For Serge Testa, having a park named after him is an exciting first, but it’s his other first that continues to amaze – sailing around the world in a tiny boat.
His three-year journey in a 3.6m boat broke the world record and his vessel, Acrohc Australis, is still the smallest to have completed the 27,000 nautical mile trip.
Serge, 34, farewelled his family and friends from Scarborough in 1984, setting off on an adventure that would shape his life.
On July 12, a park at Flinders Pde, Scarborough, will be named after him to honour the grit and determination that enabled him to survive cyclones, solitude and even a fire onboard the boat.
“It’s a first. It’s really flattering. I’m really happy it happened before I died so I can see it and enjoy it,” Serge says with a smile.
Moreton Bay Regional Councillor Sandra Ruck (Div 5) says Council has named an area of Queens Beach parkland in recognition of Serge.
“Mr Testa still holds the world record for his journey around the world in his 3.61m yacht and it is very fitting to name this beautiful waterfront area in honour of his achievements,” Cr Ruck says.
“Serge is a true local icon, volunteering at the Redcliffe Museum and being involved with the woodcraft society and it is wonderful to be able to celebrate his amazing feat of courage and endurance locally.”
Serge Testa hadn’t done real ocean sailing before he built Acrohc Australis and says he’d only read about it, before deciding it was the best way to see the world.
“I wanted to go cruising, travel around the world and travel to all these exotic places and it’s the only way you can do it, really,” he recalls.
He spent about three months building the boat, opting for a smaller vessel to save money.
“I thought I’ll make it really small, so it’s more interesting. To me, it was enough. I could put everything in that I needed into a 12ft boat. In my opinion, that’s all I needed,” Serge explains.
“There wasn’t really much of a record at the time but the smallest boat that had gone around the world was 18ft. So, I could have made my boat 17ft, but I thought I can do it less than that – 12ft is enough.”
For more than half the journey, he didn’t have a satnav instead navigating using a sextant and relying on landmarks to find his way.
Satnavs were big and expensive when Serge left Australia, but when they started to come down in price and became less bulky, his brothers chipped in so he could buy one.
He’d sailed the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, but the more challenging Pacific Ocean was on the horizon.
“They knew the Pacific was difficult for navigation because of the currents and very low islands. The currents can take you in the wrong places and my sextant work was not always accurate,” Serge explains.
Serge says he made about 20 stops along the way, remaining onboard for as little as a few days to his longest stint – two months.
“I tried to visit as many places I could. Most of the time I was trying to visit and be a tourist, cruising … that’s why it took three years,” he says.
“I got to meet a lot of nice people on the way that I remained friends with even today. It was nice to see and visit those places, and being in a small boat and doing something different and special. It opened up a lot of doors with a lot of people. That was a good thing.”
More than 30 years on, Serge is quick to answer when asked for highlights of his adventure on the high seas.
“One special time was when I was going through the (Great) Barrier Reef and it was pretty rough and there were waves forming, maybe a metre or two. I looked inside a wave coming to me and there was a dolphin inside the wave. Through the window, I could see the dolphin and it was a brilliant, a fantastic picture. It was very memorable,” he recalls.
So, what about whales that were bigger than his boat?
“Meeting up with whales … that wasn’t as striking. One time, I was sailing nicely, drinking my cup of coffee and behind me they were in the distance … they were getting closer and then they were around me,” Serge says.
“They went under me and they had a good look at me and I had a good look at them. They just went by and sailed past. They were gentle.”
Serge says the most frightening moment was when he had a fire in the galley in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“I was cooking pancakes and I had a little stove with a tank in the back. The alcohol was running out and I tried to refill the container in the back of the stove, when a wave hit the boat and I spilt some alcohol and it went on the burner. The flame got inside the plastic bottle and it blew up,” he explains.
“Everything got soaked with alcohol – the boat and myself and everything went up in flames. Lucky the hatch was open, so I could just get out and jump in the water.”
He jumped in front of the boat so he could grab it and climb back onboard in a battle to save his boat and his life.
“I had no choice, so I went back inside the boat through the flames and got the fire extinguisher and sprayed everything. I had burns – first and second-degree and some third degree as well,” Serge recalls.
He managed to put out the flames, but everything inside was scorched, including his compass and water pump. Serge carried out emergency repairs in South Africa and was able to continue on his way.
Luckily, for this intrepid sailor, pirates proved less of a threat than a disastrous batch of pancakes.
“I avoided the areas where they hang out. At the time, pirates were in the South China Sea and I didn’t go through there. Another place they hang out is in the Caribbean which I had to go through,” he says.
“In the south of the Caribbean, they steal boats at sea to smuggle drugs to America generally. I was hoping my boat was not interesting to them and not big enough to carry anything. I sailed that area at night, as fast as I could in good weather, and I stayed a fair distance offshore so hopefully they didn’t know I was there.”
“I don’t know why. Some people have tried … there has been interest and people have approached me and asked me how I did it,” Serge says.
“If they had to ask me … what’s the point? It’s a long commitment and I took three years. It’s very easy to give it up because you come across so many things, you meet so many people.
“It’s not an easy trip. Some of the times were not very comfortable and it was difficult. It can be done, but you have to want to do it.”
After his record-breaking trip and another voyage with his younger brother, Serge got on a friend’s boat and sailed with him to San Francisco, where he met Robin, a woman who would share his love of sailing.
“We got married and then built another boat. We built a 60ft steel boat and we travelled around the world with that one for years as well,” Serge says.
“I don’t think it’s the sailing itself that appeals to me. It’s travelling in a boat that can sail by itself – I mean that can go for long periods. Sailing itself is just nice, because it’s quiet if you have nice weather, nice wind and nice smooth seas it’s very pleasant.
“It’s actually very pleasant when there’s no wind at all in the middle of the ocean. It’s extremely tranquil, it’s quiet and once the waves die down … that’s really magic.”
The couple has lived on a boat at Scarborough Marina for the past couple of years, but have called the Redcliffe Peninsula their permanent home for about 15 years. Before that, they split their time between the US and Scarborough.
“This is our home now,” Serge says.
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