What constitutes a cruising hero in the 21st century, especially as so much of the previously uncharted waters have already been explored? When you think of sailing heroes you automatically think of those skippers who achieved ‘firsts’. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Sir Francis Chichester, Dame Naomi James, and Bernard Moitessier, to name just a few, would all feature on such a list, but I decided to focus on the sailors who are actively cruising, and whose writing and vlogging over the last two decades have quietly inspired sailors to plan and set sail on their own adventures, even if it was only for a short cruise from their home port or harbor. I narrowed my choice down to 25 skippers or sailing couples – I am sure many of you will disagree with my choices or believe I have missed your hero off the list; feel free to write in and let me know about which cruising sailors have inspired you most in the last 20 years.
1 ROGER TAYLOR: THE SIMPLE SAILOR
Roger Taylor believes in simplicity when it comes to sailing. He is a devotee of the Blondie Hasler principle that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gadgets and a boat for ocean voyaging. While many might balk at taking an engineless junk-rigged 20ft Coribee into the high latitudes, Roger quietly sailed Mingming to the North Atlantic, Denmark Strait, Norwegian Sea and circumnavigated Iceland, writing about his adventures in his characteristic evocative and witty style in a series of books which have now become classics. In 2014, aboard his engineless Achilles 24, Mingming II, he pushed further north, reaching Svalbard. More recently he has sailed 4,000 miles non-stop around Arctic waters. Roger believes in self-reliance; he always clips on when going on deck and sails by the ‘one hand for you; one hand for the boat’ ethos. He carries no liferaft, instead of preparing his boats for survival with foam flotation behind watertight bulkheads and sealable hatches. The Jester Challenge veteran has won several awards including the Royal Cruising Club’s Medal of Seamanship for ‘achievements as a single-hander of legendary proportions.
2 SAILING LA VAGABONDE: RILEY WHITELUM & ELAYNA CARAUSU
Having bought a ‘tired’ 2007 43ft Beneteau Cyclades from ‘three arguing Italian guys’, Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu began cruising the Mediterranean in 2014, even though they knew nothing about sailing (when Riley first rolled out La Vagabonde’s headsail, he had no idea how to furl it back in). Undeterred, the Australian couple learned the ropes along the way, documenting their every mishap and high point while cruising on a budget, and their down-to-earth approach won them legions of fans via their popular YouTube channel, Sailing La Vagabonde. Now with 1.51 million subscribers, they are living the life many cruisers long for – sailing with a reliable income stream – and inspiring others through their weekly vlogs. The couple have sailed over 70,000 miles, crossing the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 2017 Riley and Elayna moved aboard their Outremer 43 catamaran following a 10-year leasing deal with the French boatbuilder. They were joined by a son, Lenny, in 2019, and in November of that year made headlines when, along with former Maiden skipper Nikki Henderson, they sailed Swedish activist Greta Thunberg across the Atlantic to Lisbon for the UN COP24 climate summit.
3 ERIK AANDERAA
Like many offshore solo sailors Norwegian Erik Aanderaa believes in honing his seamanship skills and testing his boat and gear before any big adventure. His proving ground is the open ocean off Norway’s west coast, where he sails his Contessa 35, Tessie, through the worst North Sea weather, including Force 10 conditions. He videos his exploits for his YouTube channel, which are fascinating and instructional.
4 FOLLOWTHEBOAT: LIZ CLEERE & JAMIE FURLONG
Jamie Furlong and Liz Cleere began living onboard their 1989 Oyster 435, Esper, in 2006, sailing the Greek islands and Cyprus before crossing to Egypt, navigating the Red Sea, and sailing to India. For the last seven years, they’ve explored Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Their weekly FollowtheBoat YouTube videos are a mixture of skills and life aboard. A must watch if you yearn to travel off the beaten track.
5 JEANNE SOCRATES
The determination of septuagenarian Jeanne Socrates has to be admired. She holds the record for the oldest woman to complete a solo, non-stop, and unassisted circumnavigation of the world – after several attempts at the title. The British former maths and science teacher, who started sailing aged 48, endured becalming and equipment failure during her 2018-19 voyage aboard her Najad 380, Nereida, thriving on the challenges which she shared via her blog www.svnereida.com.
6 PETE GOSS: SUPREME SEAMANSHIP
For decades, Pete Goss has dreamed big and then gone on to turn those dreams into reality, facing monumental challenges along the way. The former Royal Marine is best known for his heroic rescue of a fellow competitor, Raphaël Dinelli from horrendous conditions in the 1996/7 Vendée Globe.
He skippered Spirit of Mystery, a replica of the 37ft wooden Mount’s Bay lugger Mystery, from Cornwall to Australia. He has also kayaked around Tasmania and walked to the North Pole. Between 2017 and early 2020, Pete and his wife, Tracey, cruised Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States of America, aboard their Garcia 45 Exploration, Pearl, sharing the highs and lows via Pete’s YM column and their blog at www.petegoss.com. ‘Our time with Pearl was one of the most life-affirming things we have done and it has instilled a lasting love of cruising,’ said Pete.
They have now sold her and are planning to build a 30ft yacht to explore the coasts and rivers of Europe. We can’t wait to follow their next adventure.
7 ROD AND LU HEIKELL: THE LAST WORD ON THE MED
Rod and Lu Heikell’s pilot books have helped launch thousands of voyages in the Mediterranean, and are the definitive guides for cruisers exploring the waters around Greece, Turkey, Italy, and France. Greek Waters Pilot, now in its 13th edition, was the first book Rod wrote. At the time he was running a flotilla of boats in Greece and the charts and cruising notes he compiled for customers were the basis for the book. It was also the start of his relationship with the nautical publisher, Imray.
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