Bainbridge man sails in race around the world
October 9, 2008 · Updated 9:55 AM
On the Fourth of July, islander Gary Purdom sailed into Liverpool aboard the 60-foot sailboat, New York, feeling sleep deprived but proud.
Along with fellow amateur sailors from around the world, he had logged 35,000 miles of racing, and found friends in six continents in a race that circumnavigated the globe.
Arriving in Liverpool after a 10-month voyage, New York had won the race and Purdom had fulfilled a long-standing goal of rounding the world by boat.
But an even more stirring affirmation came from his daughters, who told him they were inspired that he had finally gone out and done something he had talked about for so long.
“It was touching and emotional for me,” Purdom said. “Their perspective was, ‘if you are following your dreams, I can follow mine.’”
The dream of a world cruise was something Purdom’s wife, Linda, had been hearing about for decades.
Purdom, a California native, first went sailing on a friend’s boat in San Francisco Bay. On a clear day, with a sky framed by the Golden Gate Bridge, slipping through the water “felt like magic.”
“It’s hard to explain, to someone who doesn’t sail, the feeling when you motor out of a marina and the sails go up, and the motor turns off,” he said.
Soon Purdom had found his way onto the crew of a sailing team in California, racing as far as Catalina Island some 20 miles offshore, which felt like a long cruise at the time.
When work took him to Anchorage, Alaska, in the 1980s he sniffed out the sailing scene in Seward and again crewed in races. The competition was casual, but the scenery among fjords and tidewater glaciers was unparalleled, Purdom said. He bought a sailboat in Poulsbo and cruised it back to Alaska.
In 1990, Purdom and Linda moved to Bainbridge and chartered sailboats for trips in the San Juan Islands, and in 2002 Purdom joined the crew of a boat sailing the South Pacific.
None of the trips were enough to sate Purdom’s desire for a global voyage.
Then he heard about Clipper Ventures, a British company that gives sailors of all skill levels the opportunity to crew one of 10 sailboats in a race around the world – under the tutelage of a professional skipper.
Purdom, now in his 50s, saw it as his best shot at circumnavigation.
Taking a sabbatical from work, he joined other prospective Clipper crew members for three weeks of training in the summer of 2007. For some, the classes amounted to a crash course in sailing. Many of Purdom’s fellow crew members had only been casual boaters, some had never been for a sail before.
“Most people were not signing up because it was hardcore racing,” Purdom said. “They were signing up for an adventure.”
Purdom joined the boat New York (most boats were named for a sponsoring seaport). He was one of five crew members who sailed all seven legs of the circumnavigation. Another 30 would join the boat for various segments of the voyage.
The fleet of 10 sailed from Liverpool Sept. 18, 2007, heading southwest across the Atlantic for the first leg to Salvador, Brazil.
New York had a troubled start. Its skipper, dogged by an injury, didn’t gel with the crew and was later replaced. Meanwhile, the sailors were adjusting to a spartan life onboard.
They took turns standing watch, cooking meals, baking bread, cleaning. On deck they fell into manual tasks that suited their skills and experience. Purdom, who had more sailing experience than most of the crew, often manned the helm, helped navigate, and spent hours mending torn sails.
Crew members slept on narrow bunks and the only scrap of privacy could be found behind the curtain that walled off the boat’s toilet.
Purdom’s iPod, well stocked with 6,000 songs and podcast history lessons, became his “great escape.” He could able to make email dispatches to Linda, who dispersed his reports to family and friends.
As difficult as the sailing was at times, Purdom said weathering personality clashes below decks could be equally challenging.
“All the skippers, I think, would tell you that the most important thing wasn’t sail trimming or weather forecasting. It was managing the people,” Purdom said.
The difficulty of the sailing was partly up to the crew to decide. Some pushed hard to stay ahead of the pack, others chose to ease the sails and enjoy the scenery.
Purdom’s New York was a competitive boat.
Following the chaotic opening leg to Brazil, the New York crew rallied to arrive first in Durban, South Africa, after again crossing the Atlantic, and rounding the Cape of Good Hope.
For the third leg, the boats raced east across the Indian Ocean to Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia. After a Christmas in Fremantle the fleet continued north to Singapore, then launched from tropical heat into stormy crossing to Qingdao, China.
For days the boats pounded into gale-force winds, which whipped waves of near-freezing water to over 20 feet. Because of his sailing experience, Purdom spent most the leg manning the wheel at the stern of New York, where the rise and fall of the boat was less jarring.
“Even there I was knocked down by waves four or five times,” he recalled.
Leaving China in February, the fleet crossed the Pacific to Hawaii, where a scheduled two-day stop turned into a welcome two-week layover for repairs. From Hawaii it was on to Purdom’s home state of California, then the fleet threaded through the Panama Canal to the Carribean in May.
June found New York in its namesake city, where Purdom had an afternoon to stroll Central Park. The last leg of the race led the fleet across the Atlantic for the second time. Purdom barely slept during the final two-day sprint from Ireland to Liverpool, where his countdown to circumnavigation ended July 4.
After 35,000 miles and nearly a year of racing, New York finished first in clipper standings. Considering the physical and social barriers that arose along the way, the win gave Purdom new perspective on perseverance.
“Looking at the pace of sailing a boat across oceans really brings home how constant progress means everything,” Purdom says.
Purdom says he’s had his fill of racing, but certainly not sailing. Joined by Linda in Liverpool, he helped deliver New York another 500 miles down the coast of England.
Soon after returning to Washington in August, the Purdoms chartered a boat and went for a sail.