Donald Lawson wants to speed around the world’s oceans this year in a blistering time, setting a record in the process. But first, he’ll have to be patient.
Lawson, a 41-year-old Baltimore native, was aiming to take off this month from Hawaii to solo-circumnavigate the world in about 70 days. That would make him the fastest person to do so nonstop in a boat less than 60 feet long.
However, after the realization that his boat needed upgrades and then a recent collision in the Pacific Ocean, he postponed his voyage.
He now plans to set sail in October or later. But instead of Hawaii, he is preparing for Baltimore — where he knows several people willing to support him on his endeavor — as the starting line.
“It’d be nice to have some kind of home-court advantage,” said Lawson, who has dreamed of navigating around the world since he first sailed in the Inner Harbor as a boy.
Solo-circumnavigating the world is an arduous and dangerous task that requires skill and a bit of weather luck. As Lawson readied himself for the journey, he realized his boat, named Defiant, needed updates to better equip it for the trip of at least 21,600 miles. Namely, he wanted to slow the boat down.
Defiant is a trimaran that can glide over the water at high speeds. That can be advantageous — but also a hazard. Trimarans are prone to capsizing and no trimaran as small as Defiant has ever been sailed solo around the globe.
Lawson is making several changes to make it more stable. For one, he took out the bowsprit, a pole used to hoist big sails.
“We removed that because we don’t need to travel at 40 knots [46 mph] anymore,” said Lawson. He’ll aim for a speed of about 18 knots, “so the boat can be simpler and easier to control and less powerful.”
Other upgrades, like improving the communication suite and adding an electric bilge pump to keep condensation from building up on the boat, were necessary.
Circumnavigators spend the bulk of their time in the Southern Hemisphere and the popular season to sail around the world is during its summer, roughly October to February.
With the clock ticking toward winter there, Lawson opted to wait.
A collision in the Pacific Ocean in late January cemented that choice. While Lawson and his wife, Tori, were sailing Defiant a couple hundred miles off Mexico, they collided with debris in the water. Given the difficulty of seeing at night, Lawson said he doesn’t know what they struck — perhaps a whale or a tree trunk.
Regardless, it damaged Defiant and the Lawsons carefully navigated toward Acapulco, where they knew some mutual friends could assist them in repairing their boat.
Now, instead of hurrying to Hawaii to set sail before it gets too treacherous in the Southern Hemisphere, the Lawsons and Defiant will eventually make their way through the Panama Canal and toward Maryland.
The Morning Sun
“We’re too close to that deadline,” Lawson said recently in a phone interview from Acapulco, “and risking the boat now would be foolish, especially with the collision and some of the work we’re doing on the boat.”
Sailing solo around the world demands a diverse skill set — one needs to be an expert at every aspect of sailing — and mental fortitude; sailors spend all their time alone and are not able to sleep in stretches of longer than 30 minutes, as they must constantly check their surroundings.
But Bruce Schwab, one of five Americans to have sailed solo and nonstop around the world, has said the hardest part is simply getting ready. Once you set sail, you cannot stop for supplies nor receive navigational help from anyone else, or the record is voided.
“The biggest challenge is getting to the line prepared,” Schwab said.
The international record for a solo, nonstop circumnavigation in a boat under 60 feet is 74 days. Lawson is confident he can do it in fewer than 70, which would break the American record of 107 days, too. He’d also become the first African American to sail solo, nonstop around the world.
In recent months, Lawson has taken Defiant on longer, more taxing voyages to test the boat and prepare for his ultimate goal — making history and setting a record.
“It’s better to have failures and issues now,” he said, “than to have issues when I’m actually out there going around the world.”