TANIA AEBI’S VARUNA: Abandoned and Up for Grabs in the Eastern North Atlantic

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Varuna at dock

I have this straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, as Tania just dropped me an e-mail to help scare up some publicity. Though it no longer belongs to her, she’d really like the boat to be recovered. The boat (seen in a recent photo up top) being her old Contessa 26, Varuna, in which she sailed around the world alone as a teenager back in the 1980s.

Varuna was last seen on August 25, some distance west of Gibraltar, per Tania’s succinct missive:

Contessa 26, sloop, burgundy hull. Tony is the fourth owner since me–three of whom aborted grand sailing plans in favor of wanting time with new grandchildren. He bought her two years ago, fixed her up really nicely with all kinds of equipment, such as radar even, and took off in June. Stopped in the Azores and installed new batteries and regulators, which failed again once underway to Gibraltar. Boat got wet, as she would, engine failed for some as yet unknown reason, so did new regulators for solar panel. He was scared being out there with all the shipping, trying to make an engineless, radar-less, electronic-less landfall on Gibraltar. At dawn on Aug 25, he called a passing ship via VHF with his last bit of electricity and climbed to safety, leaving her adrift about 600 miles west of Gibraltar. He has already reported position, etc., to Azores SAR and Portugal SAR, though I don’t know it with any more precision. By now she must have been carried some distance south.

Tania on Varuna

Tania aboard Varuna back in the day

Those who have read Tania’s book about her circumnavigation, Maiden Voyage, and have an appetite for irony may recall that Varuna’s status at the time of her abandonment mirrors much of Tania’s experience with the boat. These small low-slung Contessas are very wet offshore and it can be hard to keep systems running properly.

The last passage of Tania’s epic adventure was non-stop from Gibraltar to New York, more than 3,000 miles, in the fall of 1987 and took 52 days. A challenge, to say the least. For a while she lost comms capability and, per a sensational headline in the New York Post, was presumed to be lost at sea.

Varuna in NYC

Tania aboard Varuna in New York Harbor on November 6, 1987, the day she finished her circumnavigation

Tania w/Post

Holding up a copy of the Post’s erroneous headline, Harry Truman style

This time Varuna truly is lost. But I reckon there’s a very good chance someone will spot her. Soon there will be a thousand or more yachts charging west across the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean. You all keep your eyes peeled out there, and maybe take along an extra crew member or two, so you can salvage her when you find her.

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11 Responses
  1. Pam

    Maiden Voyage will always be my favorite book. I’d love to know that Varuna will find her way home, one way or the other. Good luck!

  2. Kris

    Her book ‘Solo’ is my favourite. At the same time when she was sailing around the world with Varuna, I was dreaming about it while sailing my 420…
    If I could, I would buy the Varuna, restore the boat and gard/sailing her!

  3. Bob

    I guess this is why no sailing vessel ever landed in Gibraltar prior to the era of GPS, radar and diesel engines. No amount of seamanship could ever be expected to overcome such a deficit.

  4. Gemma

    I was in in my junior year of high school just a few blocks away the day Tania set sail from South Street Seaport in Varuna. One of Varuna’s previous owners was in the town were I grew up on the Jersey Shore. When I read “Maiden Voyage” it immediately became one of my “Most Treasured” books, and inspired me to become a sailor. I dearly hope she is salvaged and sails again. Who knows, maybe she will one day be mine!

  5. Dana

    Maybe it should have been scuttled. We already have so much in the water to watch for. Sorry to hear this story and hope someone gets her!

  6. Janet Rapaport

    I imagine some lucky poor sailor found her out there hooked up a makeshift timeline and brought her to his home port not knowing anything of her history…here’s another story to be told…as Tania would say ” if boats could talk…”

  7. Robert

    I was on Varuna in 2009 in Nassau harbor rescuing her and the seemingly inexperienced crew from dragging anchor across the entire anchorage. Her chain was rapped around a huge concrete block and the cqr was hooked over the chain. Best i can remember the owner was from Maine. I have pictures. It was a pretty excited day. I thought i might get to meet the sailor who made her famous. Imagine my disappointment. ??

  8. Ron

    When your solar panel regulator/controller fails, and in circumstances such as this, just hook the panel direct to the battery. Straight piece of wire.
    It will get charge into the battery and may save your bacon (as it were).

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