Capt. John Barry III, a Durango resident, once spent 2½ days chopping his sailboat out of ice while sailing alone in the Arctic Circle. He was in the first half of his expedition to sail around the world, and treacherous icebergs almost ended it early.
“I thought that was it for the kid,” Barry said with a laugh.
Barry, and a revolving crew of Durango and Pagosa Springs residents, finished the eight-year journey in September to circumnavigate the world, but the adventure won’t stop there.
As a result of the trip, Barry received a sponsorship to participate in 10 sailing races around the world over the next three years. In the meantime, he has speaking engagements scheduled to tell “scary” sea stories and more. Barry and the crew had wild adventures, endured a tragic loss and felt the bittersweet ending of a trip well-traveled.
“John is a very iconoclastic individual,” said Chris Bettin, a Durango city councilor who joined the expedition for a month in 2015. “He flies planes, he kayaks big rivers. ... Ever since I’ve known him, he’s been on the move.”
In December 2011, Barry set off from San Francisco to see the world. Barry, the only person to complete every leg of the voyage, sailed for six months each year on a 54-foot trimaran sailing yacht, named Avalanche. Over the years, 24 people, mostly locals, rotated on and off the yacht. By the end of the journey Sept. 17, they had visited 76 countries.
Through the expedition, Barry fulfilled a dream he had since he was 6 – a dream inspired by his father who passed away 20 years ago.
“It’s good we crossed the finish line in the dark,” Barry said. “I kind of choked up thinking about all the friends, all the trials and tribulations.”
Shortly after the expedition ended, the crew lost one of its members, Chad Easley, a Connecticut resident who died in October.
“Everybody is pretty upset. They’re pretty broken up,” Barry said.
The crew will remember him the only way a group linked together by the ocean can: They plan to spread his ashes in every ocean in the world as Barry travels to compete in sailing races.
Easley was on the Avalanche when the crew saw dolphins “glowing” in bioluminescent water and when the crew hunted wild boar with residents of the Chatham Islands in the Antarctic Circle.
At night, the crew saw every star in the sky. Other crew members saw the water turn crimson red in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean as locals killed a pod of pilot whales, their winter food source.
In Central America, some crew members faced less-than-honest customs officials. Others fled typhoons and hurricanes or were kicked out of three countries. In the Mediterranean, they were constantly on guard for pirates.
“You are out in the wilderness. It’s just like being way up in the Weminuche. ... You have to be self-reliant,” said Amy Knight, a Durangoan who periodically joined the expedition. “It was exhilarating.”
The novice to experienced sailors were in safe hands with Barry, a former U.S. Sailing Team member. In 1994, Barry was the winner and world champion in the Royal Western Yacht Club of England’s Two Star Two-Handed Transatlantic Race.
“For a lot of people, sailing is a very leisurely activity,” Bettin said. “For John, it’s an absolute full-contact sport.”
Barry started sailing as a child. His parents would spend all their time and money taking their children on sailing adventures off the coast of New England, he said. In the family of five, Barry and his father, John Barry II, were a unit.
“They kind of did everything together,” said Cassidy Barry, John Barry III’s daughter.
They started a propane company together. When Barry joined the U.S. Sailing Team, his father was at the start and finish line of every race, even leading the team’s pit crew.
“He was the kind of dad where he was always there,” John Barry said.
After spending eight years focused on the trip – and fulfilling a lifelong dream – Barry had a strange feeling that his life had lost its purpose when the voyage came to an end.
But Barry is always searching for the next adventure.
He is selling Avalanche, which is now “a little bit tired,” he said. He will take the next boat, also named Avalanche, to compete around the world.
“I’m just so hooked on this sailing around the world and meeting people,” Barry said. “When you think about it, my tiny little line around the world ... I’ve just seen a fraction of what the world has to offer. And the people, the people have been amazing.”