“The key to my psyche lies, perhaps, in my upbringing, my early obsession with boats and the sea, and the fact that I have always been something of a loner.” – Jon Sanders
Jonathan William Sanders was born on 12 August 1939 in Nedlands, WA. 24 His father was Professor Colsell Sanders, a former Professor of Education at the University of WA and Chairman of the WATertiary Education Commission. His mother, Dorothy Lucy McClemans, was a novelist who wrote 42 books under the pseudonym Lucy Walker. Sanders has a sister, Lucy-Anne, and a brother, Colin. He attended Christ Church Grammar School, which was founded by his grandfather Canon W J McClemans.
Sanders started sailing at age 8 and by the age of 14 had his own yacht. Sanders recounts that:
“as a schoolboy, I was often in trouble for giving up cricket or football for the pleasures of messing around in boats. Once my mother consoled me with the words, “Who wants to be ordinary? Why don’t you be original?”‘
Most of Sanders early working life was in outback WA operating sheep-shearing teams. For 15 years prior to his double circumnavigation on the Perie Banou, Sanders would travel to sheep stations with a team of up to eighteen men, shear sheep, sort and class wool, press the wool into bales and brand the bales with the station name and wool type. His team would shear 3,000 to 40,000 sheep per station. The shearing season would take place in autumn and winter leaving the summer months free for Sanders to pursue sailing.
Sanders bought the yacht Perie Banou with his younger brother, Colin, who at the time was the Director of the National Parks Authority of WA. The yacht is a 34-foot fibreglass sloop and designated an SS34. It was designed by New York yachting architects Sparkman and Stephens and is the sister ship of Morning Cloud, the yacht Edward Heath sailed to win the Sydney-to-Hobart Race in 1969. Tom Swarbrick, who with brothers Tom, Terry and Harley were WA’s best-known yacht builders, flew to England in 1969 and purchased the fibreglass mould used to build Morning Cloud and brought it to Perth. He used it to produce the Perie Banou, working with tradesman Geof Keld.
The Perie Banou was launched and named at the Royal Perth Yacht Club on 9 November 1973. The name came from Sanders’ mother Dorothy who suggested naming the yacht after an Arabian princess from the book Tales of the Arabian Nights. The Perie Banou became the first WA yacht to circumnavigate the world. During this circumnavigation, from 1975 to 1977, Sanders also competed in the Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro Race and finished seventh in a field of 128 yachts.
Sanders became the first person to sail single-handedly twice around the world, non-stop and unassisted, sailing the Perie Banou from Fremantle on 6 September 1981 and arriving home again at Fremantle on 31 October 1982. The double circumnavigation broke records for the longest single-handed voyage at 48,510 miles, and the longest period alone on board a yacht at 419 days, 22 hours and 10 minutes. This voyage is discussed in Sanders’ 1983 book Lone Sailor.
In recognition of his historic journey on the Perie Banou, Sanders was invested by Prince Charles with an OBE for services to yachting at Government House in Perth in April 1983. Locally, he was presented with an Epic Achievement Award during the Citizens of the Year Awards and an Advance Australia Award for ‘special contribution to yachting’. In July 1983, he was awarded the Chichester Award by the Duke of Edinburgh. The Chichester Award is the world’s most prestigious personal yachting trophy, being first presented to Sir Francis Chichester for his solo circumnavigation of the world in 1967. Sanders was the ninth recipient of the award.
Sanders became the first person to single-handedly triple circumnavigate the world, non-stop and unassisted, on the Parry Endeavour on a journey that took from 25 May 1986 to 13 March 1988. The trip is estimated to have taken 657 days, 21 hours, 18 minutes and 10 seconds to complete. The Parry Endeavour is a 14-metre foam sandwich construction sloop originally designed by Phil Curran in 1978 as the yacht Challenger. The triple circumnavigation was financed by Kevin Parry and the preparation program and voyage was managed by a project team under the umbrella of Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology. The Parry Endeavour voyage was endorsed as an Official Australian Bicentenary Activity and sought to commemorate the achievements of Captain James Cook in navigation and scientific discovery. Appropriately, Sanders’ boyhood idol was Captain James Cook. Guinness World Records ratified twelve records as set or broken by Sander’s triple circumnavigation. For example, Sanders was the first person to single-handedly complete five circumnavigations of the world and he set a record for the longest distance sailed continuously by any vessel at 131,535 km.
In honour of his triple circumnavigation, the Royal Perth Yacht Club awarded Sanders the inaugural James Cook Award, a gold medallion for sailors who have performed ‘rare and exceptional feats of seamanship and navigation’. Sanders was made a Curtin University Fellow in April 1988.
Since his historic voyages, Sanders has spoken to a diverse range of organisations including Rotary clubs, sporting clubs and school groups about his sailing career.
“He has unwittingly written a textbook for long distance sailors of the future – whether alone or with others – where the objective is to complete the planned voyage safely and not be obsessed with speed or dramatic headlines.”
Sir Charles Court, AK, KCMG, OBE
Visit Jon’s Sailing History page to view his complete sailing history.