Note: all photos taken by Douglas Wertz, or shared by him.
Douglas Wertz returned from a years’ journey the past July after circumnavigating the globe with his trusty sailboat, the Lone Gull, a classic 38’ cutter rigged double ender built by the Alajuela Yacht Corp. in 1977.
Leaving from Port Angeles in June 2022, he sailed to Monterey, Hawaii, Fiji, Australia; the island of Reunion off the coast of Madagascar, South Africa, Namibia, the island of St. Helena in the southern Atlantic, Grenada, Panama, Costa Rica, Monterey and Port Angeles— returning just before midnight on July 6—an adventure that spanned 375 days. View his trip and notes here.
I first met Douglas through my friend Lisa Danovich when they were dating during the summer of 2019 and we sat outside enjoying dinner beneath an old apple tree. They were married last August in Fiji after he had been sailing for two months.
We three visited on a poignant September morning with a feeling of fall in the air at the couple’s home in Langley. Here is the story.
The adventure at sea found Douglas discovering the “luxury of introspection,” plus the realization that we are all connected in a world that is overall a friendlier place than what the news tells us.
From an early age Douglas loved the sea. His recent quest is the result of a lifelong practice working and playing on the water.
“My type is adventurer, soldier warrior,” Douglas noted. “I went to military college and survived the Citadel. Once you endure that, you learn how to endure most things.”
While he did not play football at college, Douglas was successful at track. “I didn’t run,” he joked. “I threw things.”
After graduating from the Citadel, he joined the navy because of his attraction to the sea.
“I received a commission into the Surface Navy and went to sea driving ships,” Douglas said. “I had two fortunate assignments. At the U.S. Naval Academy, I got my big exposure to sailing in Annapolis, where I spent two years, teaching seamanship, navigation and sailing. Best job ever!”
Mentioning the “beautiful resources” he acquired while teaching navigation, Douglas’ work took midshipmen up and down the East Coast. “The objective was to teach youngsters how to stand watch. We taught the tenets of going to sea and being good stewards. It was my first taste of big boats. I never got over that.”
Later, Douglas moved to Monterey CA, where he attended Naval Postgraduate School.
“I had a good connection with Monterey,” Douglas recalled. “Being a full-time student was great. Afterwards, I wanted to return to Monterey on my sailboat. That was a motivation for this trip.”
After graduate school, Douglas ultimately served 24 years with the navy, spending time at sea, with the first half focused on ships. Later he transitioned into the reserves, which required working one weekend a month, and two weeks a year as a citizen soldier. He retired from the navy in 2004.
Douglas eventually married and had four children. The family lived in many places before settling in eastern Washington where he was working at the Hanford Facility on its cleanup. After his first wife of 39 years died of cancer, Douglas was shaken from his regular way of life. A small sailboat beckoned to him.
“I found the Lone Gull,” Douglas recalled. There was a particular bike route I would ride. It took me along the Columbia River near the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia.”
His rides took him past a yacht club where he noticed the Lone Gull moored.
“She looked out of place,” Douglas recalled. “She is a blue water (ocean) sailboat. One day I rode by and someone was on it. I got a tour and was told she was for sale. The boat belonged to a man with Alzheimers, who used to spend time sailing in southeast Alaska. Then he became ill and the boat was idled five years. We negotiated a sale. I bought the boat 10 years ago.”
While the Lone Gull was in good shape, Douglas worked to upgrade her to withstand the rigors he knew she would endure. Her engine was replaced, and her wiring updated.
“In 2021, I was in Port Angeles and the boat was out of water for six months,” Douglas said. “I repainted the topside. Redid its standing rigging. It took quite a while to get things done. Installed new sails and covers. I redid the woodwork. Bought a bunch of navigation equipment. The boat was virtually new.”
Douglas and Lisa live in Cómpeta, Spain part of the year in a rural home they revitalized. In February, 2022, Douglas flew to Seattle, while Lisa managed their winter home, and he returned to Port Angeles to complete the final stages in a two-year effort preparing the Lone Gull for her yearlong voyage. By June of that year she was ready.
Typically, boating folks leave the Northwest in late August, early September, making the “big left turn” for wintering in Mexico and sailing on to the Marquesas Islands after the typhoon season for a traditional “milk run.”
Douglas, however, sailed from Port Angeles in June, wanting to land at one of the ‘paradise islands’—in this case, Fiji—in August.
