Article

 October 6, 2016   Savannah McKenzie

“How many dogs do you know who’ve sailed non-stop around the world?”

From the August 2008 issue by Darek Jezierski

Tomek and his four legged mate, Wacek in Ensenada. The tattoo on Tomek’s arm was done to “immortalize” the circumnavigation. Photo B. Lewandowski.

Tomek and his four legged mate, Wacek in Ensenada. The tattoo on Tomek’s arm was done to “immortalize” the circumnavigation. Photo B. Lewandowski.

 

If a sea going 15 month old Jack Russell Terrier could speak, he would have inevitably asked you the above question after stepping off the 56’ long Mikado ketch in Ensenada, Mexico on April Fools Day. It was not a joke as the date would indicate. The brave, four legged fellow became the first canine to sail non-stop around the world. Departing in early March of 2007, Wacek (pron: Vatsek) and his human companion closed the Ensenada to Ensenada loop, sailing East against the prevailing winds via the Capes.The human part of the crew, Tomek Lewandowski, a Polish born sailor, became only the sixth person who has accomplished such a feat. Wacek, however, became the “numero uno” of the doggie sailing world.

One of the wonderful advantages of modern technology and the ubiquitous internet was the fact that the brave crew of S/V Luka kept a blog of the voyage.  Tomek and Wacek took a bunch of armchair sailors around the world with them, sharing their experiences on the official web site of their expedition. Without any sponsors or fanfares, Tomek realized his life-long dream of sailing around the globe, safely and on his own terms.Upon returning to Ensenada the duo was greeted by a group of local sailors, friends and family. Wacek touched terra firma after spending 391 Days, 20 Hours, 29 Minutes and 10 Seconds on board of the 56’ sailing vessel, the only home he has ever known.

Wacek was merely a six month old pup when the voyage began. When he returned, he was a fully grown sailing dog with the sailor’s swagger in his gait. No wonder, he had the circumnavigation and the two fearsome Capes under his belt, or should we say collar. During the shake down trip from California to Mexico, Wacek became a swab. When the circumnavigation started, he was promoted to the rank of First Mate. I guess it is all about the right career moves and seizing the opportunities.

Planning and preparation of the 13 month trip across the globe took many years. Tomek’s life was full of personal ups and downs, hard work, good decisions, wrong decisions and learning to not to make the same mistake twice. The dream of sailing around the world was one of the always present notions, no matter where the trials and tribulations of life took him. Meeting his wife, Beata, and finding a Mikado 56 ketch in California were the turning moments leading to the big decision. The four year refit and hefty share of sweat equity paid off with a boat that would sail the world and be a home to the skipper and his dog for over a year.

On March 6, 2007, Luka’s sails filled with wind and the Baja California’s mountains slowly disappeared in its wake. Tomek’s preparations included reading many circumnavigators’ chronicles; however, there is very little precious info about long distance sailing with canine on board. For Wacek, the trip around the world was not about getting a free ride. One of the challenges of long solo trips is to keep the focus and to maintain the mental balance. Wacek was to be the proverbial “ounce of prevention” during the ambitious voyage. Wacek’s role of keeping company on the high seas was as important as having a good autopilot, water maker or good selection of sails.

During the voyage, Wacek became Tomek’s wellness coordinator. The mischievous pup would follow him whenever he could; weather permitting on deck and during the rough seas down below. He supplied countless hours of entertainment by “stealing” and hiding nuts and bolts during the repair jobs, “cleaning” the dishes after his master, and scanning the horizon for any flying or swimming “intruders.”

Wacek had fallen in love with playful dolphins that would swim around the boat, amusing the human and canine onlookers with their antics. According to Tomek, Wacek must have felt the bond with the intelligent marine mammals which he showed through body language and the noises he made. His reaction toward birds was not as favorable as toward dolphins.  Tomek established a rule of allowing the passing birds to catch a break on the boat, when far away from land. During those visits “the little bandit” was relegated below decks until the layover was finished.

Dogs are perhaps the greatest marvel of genetic engineering known to mankind. Since our ancestors domesticated the wolf, selective and not so selective breeding produced hundreds of breeds. Careful breeding of dogs was used to reinforce the working traits that were useful to people. Nowadays, in many cases, we just seek their companionship and the unconditional love, so yes their purpose has changed. I guess, the dogs outsmarted us after all.

From being village scavengers, they moved in right with us, “colonizing” our beds as theirs and “conquering” the kitchens as their favorite hang outs when the food is being prepared. They have multi-million dollar industries that cater to them and their every need. The list goes on and on.

Naturally, boating became their passion too. The history is full of conquest stories where our four legged friends helped the ancient and not so ancient explorers. It is believed that the famous Viking, Leif Ericsson, reached Newfoundland with dogs that later on became the protoplasts of the Newfoundland breed, famous for their life saving abilities in the water. The Newfoundland dog, Seaman, accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition two centuries ago as a valuable team member and a favorite pet of Captain Lewis. In Washburn, North Dakota and in Fort Lewis, Washington, Seaman the dog has been immortalized by statues erected to preserve his legacy.

Fishermen of the Algarve area in Portugal used the dogs on their boats to carry messages between them or to “herd” the schools of fish into their nets. Cao de Agua or Portuguese Water Dogs were so important to fishing villages that anyone harming them was punished.

Jack Russell Terriers are not exactly known for herding schools of fish or saving drowning victims, but, as life proves, they make darn good sailors. Wacek discovered that the sail locker is an excellent hiding spot for his toys and other mysteriously acquired articles. When something on the boat vanished, Tomek started his search in the known doggie hangouts, often discovering the long gone items. One of the funniest stories told by Tomek is the story of a disappearing can of Spam. Wacek loved the famous staple food item that the Captain served himself on many occasions. One day, distracted Tomek lost the sight of the can that he was preparing to open. The darn thing must have rolled off as the boat pitched, he thought. Tomek crawled under the table, checked the settees, nothing. The Spam had vanished. The hungry skipper reached for another can and sunk his can opener into it. Something is not right, where is the dog, he muttered to himself. Wacek has never passed on an opportunity to lick the greasy stuff off the lid of the freshly opened can. He called his name, no response. The search had begun. Finally, in the forward cabin, also known as the sail locker, he spotted the spotted Jack Russell. Wacek was not in the friendliest mood, growling and protecting something in his hideout under the old genoa. Realizing his defeat to his 6’11”, 300 pound master, he darted out, leaving his loot behind. And there it was, the missing can of Spam with the teeth marks on it. If Wacek only knew how to use the can opener…

As do most adventures, their voyage around the globe has come to an end. Tomek, Wacek and S/V Luka are tied up to the dock in Ensenada, preparing for the next chapter in their sailing adventures. Tomek is sporting a new tattoo celebrating his circumnavigation, but Wacek goes about his business as if nothing has happened. There are no cameras, interviews, book deals or sponsors demanding that their logo is prominently displayed. There is, however, the satisfaction of accomplishment that will stay with the brave human and canine crew forever.  This fall they are planning to take it easy and, after sailing south, they plan to cross the Panama Canal and set up their winter base in the Bahamas. Like true explorers, they can’t wait to investigate the mangrove creeks, the sandy beaches and taste the famous conch salad.  It’s a dog’s life!