Below 40° South

Blog | Below 40 South

A Solo Voyage To The Dark Side of The Moon
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Progress Reports

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Progress Report #15

In any special purpose vessel, like Southern Cross, there is seldom non-essential gear. In fact, the goal is have the gear perform several tasks or jobs if possible. Then sometimes gear surprises you and is able to do a job that was not imagined it would need to do. This was the case with the winches for the “running shrouds” (see the video in the media section). Like the small Jam cleats in Progress #14, I believe Howard found the antique Merriman winches at a garage sale a number of years back. He recognized a wonderful and unique design, bought them and put them away for future use.

I first saw the winches in Austin, when Southern Cross was in my shop and we were filming the construction. I have to confess I experienced extreme winch envy and I joked several times about the possibility of someone breaking into the shop and stealing those winches.

Aside from the elegant design, what struck me was how they were perfectly suited for the “running shroud” system Howard was designing for Southern Cross. They were pleasing and traditional looking, esthetics has always been an important part of Southern Cross, and they functioned as though they had been specifically designed for that purpose.

The surprise part came early on in the voyage with kelp. Kelp posed a huge problem for Howard. In the following photo (all photos are still taken from GoPro footage) Howard is paddling through a large bed of kelp. Sailing through the kelp beds was difficult or impossible and anchoring became very challenging. He had to drag large balls of kelp up with the anchor making it virtually impossible to haul in the anchor by hand. When he could finally break the anchor free he was lifting a hundred pounds or more kelp at times.

Now the little Merriman became an anchor winch and had to experience loads it was not really designed to carry. Howard had to use the winch to retrieve the anchor, as seen in the photo below.

In the following photo, you can see Howard cleaning kelp off the anchor.

The winches became far more important and saw more use retrieving the anchor than with the “running shrouds”. In a post voyage interview Howard wondered if he would have been able to cope with the kelp issues without the Merriman winches.

These classic pieces of gear are an important part of the fabric of the voyage and like a great deal of gear have their own story to tell. We need your financial help and support to tell the story of this incredible adventure. The post production part of the film making process is the most time consuming and expensive, but together we can make this happen.

- David Nichols

Progress report #13

One of the joys working on a film like this is the time spent reviewing and cataloging all the footage that has been shot. Not only the 80+ hours of footage that I have shot over the last four years but the 10+ hours of footage that Howard shot on the voyage. As I sat watching scene after scene, I was struck by how many of the components of Southern Cross have a story of their own. It is interesting how a piece of equipment like the cockpit tent and the associated changes became a thread in the overall fabric of the voyage. It’s exciting to watch that thread blend together with the larger story of the voyage.

The construction process began in Austin, Texas with a local sail maker. Howard had several meetings with sail maker to discuss the design and describe what the tent would have to withstand. In addition to brutal winds and harsh weather, there were also discussions about incorporating a wood burning stove and dealing with an extremely hot stove pipe.


Unfortunately, the effort spent on the first tent proved to be a waste and the design had to be completely scraped because the sail maker just didn’t listen. By this time Southern Cross had moved to Michigan and conversations with Matt Hohlbein at Cutwater Canvas were underway. There were attempts to salvage some of the materials and work, but in the end it was decided to just start from scratch.

The new design proved to be a success, as evident in one particular video diary entry. The tent is up and Howard is tucked in the cuddy while the wind blows and rain hits the tent. Howard points the camera out the window and we catch a glimpse of the full gale blowing outside. What I find most striking about the footage is what you don’t hear or see. You don’t hear the tent flapping or see water dripping inside the tent.


I’ve been in mountaineering tents that were anchored to the side of a mountain while it blows and the sound is almost deafening.  Yet Howard’s voice is easily understandable and all that is heard is wind and rain hitting the tent and cuddy.

There are other components and gear that have their own small story and I’ll try and touch on those as we work toward the finished film and raising the funding.

Progress report #12

Satellite Phone Conversations.
The attached recording was made on February 17th 2017 when Howard sees the Pacific for the first time.

During the voyage I had the opportunity to communicate with Howard by satellite phone. He would call at various times and give me an update about his location or what had been happening since our last conversation. Generally the calls tended to be about the wind, it seemed either to be blowing hard or not at all, and how much sleep Howard had managed to get. I was always amazed to hear Howard state in such a matter of fact way that he had managed without sleep for forty hours or so. Sleep always seemed to be hard to come by. There was other information, of course, but wind and sleep always seem to be included.

