As Jeanne Socrates departed from Victoria’s Inner Harbour aboard Nereida on Oct. 3, a chance to make history is on the horizon.
The 76-year-old became the oldest woman to sail — solo — around the world in an unassisted, non-stop voyage in 2013 when she was 70. That trip took her nine months to complete. Now, she wants to do it in eight months or less.
To reach that goal, Socrates has several light-wind sails she didn’t have in 2013. She’ll also venture farther east off New Zealand where she’ll hopefully be met by better weather and shorten her trip.
“I don’t like things going wrong on a boat, but it’s always a challenge to try and fix them. I enjoy that challenge. I think as boaters, we learn to think laterally. We can’t fix it one way, we try and think of another way of doing it,” she said before setting sail.
Socrates will carry all the food and tools she needs onboard because she won’t set foot on land again until she’s done. Weather will be her biggest obstacle, especially since Socrates has sealed her motor off so she is officially sailing unassisted.
“I just enjoy being out on the water,” Socrates said. “When you’re cruising and you turn the engine off and get sailing, the moment the engine stops and you’re just with the wind… the wind is the power in your sails and it’s just fantastic.”
The record-breaking sailor made two attempts in 2016, but treacherous weather damaged the vessel and she was unable to complete her mission. In 2017, she fell from a deck-level ladder a week before she planned to set sail, breaking several ribs and putting off her journey once again.
With nearly 30 years of sailing experience, Socrates has sailed around the world by herself four times but hopes this trip will be her second without stopping — breaking her own record as the oldest woman to do so. She’s also chasing another record. Now 76 years old, if Socrates completes this trip, she’ll also become the oldest person (woman or man) to circumnavigate the globe alone.
In the last few years of Socrates’s attempts, she’s amassed a following of other sailors and seniors inspired by her ambition. Although she’s planning on spending the next eight months alone on her 11-metre vessel, Socrates said she doesn’t feel alone with the many radio calls and emails from people keeping in touch with her along the way.
When asked what she hopes others take away from her journey, Socrates said, “It’s really nice to think I’m achieving something positive. People should go out and do their thing. If they want to do something, do it.
“I couldn’t just sit around in my carpet slippers doing nothing,” she said with a laugh. “I think it helps keep you alive and young and whatever just to be active.”