Thursday, 14 April 2016

Xtremely Queer : Around the World in 2,070 Days - Part 1

Last October I wrote about Sarah Outen’s round the world adventure. As a kind of companion to those articles we begin to follow another round the world adventure today. This time it features a gay couple, takes place completely on water, and goes in the opposite direction.

Larry Jacobsen and Ken Smith have been called the first openly gay partners to circumnavigate the globe by sail. I’m going to recount the journey over the next few days.

The whole adventure was the brainchild of Larry Jacobsen who was fascinated by sailing boats ever since he was a boy. He used to go to the marina near Long Beach, California, where he lived and gaze across the lines of boats and yachts from behind the locked marina gates. Larry dreamed of sailing over the horizon in his own boat. That dream came true many years later when he learnt to sail and bought a boat.

From the outset Larry made it clear that he was declaring himself as a “gay skipper looking for crew”, as he wrote on an on-line sailing bulletin board. There would be several changes of crew throughout the 6-year adventure. Some would come and go over the course of the voyage. As the skipper Larry Jacobsen would be the only constant member.
"Julia" in full sail, complete with Rainbow Pride colours.
The adventure began with the naming of the boat on 25th August 2001. Larry chose to name it after his mother Julia. Less than a month later, on September 11th, the terrorist attack which changed the world gave Larry pause to reconsider his adventure. The instant reaction was that nobody was safe to travel anywhere any more. After the initial shock people began to realise that nothing should stop them from living their lives, but everyone must be vigilant. Larry too was worried, particularly as his round the world adventure included sailing to the Middle East and through the Suez Canal. But he had waited so long for this adventure and everything was set and he decided it was now or never.

The beginning of December was an emotional time. Larry said an emotional mutual farewell to his boyfriend of 20 years, Bob, after agreeing an amicable end to their relationship (Bob was no sailor and wasn’t interested in going around the world, yet he didn’t want to deny Larry his chance). A couple of days later the sadness was replaced by excitement at the adventure ahead.

Larry and the crew of “Julia” set sail from San Francisco on 7th December 2001. Among the hand-chosen crew was Ken Smith. He and Larry were to become closer during the voyage across the Pacific. “Julia” hopped from one harbour to the next down to Mexico. Being no April Fools the crew of “Julia” left Punta Mita on 1st April 2002. The next landfall would be 2740 nautical miles away in the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific.

The first few weeks were “plain sailing” compared with what was to come. The arrival at the Marquesas was on 22nd April. So far the only real problems had been that of 5 people crammed onto one yacht for three weeks. Some crew left for adventures elsewhere, but the hardest farewell was to Ken Smith a few weeks later when “Julia” reached Tahiti. He and Larry had fallen in love over the Pacific and Ken decided to return home and return a few months later.

After a tearful farewell “Julia” continued on her islands-hopping voyage. From Tahiti to Raratonga, to Niue, to Tonga. Mechanical problems kept “Julia” in Tonga for the rest of the month. A small fire one night when Larry was the only person on board was just one of several issues caused by technical problems. When “Julia” set sail at the beginning of October they almost immediately ran into an unexpected storm which threatened to sink the yacht.

November 2002 saw “Julia” head south for New Zealand and a quick crew change before sailing back north. Before that a welcome reunion with Ken Smith who had come to rejoin the crew and accompanied them to Sydney Mardi Gras in March while “Julia” underwent several months of mechanical repairs. The next major stop-over would be Australia proper after a Fiji and Vanuatu detour.

The voyage from Vanuatu was one of the most testing so far. The autopilot failed twice before packing up altogether, so the crew manned the wheel 24 hours a day on a rota to keep them on course. For Ken it was a new skill.

With only 150 miles to go before reaching Australia, in the middle of the night, during heavy rain and waves, a wire that holds the mast in position snapped. In such conditions the mast could easily have snapped off, taking part of the deck with it. So, in the darkness and with the storm raging around them the crew rallied to. Ken steered while Larry set up four ropes as a temporary wire. It was an experience that brought the two closer together.

“Julia” arrived in Australia in December 2003. This was only one third of the way round the world, and in the adventures ahead the problems with the mast would be child’s-play to what was to come.

For more information and photographs go to Larry Jacobson's site here.

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