Katy Stickland chooses 25 modern cruising sailors who have inspired others to throw off the bowlines and explore by sail
What constitutes a cruising hero in the 21st century, especially as so much of the previous uncharted waters have already been explored?
When you think of sailing heroes you automatically think of those skippers who achieved ‘firsts’.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Dame Ellen MacArthur, Sir Francis Chichester, Dame Naomi James and Bernard Moitessier, to name just a few, would all feature on such a list.
But I decided to focus on the sailors who are actively cruising, and whose writing and vlogging over the last two decades have quietly inspired sailors to plan and set sail on their own adventures, even if it was only for a short cruise from their home port or harbour.
I narrowed my choice down to 25 skippers or sailing couples.
I am sure many of you will disagree with my choices or believe I have missed your hero off the list; feel free to write in at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know about which cruising sailors have inspired you most in the last 20 years.
Roger Taylor: the Simple Sailor
Roger Taylor believes in simplicity when it comes to sailing.
He is a devotee of the Blondie Hasler principle that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gadgets and a boat for ocean voyaging.
While many might balk at taking an engineless junk-rigged 20ft Coribee into the high latitudes, Roger quietly sailed Mingming to the North Atlantic, Denmark Strait, Norwegian Sea and circumnavigated Iceland, writing about his adventures in his characteristic evocative and witty style in a series of books which have now become classics.
In 2014, aboard his engineless Achilles 24, Mingming II, he pushed further north, reaching Svalbard.
More recently he has sailed 4,000 miles non-stop around Arctic waters. Roger believes in self-reliance; he always clips on when going on deck and sails by the ‘one hand for you; one hand for the boat’ ethos.
He carries no liferaft, instead preparing his boats for survival with foam flotation behind watertight bulkheads and sealable hatches.
The Jester Challenge veteran has won several awards including the Royal Cruising Club’s Medal of Seamanship for ‘achievements as a singlehander of legendary proportions’.
Sailing La Vagabonde: Riley Whitelum & Elayna Carausu
Having bought a ‘tired’ 2007 43ft Beneteau Cyclades from ‘three arguing Italian guys’ , Riley Whitelum and. Elayna Carausu began cruising the Mediterranean in 2014, even though they knew nothing about sailing (when Riley first rolled out La Vagabonde’s headsail, he had no idea how to furl it back in).
Undeterred, the Australian couple learned the ropes along the way, documenting their every mishap and high point while cruising on a budget, and their down to earth approach won them legions of fans via their popular YouTube channel, Sailing La Vagabonde.
Now with 1.51 million subscribers, they are living the life many cruisers long for – sailing with a reliable income stream – and inspiring others through their weekly vlogs.
The couple have sailed over 70,000 miles, crossing the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
In 2017 Riley and Elayna moved aboard their Outremer 43 catamaran following a 10-year leasing deal with the French boatbuilder.
They were joined by a son, Lenny, in 2019, and in November of that year made headlines when, along with former Maiden skipper Nikki Henderson, they sailed Swedish activist Greta Thunberg across the Atlantic to Lisbon for the UN COP24 climate summit.
The couple are now expecting a second child.
Like many offshore solo sailors Norweigan Erik Aanderaa believes in honing his seamanship skills and testing his boat and gear before any big adventure.
His proving ground is the open ocean off Norway’s west coast, where he sails his Contessa 35, Tessie, through the worst North Sea weather, including Force 10 conditions.
He videos his exploits for his YouTube channel, which are fascinating and instructional.
FollowtheBoat: Liz Cleere & Jamie Furlong
Jamie Furlong and Liz Cleere began living onboard their 1989 Oyster 435, Esper, in 2006, cruising the Greek islands and Cyprus before crossing to Egypt, navigating the Red Sea and sailing to India.
For the last seven years they’ve explored Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Their weekly FollowtheBoat YouTube videos are a mixture of skills and life aboard.
