Army veteran ‘wired’ for world circumnavigation

Saxe Point arrival and homecoming July 18, 2020. Photo by Don Butt

Saxe Point arrival and homecoming July 18, 2020. Photo by Don Butt

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A retired platoon commander of the Canadian Army has become the first North American to complete an extremely rare nautical feat.

On July 18 Captain (ret’d) Bert ter Hart sailed his 44-foot sailboat SV Seaburban into Victoria’s Inner Harbour after a non-stop solo circumnavigation of the globe through the world’s five great capes without the assistance of any electronic navigation devices.

The 61-year-old Gabriola resident and computer software programmer is now the eighth person in the world, and first from our continent, to complete this feat. During his journey he passed Cape Horn (Chile), Cape of Agulhas (South Africa), Cape of Leeuwin (Australia), South East Cape (Australia) and the South Cape (Indonesia) using only traditional navigation equipment such as sea charts and a sextant. After setting off from Cape Flattery, Wash., on Oct. 28 he would spend 267 days in complete isolation at sea, with no port stops, while traveling 28,800 nautical miles.

On July 22, ter Hart stopped by the Canadian Forces Sailing Association (CFSA) in Esquimalt to show his sailboat off to youth enrolled in the club’s summer sailing programs.

“What I did was incredibly difficult but I’ve always been drawn to things that are hard and crossing the world in the southern ocean fits the bill,” said ter Hart a former CFSA member. “Since no North American has ever done this before I wanted to put Canada on the map.”

CFSA Commodore, Lieutenant-Commander Chris Maier of Naval Fleet School (Pacific) says it was a proud moment for the club to host ter Hart.

“Bert’s accomplishments have been inspiring and impressive on so many levels: human endurance, resiliency, sailing prowess and navigational skill,” said LCdr Maier. “He has inspired many with stories of his journey.”

But his circumnavigation feat almost never happened at all. Only weeks before his departure while performing maintenance, he suffered a 50-foot fall from the top of his mast suffering four fractured ribs and a collapsed lung. The intense pain, difficulty breathing, and not being able to raise his arms over his head didn’t fully subside until just days ahead of his departure. 

Extreme physical distancing

He had initially expected his journey to take him just six months, but unfavourable sailing conditions slowed his progress by nearly three months. Some of the worst conditions he encountered were unrelenting gales, fifty foot swells, and long stretches of becalmed conditions.

The added days at sea saw him run low on his sea rations, which had been meticulously planned. He eventually received help from the Government of Cook Islands Rarotonga and despite strict COVID-19 quarantine rules he was able to restock his inventory.

The isolation quickly caught the attention of national and world news outlets because of his unintentional extreme social distancing efforts. In April Good News Network dubbed him “Safest man in the world” and the “Master of self isolation” noting he had had floated far from civilization.

While he was not allowed to enter or dock at any ports he was permitted to anchor his vessel to make repairs or replenish supplies.

He had a slow and rudimentary connection to emails, texts, and phone calls via a global satellite connection. This also allowed the thousands of followers on his Facebook page SV Seaburban, operated by his sister Leah, to track his progress on a map with GPS.

Inspiring others

Ter Hart says he set out to educate and inspire others to achieve lofty goals that they think are unattainable.  His journey was also a scientific outreach for approximately 2,000 elementary students in Canada and other countries around the world who closely followed his every move.

Ter Hart says he hopes his efforts have inspired the students and many others to seek careers in atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

“If we survive as a species we will need to have answers and solutions to big problems which threaten our existence,” said ter Hart. 

Despite the message of support and an occasional phone call when conditions permitted, his only dialogue with others at sea was with a cute furry stuffed toy seal nicknamed ‘Sir Salty.’ Ter Hart reluctantly admits he drew almost as much social media buzz as the voyage itself.

As the days morphed into weeks and then months alone on his boat with Salty, he said he felt like a tiny speck on a massive ocean and gradually began to feel at one with the sea.

“When you are out there alone you feel completely connected to the primal forces of nature in a way that you really cannot do in any other vehicle,” said ter Hart. “You are connected to the water and wind which are driven by the power of the sun and are wired directly into this, which is something people have been doing for thousands of years.” 

For a detailed account of Bert and his journey visit his website: http://www.the5capes.com

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Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author: The Lookout Newspaper can trace its history back to April 1943 when CFB Esquimalt’s first newspaper was published. Since then, Lookout has grown into the award winning source for Pacific Navy News. Leading the way towards interactive social media reach, we are a community resource newspaper growing a world wide audience.

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