The satellite phone was on board because the Armada de Chile required that Howard have an HF (high frequency) radio. The Armada requires boats to have a SSB or HF radio on board but Howard decided this wasn’t practical on a boat as small as Southern Cross. The satellite phone provided the same coverage without the huge antenna and batteries. It turned out to be a useful addition to the voyage.

I recorded about thirty or so calls from Howard and those recordings are safely stored with all the film he shot and has just turned over to us. It was obvious early in the voyage that those calls were a window into what was happening as much as the film he was shooting. The satellite phone also served the added purpose of allowing Howard to talk with the elementary schools he was working with. I know the interaction he was having with them was incredibly important to him and an amazing learning opportunity for the many kids following his voyage through live tracking and the sat phone calls.

Howard told those of us working on the film that the purpose of his voyage was always a question put to him by others as voyaging solo seemed to need or require some lofty purpose to make it legitimate to some as ridiculous as that sounds to me as I write this. I believe it was the “small” in small boat that had some scratching their heads wondering why he would do such a thing. Small to some equated with stunt, fool hardly, ridiculous but if they had taken a moment to consider his strategy then “small” would make sense. His voyage was meticulously planned and executed and the small boat never failed to deliver.

I can attest that his intentions were always clear to him, very personal and never once about self promotion or the need to be recognized. Howard was always uncomfortable with being filmed and asked that John and I tell his story honestly and without any hype or hint of reality TV. He simply wanted to share the story and to this end has no stake in the film and no control over its tone or content. The images he shot have been turned over to us unedited and for this we are grateful because what a story they tell.

Howard did tell us he at times felt self conscious about the voyage as it might seem selfish, self serving or some sort of look at me affair if filmed. In reality his motives were as pure and simple as can be, which is why the story is so compelling to tell. He sailed to explore a true wilderness and as a challenge ad test of his skills and life experiences. I know as fact he felt great purpose and found incredible joy in working with the hundreds of school kids as he prepared to set sail and as he voyaged. The phone calls to classrooms became genuine events for him as he knew he was being tracked by excited young minds. He felt he had a means to infuse possibilities and hope in so many young lives. This desire has since manifested itself into a huge and wonderful project that has caught the imagination of me and many others.

Planning is and has been underway for the continuing “Voyage of Southern Cross” an educational circumnavigation of the world by a tiny ship (Southern Cross) and her best friend Howard. This incredible extension of the voyage Howard has just completed down the Strait of Magellan and into the forbidding Southwest Islands is such a natural for a man of his tenor. I am all in to be a part of this great project that will be free to thousands off schools around the world touching, impacting and connecting children from many nations. I admire Howard’s pure heart and passion to do good in the world. We should all support this noble endeavor and the if us producing Below 40 South are in full support!

Look for updates on the Voyage of Southern Cross project, the soon to be published web site and the roll out of the program, which is the perfect fit for our film Below 40 South. Below 40 South is destined with your help to be the public record of the first leg of this incredible never before attempted circumnavigation of the world by an 11’ 11” sail and oar boat. Southern Cross is destined to go over the horizon in a dedicated container next October bound for New Zealand, then Japan, Tibet, India, Egypt, Greece, Spain, France, Norway, Scotland, England and back to the United States over three years. The best part of all is the program is free to schools, teachers and students.

Back to Howard’s voyage.

The calls he made to the schools during his time preparing in Punta Arenas and while he sailed and explored were as mentioned very important to Howard. In the recording attached to this progress report he mentions that he’s about to call the schools. I know those conversations were a high point for Howard and since we were filming in the classrooms I know the kids were filled with excitement and excitement can translate into engagement in learning. Howard looked forward and enjoyed the calls as much as the children.

For me, the calls are a small but important addition that increases the color and character of the film. I have always been pleased that the satellite phone was there, that I recorded those conversations and that teachers recorded the interactions as they happened.

Please continue to come back here and be sure to visit Howard’s blog “The Voyage of Southern Cross” and make a note that he in his quiet way has decided to hold his incredible story back and will be presenting it publicly for the first time at the coming Northwest Woodenboat Festival in Port Townsend Washington. Howard will be the featured speaker at this years festival, Southern Cross will be arriving direct from Chile just prior to the show. She will be on display for all to see, touch and even board just as she came out of the Southern Ocean and that desolate place at Isla Georgaiana.