A must watch if you yearn to travel off the beaten track.
The determination of septuagenarian Jeanne Socrates has to be admired.
She holds the record for the oldest woman to complete a solo, non-stop and unassisted circumnavigation of the world – after several attempts at the title.
The British former maths teacher, who started sailing aged 48, endured becalmings and equipment failure during her 2018-19 voyage aboard her Najad 380, Nereida, thriving on the challenges which she shared via her blog www.svnereida.com.
To date, Socrates has completed four solo circumnavigations of the world, two of them non-stop.
She also holds the record for the oldest person to circumnavigate solo, non-stop and unassisted south of all Five Great Capes, and the only woman to have circumnavigated solo non-stop from North America.
She has been received numerous awards for her sailing exploits including the Royal Cruising Club’s Seamanship Medal, the Ocean Cruising Club’s Barton Cup, the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal and has twice been presented with the Cruising Association’s Duchess of Kent Trophy.
Pete Goss: supreme seamanship
For decades, Pete Goss has dreamed big and then gone on to turn those dreams into reality, facing monumental challenges along the way.
The former Royal Marine is best known for his heroic rescue of fellow competitor, Raphaël Dinelli from horrendous conditions in the 1996/7 Vendée Globe.
He skippered Spirit of Mystery, a replica of the 37ft wooden Mount’s Bay lugger Mystery, from Cornwall to Australia.
He has also kayaked around Tasmania and walked to the North Pole.
Between 2017 and early 2020, Pete and his wife, Tracey, cruised Europe, the Caribbean and the United States of America, aboard their Garcia 45 Exploration, Pearl, sharing the highs and lows via Pete’s Yachting Monthly column and their blog at www.petegoss.com.
‘Our time with Pearl was one of the most life affirming things we have done and it has instilled a lasting love of cruising,’ said Pete.
They have now sold her and are planning to build a 30ft yacht to explore the coasts and rivers of Europe.
We can’t wait to follow their next adventure.
Rod and Lu Heikell: the last word on the Med
Rod and Lu Heikell’s pilot books have helped launch thousands of voyages in the Mediterraean, and are the definitive guides for cruisers exploring the waters around Greece, Turkey, Italy and France.
Greek Waters Pilot, now in its 13th edition, was the first book Rod wrote.
At the time he was running a flotilla of boats in Greece and the charts and cruising notes he compiled for customers were the basis for the book.
It was also the start of his relationship with nautical publisher, Imray.
Originally from New Zealand, Rod came to the UK to study but ditched academic life in favour of cruising, buying a 1950s plywood JOG yacht, Roulette.
With little experience, he set off for the Mediterranean in 1976 and fell in love with the culture and people.
He met Lu in 1999 when she joined him as crew on a trip from the Azores to Gibraltar.
Together, Rod and Lu have cruised their Warwick Cardinal sloop Skylax around the world.
Double amputee Dustin Reynolds learnt to sail by reading sailing books and watching instructional YouTube videos before spending a month cruising around the Hawaiian islands aboard his 1968 Alberg 35.
He then started his voyage to become the first double amputee to solo circumnavigate the world.
In the last six years, he has cruised more than 25,000 miles, and plans to finish in December 2021.
His incredible voyage can be followed at thesinglehandedsailor on Facebook and Instagram.
A six month voyage along the Mexican coast at the age of 10 made Liz Clark determined to skipper her own yacht and to protect the marine environment.
At 25, she sailed south from California aboard her Cal 40, Swell.
In the last 15 years she has sailed over 20,000 miles in the Pacific, learning from different cultures and raising awareness about environmental issues.
She shares her nomadic ocean lifestyle via her blog www.swellvoyage.com and her memoir, Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening.
An exponent of the spectacular cruising waters around Britain, Sam Steele circumnavigated the UK and Ireland aboard her Rival 38, Ituna in 2006.
