After some research, I found a record of the original owner Sam Powers of Hull #251 in the form of a letter sent to Westsail Corp and published in their cruising letters which is shown below:

Sam A. Powers – Hull #251 – Mahi Mahi

Received July 17, 1975
Holiday Harbor Marina, Portsmouth,
Virginia Home Port: Portsmouth, Virginia
The name Mahi Mahi is the Hawaiian for dolphin (the fish) . Having served with submarines and submariners several years and I having received my medical “Dolphins” I dedicated my Westsail 32 in their honor.

Currently shorthanded on staff, I spend little time in these Southern Cheseapeake waters other than in my slip – but I have learned that she backs to starboard. My starboard scupper also leaks (as do the vents) but a large sponge(s) seem to keep most of the water contained. I still have my windlass to be installed, along with self-tailing winches. Perhaps slow outfitting will help. (I still need to figure out how long to cat the reef points.) Y’all come.

After Sam Power’s Roger and Molly Firey, who we refer to as the Previous Owners, acquired her, changed the name to “Sundowner” and made it their home in 1979. They enjoyed the next 27 years of their life aboard.  We also found out they had received several awards and lifetime achievements for their success as sailors. The book, Gentlemen Never Sail to Weather: The Story of an Accidental Odyssey, was written in part about them by their friend Denton Moore. However, Molly cautioned us not to believe everything as some of it might have been slightly “embellished.” It is since out of publication however I was able to find it used.  Just remarkable to read about SUNDOWNER in the book.

The following is an outline of SUNDOWNER’s previous voyages in Roger and Molly’s own words. I’d like to thank both of them very much for being generous with their time, effort, and enthusiasm:

SUNDOWNER Voyages Outline

You posed two questions, why did we go and where did SUNDOWNER go. The first is complex and the second straight forward.

Why did we go?
Because we could and were prepared to do so, or so we thought. In 1980, when we first ventured off-shore, I was at a point in my life where a change in careers was looming, from military to civilian. Two of our three children were graduating from college and the third well on his way to his degree. My sailing experience went back to SUNY Maritime in 1952 and Molly’s to sailing courses in San Diego in 1963. We had owned two day sailors and had restored a “totaled” cruising boat in 1970, a boat we sailed for eight years.

We had purchased SUNDOWNER in 1978 and moved aboard in 1979. We had been reading Chichester, Hiscock, Roth, Griffin, Slocum, J.C. Voss, Dumas, Smeeten, Cook, (actually books about him/his voyages), Lewis, and varioius others, their names evade me now but they had made contributions to our thinking and further inspired our developing dream.

Where did SUNDOWNER take us?
June 1980 – 24 Oct 1982
I worked about a year of this time and we sailed SUNDOWNER on some shakedown cruisers from New England to Key West and the Bahamas, partly in the ICW, as well as to Bermuda, twice, and up and down the Erie Canal to Buffalo.

First Circumnavigation
(24 Oct 1982 – 10 July 1986)
32,217 miles in about 3 years, 8 months. West about in the Trade Winds where possible. Norfolk to Caribbean, Panama, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society Islands, where we layed over a year. Then American Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Cocos (Keeling), Mauritius, Reunion, South Africa, St Helena, Barbodos, many Windward Islands up to St Maarten, Bermuda and back to Norfolk.

Here is how the days were spent: Full 24 hrs underway (U/W), 232, 17 %; partial days U/W and at anchor, 273, 20 %; partial days U/W and at a pier 48, 4 %; full days at anchor, 658, 49 %; full days at a pier, 123, 9 %; days on the hard (hauled three times), 21, 1 %.

Second Circumnavigation
1 April 1989 – 1 May 1994
35,786 miles in about 5 years. Again west about in the Trades. Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico to Panama, Marquesas, Society Islands, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Wallis Island, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, including Tasmania, back across the Tasmanian /Coral Sea to Fiji (primarily the Yasawa Group, and then Australia.

