, supporters are looking for contributions to help defray the cost of the canal transit and for repairs once Inspired Insanity reaches the Atlantic and Shelter Bay Marina. Donations can be sent in care of Bob Philburn, 910 18th Avenue N., Lake Worth, Fl 33460, or can be made using Paypal by clicking on the "Donate" button at Donna's Sail Twice Around website http://www.donnalange.com.

Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.