Having initially set up a website to help others planning a similar trip, she went on to write the UK and Ireland Circumnavigator’s Guide, an invaluable resource for those yearning to cruise homewaters.
Sam learnt to sail on the Norfolk Broads and has also cruised to the Azores and back, the Canary Islands and the Baltic.
Susanne Huber-Curphey: solo adventurer
The first woman to sail singlehanded through the Northwest Passage, German skipper Susanne Huber-Curphey has cruised 265,000 miles, mostly solo, and won numerous awards for her seamanship, including the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC)’s Barton Cup.
This remarkable sailor started solo sailing on lakes but was soon ensnared by the lure of the ocean when she navigated the Danube river from her hometown of Ingolstadt to the Black Sea.
Susanne made her first circumnavigation of the world, westabout on the Trade Wind route, aboard a 1972 30ft GRP Seadog, Glory.
A second soon followed, this time eastabout via Alaska on a 1964 GRP Rhodes 41 So Long.
Her experience of high latitude sailing led her to commission a 39ft Koopmans cutter with a full keel, oversized hull and rigging.
Nehaj made her maiden voyage in 2015.
Two years later she sailed from Tasmania via Hawaii to the Aleutian Islands before her successful Northwest Passage attempt, west to east.
Susanne was the first skipper to cross her track in the French sailing event, La Longue Route, which ran from 2018-19 in tribute to Bernard Moitessier.
Like the French skipper, she continued sailing, making landfall in Tasmania after circumnavigating non-stop around the world one and a half times.
The 251 day voyage earned her the OCC’s Seamanship Award.
Tom Cunliffe: the UK’s sailing instructor
One of Britain’s best known sailing writers, Tom Cunliffe’s passion for cruising, traditional yachts and seamanship has helped many realise their ambitions.
He became a Yachtmaster Examiner in 1978, and for years he was a Yachting Monthly contributor, sharing his knowledge on all aspects of sailing from celestial navigation to boat handling and skippering.
He is the author of numerous instructional books and the Shell Channel Pilot, the bible for sailors cruising on the south coast.
Tom started sailing on the Broads in Norfolk as a teenager before going on to sail Fireflies at university.
Whilst hitchhiking around the United States of America during one holiday, he began working on the schooner, Hindu, which he describes as his ‘Road to Damascus moment’.
He abandoned his course and instead decided on a nautical career.
Tom has owned a series of gaff-rigged yachts and together with his wife, Ros, has cruised Greenland, South America, North Africa and Newfoundland.
He continues to impart his sailing expertise, with plenty of humour, via www.tomcunliffe.com.
The thrill of cruising Arctic waters never dulled for the late Brian Black, who for decades sailed his production yachts north from his home port of Strangford Lough.
He shared his enthralling tales on the pages of Yachting Monthly and in documentaries, detailing his trial runs to Norway and Svalbard before finally reaching the isolated shores of Greenland.
He returned to country again and again, plotting new anchorages and first-time passages through the ice which had retreated due to global warming.
Since learning to sail an Optimist dinghy at the age of eight, Thom D’Arcy had dreamed of chasing the sun over the horizon.
In 2016, he left Yarmouth aboard his Vancouver 28, Fathom to circumnavigate the world, returning four years later having sailed 37,000 miles to 19 countries and 80 islands.
His voyage was recorded on his blog www.yachtfathom.co.uk, and he is now writing a book to encourage others to set off on a sailing adventure.
He plans to explore the high latitudes, particularly Patagonia, in the future.
With his philosophical but hands-on approach to offshore sailing, American John Kretschmer has introduced hundreds of people to ocean cruising.
He has logged over 300,000 offshore miles and made 26 transatlantic crossings.
He has written seven books, including the best seller, Sailing a Serious Ocean, and numerous articles for magazines.
He is an advocate for the premise that: ‘Time spent sailing, especially deep ocean sailing, is time well spent.’
