Former Routt County resident attempts solo sail around the world
After being diagnosed with leukemia and retiring from the working world, former Routt County resident Curt Morlock determined it was now or never to follow his dream.
Originally from Florida, Morlock fell in love with the ocean and at 64 years old, will attempt to complete a nonstop sail around the world entirely by himself as part of the inaugural Global Solo Challenge.
Sailboat racing sounds obscure to most Americans. Many do not relate to it or fully understand it, but for Morlock it has always been second nature. Whether it was surfing, fishing, skin diving or sailing, he practically lived in the water as a child.
At a young age, Morlock would hang out at the marina and join anyone who would take him along on their boat. He even rigged a bell tied to a tree next to his bedroom window to ring when there were 12-to-15-knot winds outside. That is when sailing is at its best.
“Catching a wave and surfing a wave with a 36-foot boat, it shutters through the hull,” Morlock said. “The energy runs through the hull and when I felt that the first time I could not lose that feeling. I always wanted to go back to that feeling.”
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Morlock moved to Steamboat Springs in the early 1990s and became enchanted by the town and its ski culture. He raised his kids in town before eventually moving away shortly before returning to Routt County and buying a house in Milner.
Morlock sold the house in November and decided to retire to a life of sailing. That is when he learned about the race.
“In the process of negotiating for a boat, I came across the Global Solo Challenge and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness I can’t believe it. This is perfect,'” Morlock said. “To be involved in an event, you are not alone. You have tracking and communication and the race organizers are watching everybody.”
The Global Solo Challenge is a race around the world where sailors compete individually and are not allowed to make any stops. The journey can take anywhere from three to seven months depending on boat size, weather conditions and planned route.
Currently, 27 competitors are fully entered to compete with three Americans, including Morlock, preparing to make the trek.
“It is a staggered start,” Morlock said. “Boats will be starting in early September and the boats will be released continuously, and I think I go last. We all go around the world and then come back to the finish line about the same time.”
Start dates are based on handicaps. The hull speeds, square footage of the sails and other factors determine when each sailor will begin their journey. Morlock will embark in early December.
According to Morlock, the race is contracted to be broadcast by 62 television stations in 102 countries over five languages. The race website will also cover everything, offering 24/7 access to every competitor.
The race begins in A Coruña, Spain, and takes sailors through the doldrums off the eastern coast of Brazil, swooping them around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa and past Cape Leeuwin by Australia.
Somewhere between Australia and Antarctica, the racers will find themselves at the most remote place on the planet, Point Nemo.
“Point Nemo is in the ocean, a made-up name for the furthest spot in the ocean from land,” Morlock said. “What I understand is, if the space station goes over Point Nemo, the space station is closer than the nearest land.”
From there, sailors will pass through the narrow passage around Cape Horn in South America and head back north of the equator and cross the finish line off the coast of Spain at A Coruña.
Morlock will make the journey in his 60-foot boat called, “6 Lazy K.”
Upon purchasing the boat, the hardware and rigging were all worn out but the hull was in good shape and ready to go.
In fact, the boat was built to compete in an around-the-world race in 1999 and has attempted a circumnavigation four times already, completing it twice.
To prepare the boat for its fifth attempt, Morlock has removed most of the equipment inside for personal inspection and restoration. He also rented a 20-foot container to hold and organize his inventory of spare parts and other useful tools.
All the pulleys, ropes, sails, hardware and more need to be inspected. Every rope is nearly 200 feet with sails that are 8 1/2 stories tall and weigh hundreds of pounds.
Another big step will be installing and maintaining a reliable autopilot.
“Autopilots today steer the boat 90% of the time,” Morlock said. “We could be in 30-foot waves and the autopilot is steering the boat. It has sensors everywhere and it steers the boat way better than a person can.”
Racing as an individual, autopilot is extremely important because Morlock will have to sleep throughout his four-month journey. Even when sleeping, he will have an alarm that goes off every 20 minutes so he can check on his instruments and ensure everything is running smoothly before shutting his eyes for another 20.
Attempting a solo circumnavigation can be extremely dangerous, and the most important measure is safety.
Fence posts wrap around the deck of the boat, and Morlock will need to triple-check the safety wires to guarantee his security.
“These things are plowing 25 to 30 mph through the water, and the ocean is just pouring onto the deck,” Morlock said. “For whatever reason if you have to go out there, it is common to get knocked down.”
Sailors also wear a harness when on deck that is hooked to the boat. An automatic identification system beacon will also be in their vests so help can find them if any trouble arises.
To qualify for the race, competitors must log 2,000 nautical miles in the boat they will compete in and take a 40-hour medical course as well as a survival course. Surveyors will also inspect each boat to determine if they are seaworthy and secure for safety.
Morlock estimates spending around $30,000 worth of bandaids on his boat over the next month and a half. His hope is to raise enough money through his GoFundMe page to help support him with his expensive preparations.
He says he plans to attempt the trip regardless if he raises enough money and once the sails give out or he runs into trouble, he will find a friendly port and withdraw from the competition.
Morlock is most excited to update his donors throughout the journey before, during and after the race. He hopes to broadcast his trip with live video cameras set up on his boat for those interested to follow along every step of the way.
Most of all, Morlock takes pride in being an amateur sailor. He is going up against people who have sailed since they were 10 years old and already completed a circumnavigation. He hopes to make his country and the state of Colorado proud.
“I am just happy to be here, I am extremely competitive and I look forward to it,” Morlock said. “Bring it. If we get the money, we are going to see what this amateur American can do. I won’t lay down and I will see what this boat can do, there is no doubt about it.”