I built my boat on the balcony and went around the world

Ask around who Yevgeny Alexandrovitch Gvozdev is. Probably no one will be able to tell you who it is. Unless you are in Russia, where he is considered one of the greatest sailors in recent history.

gvozdevUNKNOWN TO US, IN RUSSIA A HERO

And rightly so. Gvodzev, born in 1934 in Pinsk, southern Belarus (then the Soviet Union), once he reached his coveted retirement, he sailed around the world twice: the first time between 1992 and 1996 aboard a 5.5-meter boat called ‘Lena’; the second time, without electronic instruments, aboard the Said, a 3.6-meter micro-yacht built by Yevgeny entirely in house.

He had no money to be able to buy a boat (his pension, after 35 years of working as a mechanic for fishing ships, was certainly not high), so he decided to make it himself, at a cost of about 150 euros. In addition, he has crossed the Caspian Sea about 50 times (sic!), both solo on microboats and as a crew.

The Said on the beach

A hero of modern times. And like all great heroes, he met a tragic end: he sadly passed away while attempting his third circumnavigation in 2008, at the age of 74. He set sail from Novorossiysk on September 19, 2008 on another self-built boat, the 5 1/2-meter Getan II: in the middle of the Mediterranean he found death. His body, with a head wound, was found in Castelporziano, Ostiense, not far from his boat, beached.

But he had already proven everything there was to prove: namely, that you don’t need money to sail around the world. But only of determination.

Aboard the Lena

MONSIEUR GVOZDEV’S INCREDIBLE SECOND WORLD TOUR

Incredibly, his homemade boat used for the second round-the-world voyage, the ‘Said,’ was built on a window balcony adjacent to his humble quarters. From there he lowered it with ropes onto an open truck to attach the 100-pound keel and carry it out to sea, in preparation for a 370-mile “preparatory” sail.

In 1999 he set out on his second circumnavigation from the Caspian Sea, then crossed the Mediterranean, the Atlantic to South America, passing through the Strait of Magellan in February 2001, but when he was in Puerto Natales, the Chilean Navy declared that ‘Said’ was unsafe for the voyage. They then transported the boat on a steamer to Puerto Montt, across the infamous Golfo de Penas. From there Gvodzev sailed to Tahiti, in the Pacific, and then to Darwin, where, in 2002, the Belarusian clashed with Australian immigration authorities because his passport had expired. This meant he could not get a visa, and meanwhile, while his boat was at anchor, a thief stole his food, clothes, money, his camera and his radio. His only option was to return to South Africa, where he had a visa.

Gvodzev recounted that the average speed of his boat was 2 knots, and at the beginning of long voyages he always crammed so much food and water into the boat that there was almost no room to get in. He planned to take 90 days to reach Tahiti from Puerto Montt. Because he had no satellite phone or SSB radio, he could not communicate with the outside world. He did not have a satellite tracking device to allow others to follow his progress, which meant that his three children and four grandchildren had to be very patient (and very trusting). His only “tools,” the quotation marks are in order, were two plastic sextants, a compass, and nautical charts that he exchanged with other sailors.

BUT… WHY?

If you have come this far, you will have already asked yourself the question. Why? Why this desire to set off on a solo exploration of the world in “makeshift” boats, why risk one’s life? We have to dig into Yevgeny’s childhood to understand this. When he was three years old, his father was one of the many victims of the Stalin regime: he died of hardship in a gulag. His mother and sister were killed in 1941 during the Nazi bombing raids of Operation Barbarossa.

At age seven, he found himself an orphan. Gvodzev recounted how, as a young man (in the late 1950s), he had found smuggled newspaper clippings (at the time, let’s remember, no foreign press could be found in the Soviet Union) recounting the exploits of French sailor Marcel Bardiaux, who was orphaned like himself and then launched into solo transatlantic voyages. It was then that the first “woodworm” for navigation entered Gvodzev’s head.

Then when he managed to find a copy of Joshua Slocum’s “Alone, Around the World” in a flea market a few years later, the urge to cast off his moorings never left him. In 1977 he managed to salvage a small whaler and turn it into a small 6-meter boat, the Getan, with which he began his adventures in the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland sea. The sailor was born.

E.R.

 


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