Exclusive: Junk Skipper Towed by USCG Off Hawaii on New Years Eve Left Oz Bound for South Africa in 2014 on Round the World Trip

by Linus Wilson

Slow Boat Sailing has learned that Kris Larsen is the name of the Russian skipper of the SV Kehaar, a 31-foot, steel, junk-rigged sailboat that the USCG towed into port off Maui on December 31, 2017. The USCG was not releasing the skipper’s name. Based on his reported ports, it appears Mr. Larsen has been sailing west-bound around the world by way of Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal since departing Darwin, Australia in 2014. Mr. Larsen sailed out of Darwin, Australian in 2014 bound for South Africa. His boat was recently towed into Maui by the USCG after 104 days at sea after his last port of Panama. His wife, Nat Uhing, wrote in her blog that his boat lacked basic electrical gear and an engine.  She wrote:

Kris Larsen on boat with crew Snapped by Raymond Bideaux

Photo by Raymond Bideaux reproduced with permission. Kris Larsen and his wife Nat Uhing sailing off Haiti in 2016.

He was intentionally vague about his departure…didn’t want any parties, last minute well-wishers, or the generally curious trying to catch up for one last handshake, lame joke, or to ask the same dozen questions he has answered, over and over again, since he first built his steel Chinese-junk-rigged sailboat and started sailing around without the usual engine, GPS, EPIRB, digital charts, radio, solar panels, water-maker, or toilet.

Kris Larsen Snapped by Raymond Bideaux in Haiti

Photo by Raymond Bideaux reproduced with permission. Kris Larsen on his boat SV Kehaar in Haiti in 2016.

His original destination was South Africa according to the Nat’s blog.

Public domain photos by the USCG of SV Kehaar right before it was towed into Maui on December 31, 2017.

He was towed into Sugar Beach in Maui, Hawaii, by a 45-foot USCG boat on Sunday, December 31, 2017, after 104 days at sea. His last port was Panama. He meant to sail the South Pacific, but was blown off course, according to USCG interviewers.

Mr. Larson is the author of several books, including an account of his previous 45,000 nautical miles in his junk-rigged sailboat, Moonsoon Dervish.  He also wrote a 19-page manual on celestial navigation. Slow Boat Sailing saw several of the self-published titles marked as sold on Ms. Uhing’s Etsy page, but could find none currently for sale. James Baldwin devotes a chapter, “A Law Unto Himself,” to Mr. Larsen’s voyaging in his 40s in the book The Next Distant Sea available on Amazon.

Mr. Larsen’s wife described herself on her blog as a “Filipina-American” who lives on a fishing trawler in “crocodile-infested” Darwin, Australia with her cat named Dude.

His wife quoted his reasons for departing without her in 2014:

“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”

On her Etsy page, she said in 2015 that she had rejoined her husband on the boat in Brazil. A pictures in Haiti from 2016, shows Ms. Uhing sitting at the stern of the boat. On a recent blog she wrote, ” I left him behind in Guatemala in August 2016.”

Mr. Larsen was sailing alone when he was towed by the USCG on the last day of 2017. He signaled to a passing boat, requesting a tow when the USCG was called out.

Slow Boat Sailing has reached out to Mr. Larsen and his wife, Nat Uhing, to hear more about this amazing voyage, but both declined. Ms. Uhing, wrote on her Facebook page on December 31, she got the following text message from a strange number:

“Relaying a message from your husband: ‘I have arrived in Maui, Hawaii, and I am OK.'”

In an e-mail to Slow Boat Sailing, she said she got her first e-mail from him on January 4, 2018, Darwin time.

Mr. Larsen’s wife wrote on her “The Smallest Forest” Facebook page in response to a comment about her blog celebrating his arrival in Hawaii:

“I have been a nightly sniffles and tears machine for a month…”

In their press release about the incident, the USCG Honolulu wrote:

“The Coast Guard also strongly recommends that all mariners file a float plan with a friend or family member, with an approximate time of return and route. It is also recommended mariners check in regularly especially if plans should change.”

Ms. Uhing, wrote to Slow Boat Sailing by way of Facebook messenger:

“Being alone for so much time has made him sensitive to people, he tends to be very introspective and reticent, being among lots of people all a sudden can be a shock and disappointment for a couple of weeks.”

In his January 4, 2017, (Darwin time) e-mail to his wife which Ms. Uhing posted in part on her Facebook page, Mr. Larsen wrote:

‘”I am entering informational overload, after 3 and half month alone  I am very sensitive to people.”‘

In written communications, both Ms. Uhing and Mr. Larsen claimed there were inaccuracies in the USCG’s press release of the account that appeared in the Associated Press and other outlets, but both declined to state what those inaccuracies were. It’s going to be hard for the Associated Press to print a retraction, if they don’t know what is wrong.

“Being disoriented while at sea in a vessel with no communication capabilities aboard can be deadly if not handled quickly,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Schlereth, a boarding officer and engineer at Station Maui. “We commend the good Samaritan for recognizing the complications and contacting the proper authorities to initiate a rescue.”

Ms. Uhing seemed to dispute that passenger ship the Trilogy V was a “good Samaritan” for arranging for the USCG tow in her comment on her Facebook page:

“Hmm, no, Kris says he was just bobbing like a cork, it wasn’t particularly dangerous, just no wind, so he asked a passing boat to tow him into harbour! Instead the boat decides to call the coastguard. Americans. Must’ve been the ‘Good Samaritan’, then, giving his ‘heroic’ account to the press? LOL”

Soon after the tow the “nightly sniffles and tears machine,” Ms Uhing got the first word from her husband in over 100 days when a USCG service man texted her.