As he sailed from Hawaii to Fiji, he knew land was near, because he smelled the earth, a sense sailors hone after time spent on the open ocean. He described it like the scent when rain hits the earth after a long while without rain. Lisa flew to the Nadi International Airport on Fiji to meet him.
Douglas and Lisa were married August 16, 2022 on Suva Island, where the couple stayed at the Nanuku Resort.
“We were greeted by the chief with musicians singing,” Lisa said of their welcome upon arrival. Our room was steps from the beach.”
Lisa recalled how a master basket weaver taught the couple how to make simple dishes—they have a souvenir of their time in Fiji, in the form of a small flat basket—Douglas said it was his first time basket weaving. The couple were also introduced to a fire walker one night.
After spending time together on romantic Fiji, Douglas set sail for Australia, the next leg of the journey, his memories and books keeping him company.
While we visited recently, he pointed to a stack of books and journals that joined him on the trip, including a daily gratitude journal he wrote in. Douglas’ daughter Maggie gave him a copy of The Alchemist, by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. The book left a deep impression as Douglas sailed.
“It really touched me,” he said. “Twenty years ago if someone would have given me this book, I would have laughed—‘not for me!’ It’s about how do people with desire or drive or inclination do something to move forward or do not move forward. The solitude that you crave and desire to examine your life—I did all those things. Self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others—that was a huge deal. You get yourself face to face without interruption.”
Here are some of Mr. Coelho’s thoughts on the Alchemist’s lessons. They include: fear is a bigger obstacle than the obstacle itself; what is true will always endure; keep getting back up; focus on your own journey; and do not live another’s life.
“Overall, I thought about what hardships I would see,” Douglas said. “Overall the ocean was good. There was always a way to get out of a bind without serious threat to my life or boat.” …We will learn of a couple of those challenges the sailor faced later in the story.
Other books that accompanied Douglas included Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki, and the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche—this book after a year at sea showed signs of moisture-rippled pages and a weather-worn cover.
Spending a year at sea, Douglas reflected on his life.
“Throughout my career I was rewarded for doing the hardest things,” he recalled. “It required confidence. In the military you’re rewarded for being better than the person next to you. That develops a mindset of its own and not always in a beneficial way as Ego has its way with you.
“In my later years, I realized I am enough. I did enough. I can let go. Reaching peace with yourself is thinking we’re in control and knowing we’re not, and having the courage to let go. You can be at peace.
“A negative situation can lead to discovering this path.
“I was married before I met Lisa. My wife of many years died of cancer. That shock made me think there must be a different way to live and think.”
Choosing a different way to live and think, Douglas rediscovered what was important to him.
Including important events such as being married on Fiji, and meeting again in South Africa with Lisa, Douglas recalled a potent memory from Dec. 7, sailing around the Cape of Good Hope: “…to have sailed from Monterey across the Pacific to the Indian Ocean and arriving in the south Atlantic—the Cape has its own challenges. I was in the company of two other sailboats. I said we should do a photo-op. We took turns sailing close to one another for a memorable photo.”
Reaching the Cape represented a halfway point on the voyage and a reunion with his new wife.
“Lisa was visiting in a few days,” he added. “I arrived in Cape Town about five days before Lisa did, and had plenty of time to get my sea legs back and to do maintenance on the boat. We had a wonderful visit—we went on safari, and visited Victoria Falls.”
While in South Africa, Douglas recalled how his humble boat compared with the bigger and fancier yachts docked in the marina with him. Yet the folks he met—whatever their station in life—got along.
Another top drawer memory included a sail to remote St. Helena Island, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.
Besides being the home where Napoleon Bonaparte lived out his final days under house arrest at Longwood House, St. Helena is also popular with international divers who visit to swim with whale sharks December through March. When Douglas was there in February, the hotels and rental cars were booked up with travelers. At the Governor’s property, Douglas photographed a tortoise, Jonathon, the world’s oldest living land animal.
You may wonder how Douglas slept.
“Away from land, I would sleep two to three hours at a time,” he recalled. A navigation system and wind vane kept the boat pointed into the wind and the boat steered itself.”
The Lone Gull’s cabin is 11 feet wide. Its bunk bed contains a lee cloth. It could be pulled out and attached to the ceiling with nylon lines. The ‘cocoon’ kept Douglas from falling out of bed when he slept.
One time Douglas woke up. He sensed the steering was off course.
“On the way to Grenada, a piece on the steering paddle broke off and I fashioned a way to repair it,” he explained. “I put my ladder over the side, and worked with my automatic steering to repair a line. It took half a day. I retrieved the safety line and figured out how to reattach the piece.”
