Swede Nils Gï¿½ram Bennich-Bjï¿½rkman, 75, is about to take off from Scarborough Marina in Scarborough, Australia, in his 21-foot sailing canoe, to continue his circumnavigation attempt.
Bennich-Bjï¿½rkman set out from Gibraltar almost 14 years ago, and his slow progress has been due to a mixture of longish periods of R&R (“I like to see the countries; I see plenty of the waves.”) and to bureaucratic difficulties on account of the size of his vessel.
The canoe is rigged as a ketch with a mainsail area of 36 square feet and a mizzen of 12 square feet; and with a foam-filled bow and stern, it is allegedly unsinkable. The 6-foot beam allows for two bunks. A 2-hp outboard can be fitted to a stern bracket.
It took him only 16 days to cross the Atlantic from the Cape Verde Islands to Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, but it took 13 months of untangling Panamanian red tape to transit the canal.
He was required to have the regulatory four line handlers and four mooring lines, each 130 feet long, which of course for him was an impossibility. He tried to truck the boat across the isthmus and almost managed to hitch a lift on a freighter, but was told it would be impossible to stop on the Pacific side and unload him, and that he and his canoe would have to continue to Alaska.
Finally, a friendly Chinese canal pilot agreed to consider himself as two line handlers (small as he was) and Bennich-Bjï¿½rkman could be the other two.
In the Pacific, on the 3,000-mile passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, the canoe was knocked down at night, and his stainless-steel mast snapped at a weld. He sailed on with just the mizzen.
A crack appeared in the centerboard, which is also his ballast. He lay to a sea anchor, swam underneath the boat, drilled holes and made a repair. He was 2,200 miles from land.
His journey has told on his health, and in Brisbane he tried to sell his boat, but as there were no takers, he now plans to sail to Darwin, Cocos/Keeling, South Africa and then home.