The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Meeting Rob Skelly

Darrell and David Farrow

SV Endless Song
Passport 40
April 8th, 2024

Meet Rob Skelly – the 70-year-old circumnavigator you’ve never heard of!

Once in a while, serendipity leads you into chance meetings with amazing folk. My wife, Darrell, and I recently met Rob Skelly at the Hydrovane Distributors in West Vancouver. Rob is an unassuming, 5’6”, bright-eyed, elderly gentleman who, it turned out, had just completed his first circumnavigation of the world and is about to set out for his second! Darrell was amazed that he set out to solo circumnavigate the world at 70 – there is hope for us yet! We had a far too brief conversation with Rob; he had things to do, and we had places to be. The great people at Hydrovane, with his permission, sent me his email address so we could connect at a later date.

A few days ago, Rob sent me an email that he was going to be in town and would I like to meet and chat. Well, what an offer! We met up at Lonsdale Quay and then spent a very interesting few hours on Endless Song, at Mosquito Creek Marina, discussing his experiences.

Rob is no stranger to the world. We had some surprising experiences in common. He spent a season doing geophysical surveys in the Kalahari Desert, quite close to where I cut my teeth as an exploration geologist! A retired helicopter pilot, he has friends around the globe and therefore has friendly faces to greet him almost everywhere he lands. Rob named his boat Pauline Claire, after his daughter, who sadly died of Leukemia in 2002, at just 19 years old. Pauline left him with some very sage advice: “Life’s precious Dad, don’t waste a minute”. Rob built the 40-foot steel Bruce Robert Design cutter over a span of 13 years, using pieces that were cut by a company in Delta and shipped to him in Bella Coola. Once retired, Rob recruited an experienced fisherman friend from Haida Gwaii to help sail Pauline Claire from Bella Coola to Pender Island, where he completed her fitting out. Apart from a season crewing on a racing C&C 29, Tooth and Nail, out of West Vancouver Yacht Club in 1978, this was Rob’s first experience of captaining his own boat.

Rob set out from Pender Island in September 2017, and headed for California to visit his sister, who lives just north of Los Angeles. He sailed from California to French Polynesia, then onto Tonga, where he spent two months waiting for a weather window to sail to New Zealand. New Zealand was where Rob had studied his degree in Zoology, so he had a swath of old friends and colleagues to visit. The next leg took him to Queensland, Australia, which became home for about four months as he worked his way around the north of the country. He hauled Pauline Claire in Darwin for the first time, and cleaned her keel before heading west to Africa.

Crossing the Indian Ocean is not for the faint of heart. Rob headed west to Mauritius and Reunion, before heading south to avoid the Mozambique Channel between Africa and Madagascar. From his account, this was the most challenging section of the trip and the first time he had to deploy his Jordon Series drogue – he was up against 58-knot winds and 8-metre waves!

Left: Table Bay, looking at Table Mountain. Devils peak on the left, hardly a breath of wind, which is unusual here. Taken as Rob was leaving the Cape Town Harbour and on his way from Africa to the open Atlantic. Right: Only a scrap of sail out.

Rob arrived safely in Durban, met up with more friends, and toured portions of South Africa before heading down to Mossell Bay. This is a windswept, busy fishing port, not a place where I would imagine stopping! From there, Rob sailed down around Cape Agulhas and into False Bay and Simonstown, where once again, he hauled the boat and redid the bottom paint.

From there, around to Table Bay and Cape Town for a final resupply, before heading to St Helena and onward to Ascension Island. It was at this time that COVID started to rear its head on the world stage. Rob was headed to the Caribbean, but had an overly long stay of seven weeks in Ascension while he waited for permission to enter Grenada. Thankfully, he obtained a letter from the Ascension Island’s Chief Medical Officer, stating that they had no COVID on the Island and as he had spent 31 days on the crossing with no ill effects, he was permitted to enter without quarantine. He was delayed nine months in Grenada, as Panama was not allowing pleasure boats to transit the Canal. Finally, the Canal opened up and Rob transited Panama and headed off on his longest leg of his trip, 47 days to Hawaii. He delayed here for three weeks to get his first two COVID vaccines in Hawaii, a requirement for his entry into Canada in 2021.

Left: Coming through Panama Canal, barged up with massive ships. Pauline Claire is on the left side of the photo Right: Downwind sailing.

