Knocked Down, But Never Out

A roving Editor at Large catches up with past CCA Blue Water Award winners in New Zealand.

Kiwis Noel and Litara Barrott won the CCA Blue Water Medal for their first 8-year circumnavigation.

Kiwis Noel and Litara Barrott won the CCA Blue Water Medal for their first 8-year circumnavigation.Herb Mccormick

The Cruising Club of America's list of Blue Water Medal winners reads like a condensed history of offshore cruising and voyaging. Among the honorees: Sir Francis Chichester, Eric Tabarly, Tim and Pauline Carr, Bernard Moitissier, Hal Roth, Eric and Susan Hiscock, and on and on. There are also some names that are less familiar, if no less accomplished. Take New Zealand sailors Noel and Litara Barrott, the 2002 winners of the prize. On the CCA website, the brief summation of their sailing career is nothing short of remarkable.

"For thirty years of ocean adventure on two boats, both built by Noel himself," it begins. "Their first boat, Masina, was a 38-foot cutter in which they circled the world, compiling 80,000 miles. Their second boat, Sina, is a 53-foot yawl, in which they completed a 57,000-mile circumnavigation including visits to Labrador and Iceland and an east-to-west rounding of Cape Horn in gale-force winds. The crew included their daughter, Sina, who performed gallantly during a near capsize when they were hit by a rogue wave off Cape Horn."

A couple of weeks ago, my friends Lin and Larry Pardey introduced me to the Barrotts and over a couple of glasses of wine, they regaled me with sea stories in Sina's warm, inviting main saloon. The couple lives aboard in the Town Basin of the popular port of Whangerai (pronounced "Phan-ga-ray") on New Zealand's North Island, a crossroads for international cruising sailors. The aforementioned Eric and Susan Hiscock, the British authors and voyagers, spent some of their final years here, and it turns out they had a much deeper connection with Noel and Litara than the medal they won for their adventures.

Upon the occasion of their marriage, the Hiscocks presented the newlyweds with a mainsheet, to signify the fact that they were truly "hitched." The strange gift left Litara seriously puzzled. "I wasn't a boat person," she said. "I kept wondering why someone gave us a spool of rope!"

No, Litara wasn't a "boat person" at the time-she'd come to New Zealand from Polynesia to attend nursing school, and soon fell in love with Noel, a master boatbuilder-but all that changed in a hurry. Aboard the engineless Masina, the couple spent eight years spanning the globe and had more than their share of wild moments, including losing their rudder in the Southern Ocean. Noel picked up boat work all along the way, and in England one winter replenishing the cruising kitty, yacht designer Colin Mudie sketched the lines for their next boat, Sina, which they named for their daughter.

After returning to New Zealand and spending the next several years crafting the rugged, handsome Sina, the exquisite 53-footer took them for another eight-year spin around the planet, the most harrowing episode being the knockdown en route to Cape Horn. Both Noel and a crewmember were dashed into the sea while Sina carried onward.

"I thought I was a goner," said Noel.

Thanks to quick and flawless action on behalf of mother and daughter, both overboard sailors were safely recovered, though Noel couldn't help himself and made it known he would have preferred to be picked up from the leeward side of the boat, not the windward.

"I don't know why I'm still with him," said Litara. "All these knockdowns. A few times I've wanted to give him up, but I feel sorry for him. All he thinks about are boats."

These days, the boat that Noels spends most of his time thinking about is a classic 34-foot Rhodes design named Queequeg, which he is literally re-building from the keel up. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sina may be coming on the market.

It's not everyday you can pick up a boat with quite this pedigree, but one thing is certain. Both the Barrotts and Sina have a lot of miles still to sail.