Mike Austin – The voyage of the Liberdade

Mike told us a story of some indomitable individuals, linked through their sailing exploits.

The story started with Joshua Slocum.

Slocum, after being stranded in Brazil with his family, designed and built Liberdade, a shallow-draft junk-rigged 35 footer to sail home. Launched in 1888, she enjoyed a tiny 2’6” draft and her crew enjoyed a mere 3’6” of “headroom” below. Slocum, with his young family, arrived safely home after fifty-five days at sea. He then, between 1895 and 1898, completed the first ever solo world circumnavigation, in Spray, another yacht he had designed and built, to become one of the most famous sailors ever. Many of us in CNYC have read and indeed re-read his account of this voyage.

Slocum set sail in 1909 bound for the West Indies. He was never seen or heard of again.

Nearly a century later cancer-sufferer David Sinnett-Jones, his motor-racing career having been prematurely ended through illness and drastic surgery, took up sailing and started his adventures afloat. He sailed to Cape Town in 1981 in a 26ft Colvic bilge-keeler, to visit his daughter. As you do.

David then built a replica Spray, the Zane Spray in which he undertook a 3-year circumnavigation. As you do.

In 1995 he sailed Zane Spray to Horta where she unfortunately sank. Having failed despite great effort and ingenuity to re-float her (including getting help from a minesweeper to locate her, and building and employing a remote-controlled submersible), he built another boat, as you do. This boat was a copy (“not a replica”) of the Liberdade, using modern construction materials.

At this point our speaker, Mike Austin, joined the saga personally. Mike, another cancer-sufferer in remission, bumped into David and they decided to re-enact the voyage of the Liberdade from Paranagua, Brazil, to Washington, D.C. The timing was neat as the original voyage had been just a hundred years ago.

Mike recounted this voyage. With trips back to the UK for hospital treatments, they played the winds and currents up the coast of Brazil to Rio, and on via Antigua (luckily coinciding with Classics Week), the Oregon Inlet, the Dismal Swamp Canal (!) and Norfolk, at which point they had covered 1600 miles in 19 days.

Slocum’s trip is well known along the South American coast, and David and Mike were warmly welcomed, attracting press and TV interest. They were even more warmly welcomed when importing tins of baked beans, which are viewed as a great delicacy.

David did not live long enough to complete the voyage and Mike finished it single-handed. As you do.

An uplifting tale of grit, and of passion for life.

We were happy to make a donation to Southampton University Centre for Cancer Immunology, in lieu of a fee, as Mike had requested.