Rob’s return to Canada was challenging, not only due to COVID medical restrictions, but also because the return trip from Hawaii was in pretty miserable following seas, and took a lot longer than he planned. Just 500 nm west of Cape Scott, in calm but misty conditions, his starter motor failed. He managed to sail down the coast towards Bamfield. Exhausted from the crossing, Rob called for a tow into Port Renfrew, where a new starter motor was sourced and fitted. Immigration officers made a special trip to Port Renfrew to clear him and the boat back into Canada. His first circumnavigation was complete.

The instruments as Rob crossed his outgoing circumnavigation route.

My discussion with Rob brought up some interesting points:

  • Rob uses a “keep it simple” approach. He recommends that you sail cautiously, watch weather patterns, and don’t be on a schedule.
  • Pauline Claire was built with few thru hulls. Her sinks drain into a tank that is pumped out through a stern-based, above waterline outlet. The black water tank is pumped out through an outlet that is also above the waterline.
  • Pauline‘s cockpit scuppers are made from solid 3″ square tubes that are 3/8″ thick and 5 feet long, and extend from the waterline to the cockpit floor. Rob lined them with a 2  1/2″ copper tube to prevent growth and they have always been clean and free of obstructions.
  • The bilge pumps empty through outlets on the stern, close to the deck line and with flapper valves to prevent back-siphoning.
  • The exhaust is dry and goes out via a 12″ diameter, 2-foot long stainless steel muffler at the stern of the boat, ingeniously designed to avoid back-siphoning in the case of following seas.
  • The Isuzu 70hp engine is keel-cooled, so does not require through hulls for raw water cooling via a heat exchanger.
  • Rob doesn’t have a water maker. He stocks his boat with bottled water for drinking and uses the tank water for washing.
  • He carries a limited first aid kit, including broad-band antibiotics, Imodium, and mild over-the-counter painkillers.
  • Rob has a diesel stove and for practical reasons as a solo sailor, has decided that cooking isn’t necessary. His daily meal regimen is cereal and fruit for breakfast and sandwiches or wraps for lunch and supper. Rob explained that he makes a huge variety of sandwiches or wraps and never get bored. His pantry, fridge, and freezer are stocked at the start of a passage with fruit, salads, wraps, frozen bread, cold meats, and not much else. (I’m not sure I’d survive without my tea, and I don’t want to get between Darrell and her morning cup of coffee.)
  • Rob knew little about sailing when he set out. He believes that modern electronics and internet systems make this a viable option.
  • He found that SSB radio and radio nets were initially useful, but hasn’t used them since New Zealand; he has since sold his SSB radio.
  • Sailing solo was a conscious choice for Rob. He had lots of offers for crew, but as a novice captain, he didn’t want the responsibility that comes with a crew. He managed his nights with a 45-minute alarm call and a quick review of his chart plotter to see if AIS showed any boats bearing down on him. This worked well for him.
  • His main communication was email via an Iridium modem.
  • Rob believes that haul-outs are critical in keeping the boat clean and efficient in the water. He hauled out five times on his voyage:
    • In Sidney, BC, where the bottom paint was inspected and touched up as required.
    • In Tonga, to ensure her hull was clear before sailing on to New Zealand, a country with a record for zealously checking that boats are clear before entering their ports.
    • In Darwin, Australia, to maintain her before entering the Indian Ocean. Not much was needed, though an issue with too many zincs was identified and corrected.
    • In Simonstown, South Africa, where Pauline Claire was the first boat hauled out on the newly upgraded haul out trailer.
    • In Colon, Panama, where the hull was fully prepped and repainted with Antifoul paint.
  • Rob’s sister, Joy, from Toronto, became an expert in weather forecasting and emailed him daily weather updates.
  • Rob relied on UHT milk, which comes in tetra-packs and does not have to be refrigerated until opened. It is obtainable in Canada: “Grand Pre” at the Real Canadian Superstore!
  • Rob prefers using fresh water for flushing the head.

Hauling out around the world.

Rob is preparing for a second circumnavigation, and has made a few upgrades to Pauline Claire:

  • New solar panels, bringing him up to 780W of solar. This required minimal modifications to the solar arch, as the new panels have a similar footprint to the original 360W panels.
  • Rob Swapped out his 800Ah of lead AGM Batteries, which weighed 500 lbs, for 600Ah of LiFePO4 batteries that weigh only 132 lbs. He added a new external regulator for his alternator to charge the lithium batteries.
  • On his last voyage, with no Bimini, the lack of shade to hide from the tropical sun proved to be a big issue – hats only work to a point. For this latest trip, Rob has manufactured a stainless frame and added shade over the cockpit. He says will be a huge improvement.
  • Rob has increased the spares he is carrying to include a new starter motor.

Note: Photos are all provided by, and used with permission from Rob Skelly.