Randall Reeves: sailing to the extremes
It was Randall Reeves’ wife who challenged him to his Figure 8 voyage.
It took the American skipper two attempts to complete the solo circumnavigation around the American and the Antarctic continents in one season, sailing below the Five Capes.
His first voyage, although a full circumnavigation of the world, was abandoned after his 45ft aluminium expedition sloop, Moli was knocked down twice in bad weather in the Southern Ocean.
He started his second attempt in September 2018, just months after returning home to San Francisco.
His www.figure8voyage.com blog entries of both attempts are modest and insightful as he races against time to make sure he reaches the seasonal limits of cruising in the high latitudes; he finds great
reward in executing a long passage and hopes to inspire voyaging in others.
The Ocean Cruising Club awarded him the Barton Cup in 2019 for the record breaking voyage.
He was awarded the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal in 2020.
Randall, who learnt to sail on the rivers of California and has previously completed a two-year, solo cruise of the Pacific, plans to return to the Arctic in the winter of 2021/22.
SV Delos: Brian Trautman & Karin Syren
Sailing books by the likes of Eric Hiscock and Bill and Laurel Cooper launched cruising dreams for a generation of sailors.
Now sailing vloggers use YouTube to share their cruising exploits and the SV Delos crew has inspired many, with 643,000 subscribers and over 2,000 people who pay to support their adventures via Patreon.
Brian Trautman bought the 53ft Amel Super Maramu in 2008, leaving Seattle in 2009 to sail to Mexico, where he was joined by his brother, Brady.
Initially, the intention was to sail across the Pacific to Australia, but a decade later the SV Delos crew, which now includes Brian’s wife, Karin and their daughter, Sierra and Brady’s partner, Alex, have put 70,000 miles under the keel and visited 46 countries.
They have cruised Asia, South Africa, South America and the Caribbean, often joined by members of the Delos tribe, fans who buy a berth for a leg or two.
The crew are also not afraid to sail out of their comfort zone and in 2018, joined 59 North Sailing to explore the Arctic Circle aboard a Swan 48.
Their four-part film, 80 Degrees North, has just been released.
Dylan Winter: Keep Turning Left
Dylan Winter’s love for British cruising comes across in every one of his beautifully shot Keep Turning Left videos.
Although his project to circumnavigate Britain in his 26-foot Westerly Centaur, Lily-M, came to end a few years ago due to a lack of funds, his informative series, which stops at Scotland’s west coast, is still available on his www.keepturningleft.co.uk website.
Sailing an ocean passage is a milestone for many.
Natasha Lambert, who has quadriplegic athetoid cerebral palsy, sailed the Atlantic aboard her Nautitech Open 46, Blown Away using just sip and puff technology, during the 2020 Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.
The 23-year-old and her crew shared their voyage at www. missisle.com.
She has also sailed her sip and puff-controlled Mini 6.50 solo around the Isle of Wight, across the Channel and from Cowes to London.
Drake Paragon: Drake Roberts & Monique Davis
Drake Roberts and Monique Davis were some of the first sailors to host their own YouTube Channel, Drake Paragon, charting their adventures aboard their Westsail 42.
The couple have cruised extensively in the high latitudes, including Newfoundland and Greenland, and are now planning to sail through the Northwest Passage.
Their videos provide valuable lessons for those thinking of cruising this area, and feature boat tours and interviews with other sailors.
Trevor Robertson: cruising to the ends of the earth
Trevor Robertson has been sailing the world since the mid-1970s and has notched up some 400,000 cruising miles.
He is best known for his voyages aboard his 35ft steel gaff cutter, Iron Bark, either solo or with his wife Annie Hill, whose book, Voyaging on a Small Income is a must-read for cruisers sailing on a budget.
The couple received the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal in 2009.
Robertson began sailing in his twenties, before cruising from Australia to the Caribbean via Africa, the Cape of Good Hope and Brazil.
