Pat Henry Gives Good Sail
Article by Willard Manus

The boat didn't look like anything special as it crept under sail into Lindos' main bay and dropped anchor, a 31-foot, double-ended cutter called the "Southern Cross," but when we met her captain that night in a kafeneon we soon discovered how wrong our first impression had been.

The "Southern Cross" was embarked on an odyssey that would have made Homer proud, a round-the-world epic journey made all the more remarkable by the fact that the boat's skipper, an American woman named Pat Henry, was going it alone.

Eight women before her have sailed solo around the world, but what makes Henry unique among them is that she is not only the second American woman to do it, but the eldest. At 56 with two married daughters and two grandchildren, Henry's eight-year voyage started in Santa Cruz, CA. At the time she envisioned that it would take her about three years to circumnavigate the globe, but she was plagued by unforseen mechanical problems in the first few months. Repair bills ate so severely into her savings that by the time she reached Tahiti, she had only three dollars to her name.

With no major sponsors to provide help, Henry had to draw on all her character and resourcefulness to come up with a way to survive. An architect by profession, she used her skills as a draftsman to begin painting and sketching the sights around her. Her watercolors and prints caught on, eventually providing her with enough money to pay bills and expenses. She continued to finance her round-the-world adventure by stopping in each major port-of-call, setting up her easel and painting local subjects and people.

Now Henry has written a memoir of her unique journey, BY THE GRACE OF THE SEA--A WOMAN'S SOLO ODDYSSEY AROUND THE WORLD (McGraw-Hill). It is a powerful and compelling personal account of her battle with the elements--plus inner and outer demons--while circumnavigating the seven seas.

Henry does not hide the fact that she was a troubled, oft-depressed woman when she set sail in the Southern Cross. The product of an unhappy childhood, failed marriage and thwarted career, she had to struggle with almost super-human strength to survive loneliness, hardship and the negativity of others to achieve her dream. Ultimately, though, she won out. "The events of eight years had slowly shifted the way I viewed myself, responded to events, and related to those around me. I had found forgiveness for myself and acceptance of the past life that had pushed me out across the Pacific."

Part confessional, part adventure tale, part nautical lesson book, BY THE GRACE OF THE SEA makes for fascinating reading. Mixing narration with excerpts from logbooks and letters, Henry brings to life all the high points of her solo effort--being caught in 25-foot seas off Bora Bora, sailing 36 days without sight of land from Acapulco to the Marquesas Island, braving pirates off the Saudi Arabian coast, etc. Her recollections of on-shore life are just as vivid: a love affair in New Zealand, running an art gallery in Singapore, palling around in Turkey with a German-Turkish painter named Jutta, partying with fellow "yachties" in ports from Australia to Egypt to Mexico.

My wife and I became friendly with Henry soon after she dropped anchor in Lindos, our home in the Greek islands.

"I've learned patience and faith since embarking on this odyssey," she said. "I'm content to go the slow, easy way and to stay put when I have to."

As if to prove her point, Henry ended up staying all summer in Lindos after having made arrangements with a friendly shopkeeper, Sheila Markiou, to exhibit her paintings. The money she made out of sales enabled her to make much-needed repairs on the "Southern Cross."

While traversing the earth, Henry sailed what mariners call the "milk run." "That is a misnomer," she said. "I had one hairy moment after another at sea." The worst was when her steering gear broke down and she couldn't find a place to anchor. In seven days, she got a total of eight hours' sleep. "I had some pretty heavy hallucinations and felt so awful that at one point I had to tie myself to the helm to keep from jumping overboard and ending it." She later questioned why a sane person would chose to live like this.

Despite these low points, Henry feels upbeat and positive about her years alone at sea. "My travels taught me that we are all made of the same things at the core," she writes. "In different proportions certainly, but love, anger, passion, weariness, fear, joy, boredom, and more fill the lives of people around the world. To experience this has been one of the greatest gifts of the past eight years."