Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A Quiet Achiever, Sailing Alone Around The World

Alexandra At Anchor In The BVI's

Every now and again you meet someone who manages to alter your perceptions, re-align your values and generally give your heart a good shake-up.

Back in 2015 we sailed South West from Chagos, to Rodrigues in the southern Indian Ocean, a strenuous 6 day passage that tested our capabilities. After a thorough bashing we finally raced in to the tiny harbor on the island of Rodrigues, on a day when even the local schools had been closed due to high wind strengths. Frankly, I've never been so happy to arrive anywhere.

Alexandra In Rodrigues
Next day, a small sailboat came in off that same angry ocean, with just one young man on board. It had no roller furling sails, not even an engine. There was no generator, no refrigeration, no fancy autopilot systems, no electric toilets and certainly few comforts below decks. The boat was simple, minimalist, in fact so basic I was shocked. It was not in great condition, but it got him there.

Sean D'Epagnier had just crossed the southern Indian Ocean in that boat, on his own, through some dreadful weather. Having no engine, he sculled his way into harbor with a single large sculling oar, settled in and lit a wood fire in a pot on deck, heating a meal of seafood he'd caught. Squid lay on the deck, drying in the sun - his means of preserving fish he caught by line or by diving.

There in Rodrigues we helped Shaun with some fasteners and glue, and a chunk of timber to make a new sculling oar. Then, over the next two years, we bumped into Sean a couple of times, first in the BVI's after crossing the Atlantic and then again in Charleston, South Carolina. Each time I looked at the approaching sailboat and instantly said to myself - that just has to be Sean.

He's an intriguing character, doing it his own way. By his own words he's interested in the weather, climate, mathematical algorithms and graphics. Very importantly, most cruising sailors already benefit from Sean's work - he's a member of the development team that produce Open CPN, the superb freeware chart plotting program (check it out here). So there is a lot more to Sean than initial appearances might suggest.  Behind this crusty and unusually tough adventurer are a million stories.

He purchased his boat, a Bristol 27 built in 1973, for $1,000. She's named Alexandra. Departing California in 2011, he crossed the Pacific and arrived in New Zealand in 2012. There he became the subject of a search by local authorities, as his family in the USA hadn't heard from him for some months - it turns out Sean was fine, busily working his way around the New Zealand coast. Of course he didn't understand the fuss.

Sean & Alexandra Arrive In Charleston SC
He had further trouble in New Zealand when the authorities would not let him depart without making certain repairs to Alexandra. However by 2014 he was in the Phillippines, then moved on through Indonesia and set out across the Indian Ocean in 2015.

Early that year he commented online about the cruising equipment that he considers essential - his list included spare sails, a sculling oar, a sailing kayak, a wood stove and squid lures. It's fair to say that most of these items are not on my list ...

I spoke with Dave Register, Senior Developer for the Open CPN platform, who commented on Sean's enthusiasm and breadth of ideas - Sean has contributed to many add-on modules for Open CPN.  I believe that Dave see's Sean as a committed ocean traveler, kind of hard to track down - in fact I think Dave was never quite sure where he was in the world. I think Sean's family probably feel the same way.

During that first connection in Rodrigues I realised that Sean was obviously very talented on the IT and software engineering side.  However when we met again in the BVI's I learned he was developing a prototype low-power electric autopilot, so he's clearly into hardware solutions as well.

My most enduring memory of Sean is watching him sail into the estuary in Charleston one morning, short tacking patiently up river against the outgoing tide. As he slowly slid past the dock I yelled out and made contact, and he asked if I knew where and how he could clear in to the country - his country - this was just so Sean. I was able to call the Customs and Immigration team for him, and I have little doubt that they are still wondering quite what they encountered that day. Should you see Alexandra coming into your anchorage, I suggest you reset your values and offer Sean the hand of cruising friendship - he's surely earned it.

I've recently heard that Sean has re-connected with his family here in the USA, however right now I'm not sure where exactly Sean is in this world. Then again I suspect that, just maybe, that's how he likes it. He's a special person - more power to him.

Sean, Cruising The World His Own Way


3 comments:

  1. Sean spent a few weeks in Washington NC where I got to know him as he tinkered with some prototype parts for a solar gassifier. 1 inch squares cut from a broken mirror and glued to satellite dish.....all done while sitting on the dock. Even as a retired engineer it was tough to keep up with his inquiring mind as it jumped from one possibility to the next. He sailed east the morning of April 8, 2018, and had said he was thinking about Ocracoke.

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  2. Glad to hear he made it back to the USA. We last saw Alexandra leaving Dominica (pre-hurricane) and didn't get a chance to say hello or goodbye. We wondered where he'd gone.....

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  3. Sean has been in DC for much of October. He is anchored in the channel and paddles to our various community gatherings. In a short time, he has become one of our good neighbors. He is planning to leave any day - as soon as the winds are in his favor. He will be missed.

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