Local men set off on worldwide sailing adventure

Brian Fox, of Odessa, was preparing last week to push off on a sailing trip that will take him around the world. Joel Heyne, of St. Petersburg, is joining him for this grand adventure.

Brian Fox and Joel Heyne look over the first chart for a sailing trip that will take them around the world. The men planned to set sail from Boca Ciega Yacht Club on Jan. 4.

Brian Fox and Joel Heyne look over the first chart for a sailing trip that will take them around the world. The men planned to set sail from Boca Ciega Yacht Club on Jan. 4.

The two men will cruise on a 40-foot sailboat called American Spirit II, setting sail from the Boca Ciega Yacht Club in Gulfport on Jan. 4. They’ll begin circumnavigating the globe when they join 35 other sailboats taking part in the World Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.

Fox and Heyne plan to join the Round the World Rally, which includes sailors from all over the world, when it makes its first stop in the San Blas Islands.

“”The largest contingent will be United Kingdom,” Fox said, noting that’s where the organizers of the rally are from. “There will be French. There will be Russian. There will be American. There will be Germans. There will be South African. There will be Norwegian.”

They will travel around the globe, sailing on the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. They’ll complete 17 legs, covering 26,000 nautical miles, in 15 months. Along the way, they’ll encounter natural wonders and stop to sample cultural offerings at exotic and historic locales.

The itinerary includes exploring the Galapagos, checking out Napoleon’s prison, witnessing Carnival, visiting the Great Barrier Reef, and on and on.

Along the way, they’ll restock provisions, repair breakdowns and follow the route that sailing vessels took hundreds of years ago to come to America, Fox said. The route, however, avoids areas of political instability, piracy and the storm seasons in both hemispheres.

Fox has been preparing for the voyage for about 18 months. During that time, he and Heyne have made sure to outfit the boat with equipment and technology that will keep them safe, will allow them to stay in touch with others, and will enable them to make repairs.

Fox is ready.

“When I was young, I wanted to sail around the world,” he said. “In middle age, I didn’t.”

As he grew older, however, the idea regained its appeal.

“In 2010, I had a couple of health challenges, both which could have been terminal,” Fox said. “I decided after that — you know what, if you’re going to do something like this, you need to do it.”

Heyne is excited, but he doesn’t expect nonstop adventure.

He knows better.

Sailors have an axiom, said Heyne, who at 62 has been sailing for five decades. “Sailing is hours of boredom, followed by moments of sheer panic.”

When equipment fails or the vessel is damaged, the sailors must react quickly. “Everybody is hustling and hustling and hustling until you have that problem taken care of,” Heyne said.

Whales pose a real danger, Fox said.

“Moby Dick lives,” Fox said. “If you hit a whale, it’s bad.”

Whales have been known to attack sailboats and sink them.

“Sometimes a sailboat will sail into a sleeping whale and it’s like hitting a side of a house,” Fox said. “You’ll suffer hull damage, and in all likelihood, you’ll be leaking. It’s just a question of whether or not you have the time and the resources to stem the leak and stop the boat from sinking.”

Fox expects the first part of the trip to be the most difficult.

“In the winter time, the trade winds in the Caribbean blow very strong, east-to-west,” he said. “We’re going to have to contend with those rounding Cuba to get to Panama. When I say blow strongly, I mean 25 to 30 knots, quite a wind. Complicating matters more is that you’ve probably noticed about a week or 10 days ago, we started getting really large cold fronts. We have one coming up.”

That means some adjustments to the travel plans. Originally, the two were going to leave Tampa and head to the western tip of Cuba. Now, however, they’ll have to travel to the Dry Tortugas and wait there a few days for a weather window that will allow them to cross the Gulf Stream and around Cuba.

“The waves are only forecast at about 15 feet,” Fox said. “Because we have to cross the Gulf Stream, typically the waves are double. So you could have 25- to 30-foot seas, if you follow a front across the Gulf Stream. So, we’re going to have to wait until the front clears and go after that.”

Still, he’s confident that he and Heyne are up to challenges they’ll encounter.

The sailboat has an autopilot, which is far easier than steering by hand. It also has equipment that can make fresh water from salt water. The boat can take advantage of solar power and hydropower.

It also has a kitchen, bathroom, shower, two bedrooms and a flat-screen television below deck. The men also will take hundreds of DVDs along them to entertain them when things get slow.

They also are taking advantage of the latest technology to protect them and the boat. The vessel is equipped with devices that notify either the boat or authorities that a person has left the boat.

“Most people don’t have the kind of safety equipment we’re talking about,” said Fox, who owned a security guard business before he sold it and retired in 2008.

The boat also has a life raft, buoys and flares to use during emergencies.

As they prepared to head off, both men were looking forward to the people they’ll meet, the places they’ll visit, the sites they’ll see and whatever adventures they’ll encounter.

“I think sailing around the world, to sailors, is like climbing Mount Everest, to climbers,” Heyne said.

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