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Story Tools

Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Around the world ... in about 6 years

Rick Schluederberg wasn't real keen on telling his story about circumnavigating the globe by himself in a 35-foot sloop.

"My parents thought people might be interested," he said. "I just thought I would bore people."

Anything but boring, his adventure sailing the great oceans of the world is filled with enough stories to make a travel agent jealous.

Almost six years to the day he embarked from Fort Lauderdale on an around-the-world cruise, Schluederberg dropped anchor in Anna Maria Sound near where his parents Dick and Ann Schluederberg live.

Asked why he would attempt such an arduous venture, Schluederberg, 51, laughed before answering that he and his family had been around sailing all their lives, mostly on Lake Erie, Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay.

"I've wanted to circumnavigate since I was 16 and Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay were great training grounds for what I was getting ready to do," he said. "Growing up on the water prior to the day of cellular phones, sailing was a great way of leaving everything behind. To me, it's always peaceful when you're sailing. To me, sailing is a way of communing with nature."

Porpoise were almost daily companions regardless of where he was on earth. There were many whales near the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa "where they sometimes got up close and personal."

Or the time a fellow sailor caught a nine-foot black marlin in the South Pacific and when they presented it to villagers and their chief, Schluederberg and friends were welcomed with a ceremony befitting a king.

Other adventures included riding elephants in Indochina, seeing Komodo dragons on the island of Komodo, orangutans on Borneo (now called Kalimantan), watching big game in Africa, experiencing the beauty of New Zealand and Thailand and its warm, friendly people or spending New Year's Eve partying until dawn with natives from an island off the coast of Venezuela.

He described New Zealand as a magical place with all the combined beauty of the United States but fitted into an island nation the size of California.

"You'd be playing on the beach," Schluederberg said, "and look up and see snow-capped mountains."

Boring? Hardly.

"The best places to go were the places where there were no tourists," he said. "I purposely sought out those places and I always seemed to run into them just often enough to make me keep looking for another one."

There also were portions of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Africa showing the dismal parts of the world, mostly due to "poverty and squalor that took away a lot of the enchantment."

Many of the world cruising crowd he met often carried pencils and Bic pens they would give to children in the worst places.

"Pencils were welcome more by children than candy," he said. "The things we take for granted here are precious and valuable to people in third-world countries."

Going it alone wasn't that difficult a decision for Schluederberg because as he explained, he's the kind of person who enjoys his own time and space and can go long periods of time without need of contact with other human beings.

"I didn't originally plan to go it alone but my partner at the time was not as interested in going out in the deep-blue sea as I was and it was a combination of fear, leaving family behind for an indefinite period of time and giving up a career," he said.

"So my thought was I would rather do it alone than not do it at all. And it wasn't entirely single-handed. Sometimes I would meet someone who was willing to share a small space seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This can be difficult for any couple to do. Often people who have been married for years get on a boat for six months and find things out about their partner they never knew or were willing to ignore on land.

"When you're on a boat, there's no going anywhere. There's no going to the other side of the house to be alone. You're there. Patience and the ability to compromise are important when you're sailing with someone else."

Schluederberg has a word of advice for anyone planning a long journey: Don't wait.

"I meet so many people who want to do what I've done," he said, "but they invariably tell me they can't because there's something else to fix on the boat. Their answer seems to be they're going to wait until next year.

"And there's something else about long-distance sailing. I often describe it as sailing from one exotic repair yard to another. You spend a reasonable amount of time repairing your boat and preparing for the next passage which can often be sailing thousands of miles before seeing land again. So between repairing and preparing, you try to get in as much sightseeing as possible."

The typical route for a circumnavigation is across the South Pacific because of the prevailing currents and winds. The first leg is 1,000 miles from the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands, then 3,000 miles to the Marquesas Islands. For Schluederberg, his Taiwanese-made, fiberglass Baba sailboat "Sea Wolf," could reach a top speed of about 5.5 knots (6 mph).

So how does one plan for a trip that would take years to complete?

"I had no plan except to make it to New Zealand in time to see the America's Cup (sailboat race). The only plan I had was to try to make 125 miles a day. The timing of my departure was to leave Florida at the end of our hurricane season and arrive in New Zealand at the beginning of theirs.

"So there was not a lot of planning. I think it's more difficult to follow a plan. I suggest going to a place and if you like it, stay there awhile.

"It can become dangerous thinking when you absolutely have to be somewhere on a certain date and common sense goes out the window, particularly when it comes to the weather.

"People who sail and try to maintain a schedule haven't left the world behind and sailing becomes too much like work."

He also suggested that those considering such a long-term venture make sure they bring plenty of spare parts for your boat.

"Especially engine parts," he said. "Backup starter, backup alternator, full set of gaskets, a good supply of oil and gas filters. You may find the quality of fuel you pick up in a third-world country is less than good and you may have to change the filter in the middle of nowhere.

"Also, if you're in a country and you see a food item you like, buy it and buy all of it. You may or may not get back there and if you do, what was there before may not be available on the return trip."

In terms of budgeting, Schluederberg was fortunate he was able to sell enough Dunkin' Donuts and then sell the franchise to afford to go. Most sailors he met who were doing the same thing were living on a budget from $500 to $3,000 a month except for the few with unlimited cash flow.

"Most long-distance sailors fish and gather what nature has to offer, like coconuts and bananas," he said. "Some people sail for six months then work for six months so they can sail for six months. I'm getting ready to go back to work so I can do it all over again."

For Schluederberg, it's about getting away from it all.

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