About Cloud Nine

Year built: 1975
Length: 57′ feet

Built by Bowman Yachts in 1975.  She is one of 14 Bowman sailing yachts.  She has sail around the globe 3 times and has a US record for being the first ever US boat to traverse thru the Northwest passage and back in the same year!

Of Sea Legs and Solid Ground

By Cara Hetland
January 30, 2001

A retired pig farmer from a land-locked state receives one of the most prestigious international awards in the world of sailing. Roger Swanson is receiving the “Blue Water Medal” from the Cruising Club of America. The medal is awarded to yachtsmen and women who compile impressive long-distance sailing records. Swanson still owns farmland in southern Minnesota, but his circumnavigations aboard a 57-foot sailboat mean Roger Swanson is more familiar with ‘sea legs’ than solid ground.

FARM FIELDS AND WIND BREAKS, not water, make up the horizon in Dunnell, Minnesota. The town of less than 200 hugs the Iowa border in western Minnesota. The Swanson farmstead offers a familiar array: homes for several generations and outbuildings. But stepping through the front door is startling.
African masks, world maps and exotic plants fill the entry way. Near the piano, a hand-woven Afghani rug picturing patterns of war tanks and hand grenades.

The Swanson basement is a museum of sorts, filled with items from journeys representing nearly every culture in every corner of the world. Each item has a story; there’s a hand-carved wooden bowl gotten in trade for a pair of shorts; on another table, a ceremonial wedding belt used by African tribes as a reverse dowry. Swanson points to a photograph of two women holding out hands with missing fingers. In remote New Guinea, Swanson says tradition calls for women to cut off a finger as a way to show grief when a family member dies. The tool they use, sits on a table.

“This is just a stone that’s been ground somehow to a not-very-sharp edge and it’s wrapped in a combination of weaving and braiding to hold it,” Swanson says. “They’ll put the woman’s finger on a block and whack it off and it probably doesn’t come off very cleanly.”

Roger Swanson says when he sails, he sees a view of life unfiltered by the tourism industry. He’s acquired a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental attitude about what he sees.

Swanson started out as a hobby sailor; using a time-share boat four weeks out of the year to cruise the Caribbean. Then, mid-life hit.

“A rather funny thing happened on my 50th birthday,” he says.

He didn’t take turning 50 well.

“My daughter, who was 17 at the time, rather flippantly said, ‘Well Dad, when are you going to sail around the world?’ She was just trying to be smart, but she kind of caught me on that. So I made the decision that night.”

Swanson, leaving his seasick-proned daughter behind, took his two sons – one 13 and the other 24 – on what would be a 28-month trip around the world.

“We started in Miami and we just kept going west. We went through both canals and kept going west until we hit Miami again,” Swanson says.

Swanson has also sailed to Antarctica twice and attempted the Northwest Passage, reaching the village of Resolute before being stopped by solid, impenetrable pack ice. His 57-foot, double-masted ketch-style boat named Cloud Nine was the first sailing vessel under a U.S. flag to ever reach Resolute.

He’s been around Cape Horn three times and his most recent trip toured abandoned Pacific islands used as World War II battle grounds.

“My wife would ask what they want to trade for? They’d say soap or shampoo. We left that area with no soap on the boat because we traded it all.” – Roger Swanson

Swanson doesn’t take traditional routes. Iowa native David Thorson has sailed with Roger Swanson several times. Thorson says a typical circumnavigation is about 27,000 nautical miles.
“Roger’s typical circumnavigation would be 80,000 nautical miles or 100,000 nautical miles, because he doesn’t take the traditional route and that’s what makes his cruising so interesting and that’s why he’s being recognized. He’ll do a circumnavigation by way of Antarctica and Alaska and South Africa and he just trots all over the world.

“He enjoys the sailing but he rally enjoys the stopping and exploring and doing some inland traveling and collecting and talking to the inland people where ever they are, and he loves to trade,” says Thorson.

Since his first trip in 1982, Swanson has settled into an unusual schedule for a former farmer. He sails for three months and returns to the farm for three months.

Gaynelle Templin sails with her husband as well as a permanent crewman; they rotate other crew and visitors. Cloud Nine sleeps six with a full kitchen and meeting area. They buy food in local markets but make the most of their time in port talking and trading with locals.

“Particularly little girls; they have a papaya or a pineapple. They just sit along side the boat and wouldn’t say a word. My wife would come out and ask if they want to trade and they would smile and nod their heads and get a big smile on their face. Then my wife would ask what they want to trade for. They’d say soap or shampoo. We left that area with no soap on the boat because we traded it all,” Swanson says.