This time we went up though the East Archipelago via Bali, Kangeon Islands, Java (Cirebon, first yacht in 11 yrs or ever, according to who you talked to). The only port we have ever been in where the majority of working craft were sail powered. We continued north through the Banka Straits and departed Indonesia in Batu Ampar, Batan. We were boarded and robbed here, which we should have expected as it is the home port to the Bugis Pirates, who have been doing that sort of thing for a few hundred years.

We proceeded on to Singapore and many ports in the Malacca Straits. This proved to be an ideal cruising grounds and we spent the next year and half in Malayasia, “home porting” in Lumut, Malayasia, Thailand, and Singapore where we repowered.

Departing Malayasis we went to the Maldives, Chagos Archipelago, (Solomon Island, uninhabited, spent 3 months there), Madagascar, (another 3 month layover), Mayotta in the Camoros, the Mozambique Channel to South Africa, St Helena, (I have attached a note concerning the roll over on this passage), St Maarten, BVI’s. and Back to Roosevelt Roads.

Third Circumnavigation
April 1996 – January 2000
29,006 in about 3 years and 9 months. Again departed Rosey Roads to Panama, Marquesas, Society Islands, American and Western Somoa, New Caledonia, Australia, Balia, Nongsa Point, to clear out of Indonesia. As planed we stayed in the the area of Malayasia, Thailand, and Singapore, with Lumut again our home port, until 6 January 1993, departing from Langkawi for a direct passage to Aden, Yemen, about 3,400 miles.

Departing Aden we made no stops in the Red Sea, except one reef anchorage, until reaching Egyptian waters. We sailed the southern half of the Red Sea and motored the northern half. Once in the Med we stopped at Cyprus, Turkey, Greece. Italy proper, Sardinia, Balearic Islands, Spain and Gibraltar. We made a rare side trip to Paris via aircraft.

We “sailed” 2700 miles in the Med and used the engine an incredible 532 hours. As a comparison on our next leg when we crossed the Atlantic, we sailed 3,140 miles and logged 14 hours on the engine. From Gib we went to Madeira, Canaries and then to St Maarten and on to Rosey Roads.

Between Circumnavigations
When we left Norfolk in 1986 SUNDOWNER did not return to the US until 2000. We occaionally flew home and the kids visited us in Australia, Europe and the Caribbean. We felt comfortable as ex-pats. We keep SUNDOWNER in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico and the VI’s during the non-hurricane season and in Venezuela, Trinidad, Curacao and Bonaire during the hurricane season.

Notes on the Roll Over

The roll over occured at 2130,23 Jan., 1994, at approx 27 deg., 37 min S and 09 deg., 16 min E. This is about 607 miles NNW of Cape Town and 1193 from St Helena. The wind was Force 6 to 7 (25-33 knots), seas 3-4 meter (9- 13 feet), mostly overcast and I don’t remember a moon.

Seas were rough with a lot of breaking at a speed of about 25 – 28 knots. Baro about 1020 and steady, we were under the influence of a high. Boat speed was about 5 to 6 kts under a double reefed main, stay and no jiib. We had taken a reef out of the stay a few hour earlier. The Aries was doing a poor job of steering and required constant attention.

We were in the Benguella Current (a cold, north flowing current of about 1 kt. We were also in the vicinity of the Valdiva Bank. Once night fell you could hear and sense the waves but not really see them until they swept by the boat. These conditions existed for several days and were varying up and down, but were of no particular concern as we had seen them many times before. It seemed that while we were at the Royal Cape YC the wind was aways hollowing.

Molly assumed the watch at 2100 and was hooked in with two life lines attached in two different places and to her harness. All hatches and ports were secured. When we rolled she was jammed, upside down under (or over!) the OB which was mounted on a 11/2 ” SS cross brace on the aft end of the cockpit and had a deep lacerated head wound and was in a state of shock, I believe, but sill onboard. I was in a bunk and the lee cloths, (with Max, ships cat) which kept me there.

