Adventure: On 3,456 Kit Kat Bars and a Prayer

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Adventure: On 3,456 Kit Kat Bars and a Prayer

Samantha Brewster's backward tacking into sailing history
By John Tayman

It's been done before, so it isn't unimaginable. Still, sailing nonstop around the world, alone and in the wrong direction, must require a major leap of faith and courage. This month, if Samantha Brewster emerges intact from the violent Southern Ocean to round the Cape of Good Hope, she certainly will have demonstrated both. At that point, the 29-year-old, five-foot-six-inch farmer's daughter from Suffolk, England, will be one relatively easy leg--and about eight weeks--away from becoming the first woman, and only the third sailor, to solo the globe from east to west.

Offhand, "east to west" might not sound like much of a handicap, but it is. The notoriously fickle Southern Ocean is bad enough, but Brewster has had to sail into the teeth of its strong prevailing winds. She spends her days on the slick deck of the 67-foot Heath Insured, winching furiously, tuning sails for winds that roar at 60 mph, and helming the 35-ton boat up four-story walls of water. Beyond that, there might be icebergs to dodge, repairs to make, and the psychological drain of round-the-clock work offset by brief snatches of sleep.

"It's not a smooth ride," says Adrian Donovan, Brewster's manager on the $500,000 project. "Sailing the wrong way is like walking up a mountain, versus skiing down. It's much harder."

Though simply finishing would be enough, Brewster had bigger plans when she left England last October: A lifelong sailor, her goal was to beat Mike Golding's westward record of 161 days, set in 1994. But just 29 days into the attempt a winch tore free and dumped her spinnaker overboard, forcing Brewster to dock in Santos, Brazil. She sat out a month for repairs and relaunched on January 3. "I wanted to give up, turn back," Brewster said. She didn't, of course.

To make it possible for her to handle the huge yacht alone, the Heath Insured was refitted with an autopilot, but she still must physically raise and lower the sails. Other extras include a CD player and 96 boxes of Kit Kat candy bars. What can't be factored out is the lonely grind, which has been alleviated in part with Brewster's link to a World Wide Web site, where she describes her adventures, a giddily addictive narrative of ripped sails and balky computers.

"It really helps," Brewster says. "One thing I've learned out here is that I'm not what you'd call a loner."

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