Stanley Paris knows there’s danger in his quest to become both the oldest and the fastest person to sail solo, nonstop, around the world. But he’s made his calculations.
“There’s about a 3 to 5 percent chance a tragedy will occur,” he says. “But then I’m 76 — there’s an 8 percent chance I won’t make it another year anyway.”
He smiles. “That’s a great line,” he says in a cheery New Zealand twang. “You can use that.”
Paris and his boat, the Kiwi Spirit, are scheduled to leave St. Augustine Nov. 30 at 4 p.m., after some pomp and circumstance at the dock. He’ll aim for Bermuda, where his record-setting attempt officially begins.
Then he’ll head the Kiwi Spirit southeast and, keeping the world’s southern capes to port, attempt to make it back to Bermuda in 120 days. That would shave a full 30 days off the late Dodge Morgan’s solo Bermuda-to-Bermuda record.
With the aid of two very loud alarm clocks, he plans to sleep no more than 30 minutes at a time while near shipping lanes, and no more than two hours at a time when in more isolated waters.
The hazards: southern gales, errant floating containers, iceberg chunks and of course other ships. Loneliness too: For four months, he’ll likely not see another soul. And he figures he’ll see land just once — Cape Horn, off in the distance.
For company, he has a Winston Churchill biography, volumes on sailing the world’s seas, hundreds of books on his iPad, hundreds of songs on his iPod.
Paris’ boat, 63 feet long, is a beautiful creation, though for the sake of speed it’s been stripped of most of its creature comforts. Not all though: In the floor of the cabin he has a wine cellar, in which is stored bottles of wine, rum and single malt scotch.
There’s enough for two drinks a day. But just for 120 days. He grins: “That’s my incentive to get home on time.”
Paris grew up in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island. It was a long road that took him to becoming an American citizen and moving to St. Augustine, a city whose beauty and water suited him just fine.
It was an even longer road that finds him heading off alone, at 76, across the oceans.
His quest has captured the eye of the boating world (Yachting magazine, for example, recently offered “5 Reasons We Love Stanley Paris”). That interest could spread wider if and when the affable septuagenarian gets closer to his goal, which can be tracked at his website (www.stanleyparis.com).
He’s never been a man to duck a challenge.
At 14, he was a swimming champ and he had a girlfriend, a fellow swimmer, who lived far away in Christchurch. After her father went on about how the “kids of today” are not as tough as those back in “his day,” Paris got on his three-speed bike, lashed a suitcase to the back, and pedaled the 226 miles between their houses.
It took him 21 hours, 15 minutes. He was chafed and sore. He could barely move for several days. But he’d proven his point.
In 1960, he drove a souped-up VW Beetle from London to India, then tried to break the record getting home. The car broke down, so it took him almost twice as long. But he did see 35 countries and parlayed the trip into a VW-sponsored publicity tour of the U.S.
In 1985 he did the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. The next year he swam the English Channel, at 49 the oldest person to do it that year. At age 72, he went back and swam it again as part of a winning relay team.
Last year he rode his BMW motorcycle across the country in less than 50 hours, in the company of his son and three friends. Then he turned around and did it again. Solo.
It’s not just the physical challenges he relishes.
In between all that adventuring, he came to America, got a doctorate in physical therapy, ran a hotel in Bermuda and a back-pain center in Atlanta. Coming ashore in St. Augustine in 1985, he later founded the University of St. Augustine, a growing graduate school for those in the health sciences.
The school has done well, and now there are campuses in Texas and California. He’s done well in real estate too, and can afford to circle the globe on a boat made specially for that task.
He’s become used to being asked how much the Kiwi Spirit cost. He laughs at how he replies to those nosey types: “It’s between $1 million and $1 billion.”
Paris will attempt this circumnavigation just once. To do more would be to impose too much, he said, on his wife, Catherine.
Besides, he now feels as healthy as a man in his 50s. He knows, though, that at his age just one health setback could quickly change that.
“But I have courage,” he says. “Courage is born of confidence and knowledge.”
Paris has circled the globe before, doing it in several legs over several years, with friends and family as company. Eleven years ago, his son, Alan, made the trip solo.
Paris has an engine on board the Kiwi Spirit, but it’s there only for the most dire emergency — a broken mast, for example. He plans to use no hydrocarbons: Solar panels, wind power and water-driven turbines will provide his power.
Far from land and alone, he cannot stint on safety. The Kiwi Spirit carries extra sails. A spare rudder. Two inflatable life rafts. Two escape hatches. Two satellite phones. Three autopilots. It has five watertight bulkheads and a false hull that can take an impact and leave the second hull protected.
He’ll wear a yellow harness that he’ll buckle to safety lines any time he’s on deck. But there’s a backup plan: A remote control for the boat’s autopilot will be around his neck. If he somehow ends up in the water, he might be able to steer the boat back toward him.
“There’s no excuse for me not to come home from this trip,” he says.
Paris says, though, that he knows his limits. He’s had to give up during three Channel crossing attempts — the last at age 70, when he tried to become the oldest person to ever make the swim. And last year he attempted a marathon. He had to settle for a half-marathon after his knee acted up.
So if he doesn’t break the record, if he has to give up, he’ll be OK with that. He’s failed before, and fear of failing, he says, is a crippling thing that will keep a person from even trying.
For Paris, it comes down to this: “There’s only one chance here on this planet.”
And he’s taking it.
*Photos from press releases on http://stanleyparis.com