Running With the Big Dogs

Galactic has left Cape Town behind and shifted around the Cape of Good Hope to Simon's Town.
twice in a lifetime
Pierre (left) and Olivier (right) just before setting out to sail non-stop from South Africa to New Caledonia Mike Litzow

We’ve left Cape Town behind and have shifted around to Simon’s Town on the other side of the Cape of Good Hope. This little town is a much better setting for the city-challenged Galactics, and we expect it to be our base for much of our time in South Africa.

Cape Town is of course one of the great ports of the world, and very much on the regular route for high-latitude sailors in the Southern Hemisphere. Now that we’ve left Cape Town, we’ve left behind our last contacts with the Southern Ocean sailing community.

As we’re unplugging from that world, I wanted to take a moment to note how much we’ve enjoyed rubbing elbows with that group of sailors who aim their boats at the far South.


The standards of seamanship in that world are just incredibly high. For the last year or so we’ve been hanging out with people who routinely demonstrate just how much you can pull off in relatively small boats in the biggest waters in the world. And we’ve found the sailors that we meet in Puerto Natales or Puerto Williams or Stanley or Grytviken to also be impressively warm and open and free of artifice. It’s just like the the Alaskan commercial fishing world, where Alisa and I found that the most capable people tended to be the most humble and low-key.

Nearly without exception, we’ve found that even people who have been sailing down South for decades assume that we are from the same tribe as them once we show up somewhere. If you sail your own boat into one of those ports, especially in the winter, you are immediately in the club.

And of course there is the intense connection between people relying on their own devices in a setting where you have to accept whatever the sea deals you. We met Pierre and Olivier in the photo above briefly in Grytviken. But when we saw them again in Cape Town we were much more than casual acquaintances. There is a commonality of outlook and shared experience that cuts through so much social deadwood, and makes for a real feeling of warmth, a real brotherhood, among people who know each other hardly at all.


Finally, I want to note that sailing the Southern Ocean might be the last great adventure that is left to our age. The mountains of the world are desperately crowded, with the great problems solved generations ago, and contemporary climbers are reduced to paltry achievements like setting speed records on classic routes.

But the oceans are what they always were. True, communications and weather forecasting have made setting out on a big passage much less daunting than it used to be, and places like South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula have lost the solitude that is the essential ingredient of adventure. But the long passages in the far South – I’m thinking here of Pierre and Olivier heading off non-stop for New Caledonia, or the Canadian yacht that left a day later, bound for New Zealand – these undertakings in mere boats are still the grand adventures they always were.

There is an irreducible challenge to sailing these waters.


And now we’ve been meeting some very nice folks who have come to South Africa via the low-latitude route through the Indian Ocean, and who are on the tail end of the migration of yachts from South Africa up through the Atlantic. We Galactics have had our year of adventure down south, and we are very glad to be relaxing back into tropical passagemaking, where we properly belong.