British Columbia

B.C. man ends epic round-the-world solo journey using celestial navigation

Dubbed the 'champion of physical distancing,' Bert terHart returned to Victoria Saturday after a nine-month solo sailing journey around the world.

To the delight of his family, CBSA says Bert terHart won't have to self-quarantine for 14 days

Bert terHart returns to Victoria, where he set off on a solo journey nine months ago. (CHEK News)

Bert terHart set sail from Victoria, B.C., on a solo journey around the world nine months ago with just a pen, paper, charts and a sextant navigation instrument to chart his course. 

The non-stop circumnavigation via the five southern capes led him through dense fog, turbulent weather and 10-metre waves. But troubled waters were also happening back home and around the world — as the global COVID-19 pandemic took hold in his absence.

TerHart, who has a degree in oceanography, had a satellite phone with him and was kept informed of the news through his sister, who also handled his many social media feeds.

"I was very anxious to come back. The world had changed dramatically," terHart, 62, said upon arriving in Victoria Saturday afternoon. "It's more like a shock and awe campaign to me."

Overcome with emotion, terHart is comforted by his 92-year-old father as he once again sets foot on solid ground. (CHEK News)

Canadian Border Services officers greeted his arrival and terHart was told to put on a mask while he was being processed. To his family's surprise, he wasn't required to self-quarantine, which was one of their biggest fears.

"We can bring him into our family bubble again and take him out for a cheeseburger. I'm so happy," said Leah terHart, Bert's sister.

TerHart, who lives on Gabriola Island, set out to do what he says no other North American has done before: complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the five southern capes using only celestial navigation. And judging by nine months of social media posts, he appears to have been successful.

A CBSA officer accompanies terHart as he waits on the customs dock in Victoria for official clearance to re-enter Canada. (CHEK News)

Beginning last November, he travelled from Victoria to Cape Horn in Chile, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, South East Cape and Cape Leeuwin in Australia, and South Cape in New Zealand before returning to Victoria.

He's been referred to as the "champion of physical distancing" as well as "the safest person on the planet" on social media — which he had no direct access to. His followers often asked what it was like living in total isolation.

"Alone and quiet, bathed in splendour, you can almost feel the pulse of the world. There is not much between you and the heartbeat of the universe," he wrote during his journey. 

And while a stuffed seal named Sir Salty McWouldbe-Admiral-and-Commander kept him company, many wondered if he was ever afraid or overwhelmed to be alone out there in treacherous ocean conditions.

"I'm human, I was afraid, uncertain and doubtful — and in those moments, the people that are cheering for you are actually making a massive difference in your ability to succeed," he said.

"He's always hungry for something new," said Nani terHart, Bert's wife. "Nine months went by like that, but then it felt like a thousand years," she said.

With files from CHEK News and Janani Whitfield