The Webb Chiles Way
October 10, 2012
The Webb Chiles Way
by Tim Zimmermann
If you are a sailor and a wanderer, here's someone I definitely think you should know.
Webb Chiles is an American original, a sailor, poet, and explorer who has circumnavigated the globe five times (once in an 18-foot Drascombe Lugger called Chidiock Tickbourne). In 1975 he became the first American to solo around Cape Horn.
In case it is not clear, he is not afraid to live a full life (he's also been married six times), and to his credit appears to treat adventure as a basic necessity, on par with breathing. Here's how he describes himself, and introduces his website:
"People who know of me at all probably do so as a sailor; but I have always thought of myself as an artist, and I believe that the artist’s defining responsibility is to go to the edge of human experience and send back reports. Here are my reports."
Unsurprisingly, Chiles, now in his 70s, is not done yet. His wife, Carol, expects him to fall off a boat in the middle of some ocean at age 90. In preparation, Chiles has put together a Requiem playlist he'd like to hear in his final moments. But until that moment, and perhaps leading to that moment, he has plans.
His next adventure is another circumnavigation, naturally with an interesting wrinkle: His boat choice is a Moore 24, which he has called Gannet.
I'm inspired by what Chiles has done with his life, and I love what he is about to do. So I contacted him with some questions, and he was kind enough to respond. Here is an online Q&A. And if you would like to know more about Chiles, all his books are available here (many in Kindle format).
TZ: What is your timeline for setting off, and what route are you contemplating?
WC: Gannet, as I've named my Moore 24, which is hull #40, is due to be trailered from the Chicago area to San Diego, starting October 11. As you may know from my journal, I've gone blind in my right eye this year, and while I can drive, I don't much like to, so I'm paying a professional for the tow.
I hope to spend about three weeks every other month this winter on the boat, and if I think she and I are ready next summer will sail to Hawaii. Beyond that I don't know. Partially it depends on my experience on that passage. All my other voyages were planned. This one I'm making up as I go along. I don't even know whether I'll go east or west. I've gone west via Panama three times. East via Cape Horn twice. Obviously it is the Horn's turn, but I don't know if Gannet can survive down there.
TZ: How did you settle on the Moore 24, and what are its strengths and weaknesses for the voyage you have planned?
WC: I chose a Moore 24 because I wanted a new-to-me experience, and, after sailing Chidiock Tichborne, the 18' Drascombe Lugger, I have a special affinity for small boats. That Moore 24s have often been raced from the West Coast to Hawaii is significant, as is their reputation for being extremely well-built, solid sea-going boats. Another Moore owner wrote to me that they will take you where you want to go and bring you back.
Even though Chidiock Tichborne weighed less than half Gannet's 2050 pounds, she wasn't exactly an ULDB. I expect to sail faster in Gannet than in any other boat I've owned, and am looking forward to that. I also love the Moore's idiosyncratic looks.
My open boat voyage in Chidiock Tichborne is significant to my sailing Gannet. Gannet will not be comfortable, but compared to Chidiock Tichborne, she is the QE2. But then I am thirty years older, which makes it interesting.
I have no doubt that Gannet can complete a trade wind circumnavigation, within the vagaries of time and chance. No one else has ever done so, but I've pushed limits before. Whether she can go the other way, I don't yet know.