Four years ago, at a wedding in Spokane, Cathy Simon ’71 was seated across from a woman named Kay LeClair. Like Simon, LeClair was in her 60s. Unlike Simon, she had recently climbed to the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest.
It made Simon think, “I’m not done. I need to do something more.”
A sailor, she started exploring her options and lit upon the World Cruising Club’s World Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, a 26,000-mile circumnavigation of the earth. Speaking to her husband, Charles Simon ’89 MS, she said, “We’re going to need a new boat.”
This May, the couple sailed their 58-foot sailboat into Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, crossing their outgoing path of 15 months earlier and completing one of the most singular accomplishments on the planet.
“What were we going to do otherwise?” says Cathy, 67. “We needed to do something that was an equivalent to climbing Mount Everest. You realize you can do these things.”
The Simons first met in 1978 on a flight to Hawaii and first sailed on their return when Charles, the great-grandson of a ship owner, took them out on San Francisco Bay. She was a banker; he was busily running a software startup. To get him out of the office at least one day a week, she bought him a 33-foot Ranger 33. That led to a 46-foot Beneteau, which they twice cruised to Alaska.
For the circumnavigation, they bought a Taswell 58. After a trip to Nova Scotia, they filled 14 pages with things they wanted to change: adding solar panels that could run a fridge and autopilot, replacing sails, getting bigger anchors, replacing electronics.
“The hard part of the trip was getting the boat ready to go for a year and a half,” says Cathy. “Actually doing the trip seemed a lot easier.”
The history of circumnavigation would suggest the Simons were still in for an ordeal. Ferdinand Magellan, while often credited as the first to circle the world, actually died halfway around. Only 18 of the expedition’s 270 or so original crewmen made it. Joshua Slocum, the first to sail alone around the world from 1895 to 1898, contended with pirates and a four-day gale west of Cape Horn. In 1969, Robin Knox-Johnston became the first to sail non-stop around the world, competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe race. Seven other competitors said uncle before finishing; one of them committed suicide.
The Simons had to tough it out through several stretches in which they took turns at six-hour watches. But their route through the Panama Canal and following the trade winds made for mostly smooth sailing, as did timing the journey to avoid stormy seasons. They hit squalls but never a storm, and some big but largely tolerable seas.
“Cathy and I have sailed a bunch and after a while you learn that it becomes really, really uncomfortable long before it gets dangerous,” says Charles. “It gets uncomfortable and then it gets really unpleasant and I don’t think we hit seriously unpleasant.”
“We could always have soup,” he adds.