Sailors return with more than memories

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Paul Robertson and his wife, Sima, talk about sailing around the world moments after they docked their boat at the Volunteer Yacht Club in Lynn.

BY THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Paul and Sima Robertson quit their jobs and set sail from Marblehead in 2007 for what they thought would be a two-year excursion.  

“We left for two years and we’ve been gone for nearly nine,”  said Sima Robertson, 36. “And we left with a two-person crew and now there are four of us.”

The couple returned to a sun-filled blue sky in Lynn Harbor on Friday after they extended their round-the-world trip on the Leander, their 41-foot sailboat named after a character in Greek mythology.

They returned with lots of memories and two extra passengers, Alexander, 5, and Aylin, 3, who were born in a hospital in Turkey during the journey.

The foursome anchored at the Volunteer Yacht Club where they were met by family and friends.    

“The best part of being on the trip was being able to see and spend time in places like New Zealand and the Canary Islands,” Sima Robertson said. “The worst part was we all got seasick, but the biggest challenge was being away from our support group, our families, our village.”

Just before they launched in the fall of 2007, Paul Robertson, 52, quit his job as a partner Bingham McCutchen LLP, while Sima Robertson gave up her work as a management consultant at the Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm founded by former Bain & Co. executives that is now owned by Ernst & Young. The couple met at Bingham when Sima Robertson was a paralegal.

Paul Robertson had worked for 13 years as commercial litigator, and helped large corporations manage their electronic information. He went from the courtroom to spending most of his days fixing things on the boat, figuring out where next to sail, wrestling with marine service personnel, and devising ways to keep Alexander from hitting his head on the cabin sole, according to the couple’s blog.

Sima Robertson grew up in Istanbul, came to the U.S. to attend Harvard University and stayed after graduation. While law school was being considered, she worked at Bingham, and decided against a law career. On board the boat, she took care of the canvas and fixed the sails when they ripped.  

The first part of the journey took them down the east coast to New York City, Virginia, North Carolina. Their first open ocean trip was to Bermuda.

“Mark Twain said it wonderfully, ‘Bermuda is paradise, but you have to go through hell to get there,’ ” said Paul Robertson. “You have to pass through the Gulf Stream and the low pressure systems that come off the U.S. east coast brought bad weather. We experienced 45 knot winds so our first offshore passage was incredibly boisterous and we held on for dear life.”

From Bermuda, they traveled to Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Jamaica, Panama and beyond. One of their first long trips was traveling across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Galapagos Islands in nine days. Then, a 3,000 mile jump to the Marquesas, which took 19 days.

Among the scariest parts of the trip was when they sailed through Pirate Alley off the coast of Somalia. That’s where pirates are hiding to prey on unsuspecting tourists.

“That was a real dicey,” Paul Robertson recalled. “We got hooked up with the Yemeni Coast Guard which was helpful.”

That same year, in 2011, Jean and Scott Adam and two crew members were killed by pirates on their custom-built 58-foot yacht off the coast of Somalia in one of the most violent episodes since the modern-day piracy epidemic began several years ago, according to a New York Times story.

Weather was the other big challenge. When you are crossing the Atlantic for three weeks, you can’t predict what will happen, he said.

“We experienced winds of 45 to 50 knots,” Paul Robertson said. “But that’s not the biggest problem. When the wind blows, you tense up and you’re ready. The bigger problems come when you’re relaxed, and your cooking dinner and you’re not paying attention and anything can happen.”

The couple won’t discuss the financials. They won’t reveal the cost of the used boat or how much they had saved to spend on the journey. But the Robertsons say the trip can be done on almost any budget.

For Sima Robertson, the best part of the trip was a visit to the Galapagos Islands.

“That was spectacular, you felt like being in Jurassic Park,” she said. “Animals are so unafraid of people there they come on your boat they hang around. It was amazing.”

When asked why he gave up a lucrative job at a prestigious downtown Boston law firm, Paul Robertson’s answer came easy.

“It wasn’t so much why, as why not,” he said. “We are not fantastically wealthy people, but we had worked really hard and one of the blessings about being from America is that there are jobs, that if you work hard, you can save some money. We had put away some money, not enough to live high off the hog, but enough to buy a boat like this.”

Now what? That’s the most asked question they are likely to be asked now that they are safe on land.

“We will probably sell the boat and reintegrate ourselves,” said Paul Robertson. “I don’t know if I will go back to the law.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]

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