The USCG wrote in their press release about the tow:

“The Coast Guard strongly recommends all mariners ensure they have proper safety gear aboard their vessel prior to departure. Properly fitting life jackets, a VHF radio or some form of communication and signaling devices are examples of safety gear that can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.”

There is little evidence that the SV Kehaar had any of that gear or its skipper was likely to obtain such gear anytime soon. As solar power became cheaper, Herb McCormick wrote that Lin and Larry Pardey carried on the engineless, 29-foot sailboat SV Seraffyn both a backup GPS and a handheld VHF radio, which were seldom used.

One nagging inconsistency is the size of the boat, Kehaar. The USCG says its 30-feet long, the Monsoon Dervish book website says it is 31-feet long, Raymond Bideaux who met up with Mr. Larsen in 2016 in Haiti wrote that Kehaar was 32-feet long, an interview on the Atom Voyages blog says it is 33-feet long, and the Goodreads page from Monsoon Dervish says its 34-feet long. Slow Boat Sailing suspects that Mr. Larsen is the ultimate source in most or all those cases. We’ll have to wait for the next book sold on Etsy to clear this one up.

This blog was first posted on January 3, 2018. The current draft was posted on January 6, 2018.

Dr. Linus Wilson, is the creator of the Slow Boat Sailing Podcast and YouTube channel.  He has written three books about sailing including How to Sail Around the World Part-Time. He sails out of New Orleans and his 31-foot Island Packet sailboat at the time of writing was awaiting the next leg of the Pacific crossing in Tahiti. Wilson holds a six-pack captain’s license.

US Air Force Confirms Part of Hawaii Sailor’s Story about Hailing Wake Island by Linus Wilson

Very little of the timeline and itinerary given by Hawaii sailors Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava prior to October 24, 2017, on the 45-foot, SV Sea Nymph sailboat has been confirmed at this point.  The US Air Force base at Wake Island in the North Pacific confirms to the author and Slow Boat Sailing that US Air Force personnel did have radio contact with the SV Sea Nymph on October 2, 2017. The North Pacific atoll is approximately 1,000 nautical miles east from where the women and their two dogs were rescued by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. That means the SV Sea Nymph averaged about 2 nautical miles per hour over the roughly three weeks until they accepted a tow from Taiwanese fishing vessel.

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Public domain photo by Anthony J. Rivera, Navy Media Content Services, on October 26, 2017: Four F/A-18C Hornets fly in formation over Wake Island and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during a U.S. Navy Heritage event for the crew.

Ms. Appel and Ms. Fuiava said they set sail for Tahiti from Honolulu on May 3, 2017, and never touched land until after they were taken off Ms. Appel’s sailboat on October 25, 2017, by the US Navy’s USS Ashland approximately 900 miles east south east of Japan. Their account has been questioned after they described a “three day” force 11 storm at the start of their trip that could not be found in weather records. Further, they described sharks bigger than have ever been before measured. The Associated Press reported that a US Coast Guard’s VHF call put them just outside Tahiti on June 15, 2017,  when they claimed to be over 1,000 miles to the northwest of Tahiti at that time.

In e-mail communication with the author, Ms. Appel said she was next to Wake Island on October 1. Wake Island has a US Air Force base and a landing strip sometimes accommodating commercial flights. The US Air Force in an e-mail exchange with Slow Boat Sailing said the fire department personnel received her call on October 2, 2017, at 6:35 A.M. local time.  “She relayed her antenna was broken and a partial coordinate. She was seeking to harbor in the Wake Island Marina, which was approved. Communication was in and out,” wrote Mr. Tommie W. Baker, Chief of Community Relations for the Eleventh Air Force.

Ms. Appel has wrote the following on her Facebook page on a November 12, 2017, post, which she said was sent to media outlets on November 1:

“Please keep in mind that Wake Island could have towed us less than 3km into their turning basin and the fishing vessel/Navy rescue would never have happened. We would have replaced the broken rigging with the rigging replacements we had on board while in the safety of a harbor and gotten motor parts and a new antenna then would have continued on our journey with no press involved.

We were close enough to the reef at Peacock Point to have discussions with`Big Island` on Channel 16 at Wake Island and they responded that they were aware we needed assistance. That factoid is actually pretty impressive because we had navigated over 2000 miles to reach a 7.4km island in the literal `middle of nowhere` at roughly 19 degrees North and 166 degrees East.”

Mr. Baker of the US Air Force wrote that they did not tow the SV Sea Nymph because they were, “Unable to locate their craft.” Further, he wrote that the Air Force “was not aware of the vessel being adrift. Island personnel passed all information gathered to the USCG.”

The USCG in Honolulu’s Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara A. Molle declined to comment on their communications with the US Air Force at Wake Island, saying “this case is now closed”.

The author has examined the chart and the channel on the west side of the island, which was little under 100 feet wide. Thus, it is the author’s opinion that sailing a 45-foot cruising boat into that channel would be very risky and difficult for a crew of two under ideal circumstances. Ms. Appel asserted that the engine did not work since late May 2017. Slow Boat Sailing found that the US Navy was also unable to start the sailboat’s engine when the two women and two dogs were rescued on October 25, 2017. Nevertheless, the shelf outside the channel could be used to anchor in while the crew waited for assistance or took their tender to shore to get help.

The one-day discrepancy in the date of the US Air Force could be due to Ms. Appel not adding an additional day to her log entries when she passed the international dateline at 180 east longitude. Wake Island is at approximately 166.6 east longitude. Alternatively, they could have sailed near the island for multiple days.