Mexico to Hawaii -- the P-15 Sail of John Van Ruth

(From the Hilo Sunday Tribune-Herald, #152, Hilo, Hawaii, July 2, 1972. A very large (1.3MB) scan of the actual newspaper article can be seen here.)

He's In Hilo Now...

John Van Who? Where?


The guy you may have seen in Kau Kau Place the other night wearing a gaudy tie over a floppy t-shirt is John Van Ruth.

He may be weird.

Aboard 14-foot Freya, Van Ruth contemplates the boating scene in Radio Bay. His fiberglass craft, though smaller, has sailed more miles in a long cruise than most boats in the bay area.

He may be weird because he does things of questionable psychological merit, such as sail a 14-foot boat from Mexico to Hawaii.

Van Ruth's been on the island for nearly a month after completing the 2,700 mile voyage from Mexico single handed. It took him 80 days.

He holds the informal record in Radio Bay for having sailed the smallest boat from Mexico to Hawaii. Although a check at the Hilo and Honolulu libraries didn't confirm it, old timers in the bay area remember no boats smaller.

One record that is confirmed is the longest voyage in a West Wight Potter, the 14-footer, designed in England, which Van Ruth sailed across. He has sailed on only one other boat.

Not that Van Ruth is concerned with setting records. He sailed the West Wight Potter because happened to own the boat at the time he wanted to make the voyage.

Named "Freya", the boat looks more like a dinghy with a match stick mast than an ocean going vessel.

But Freya was seaworthy enough to complete the odyssey with little damage to the boat or her owner.

Van Ruth has owned the boat for two years. He bought it in Inglewood, Calif., sailed the Sea of Cortez, then began planning his journey.

At first, he wanted to make a long coastal passage to Panama, but changed his mind and decided to head for Hawaii.

Sailing alone was more a question of space than of a quest for self imposed solitude, althoug Van Ruth reflected that he was glad at times that he was alone. He did take a companion -- a cat named Yelapa -- which was lost at sea.

He set sail March 14 from Yelapa, Mex. and moored in Radio Bay June 2.

He took adequate food and water, plus four cases of beer, some wine and a special bootleg tequila from Mexico. He caught fish (which he also studies and classifies as a hobby) to supplement his diet.

Van Ruth was equipped with minimum navigation aids. He learned to navigate accurately shortly before beginning the voyage.

There were several contacts with ocean dwellers, man, and land which Van Ruth recorded in his log.

On April 27, or 44 days out, Van Ruth saw a 5 to 6 foot wounded shark brush against Freya. He grabbed a .22-caliber pistol.

"I put a bullet through his head and he slowly drifted off. I did not want to take a chance and risk letting him bite a hole in Freya. If that happened I'd really have problems", he wrote.

With a fair wind and 1,000 miles from Hilo, John Van Ruth snapped a photagraph of a sunset at sea, characterized by a beauty undiluted, a mood of haunting permanence. Rigging of his tiny ship is in the foreground.

On May 13, a Japanese freighter drifted upwind of his small craft.

"It is strange how my mental attitude has changed by seeing humans again. As of late I began to think of Freya as the center of my world (abstractly). Land and people had disappeared from my consciousness. I feel as though my world has been ruddy interfered with. I was glad to see it. Hope there aren't too many more around. I'll have to keep a lookout as this area is a shipping lane from coastal to South America."

Perhaps his most unpleasant encounter was with land, specifically Cape Kumakahi on his 78th day out.

Wind and waves pushed him close to shore, but there was not enough wind for him to tack offshore, so he had to paddle hard.

Exhausted, Van Ruth drifted far offshore then sailed into Hilo Bay where the Hawaii County helicopter sighted him and radioed for a boat to tow him into Radio Bay.

Van Ruth likes Hilo and plans to make the rainy side of the island his home. He's looking for a job and will moor Freya in Reed's Bay where he probably will begin preparing her for a passage to Australia.