When he left Annapolis in 1998 onboard his 43-foot sailboat, Jim Huber kept his goal-a circumnavigation-quiet. Cat’s out of the bag, now.
The first thing you notice about Jim Huber-60, bona fide world traveler, circumnavigator, engineer and, it’s probably fair to say, bon vivant-is his foot. His right foot, specifically. It’s the one that steps out of the cockpit to the side deck so he can lean out to welcome you aboard. It’s the one with the half-dollar-size tattoo of a sea turtle, swimming just past the arch, up near the toes. It’s really a beautiful thing, this tattoo. The turtle’s back has a variety of significant symbols etched upon it, the artwork is lovely but what’s really beautiful about this tattoo-and the craggy foot it adorns-is what it says of faraway places, adventures yet unseen, stories to be told. All starting from the Bay.
“When you cross the Pacific everyone I know gets a tattoo,” Huber says. “You feel like you’ve earned the right of passage, because it’s really a hunk of water out there.” And then he adds some good old East Coast, Beltway, real-world perspective, laughing as he does so: “And it’s in an area [that won’t be noticed] in case human resources has to interview me.”
Huber and his 43-foot Nautor Swan Champagne were tied up in front of Fawcett Boat Supply in Annapolis for a few days in late May, en route to Chestertown, Md. Onboard with him was 23-year-old Marinda Kruger of Cape Town, South Africa, who earned her sea legs hopping aboard Champagne for the trip from Cape Town to Brazil. Where she promptly hopped off. Only to hop back on in Antigua. It’s a long story, and Huber has many like it to tell of his just completed two-and-a-half-year circumnavigation. But the narrative thread is pretty simple: Back in October 1993, he and his fianc'e started to sail around the world. When she died unexpectedly, he did not give up on their dream.
Huber hadn’t even learned to sail until 1990 (“Everybody thinks I know how to sail ‘cause I look like I’m two hundred years old,” Huber laughs). That was the year he joined up with Singles on Sailboats, the Bay group that does pretty much what its name implies: gives single people a chance to sail together in a variety of boats on the Bay. Eventually he met Barbara Allyn Campbell and they became engaged. Living in Annapolis, they began to prepare for their dream trip-a world circumnavigation aboard Champagne, and they left in 1993. One month into the trip, Campbell suffered an aneurysm, and within a few days she was gone.
Huber returned to Annapolis with the boat, his heart broken. “I just sort of sat on the boat for a couple years and cried, to tell you the truth,” he says. “I sat and I thought, ‘I’m going to die if I don’t go sailing.’ ‘‘ He painted Campbell’s name across the top of the transom, then finally he sailed Champagne to the Bahamas and back and then to Trinidad and back, picking up crew before he left and along the way. It was okay. He could do it without her. And in 1998, after returning from Trinidad, he decided he wanted to go ahead around the world. He just didn’t want to tell anyone. “So many people from Annapolis say they’re going to do it and they don’t get anywhere,” he says. “If you start telling people you’re going around the world you can be setting yourself up for a failure. You’ve put pressure on yourself to perform.”
His plan was to pick up crew (and other important things like charts) along the way, and it worked pretty well. Some volunteers worked out, some didn’t. Marinda, who was taking a sailing course in Cape Town and had put the word out that she was looking for a trip, had only an inkling of what she was in for when she said she’d sail with Huber to Brazil. “It was my first ocean crossing,” she says. “You never really know what to expect, but it has been great. There’s no better way to learn how to do something than to go out and do it.”
Of course, that’s probably not quite what she was saying when she jumped ship in Brazil (a story that remains untold). But it’s a small world. A little while later she was at a Mount Gay rum party in Antigua, and who should she bump into but Huber. She signed back up, and this summer she’s touring the Chesapeake.
Huber has come home with a bagful of stories-the time he blew out an eardrum diving for his anchor in the Galapagos; the scary night he woke up in his bunk, choking on seawater because the boat had broached in 35 knots of wind and the ocean had gushed into a hatch; the remarkable freezer and refrigeration system he built himself because he insisted on having ice cream onboard the entire trip (and this is good to know: ice cream is, apparently, a global goodie); the 1,200-mile trip in nine days from Durban to Cape Town when Champagne just ate up the big breeze and her crew feasted on fresh bluefin and yellowfin tuna all the way. The turtle tattoo.
Now that he’s back, Huber is a little at sea. “It’s a little depressing, to tell you the truth,” he says. “You feel like you want to pick up the anchor and take off.” Which he probably will, sometime this fall, heading south to the islands again. From there, who knows?