Solo sailor prepares to slip lines for global circumnavigation

17th July 2018

A Turn to Starboard Ambassador and volunteer skipper is about to set sail on a solo global adventure in aid of two charities, with more than £46,000 pledged towards his endeavour so far.

Words by Lucas Savage, aged 16, written while on work experience at Turn to Starboard.


A savage adventure on the horizon

John Savage is now tantalisingly close to departing on a trip that will take him more than 30,000 nautical miles, across five oceans and further from civilisation than the international space station. It is a goal that any man, sailor or not, can appreciate: conquering the globe using solely the power of the wind. The idea of sailing such a distance alone, however, is frequently described as ‘absurd’ and something that would only be taken on by an individual who was ‘somewhat abnormal’. Maybe it is the opportunity to learn about the limits of human capability that drives John to take on this elusive goal, or perhaps his motive is the chance to live a simpler life. John has engaged with a challenge that few others would dare to consider, but why?

“The question of why is always a difficult one to answer,” said John. “I often think of Mallory’s answer when he was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he said ‘because it’s there’.”

Over the years, solo circumnavigation has attracted its fair share of interesting individuals with unique stories. Being unusual would seem to be integral to undertaking such an uncommon challenge. In his book, The Ulysses Factor, JRL Anderson explores the qualities that seem consistent between characters who take on such adventures. He describes a drive that consists of self-discipline, selfishness and endurance and outlines characters who are both made by their extreme characteristics, and also flawed by them. In fact, since Joshua Slocum first circumnavigated the globe alone in 1895 only about 300 have followed suit. Unsurprisingly, the intrepid stories of those who return are invariably popular although the motivation and circumstances that exist in the build-up are more often overlooked. Here, an opportunity to consider the drive of a man who would put himself through such a challenge presents itself.

Having grown up in a military family, John moved around multiple places and schools before attending Welbeck College, Nottinghamshire. He served in the British Army for 13 years, retiring as a Captain in the Royal Highland Fusiliers after completing two tours of Afghanistan. A noted highlight was the many sailing opportunities that the Army provided to John, allowing him to work his way up to RYA Yachtmaster. On leaving the Army in 2012, he moved into the City of London where he worked in Private Banking for six years.  Whilst he enjoyed working in London the abundance of sailing opportunities was a key element of his military life that he missed.

John struggled to fulfil his sailing ambitions whilst acting as crew on other people’s boats and began to entertain the idea of being the skipper of his own yacht. He became further enthused by this concept after exploring the stories of people such as Laura Dekker and eventually he purchased a Nicholson 40, named Coralee. Far from being ready, Coralee required a lot of work so a long winter in the shed ensued; works included a new CopperCoat on the hull and the removal of the old teak deck that had to be chiselled away by hand a foot at a time. After 20 months of re-fit, much of which was squeezed into busy weekends, John was the captain of his own ocean-worthy yacht.

To sail around the world in one’s own yacht, demonstrating a mastery of the seas, is a romantic ideal that many small boat owners hold to varying degrees. Therefore, it is not wholly surprising that such an avid sailor as John, who doesn’t shy from a challenge, might aspire to such a thing.

Sailing is a pastime that is taken up and enjoyed by many for a plethora of reasons: it provides an opportunity to be physically removed from the stresses of quotidian life; demonstrates just what we are capable of achieving; and provides the satisfaction associated with learning a new skill. John would cite all these reasons as drivers for him; yet many of these benefits can be experienced whilst sailing with others. What, therefore, is his cause for being captivated by the idea of sailing solo – could this be bravery or mad ignorance?

One of John’s considerations was a matter of convenience and freedom. Organising different crew members to meet at different places at certain times, whilst relying on the unpredictable nature of sailing, would be likely to prove a logistical nightmare. Added to this is the consideration of crew dynamics, as well as the fact that picking up crew would inherently mean that each leg must stick to a time frame reducing the opportunity for freedom. John was not willing to let that opportunity slide. Sailing solo would also mean that everything could be done in an exact manner and that John would have his own environment – a reality that he is used to, having lived alone for the past six years.

Such a unique trip is not without its opportunities to give something back to those who need support and assistance.  John recognises this and during his planning was keen to affiliate with two charities – Turn to Starboard and The Blue Marine Foundation – whom he hopes to raise awareness and funding as he travels the planet.

“It is an honour to represent Turn to Starboard their work is hugely important and the opportunity to help them greatly excites me,” he explains.

John has been humbled by the devotion of the Turn to Starboard staff, who help military veterans overcome physical and mental issues by providing them with sailing opportunities. He also recognises the great importance of the work done by the Blue Marine Foundation, which fights for the promotion of sustainable fishing practises and Marine Protection Areas around the globe, helping to sustain and preserve our oceans for generations to come.

Moreover, John gives intrigue as another reason to sail solo. How would he deal with being alone for so long? Will he go mad in such isolation? How will he get enough sleep? These are all questions that John has been asked countless times and still admits to not knowing what the answer might be. What he does know, however, is that he will find out and this intrigue into how he will cope is another draw to the challenge. As a result, John hopes to find out just how far he can be pushed and demonstrate how far he can take himself. The challenge of ocean sailing is different from almost any other challenge that can be taken up. The isolation and complete independence of a vessel at sea means that a sailor simply doesn’t have a choice except to continue. In the middle of an ocean help can be days away and survival is based simply on ones ability to continue.

It is clear that John also values the rarity of the feat and prestige attached to completing such a voyage. As a man who has been known to end up with broken bones to complete challenges, it is this determination to fulfil his desires that I believe will see him through to the end. A claim to a seat at the, albeit unofficial, Joshua Slocum Society will bring him great pride not because of its exclusive membership but because it represents an achievement that he has orientated his life towards, symbolic of fulfilling his dreams.


The Route

“My global solo circumnavigation is planned to be a “west-about” route from the UK, across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and Panama Canal, before crossing the Pacific and Indian Oceans via New Zealand and Australia, before heading south to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, then north and home, via St Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha.”

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