Thursday, May 28, 2009

Around the World in a Beneteau

Andy Lepiarczyk with the Mighty Chicken (photo credit: Jenelle Schneider, Vancouver Sun)

Although her paint job could use a color match, it is the journey that counts. The Mighty Chicken's yellow hue reminds me of the first sailboat I owned , Chiquita, and all the wonderful memories that came with her. Andy Lepiarczyk , owner of the 30ft Beneteau that he used to circumnavigate ,details some of his memories of his adventure. He epitomizes the spirit, wanderlust and adventure that yearns in the heart of every sailor. It is why we do, what we do AND on a Beneteau. Thank you to Tim Harrington for forwarding the article.

West Van resident conquers open seas

By Graeme Wood, Vancouver Sun May 20, 2009

After spending 13 months at sea sailing around the world, West Vancouver resident Andy Lepiarczyk says his most memorable moment was in fact on land.

Having not seen his wife Michele since he left the West Vancouver Yacht Club last April, the two reunited in November halfway around the world in Durban, South Africa.

"After being together for five minutes it was like we had never been apart," recounts Michele.
On a 30-foot sailboat Lepiarczyk crossed the Pacific and Indian oceans passing through Hawaii, Fiji, Vanuatu, and northern Australia. In South Africa the couple went on a safari and saw upwards of 70 elephants in a watering hole.

"That's on the top of my list. It's a very nice country," Lepiarczyk said.
Last Saturday, sporting a scruffy grey sailor’s beard, the 60 year-old completed his solo circumnavigation of the world, completing a life-long dream that began in his native country Poland.
“I was a man on a mission. The whole objective was to make circle around the world and nothing else,” Lepiarczyk said as he was once again greeted by Michele along with a swarm of friends at the yacht club.

Lepiarczyk took his accomplishment in stride. His friends describe him as humble, modest, and understated.

Asked what challenged him most during the trip, Lepiarczyk replied: “Frankly there is not too much to say. For most things I was well planned. I didn’t feel lonely, I didn’t feel stressed. Mostly, I had a lot of fun.”

Lepiarczyk is a mechanical engineer and his job requires a lot of sitting and staring at a computer screen. He calls sailing his “habit,” and has devoted much of his life to the sport.
His love of sailing began in Poland. As a youth he played soccer but it wasn’t until a university friend took him sailing on the Baltic Sea that he realized his life’s passion.

“After that I read too many [sailing] books, so it loosened up my marbles,” Lepiarczyk chuckled.
He moved to Canada in 1982 and has been sailing in English Bay for the past two decades, sometimes competitively.

Five years ago Lepiarczyk and Michele, his partner for over twenty years, flew to France to buy his yellow sailboat that he named 'The Mighty Chicken’ as an homage to Michele who refused to sail around Vancouver Island with him.

“She’s a day sailor,” Lepiarczyk said.

That year he gained valuable sailing experience by sailing Mighty Chicken across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal and back to Vancouver.
Lepiarczyk described most of his time at sea without any serious setbacks.

“There is no day without troubles. It only matters how big the trouble is. I was lucky I didn’t have any major breakdowns,” he said.

Perhaps it was Lepiarczyk’s humility speaking but even if he did come across something more than your typical storm at sea Fred Butler, Lepiarczyk’s sailing friend, says veteran sailor could handle it.

“He’s very exacting, very patient, and very methodical,” Butler said.

Following South Africa, stops in St.Helena in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, St.Lucia in the Caribbean Sea, and another pass through Panama took him to Columbia where he met some unexpected fellow Canadians at sea.

The waters surrounding Columbia are known for piracy and Lepiarczyk saw a ship on his radar following him for days. But he never saw a ship on the horizon, or any lights at night. A few days later a Canadian frigate approached him and the sailors took photos and chit-chatted.

“It was special because it was a Canadian ship,” Lepiarczyk said.

Not knowing if any pirates had actually tailed Mighty Chicken, Lepiarczyk carried onwards to Hawaii to complete the circle.

He said he made incredible time during most of the voyage, averaging 135 miles a day. He had no time to read or relax, and barely slept well while at sea.

“Sleeping wasn’t a problem. Quality of sleep was. I was always tired,” he said.

Fatigued and worn down, it was on his way back to Vancouver from Hawaii when Lepiarczyk said he had his worst experience. His boat was tossed around by several storms and sent 300 miles due north from his charted path – something he blames on “his Excellency King Neptune.”
But alas, after a 10 day detour on the stormy Pacific, he arrived in Vancouver 31 days after leaving Hawaii.

“I’m pleased his dream is realized,” said Michele.

Lepiarczyk said he’s most looking forward to having some beers with friends, and a Jacuzzi.
But Michele said her husband can power wash the deck when he gets settled back at home.
“I think I’ve got a get out of jail card for the rest of my life,” she laughed.
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