Honoring extraordinary endurance, the Cruising Club of America recently awarded double circumnavigators Ginger and Peter Niemann the 2021 Blue Water Medal.

The Niemanns exemplify the spirit of adventure and determination represented by the Blue Water Medal, which has been awarded regularly since 1923 to “reward meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities, that might otherwise go unrecognized.”

In 2017, they departed Washington State on Irene, a 52-foot fiberglass ketch. Taking the opposite direction, east-about, through the Northwest Passage and staying in the northern hemisphere, they never crossed their first track around. Becoming the 30th U.S.-flagged vessel to complete the Northwest Passage transit, Irene touched Greenland, Newfoundland, and the U.S. East Coast before crossing the Atlantic to Ireland.

After touring the U.K., Atlantic Europe, and the Mediterranean, they found themselves suddenly stranded in Turkey when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like international cruisers everywhere, they were stopped in their tracks, previous plans irrelevant. Unwilling to leave Irene, they considered staying in Turkey; sailing back home across the Atlantic; or heading home to the Pacific Northwest through the Suez Canal. They chose the third option, negotiating a landfall in distant Batam, Indonesia. Their of-necessity-non-stop voyage across the Indian Ocean during the monsoon to Indonesia required extraordinary perseverance. It was rough, as they had expected, but at least their worries didn’t include pirates, who were unlikely to be out and about in the challenging weather.

Two non-stop months and nearly 6,000 miles later, the Niemanns arrived in Batam, only to find that their permission to stay in Indonesia had been revoked. Nearby Singapore let them stay but they couldn’t leave the boat. They lived onboard at the Changi Sailing Club for five months. In all, they spent nearly 300 days aboard, unable to go ashore in any country. On February 2, 2021, they departed on the long cruise home via Japan and the Aleutian Islands.

Despite the truly unique challenges posed by the pandemic, Peter and Ginger persevered, cheerfully adapting to a seemingly endless onboard quarantine and making lengthy passages in extremely difficult conditions.

They have coped with challenges posed by wind and weather, taken on the high latitudes in the Arctic and Patagonia, and found a way to successfully navigate the pandemic to complete a second circumnavigation in extraordinary circumstances. Their teamwork, courage, good humor, flexibility, and innovative spirit are evidence of their exceptional personal and sailing mettle. During these uncertain and difficult times, their persistence and ingenuity is truly inspiring, and the Cruising Club of America was proud to present them with the 2021 Blue Water Medal.


Title background image by Jan Wangaard courtesy of Cruising Club of America.