On Sept. 30, 2018, Randall Reeves sailed out of San Francisco Bay aboard his 45-foot, aluminum-hulled boat, which he named Mōli. Over a year and 40,000 miles later, he’s back. On Oct. 19, 2019, he sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge after following a massive figure-eight route that brought him down to Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, around Antarctica, up through the Atlantic Ocean, across the Arctic Ocean above Canada, and back down around Alaska to San Francisco. To do it, he had to navigate across some of the most dangerous stretches of ocean on the planet—completely alone and unsupported. He’s believed to be the first person ever to complete the route solo.
“One of the cool things from my perspective about the figure-eight is that it takes you to the extremes of the world,” Reeves told Men’s Journal over the phone. “To be able to complete it has been thrilling.”
The 57-year-old sailor, who lives in Oakland, California, has sailing in his blood. The son of a naval captain, he grew up with stories of ocean voyages and began sailing himself while in high school, according to CNN. His dad purchased a boat, and Reeves would “borrow” it while his dad was away, eventually making longer and longer journeys on California’s rivers and into San Francisco Bay. While in college, he met the legendary French sailor Bernard Moitessier—he participated in the first nonstop singlehanded round-the-world sailboat race, and then opted to keep on sailing instead of returning to the finish line. The meeting made a big impact on Reeves.
“That bit me,” Reeves said. “Along with just the beauty of being out there, being able to see the wild parts of the world yourself.”
Reeves first came up with the idea for the figure-eight route after a long solo voyage in the Pacific Ocean in 2013. Looking for his next trip, his wife challenged him to go for something even bigger, and that’s when he decided on a truly epic journey: Sail from California to Cape Horn and around Antarctica and the Americas, all in one year. Reeves noted that the route incorporates two legs that are legendary among sailors—rounding Cape Horn and sailing through the ice-clogged Northwest Passage in the Arctic.
“For me, it’s really cool pulling together two pieces of history into one super, super long ocean voyage,” he said.
He first attempted the journey in 2017, but Mōli sustained serious damage during a storm in the Southern Ocean, and he chose to abandon the journey and start over.
“I was pretty confident when I left that I knew what I was doing,” Reeves said. “[But] the Southern Ocean is a beast, and really taught me that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.”
Even so, that didn’t deter him, and the first attempt gave him valuable lessons for the next journey, he said. Despite raging storms, towering waves the size of houses, lack of sleep, and the inherent dangers of long offshore passages, Reeves’s second attempt was successful.
Reeves made only one resupply stop on his journey, pulling into Halifax, Nova Scotia after over 230 days at sea. That meant that he had to pack enough food, fuel, and water to last him for months at a time. To maintain control of the boat, he had to limit his sleep to 90-minute stretches, and he went 200 days without hearing another human voice. At one point during the journey, he was closer to astronauts on the International Space Station than any human on land. But Reeves was in his element.
“I’m adapted for this kind of stuff. I definitely appreciate solitude,” he said. “I really just don’t feel alone.”
His sailboat was another big asset. The sturdy aluminum vessel was custom-built in Germany in 1989 for a man who wanted to circumnavigate the Americas, and it’s designed to be simple, rugged, and with its full keel and reinforced hull, capable of handling the worst conditions on the ocean. It passed through two more owners before Reeves purchased it a few years ago. He describes it as more of a “tractor” than a yacht, but it was exactly what he needed for a trip like this.
“I could not have bought a better boat. I just got so lucky,” he said.
Although the journey put him and Mōli to the test, it’s clear that Reeves enjoyed it. He described meeting pelagic sea birds out on the open ocean and marveling at how they’re so well adapted to their harsh environment. He was awed by the howling storms of the Southern Ocean and the surprisingly mountainous terrain near the Arctic Circle. But one of the biggest surprises came during his trip around Antarctica, when he saw Cape Horn—a notorious graveyard for ships—twice. Many sailors never glimpse the fabled landmark because it’s nearly always shrouded by bad weather.
“That’s like the Everest of sailing, and I got to behold it twice,” he said.
According to CNN, the Ocean Cruising Club honored Reeves with a plaque commemorating his record-breaking journey on Saturday. For now, he’s looking forward to spending some time in Oakland with his wife and eating real meals again beside a crackling fire. But he’s sure he’ll be out at sea again eventually.