Make plans to visit the show (September 8th-10th) and be sure to get a chair early in the main room where Howard will for the first time tell his story complete with images and select film footage. He is being joined by members of the Voyage of Southern Cross team and will be presenting a second time on the circumnavigation voyage for education aboard Southern Cross. His written story will appear in parts beginning in the fall issue of Small Craft Advisor magazine.

John Welsford and I would like to go on record here thanking Howard for his efforts in filming and for his willingness to share what by any measure is an epic small boat story of courage, determination and unbending will to survive against incredible odds. We are glad to have him back and very happy to be involved in supporting his greater vision of using his little ship to circumnavigate as an instrument of inspiration and education. Good On Ya Howard!


John Welsford and Dave Nichols

Progress Report #11

The attached video shows Howard and Southern Cross during sea trials before leaving for Chile. It was during this particular sea trail that he worked to determine the location for the jib leads. Howard flew in from Chile direct to Austin Texas with the footage he shot on the voyage. I have to admit that on meeting him I noted that he was a little beaten up by his experiences and has been slowly recovering. We are very glad to have him around because it was just weeks ago that he faced down dying in the cold southern ocean. He has been here delivering the footage he shot, recovering and in a quiet humble way beginning to tell his story.

Howard has fulfilled his commitment to shoot film for us and turn it over for post production and we thank him for the mighty effort he made on behalf of the film project. He did this for no financial gain believing such a story was worth telling as a piece for the public record with the hope that if a film could be produced then it might inspire or inform even a few people. Good for him and good for all of us to have the opposite of faux adventure or reality TV footage to work with.

Now Howard’s role is almost complete. He has been very gracious with his time and we have recorded footage of Howard sitting down to tell his story from conception of the idea to build and voyage a small boat to the conclusion of his voyage. This has been amazing to record for use in the final production. The detail of his time aboard is astounding, the detail of his incident at that lonely remote island in the Southern Ocean where he was blown off his boat and was forced to dig deep against the odds to save his life is gut wrenching. What a story we have to tell and Howard has agreed to let us tell it unvarnished and real.

What he filmed is real, honest, personal and beautiful. In short what he captured with the camera is fantastic and reflects this amazing adventure. Among other insights, his video diary details what it was like to endure days of Williwaws and the struggles he had sailing through the most treacherous waters on earth.  More importantly, it captures the human relationships that he and Southern Cross made during the voyage before and after he set sail solo. This was in many ways a magical journey and the footage reflects that magic. The personal connections that were made when obstacles had to be overcome were more than serendipitous, they are simply hard to explain. As a film maker I was in Chile for three weeks last December and can attest to the magic moments the little ship and Howard seemed to create or attract and these continue to this day. Howard’s footage captures many of these hard to grasp magic moments.

It took a large number of individuals contributing to the film Below 40 South during the first phase offinancial developmentso Southern Crosscould be outfitted with the appropriate camera equipment and to get the film crew to Chile and back. With that phase successfully completed we turn our attention to the Post Production phase of the project.

This stage of the production involves a number of people working together on the script, music score, and sound, to mention just a few of the Post Production jobs. Each of these individuals makes an important contribution to the film and is critical to the completion of the project. Post Production is always a group effort and by working together this adventure can be told with all the richness and detail it deserves.

The film needs funding for Post Production and those who make financial contributions are ascritical to the completion of this phase of the project as the script or musical score.  Without funds for Post Production this project cannot move forward. If you would like to be part of this remarkable film please visit our donor page. If you can make a small donation great. However we know many people cannot but may be of greater assistance because of who you know. So please feel free to contact us to talk. This is a story that must be told and not for profit but because in this day and age of jaded attitudes we have an uncut gem that can be an inspiration to others. It is one heck of a story.

I will continue to update this site as we make progress forward. Our film studio is not a big operation instead we are simply an indie or independent studio that relies on investors and donors to make productions happen. In my forty odd years of film making I have never had such footage as I have now. We have an astounding story to tell that goes far beyond small boats. It is a story of humanity, passion, love, danger, extreme adversity and sheer human will to overcome the impossible. We need your help or the help of people you might know to bring this story to the screen.

Thank you, Dave Nichols and John Welsford