When the boat righted the first thing I heard was “I’m still here”. About the best words I have ever heard! Top side and below were chaos. I’ll send you the details if you like. The most important item, the standing rigging/mast was intact, albeit stripped of sails.

Why did we roll?
Wrong place and wrong time, or the odds. According to Meteorology for Mariners, (Met 0. 893), 3rd ed., 1978, pg 43, 1 wave in 23 is twice the average size, 1 in 300,000 is 4 times the average. Maybe after 16 years and 100,000 miles the 1 in 300,000 caught up with us. Four times 11 ft is 44ft and it would have been moving at 28 knots, (9 sec period).

Contributing factors could be first the Benguella current, which is unique in that winds with this current, as opposed as to those against it, build out of proportion to waves in standing waters. Refer to Sailing Directions (Planning Guide) for the South Atlantic, (Pub121), 2nd ed., 1988, pg 67. The second factor is the vicinity of the Valdiva Banks, which could have amplified the waves as they came from off soundings on to a shallow bank. (same as waves on a beach).

Roger & Molly Firey
Email correspondence – April 22, 2011


Unfortunately, we found that since the writing of this page, Roger Firey has passed.

Commander Roger S. Firey (1933 – 2012)

Virginia Beach – Commander Roger S. Firey, USN (Ret) died August 24, 2012, in Virginia Beach, Va. CDR Firey served our country for 28 years. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Molly and three children, Peter and wife Jeanne of Vienna, Va., Lynda Firey-Oldroyd and husband Steve of Seattle, Wash., and Michael and wife Susan of Olney, M.D. and six grandchildren: Melanie, Peter Jr., Laura, Sam, Lawson, Dylan, nieces and nephews. He leaves an empty place in our hearts. His brother Myles of Eden, N.Y. recently died. CDR Firey was the son of the late Eugenia Firey and Raymond Southwell. Roger was born in Melrose Park, Ill.. in 1933.

He was a 1956 graduate of the State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, N.Y. with a degree in Marine Transportation. In addition to his Naval Service, CDR Firey sailed in the Merchant Marine with several ocean lines. He was a member of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Association, Local 88 in New York and retained his Third Mates license for many years. During his twenty-three years of active service in the Navy, CDR Firey’s assignments included three tours as Executive Officer on the USS SOMERSWORTH (EPCER 849), USS RECOVERY (ARS 43) and the USS Harry E. HUBBARD (DD 748) and one as Commanding Officer of the USS WEISS (LPR (ex-APD) 135). In addition he served afloat on the USS Mahan (DLG 11), SEVENTH FLEET STAFF (DET B)/ CTF 77, Carrier Division 5 Staff and shore assignments to FAAWTC San Diego, Chief Of Naval Material Staff, Commander Naval Electronics Systems Command Staff and the Fleet Computer Program Support Activity, Dam Neck, VA. He also attended the Navy Post Graduate program at Monterey, Calif. He received numerous awards during his career including the Meritorious Service Medal, two Naval Commendation Medals, one with Combat “V” and the Naval Unit Citation with 2 Bronze Stars. His campaign ribbons included the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, with 4 Bronze Stars, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device.

CDR Firey interests included gardening, amateur radio as an Extra Class Operator with the call sign AB4JW, and sailing. The Fireys shared their love of sailing and owned several day-sailors and off-shored cruising boats. They rebuilt an extensively damaged Swedish sailboat and they sailed it on the Chesapeake Bay for 12 years. Prior to his retirement from the Navy, they purchased a Westsail 32, which they named SUNDOWNER. They lived aboard for 27 years completing three circumnavigations. This achievement was recognized with the prestigious Seven Sea Crusing Assoc. Award given by the Seven Sea Cruising Association. They were Commodores in the international association for many years.

The family would like to express deep graditude to Dr.Paul Conkling and his entire staff at Virginia Oncology Associates for many years of extraordinary care. CDR Firey made arrangements to donate his body to medical science.