Saturday, 16 April 2016

Xtremely Queer : Around the World in 2,070 Days - Part 3

Larry Jacobson and his partner Ken Smith had set off from San Francisco in their yacht “Julia” in December 2001 to circumnavigate the world by sail. By March 2005 they had sailed the South Pacific, survived mid-ocean storms, been chased by komodo dragons, and narrowly escaped being victims of the Christmas 2004 tsunami. They had successfully negotiated Pirate Alley and were about to sail up the Red Sea.

“Julia” proceeded to hop her way from harbour to harbour up the African coastline. Travelling past war-torn nations like Eritrea and Sudan Larry and Ken encountered military personnel at every landfall while meeting very friendly people, often the poorest in the region. Despite the concerns of their family and friends back home in the US Larry and Ken made it safely to Port Suez. The only dangers they actually encountered were a raging storm and a near-fatal experience for Larry. He had dived down to release the anchor of another small vessel that had got snagged on the sea bed. His own oxygen line got snagged and he almost suffocated trying to untangle himself and the anchor.

The Suez Canal is, like the Malacca Straits they encountered nine months earlier, is one of the busiest seaways in the world. As before, there is safety in numbers and “Julia” joined the convoy of small vessels that were piloted through the canal into the Mediterranean.

Larry and Ken sailed in an anti-clockwise direction around the Mediterranean rather than head straight westwards to Gibraltar. They sailed up to Tel Aviv. Perhaps it was because Israel was the most cosmopolitan country they had been in since Australia that they stayed for three months instead of the planned one week.

Not long after reaching the Greek island of Mykonos “Julia” scraped a hole in her keel on some rocks and had to be taken back to Turkey for repairs.  While this was going on Larry learnt that he had high blood pressure and was told to rest and stay away from alcohol. Easier said than done! But with “Julia” out of action for a while it gave him the chance to visit friends in Switzerland for Christmas 2005.

The Mediterranean also gave Larry and Ken the chance to sail to some of the most historically important locations in Europe – Turkey, Greece and the Greek islands, Italy and Rome. The ever-changing winds of the Aegean, however, made sailing challenging at times.

From Greece they sailed between Sicily and the “toe” of Italy to Sardinia for a few more repairs and then on to Barcelona. A lot needed to be checked and prepared before the long sail across the Atlantic in the months ahead, and this was the best place to get “Julia” ship-shape and in good order.

By October 2006 “Julia” had reached Gibraltar and, as Larry wrote, they were “heading for Home”. Four days later they had arrived at the Canary Islands. After final structural checks “Julia” set off on her transatlantic voyage on 24th November 2006.

Larry and Ken were joined by Patrik and Francis for the crossing. The first few days were filled storms and rolling seas, but after a couple of days the weather settled somewhat and “Julia” reached the mid-Atlantic point after just ten days. In December they reached the Grenadines in the Caribbean and stayed there until mid-February and then they sailed towards Panama. After that it was just a straight sail north along the Central American coast and back to their starting point in San Francisco.

It was an emotional moment for Larry and Ken when they sailed out of the last lock of the Panama Canal and back into Pacific waters. There had been a bit of tension between the two through the Caribbean and the thought of being on the last leg of the 6-year voyage was cause for celebration and excitement.

The actual physical circumnavigation was completed on 17th May 2007, but they weren’t in San Francisco. They had reached Zihuatanejo Bay in Mexico, the starting point of their trans-Pacific sail six years earlier. “Julia” had been away for 1,880 days and 38,388 miles. There were celebrations with family who had travelled down to meet Larry and Ken, now toasted as the first gay couple to sail around the world.

Even though they weren’t technically home Larry and Ken relaxed in Mexico for a while. However, that relaxation was shattered one morning in June when Larry complained of chest pains and was rushed to hospital. After being told to lay off the alcohol and get more exercise in Turkey Larry had not kept to the advice all the time and was prescribed more medication. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything serious enough to prevent him from finishing his voyage in San Francisco.

On 2nd July 2007 “Julia” with Larry, Ken and Patrik (back with them after the Caribbean section) sailed into US waters and San Diego. I like the comment Larry made to the customs officer when asked “And the purpose of your trip?” – “I kind of wanted to make sure the world is round”.

At midday on 28th August 2007 “Julia” sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and the 2,070th and final day of the first known circumnavigation of the world by a gay couple. Larry and Ken with some former crew members and friends were met by several other boats to welcome them back home. A crowd cheered as “Julia” docked as tears and champagne flowed freely. An impromptu speech by Larry brought the whole adventure to an end.

“Julia” arrives back at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

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