Friday, 15 April 2016

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

Sunrise from the deck of “Julia”.
Yesterday I wrote about the first part of Larry Jacobsen’s adventure with his partner Ken Smith to become the first openly gay couple to circumnavigate the world by sail in their yacht “Julia”.

After sailing across the Pacific they arrived in Australia in December 2003. Christmas was spent trying to repair the propeller shaft coupling. Sailing with the breath-taking scenery of the Australian coastline on one side and the equally breath-taking Great Barrier Reef and the other “Julia” then made her way north and across to Darwin. Indonesia and the Red Sea beckoned, both regions where a couple on a yacht could be attacked by pirates without warning at any time.

“Julia” sailed with forty other small boats and vessels in a rally from Australia to Indonesia. At the welcoming banquet Larry and Ken were the recipients of the Unluckiest Sailors award, the propeller shaft coupling having snapped again on their arrival and forcing then to wait for repairs again. Three weeks later, after the spare parts from Australia had been sent to the wrong place, Larry and Ken were off on their voyage again, only to encounter a more surreal problem.

On the Indonesian island of Rina they went on a guided hike through the jungle hoping to glimpse (from a safe distance) one of its most famous inhabitants, a komodo dragon. Well, a glimpse of they had – several in fact. It sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park film. On a narrow trail Larry and Ken suddenly realised they had lost sight of their guide but had attracted the sight of a couple of very hungry-looking komodo dragons, and Larry and Ken looked very much like food.

Larry and Ken raced through the jungle to a cliff, pursued by the dragons, and scrambled up the rock face out of the reach of the hungry lizards. After a few minutes the dragons left and our adventurous couple descended when they felt it was safe. Actually, they probably weren’t until they had raced back to safety on board “Julia”.

“Julia” reached Singapore in September 2004. Careful sailing was top priority here. There were tropical thunder storms with horizontal rain, the threat of pirates, and the busiest seaway in the world to dodge through. After Singapore the next planned stop-off was Phuket in Thailand in November 2004. Before that plans were made for Christmas. “Julia” needed work done on her interior and Larry and Ken planned to have her hauled onto dry land in Phuket City. Larry wanted to spend Christmas Day at a famous gay beach resort that was holding a huge Christmas party. Ken, however, was desperate to see his family for the festive season and the two agreed to fly back to the US for a family Christmas.

The festive cheer was replaced with sheer horror as Larry and Ken saw the news footage of the devastation reeked by the tsunami of December 26th that hit Phuket full on. Frantic phone-calls were made. Were their friends in Phuket okay? What was going on? Was “Julia” still in one piece? Thankfully their friends were able to respond and report that they were okay, and so was “Julia”. However, Larry reflected on his original plan to anchor at the beach resort near Phuket for Christmas that would have put him directly in the path of the tsunami.

New Year 2005 saw Larry and Ken back in Phuket to asses the situation. Several of the mechanics working on “Julia” had lost their wives in the disaster. The mood was sombre. Even though “Julia” had survived the tsunami there was a lot of work and cleaning up to do before she was ready to set sail again at the beginning of February.

Larry and Ken were joined by a couple from England on their Indian Ocean crossing. By February 15th they had reached the exact half-way point round the world, even if it hadn’t been reached in a straight line. Several weeks later “Julia” sailed into some of the most troubled waters in the world in the Middle East. As Larry’s brother emailed before they arrived a yacht flying the American and Rainbow Pride flags is like painting a bull’s-eye on the sail and shout “Aim here”!

“Pirate Alley” is the name given to the Gulf of Aden and small boats and yachts have to travel in convoy in case of pirate or terrorist attacks. “Julia” only had two other yachts in her convoy through Pirate Alley. Larry and Ken heard of some of their friends had been attacked just a few weeks previously and were relieved to reach the port of Aden safely.

The Red Sea and Europe beckoned.

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