Whale of a sail to Oz and back!
by Geoff Yeowart
AHOY! Solo sea-dog Mike Clarke is back in Northamptonshire after overcoming his boredom by sailing to Australia and back.
The 62 year old adventurer has just ended a year-long single-handed 25,000 mile jaunt in his 32-foot sloop Lontano.
And Mike, of Main Road, Grendon, a member of Northampton Sailing Club, completed his epic voyage less than 2 years after having a hip operation.
"After the hip operation i had to accept i would never again race sailing dinghies competitively," he said.
"After taking early retirement i had been miserable for over a year.
"I sailed up and down the Channel a few times, visited my daughter in the Scilly Isles and helped with race duties at Northampton Sailing Club."
"But life lacked a challenge and the idea of a long sea voyage germinated in my mind."
His wife, Gloria, is a non-sailor and most of his friends could not take a year off from work to make the trip so he decided to go solo.
He left Plymouth at the end of July last year to sail to the Canary Islands determined that if he felt the same way when he got there, he would travel on.
He arrived in Grand Canaria on August 18th after one of the most frightening moment of the entire adventure. It came when Mike was working on the rigging.
"I heard a noise like a steam pipe bursting right behind me. I leapt round to be confronted by an enourmous whale that had surfaced alongside. The long black curve on his back seemed to go on forever.
"I don't know how big he was but he was a whole load bigger than my boat. He stayed with me for over half an hour, obviously looking me over. I was well and truly scared. I had just been reading Moby Dick and i was in a right state, i can tell you."
After restocking and resting in the Canaries, Mike sailed accross the South Atlantic close to the shores of South America, before turning east to run past the Cape of South Africa across the Southern Ocean to Australia - a trip that was to take 133 days.
He survived foul weather and solitude after his radio failed, before arriving in Australia on January 4th.
He left Geraldtown on February 23rd and reached Cape Town 54 days later after a close encounter with an oil rig after he had been sleeping. "A sixth sense must have woken me. I climbed up on deck. The wind had changed direction and was sweeping me east. A huge oil rig was looming over the boat, dead ahead and less than 500 yards away."
The Sloop Lontano sailed into the Scilly Isles on July 16th, Mike was free to join his wife Gloria, their daughter and grandchildren for a tearful reunion.
"I am glad i have done it, but there were many times when i was battling the elements that i thought of quitting, selling my boat and flying home from Australia, but i had fallen in love with the old girl.
"Lontano was magnificent. She looked after me, rather than me looking after he, and, whatever the weather threw at us she came up trumps. She took it all in her stride."