Brooklyn Boro

Ryan Finn to embark on historic nonstop sail from Brooklyn to San Francisco

January 14, 2021 Richard Lubell, Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
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The Clipper Ship Flying Cloud, a 225 ft. sailing marvel transported ambitious gold prospectors from New York around South America to San Francisco in a record 89 days in the 1850s. It would take 135 years before that time fell to a Frenchman, Philippe Monnet, who eclipsed the record with a solo passage of 81 days sailing a multihulled vessel. (however, he did stop to repair a broken hull) This January, Ryan Finn is planning to break the nonstop solo record. He aims to complete the 14,000-mile route nonstop in two months.

What kind of man would test his endurance in these extreme endeavors? Ryan is both a nomadic, romantic adventurer and a surprisingly grounded, regular guy. During this journey Ryan will be intently focused, adjusting his sails, standing up in the companionway of his cabin peering over the earth’s circumference, mesmerized by the shifting sky and sea as he speeds along its surface. He is a confident but modest man. Having acquired the skills of boat maintenance and seamanship over two decades of dedicated sailing, he is ready for this ultimate challenge.

Ryan began cruising oceans innocently, twenty years earlier, when as a student at The Savannah College of Art and Design, he decided one semester to sail back to campus from his hometown of New Orleans, instead of driving the interstates. He sailed eastward around Key West, through the Bahamas and into the friendly and warm Gulf Stream currents to his campus in southeast Georgia. A seed was planted in his soul, and he knew intuitively that he would be seeking out more opportunities to sail the open seas. As he humbly says, I acquired this craft of solo sailing step by step over two decades.

Over the years, Ryan took opportunities to crew on long voyages in vessel 25 to 60 feet, and he began assembling, as he says, a “tool kit” of knowledge and know how to navigate, maintain, and repair an ocean-going vessel. He began delivering yachts to homes and vacation destination for income, and he learned the art of sail making, purchasing a 200 lb. heavy duty machine, and stitching and sewing his own sails. Soon, he was confident enough to spend weeks alone on the open oceans. As he says, “I had been building my experience year after year, and it opened more and more doors”. To date, he has covered over 100,000 nautical miles involving several trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings.

An opportunity arose to purchase an innovative sailing craft, a fast and sturdy 36 ft. long outrigged Proa Jzerro which is a Westernized version of the century’s old ocean-going Polynesian sailing canoes. It had been designed and built by the legendary Russell Brown, a boat building prodigy. He had already tested the seaworthiness of his design with a transpacific crossing from Port Townsend, Washington to Australia. The vessel allows one to switch the sail from bow to stern and vice versa to maintain the outrigger on the stabilizing windward side all times. 

Ryan Finn and Interviewer Richard Lubell. Photo by John McCarten

Ryan’s motivation for proving that he can sail a modest 36 ft sailboat across the globe is to debunk the myth that sailing is mostly “an exclusive sport for wealthy elite clientele”. He is neither. He has modest sponsorship. Colligo Marine out of California has donated extra strength high tension lines and shrouds able to withstand the severe pressures of this kind of sailing. And a Montreal based film company, Sailor Productions, will assist with publicity and produce a 60-minute documentary. They have lent him multiple Insta360 cameras to capture his efforts when confronted by challenging conditions.

Ryan selected Miramar Yacht Club, Brooklyn’s premier sailing club, in Sheepshead Bay, for his port of origin. Miramar provides easy access to the Atlantic while benefitting from a protective harbor. Ryan’s starting point for his sail will be between Rockaway’s Breezy Point and Sandy Hook New Jersey at Ambrose Light.

Miramar has generously offered its docks, club house and services. Ryan is pleased to see that its membership is composed of a regular and diverse set Brooklynites, teachers, entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and city workers, many of whom are new to sailing. In other words, the club fits his vision of an inclusive and accessible sailing community. 

Blue water sailing on the open ocean poses many safety challenges. For Ryan, sailing solo means that he will need to perform many jobs that would normally be divided amongst crew. Perhaps the most significant challenge is to maintain his mental alertness and get enough rest while keeping watch day and night for oncoming freighters or other obstacles. 

The Boat of Ryan Finn as he Prepares for his Voyage. Photo by John McCarten

Ryan has acclimated to a very unusual sleep pattern. He manages to take naps that are rarely longer than 15 minutes on the hour, thereby making certain he tracks his progress and adjusts his sails accordingly. On the average, the boat will be traveling at 12 knots/hour, which is nearly twice as fast as most sailing vessels, so the extra speed requires additional vigilance.

The greatest challenge on the journey will be traversing the treacherous winds and seas around Cape Horn, the rocky coast of Terra del Fuego, South America. Cold currents rising from Antarctica funnel through the southern sea creating frequent storms and squalls where winds exceed 50 mph. Moreover, Ryan will be sailing into headwinds that typically move from west to east. He plans to enter the waters off The Horn in its summer season and hopes he can capture a northerly wind shift to propel him around the corner of the continent.  

Despite seeming like a lone wolf, Ryan is surprisingly social. He will maintain a daily contact with his older brother and younger sister, his parents, and girlfriend throughout the journey utilizing an Iridium Satellite phone connection. He will not be cut off from news or culture either. He is an avid NPR listener, and enjoys its company staying on top of current events and culture while on these long cruises. 

What will he eat for two months? This may be the toughest sacrifice of all for the avowed foodie. Ryan enjoys New Orleans spicy cuisine, fresh baked breads and buttery dishes, but because of limited space and the difficulty cooking in a choppy sea, his daily intake will be boiled freeze-dried prepackaged meals. He will also have loaded 75 gallons of New York City tap water to get him through two months. But, in an emergency, he has a desalination device that can convert sea water to fresh water.

So, Ryan Finn may be an example to the average adventurous pedestrian dreamer amongst us. If you follow your heart, trust your instincts, and build experience in your chosen craft, you can do extraordinary things.

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