He completed a Trade Wind circumnavigation, starting from Fremantle, Australia, in his 30ft IOR half tonner, Salvation Jane.
On his return he sold the boat and began building Iron Bark.
In recent years he has cruised to the high latitudes, overwintering in the Antarctic and, together with Hill, spending a winter frozen in the ice in Greenland.
He was awarded the Royal Cruising Club’s Medal for Seamanship in 2018 for his solo 16,270-mile voyage from New Zealand to Ireland, which he shared on his blog www.iron-bark.blogspot.com.
He has since sold Iron Bark and has bought an Alajuela 38, which he is converting to an ocean-going vessel.
Nick Ardley: a champion of the East Coast
Having grown up on the Thames spritsail barge, May Flower, Nick Ardley was born with the estuary in his veins.
His love for the mud flats and numerous Thames Estuary channels has never wavered; he is a passionate advocate of creek crawling and for years has shared his voyages aboard his Finesse 24, Whimbrel via his blog www.nickardley.com.
He started sailing as a child in the ‘magical playground’ of the waters between the North Foreland and Orford Ness; later he introduced his wife, Christobel, to cruising.
Soon the couple were inviting friends to discover the delights of the East Coast rivers.
Figure 8 voyage: 40,000 miles around the world
Randall Reeves has become the first person to solo circumnavigate the American and Antarctic continents in one season. He talks…
Jon Sanders: The way of the world
Jon Sanders has circumnavigated the world 11 times. Elaine Bunting finds out what drives him to keep seeking out the…
Sailing La Vagabonde: A cruising life on You Tube
Riley and Elayna from Sailing La Vagabonde make a living cruising the world and capturing it on film for their…
Rod Heikell: Changing the face of Med cruising
Rod Heikell published his Greek Waters Pilot 40 years ago, opening up cruising in the Med to thousands. Nic Compton…
Dustin Reynolds: The single handed sailor
Dustin Reynolds has become the first double amputee to sail solo around the world via the Panama Canal. Thom D’Arcy…
He has a soft spot for the River Medway, where he grew up and his first book, The May Flower: A Barging Childhood, records a fascinating upbringing afloat which included barge racing and maintaining the Victorian vessel.
Nick only started writing while he was retraining to be a learning support worker for the Essex Adult Education sector, following a 30 year career with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
He has written a further five books all of which mix the history of the Thames Estuary with creek cruising.
Proof that adventures can indeed happen close to home.
Sailing Uma: Kika Mevs & Dan Deckert
Helping many to realise that cruising is attainable on a budget, Kika Mevs and Dan Deckert from the YouTube channel, Sailing Uma, bought their 1972 Pearson 36 without any sailing
experience, refitted it themselves and installed an electric engine.
They have now cruised from Florida to the Caribbean along the east coast of North America, crossed the North Atlantic to the UK and are now in Norway.
Broadcaster and writer Paul Heiney has been a cruising sailor for the last four decades.
Current commodore of the Royal Cruising Club, Paul fell in love with ocean sailing after taking part in the 2003 Azores and Back Race, and went on to compete in the 2005 OSTAR.
Recently he sailed his Victoria 38, Wild Song, to Cape Horn and back, and his beautifully written book about the voyage, One Wild Song has become a small boat adventuring classic.
No cruising sailor matches Jon Sanders for the number of solo circumnavigations around the globe.
In 1982, the Australian skipper became the first person to sail twice round the world solo, non-stop and unassisted; four years later, he made three back-to-back circumnavigations.
He has won dozens of awards including the Ocean Cruising Club’s Lifetime Cruising Award.
At 81, he has just finished his 11th circumnavigation aboard Perie Banou II, and no one doubts that he could well attempt a 12th.
If you enjoyed reading this….
A subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.
Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.
YM is packed with information to help you get the most from your time on the water.
- Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our experts
- Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment
- Cruising guides to help you reach those dream destinations
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.