Tauranga sailor's world first

Tauranga sailor Jonathan Martins became the first paraplegic sailor to make a solo Pacific crossing from Panama to New Zealand yesterday.

He arrived off Tauranga and anchored up in Pilot Bay before meeting customs at the Tauranga Bridge Marina.

Jonathan Martin, who arrived in Tauranga from Panama yesterday.

But he didn't plan on making a solo voyage - it was just the way it turned out.

Jonathan returned to Panama with some friends with the aim of making a documentary about rubbish.

The documentary went down the tubes, and there was more wrong with the boat than appeared in the survey.

“My mistake was I invited friends not sailors,” says Jonathan. “Some stuff broke on the boat and they weren't really careful with it. With stuff breaking on the boat all the time my money was dwindling.

“And I was funding the whole documentary, by the time we got to Aruba there was no way we were going to make it to New Zealand.”

He called it off, flew two of them home and carried on to Panama with one other. His remaining mate flew home from Panama because his father was sick.

There he was, in Panama, broke as, so he couldn't afford to pay the crew. A year earlier he had gotten as far as Panama when back problems and a good offer on the boat saw him flying home.

“But I have the knowledge, I have the capability,” he adds. “I'd got exactly where I was a year ago, it was just a matter of carrying on.”

The way he tells it, the first part of the voyage to the Galapagos was squally weather.

He says: “Up until I got to the Galapagos it was a bit hard. Then I lost the auto pilot and it was a bit depressing, with just about 7,000 miles to go to New Zealand, alone. Not having an auto pilot was a big, big deal.

“I went back through everything I learned. I had the bungees aboard. I remember being in Panama in the fishing store thinking ‘I might need these bungees. But its five dollars, and I'm broke I'm not sure I should spend it'.”

With the bungees he was able to rig an auto pilot that worked off sail pressure, meaning the yacht would carry on sailing while he slept, cooked and ate.

It took 30 minutes to set up the first bungee auto pilot, and by the time he reached the Kermadecs for the left turn to New Zealand, he could do it in three minutes.

He also renamed the boat. It was Rabalder when he bought it, but the yacht reverted to its previous name after a crisis in the middle of the ocean, about half way between Panama and the Marquesas, says Jonathan.

“Everything was going wrong,” he says. “The auto pilot was broke and there were issues with the sails. Then one on my lower stays started snapping. I was getting sick.”

He set out to find what was cursed on the boat and deduced the name had been changed from Pelican because it was written on a plank and a sail cover.

“So from that point on it was Pelican,” says Jonathan.

He is planning to write a book about his voyage and the learning experiences.



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Essence of the Mt. Photo: Kim Kelly Photography.

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