Lisa added, “He’s good at figuring out how to repair things. There was no YouTube on board.”
“You have to remain calm,” Douglas noted. “The first thing was, I put the boat in irons. You turn the boat without changing sails. It’s called heaving to. What happens is the boat, driven by the wind and the sails, work against one another, but don’t flop. The boat goes sidewise on the waves. Then, I’d figure out the problem. I practiced triage and went about how to fix the problem—maybe using a stick of wood I had, I could put it there. I could use a hacksaw to make a notch.”
Another time the sail ripped and Douglas spent 24 hours fashioning a patch and stitching it along the tear. The sail lasted for the remainder of the trip.
How did Douglas eat while at sea?
“The boat is simple—I wanted something robust, not a lot of gadgets,” Douglas explained. “There was no shower. No refrigeration. I collected rainwater. I have a two-burner propane stove. A lot of tinned foods—beef, chicken, salmon, tuna, pork and sauerkraut. Cans, jars, sauces. Soft pack soups and stir fry items. I ate a lot of rice and quinoa with coconut oil—comfort food.”
While in port he would stock up on non-refrigerated eggs. He bought tortillas, which he said are “indestructible.” He would buy avocados and fresh fruit, which typically lasted a week.
While out at sea, Douglas had a number of animal companions. Sea birds would roost and rest up to 10 hours at a time in his rigging, preening and arguing on who would have the best spots to perch.
One night in mid-March, the Lone Gull was sailing between between the island of Grenada and Panama when she was pelted by swarms of flying fish.
“I’d sit there and watch these fish launch themselves,” Douglas recalled. “I was down below, with the portholes open. One fish flew through the porthole into the kitchen! There was an accumulation of a helluva lot of these fish. When the boat crashed into waves, the movement would excite the fish. I could hear them hitting the cabin. It was vibrating. I threw them over so they wouldn’t die on the deck. From every direction there came a swarm of flying fish.They filled the cockpit. They were coming out of the dark. It continued and continued. Went on for 20 minutes. I was enjoying the moment. They were about 6-8 inches long. I never ate them.”
In Panama Douglas met with his daughter Maggie, who acted as the Lone Gull’s first mate as they sailed to Costa Rica. On his Facebook post, Maggie writes:
“March 31—from First Mate Mags: As I was out there getting my photos for Instagram (thanks dad! gotta make sure to keep my fans happy once I post again), I raised my arms like I was Kate from Titanic (no icebergs here) and THE DOLPHINS CAME BACK!! It was as if they spotted me having fun and said, “We coming, mags!” Three of them played in the bow wave before leaving to take a rest. It was the best happy hour and I’m still so giddy writing about it.
“And yes, you read that right, the dolphins had come back. They came and played along the boat for a good 30 minutes earlier in the afternoon. This was after I laid a smack down on Captain Wertz in a friendly card game of war. I’m sure the rematch will be on soon!
“We had seen the dolphins in the distance yesterday, but none got close. Today was a different story. At one point I think we had at least 6 of them around us. The way they move through the water is a swimmer’s dream. Speeding up, slowing down, spinning around, jumping out, and diving down. A few times they would turn their bodies and it looked like they were checking us out, too.”
Pilot whales accompanied the Lone Gull sailing near Costa Rica.
“Costa Rica to Monterey was hard sailing into the wind,” Douglas said. “The water was pounding. Physically you can’t sit still. The boat would shudder. It was getting colder. My year of endless summer had ended. I brought out long johns and foul weather gear.”
As the journey was winding to a close, Douglas and his boat sailed to Monterey, where he met with his sister Susan. He performed a wedding for her and her husband David, along with her son and his wife in San Francisco.
After sailing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge heading for home, Douglas posted on Facebook:
July 8 post Facebook page: “I glided quietly into the Boathaven Marina, Port Angeles, just before the stroke of midnight on Thursday, July 6th, closing an eventful 40 hour leg from Westport Washington; a return to the point of departure on June 7, 2022, and the site of the two year preparation efforts with Lone Gull.
“Filled with gratitude for the opportunity and ability, support of so many, and also a little mental grasping on the enormity of all. The voyage will continue to unfold in mind and spirit.”
In a 9/9/23 text, Douglas wrote: “An appropriate ‘mantra.’ I am seeing things differently:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”—from Little Gidding by T.S. Elliott
Read about his entire trip here.