One article in yesterday's Washington Post incorrectly spelled the name of the Minnesota man who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a homemade 10-foot boat. The correct spelling of his name is Gerry Spiess. CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture 1, Speiss reaches Britain after record 54-day trip. UPI; Picture 2, Gerry Speiss is reunited with his wife, Sally, at the end of his solo crossing. AP; Picture 3, Transatlantic sailor Gerry Speiss is greeted by a crowd at Falouth, England, that includes his wife, Sally. AP
Weekend sailor Gerry Speiss docked today at Falmouth on the Cornish coast of Britain to a hero's welcome after 54 days of solo sailing from Virginia Beach, Va., in his homemade, 10-foot boat, Yankee Girl, the smallest craft ever to cross the North Atlantic.
The modest Minnesotan, who insisted he had not set out to become a hero, was met by his wife and parents. A small navy of reporters and thousands of vacationers rode alongside his craft in scores of boats and lined the picturesque cliffs rising above the harbor from which 18th-century packet boats sailed to the West Indies.
"I did it just for the challenge, like mountain climbing or anything else," said Speiss, a 39-year-old electronics engineer. "But this one I think is intellectual, physical and emotional - designing the boat and planning the trip. I spent two and a half years on it."
Yankee Girl is two feet shorter than the 12-foot Tinkerbelle that American journalist Robert Manry sailed alone across the Atlantic in 1965. Speiss also made his single-handed crossing in 12 days less than Manry's 66.
"I didn't set out to beat a record," Speiss insisted as reporters besieged him from motor launches before Yankee Girl could reach the dock. "I didn't try to beat anyone else's achievements. It was just something I wanted to prove to myself."
But he clearly was proud of Yankee Girl, the turquoise-and-white, egg-shaped boat he designed and built in his garage in White Bear Lake, Minn. Just under 10 feet long and five feet, six inches wide with a 14-foot mast, the 1,800-pound boat with rounded corners and edges is self-righting and self-steering. It also has seat belts, a four-horsepower engine and a tiller inside the cabin for emergencies.
"Yankee Girl is good enough to go around the world," boasted the bespectacled Speiss, sporting a voyage's growth of beard he said he would shave off. "But I wouldn't want to be the one to do it. It's too dangerous."
His trip across one ocean was dangerous enough, he said with several terrible storms, thick fog off the English coast in which he could have been hit by a larger ship, and a mid-Atlantic school of whales he successfully steered through.
Speiss said his closests call came when he fell overboard adjusting a sail after a storm 400 miles out from the Virginia coast. Attached to the boat by a safety line, he struggled in the water for what seemed to be an interminable period before he was apparently pushed back into the boat by a wave. He did not even lose his glasses.
His greatest fear was of being alone without assistance at times like that. "Even a broken rib could be disastrous," he said. "You have noboyd to help you."
To cope with the loneliness, he had brought along numerous volumes of Mark Twain, James Herriott and other examples of "light reading," plus cassette tapes of his favorite Minnesota radio programs. He had more than enough water stored aboard the boat and a bommb shelter's supply of canned goods that doubled as ballast.
He said he was able to nap most days and slept well every night until last night, when he was nervous about fog in the crowded shipping lane and excited about landing.He did not know until his wife, Sally, and parents, Louis and Jeanette Speiss, came into the harbor in a pilot boat to meet him that they had been waiting anxiously at Falmouth.
"It was fantastic to see him in such great shape," Sally Speiss said later. "He looked extremely fit and well considering the lenght of time he's been at sea. The adrenalin is pumping and he didn't even seem all that tired.
"He was delighted we had come to meet him," she said. "The waiting was the worst part. I don't think I could have stood another 24 hours of it."
She said her husband had been sailing as a hobby for the 17 years they have been married and had once sailed down the Mississippi River and along the coast of Cental and South America.
Speiss's mother said she did not try to discourage him from attempting the voyage. "I knew if anyone could make it, he could," she said. "He has a lot of courage as well as a lot of brain."
Speiss seemed a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of his welcome, which included a civic celebration and press conference, where he answered reporters' questions shyly and quietly while tightly holding his wife's hand. He was now ready, he said, for a hot bath and big steak.
His arrival was front-page and national television news in this historically seafaring nation. The days of Sir Francis Drake, who sailed from nearby ports along the southwest coast of England are recalled with nostalgia and latter-day feats like solo small-craft crossings by Manry and Speiss are greatly celebrated.
London map-maker Francis Chichester was knighted after he first got Britain and the world excited about solo ocean sailing by winning the first trans-Atlantic single-handed yacht race in 1960, setting a solo Atlantic crossing record of 33 days in 1962, and then sailing alone around the world in 1966 and 1967. But his Gipsy Moths III and IV were more than 50 feet long and had been specially built for fast, long-distance ocean sailing.
By comparison, the Yankee Girl looks hardly seaworthy, a dwarf of a boat at which no yachtsmen would have looked twice before today. Tonight it is under lock and key in Falmouth because the harbor master feared it might be stolen by an admirer.