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Tuesday * December 21, 2004

Palacios, Texas

Published Since 1907..Online Since 1999






Deaf Sailor Attempting Solo
Voyage Around The World

UPDATE: Charl de Villiers set sail from Palacios on March 6, 2004 aboard the Island Time for his solo voyage around the world. Keep track of his voyage, as well as send him emails at

By Sharon Langton Ragle

When local resident, Charl de Villiers meets a challenge, he doesn't back off. His latest quest is to sail solo around the world, with only two stops. It's been done before, but Charl has an extra challenge--he is deaf.

His hope is to become the first deaf person to accomplish this feat and thereby set a world record.

Being deaf, however, hasn't stopped him in the past and won't stop him now.

From his young adult days as a South African farmer on the northern border of his native country during "the insurgency," to being part of a world record-setting deaf sky diving team, to losing skin and blood as a rough and tumble rugby player, Charl seems to thrive on what is difficult and out of the mainstream.

Rendered totally deaf by a childhood burn accident, Charl has had to adapt his other senses to compensate for what most of us take for granted. He reads lips in both English and Afrikaans, his native language in South Africa.

Charl moved to the area in 1991, with his wife Beverly, son Gideon and daughter Sharleen. They joined Tommy and Joy Bryant, his in-laws, who had immigrated to this area years earlier.

After working 10 years at Formosa Plastics, and sailing in Matagorda Bay in his free time, he decided that the ocean was calling. He recently left his job to spend full time preparing his sailboat,Island Time, a Tartan 37, for the long, lonely trek around the world.

His plan is to leave from Palacios, transit the Panama Canal next month, and then sail directly to Australia. After a stop for provisions, he will press on south and west around the southern tip of the African Continent, to Cape Town, South Africa. From there, he will sail non-stop across the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico back to Palacios and the Serendipity Marina.

For any sailor facing this journey, the challenges are many, but for Charl there is the extra burden of not being able to hear. He plans to use a light to alert him when any of his alarms--normally audio--go off.

As a solo sailor, he will depend on these gadgets to be his ears. His radar unit has a 25-mile alarm radius; that means that if any ship enters that radius, an audible alarm will go off which will trigger a light to blink. His weather fax unit will automatically record his weather forecasts on paper at certain intervals, scanning the airwaves to find the weather station nearest to his position--which may be 3,000 miles away. These forecasts will print wind, wave and other weather predictions for up to five days.

However, when he is thousands of miles from his next landfall, there will be no place to run if the weather turns bad.

Perhaps his most valuable aid will be his own senses. Without being able to hear sounds, he will naturally become well tuned to the changes in vibration and motion of the boat. A sudden lurch or shudder that he has not felt before will send him hunting out its cause.

Transiting the Panama Canal will be the only time Charl de Villiers has crew. It is a requirement of the canal that there be line handlers on board to help keep the boat off the rough walls of the three sets of locks Island Time must pass through to reach the Pacific Ocean.

He will engage an agent to handle paperwork and the hiring of crew. That will make the transit faster and more efficient for him without dealing with the extra challenge of lip reading a language he doesn't understand!

This past weekend, about 60 people gathered at the Serendipity Marina Community Center to say farewell for a while and wish him fair winds. Some drove from San Antonio, Austin, and Houston to be there.

Charl's wife, Beverly, presented a slide show of the transformation of Island Time from a neglected boat sitting at the dock before Charl bought it, to the sturdy ocean home it has become for the long months at sea.

His father, Johan de Villiers, flew in from East London, South Africa to wish his son a safe and successful journey.

"When Charl was nine and recovering from his accident, he sold newspapers to earn money to buy a dabchick, a small raft-like boat named for a South African bird. He and his brothers sailed it on the pond and in a little lagoon," Mr. De Villiers said. "But then we moved to the bushveld along the Limpopo River. No sailing there. He was also mad for wind surfing when we had a chance to go to the coast."

Tom Murrah, his rugby coach from Victoria was there with his wife Judy. "Charl always plays rugby with his whole heart,and it's the same thing he will put into this journey," Murrah declared.

Once the last of the provisioning and can't-live-without items were stowed on board and good weather arrived, Charl set sail from Palacios on Saturday, March 6.

Fellow members of the Victoria Kronks rugby team were on hand for de Villiers' farewell party.
Freelance writer Sharon Langton Ragle and her husband, Dave, sailed to Palacios last year. Like many, they found a town they just couldn't sail away from and have become permanent residents. She is the author of "The Oceans are Waiting --Around the World on the Yacht Tigger" - published by Sheridan House.
Click here for article as Charl's journey nears completion.
Click here for article on Charl's return to Palacios.
Click here for pictures of Charl's return to Palacios.


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