They stock the boat with fishing hooks, baseball caps and extra soap – items that are better than gold in the world of bartering. Swanson will return to Cloud Nine to finish his third circumnavigation next month; leaving San Francisco and heading to Gibraltar. From there Swanson says he’s not sure which direction he’ll head.

Cara Hetland covers South Dakota and southwest Minnesota for Minnesota Public Radio’s Mainstreet unit. Reach her via e-mail at chetland@mpr.org.

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Honoring Swanson in Dunnell Minnesota

June 27, 2011
Lee Smith – Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel
DUNNELL – Life-changing. People who spend time sailing with Roger Swanson of rural Dunnell describe their experiences that way.

They are talking about two things: Time spent on the open ocean and in special places around the world. And time spent with the benevolent dictator they call captain.

Swanson has been sailing, and taking friends on adventures, since the early 1950s. You can collect a lot of shipmates in 60 years, as evidenced Saturday on his rural Dunnell farm. He and his wife, Gaynelle Templin, hosted 129 people who have sailed with Swanson over the decades on three different boats.
Roger Swanson, middle, in blue shirt, stands amid family and friends at his rural Dunnell farm on Saturday. The gathering, to help mark his 80th birthday, brought together more than 120 people who have sailed all over the world with Swanson.

“It’s the largest gathering of saltwater sailors in Minnesota, as far as I know,” Swanson said with a smile.

He understood the irony of inviting all these folks to a Minnesota farmstead. While landlubbers may shake their heads, those in attendance didn’t seem to mind. Swanson has been bringing people to odd locations for a very long time.

This was attested to Saturday, as people described long flights to remote airfields, followed by bus and cab rides to get to the anchorages where Swanson awaited them. Why did they go? Swanson would ask: Why not?

“The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude,” he says.

Saturday’s reunion doubled as an 80th birthday party for Swanson, who is also coming off the remarkable feat of having sailed through the Northwest Passage, from eastern Canada through to Alaska, in 2007. No other American sailor had ever done this. The 6,600-mile voyage took 73 days aboard the 57-foot boat, Cloud Nine.

“We just happened to hit it at the right time, I guess,” Swanson said. He had made two previous tries at the passage.

Swanson also has sailed around the world three times. His trips with friends have included every continent, even Antarctica. His last sailing trip was in April, and he says he is now ready to sell Cloud Nine.

But the memories remain strong.

Bill Kronschnabel of St. Paul served as master of ceremonies Saturday as people shared their tales of the sea. Kronschnabel said he was glad all Swanson’s shipmates got a chance to gather in one place, because they did not all sail together, but probably have heard stories about each other.

“These are people living in very close confines (aboard boat),” he said. “Then, as life happens, we go our separate ways.”

Kronschnabel and others described “Rogerisms,” or trends on voyages. Such as putting up a sail, even though everyone knows it will have to be taken down in 45 minutes. Or being the boat out in the furthest anchorage. Or being the first boat to sail in the morning. Or seeing Swanson’s tail in the air and head below deck as he works on the engine. Or getting strict instructions from him on toilet paper rations. Or getting their kitchen assignment. Or only putting on classical music.

“But there are good reasons for it all,” Kronschnabel said. “Good lessons. It’s about seamanship. It’s about getting along with people.”

Sue McNab of Seattle described a little test Swanson gave her. She said he told her that if she could take Cloud Nine through a narrow breach in a reef, he would let her go to the arctic with him. She passed the test, and so began her adventures with Swanson.

“It’s been an incredible ride,” she said.

One of Swanson’s oldest friends, Wampy Friel – the two went to kindergarten and high school together – says he remembers a voyage near Fiji during which the boat was tossed by huge waves and heavy winds. It was Friel’s first time in a sailboat. He recalls going up on deck and seeing Swanson, calm as could be, taking a reading with a sextant.

Dr. Scott Nickerson, who grew up in Fairmont, remembered Swanson taking sailing lessons from Nickerson’s father. When Scott Nickerson finally sailed with Swanson in 1989, his profession came in handy. Swanson was having chest pains, and the doctor finally convinced him to leave the trip to seek medical attention. Swanson recalled the event well. He said it took him 40 hours of flying to get back home. And while he worried about leaving behind his boat to his wife and crew, they worried about him. It took two weeks for both sides to find out the other was OK.

It’s that kind of caring – back and forth – that Saturday was all about. Swanson reiterated the point.

“The most important thing about [time spent sailing] is the people I meet,” he said. “It’s people that make the whole thing great.”

© Copyright 2016 Fairmont Sentinel.

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