Solo Sailor

The tide was low in the San Sebastian River and flies filled the air as I walked up to the gate of the Oasis Boat Yard. Giant cruiser sailboats and million-dollar offshore yachts filled the yard with people bustling around completing various tasks to get their boat ready for the water, Elliott Smith being one of them.

“They got this place locked up like Fort Knox,” I said to Elliott as he walked up to me waiting for him to unlock the gate. He slid open the faux-locked door and responded, “It’s very surface level, a bit too nice for me,” and rolled his eyes. Elliott, his boat and the journey he grew from humble roots sit in stark contrast to the rest of the yard, for example, the man who came up to us asking if we had any “extra change” to purchase a brand new outboard he had lying around for $7,000. The Oasis Boat Yard is one of the last live-aboard boat yards in North Florida, and it is not cheap.

Elliott has been living here as he works toward the hardest challenge he’s ever faced, being the youngest racer in the history of the Golden Globe Race, along with one of his largest physical projects, getting his donated boat, Second Wind, ready for the starting line. It makes sense why he lives on his boat working long into the night as the clock is ticking and the vessel still isn’t seaworthy.

May of 2022 will launch the third Golden Globe Race; the first was in 1968 and the other in 2018. This a retro, solo, non-stop race to circumnavigate the globe. Starting in France, the race travels south through the Atlantic Ocean, eastbound under all the continents and back to France. Non-stop really means non-stop: You’re disqualified if you even step foot on land.  The race’s premise creates a race inclusive of everyone, not just the richest people with the nicest equipment. In fact, there’s no technology allowed in the race at all; if it wasn’t around in 1968, it’s not allowed to be on your boat (aside from certain safety measures like satellite phones, life rafts, etc.). With no technology and Smith being the only person on the boat, he will play many roles: an astronomer using a sextant to navigate, a meteorologist plotting and tracking storm system movements and a chef packing every nutrient he needs for the six to 10 month journey.

This feat is so impressive that Smith has been chosen to be one skipper featured on a Canada Broadcast Corporation documentary and has the potential to star in a Netflix documentary. To put it in perspective, more people have been to space than have sailed non-stop around the globe.

“I’m another white guy sailing around the world. It’s been done, you know? I mean, not a lot but I’m not breaking a crazy record. It’s definitely a big feat, but also, I’m not adding anything to history, there’s already somebody that’s done it younger, never in this race format, but there’s already people that have done it. I don’t get any money. I don’t really care about fame or people’s attention at all, like, the inspiration is just because I’ve just seen so many beautiful things come out of it, and I have this opportunity, so it’d be a shame to not keep going for it,” he explained.

When I walked up, Elliott was working on replacing some bulkheads, wooden support stringers that help keep the structure of the boat rigid, and waterproofing lockers per the race committee’s requirements. His hands were torn up and he was covered in fiberglass and sawdust but still had the biggest smile on his face. Which makes sense given the circumstances under which he came into this boat.

Elliott had his heart set on a certain kind of vessel, a Gale Force 34 made by Kaiser Yachts, which is an extremely rare boat to come across. After a friend decided to help sponsor his journey by purchasing him a boat, he hunted for and found the perfect craft.

“So I’m talking to the owner, and I’m like, what’s the name of the boat? And he says, ‘Second Wind’ and I just choked. When I was in high school, I lost my mom to lung disease. It was my freshman year and then we had like all these bracelets made when she was sick that said ‘second wind’ talking about wind in her lungs. Something she always instilled in me, my siblings and our family was that you don’t get your second wind until you’ve given everything. And that’s emotional, physical, spiritual, like, you have to give up everything. And then you’re met with that second wind, like the runner’s high,” Elliott explained.

Elliott has found serious purpose on this journey to the starting line and continually emphasized the importance of being present.

He explained it like this, “Every step I’ve taken towards this race I’ve gotten closer to all these amazing things. Friendships have reconnected or new ones have started. People talk about how inspired they have been by and how much their lives have changed because of me attempting this. I’ve met so many people that I now will love for the rest of my life, and I think each time I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone to get closer to this, the universe has really stepped up, and it’s really showing me that this is what I’m supposed to do. So I guess the motivation is that I’m supposed to do it.”

Elliott and I talked extensively about his inspirations like Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, Robin Knox Johnston, the first person to ever perform a non-stop circumnavigation sail around the world, and Jeff Johnson and Yvon Chourinard with their pilgrimages to Patagonia but Bernard Moitissier to be his greatest. Moitissier’s The Long Way, a memoir of his experience in the ’68 Golden Globe race, taught Elliott about how this race can change the way you view the world. The one thing all of these stories have in common is that the journey is much more important than the destination.

“There’s days where I’m just like grinding fiberglass in here busting my frickin’ knuckle on something stupid or whatever. I’m just like, What am I doing? Like, I’m so far away from my financial goals. It’s like, why am I even trying? I think that’s life, you don’t just have an idea and change, so you’re set. You have to keep reevaluating, you have to keep staying present and keep refocusing things,” he explained.

Elliott has truly embraced every hiccup, shortcoming and success in his journey thus far. From pouring blood, sweat and tears into his vessel to the financial ups and downs that come with it, he has learned the importance of following his “truth,” and hopes to inspire others to do the same along the way.

Despite the amount of work that Elliott has poured into this endeavor, he is still far from where he was hoping to be; the biggest speed bump being funding. With getting shut down hundreds of times by large sponsors, on top of the intimidation that comes along with the $12,000 required fee for sponsored boats, Elliott has mostly stuck with grassroots fundraising from and has taken fundraising into his own hands completing handy work for boats around the area.

If you feel inspired by Elliott’s story, support his journey through his Go Fund Me campaign, offer a set of extra hands to help him get his boat ready, or send him a stack of your favorite cassettes to keep him connected to humanity while on his journey.

IG: Elliottskipperyo
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About Vincent Dalessio

Vincent Dalessio is Folio Weekly’s Head Photographer and Writer. Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, he takes pride in resetting his roots in Duval County. Active in the skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing and outdoor recreation communities, he takes what he’s learned in his personal life and applies it to current issues facing these groups. His writing focuses on the environment, socio-demographic issues, biopics on community figureheads and stories on the communities he spends the most time in.