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Sailing Norway: Lessons learned from two winters at 66 °N in a 37ft boat (3 Jun 2020, 7:24 am)

An ordinary boat can enable extraordinary things. Skier and sailor Juho Karhu has spent two winters in the Arctic Circle on board his Beneteau Idylle. David Pugh reports

Arctic Circle ice can form overnight... drone shot of Juho Karhu’s 37ft Sylvia

Picture this: clad in a hat, down jacket and carpet slippers, a sailor sits cross-legged on the bow of his anchored yacht. In the background, across limpid, wintry water, a low tundra rises, rolling towards the snow-shrouded hills beyond.

The sailor is Juho Karhu, and the boat a 1986 Beneteau Idylle 11.50 named Sylvia. For the past year and a half, they have been cruising the waters north of the Arctic Circle, at times accompanied by friends. Juho, 33, grew up in eastern Finland and is a keen skier who honed his skills while living and studying in Austria and in previous visits to the Arctic.

“While skiing on the coastal mountains I always kept looking at the islands further out in the sea,” said Juho. “I could see there was good skiing, but it was inaccessible without a boat.” Sylvia is his golden ticket to sail, kitesurf and ski in some of the most remote spots on the planet.

Juho started sailing aged 23, from Finland’s coastal capital, Helsinki. “When I picked up sailing I really got into it and started racing immediately,” he explained. “I spent a season in Sydney sailing a Laser dinghy. I crewed on different kinds of boats, and we also had an active match racing team, which I skippered for two seasons. Although we did train a lot, it was never really that serious.”

But it was the purchase of Sylvia in 2017 which ultimately led to Juho spending two Arctic winters on board a largely unmodified production cruising boat. “Although I did plan to move into it, I didn’t originally plan to sail to the Arctic when I bought it.

“But when the idea of Northern Norway and Svalbard came to me, it also quickly became obvious that it would be easiest just to use the boat that I already own. Of course, budget restrictions were a part of this too,” he explained.

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Equipped for the cold

Juho moved on board in the spring of 2018 after a punishing few months refitting Sylvia for Arctic sailing. Alongside carrying out maintenance or repairs to the sails, rigging, engine and other systems, he fitted a Refleks diesel stove to warm the cabin in the cold weather, which provides a central dry heat in addition to an extra hotplate for cooking.

“Dryness is more important than heat,” explains Juho. “If your boat is dry and you have dry clothes then you’ll be comfortable. I always wear a layering system with merino underwear and Helly Hansen offshore series outerwear.”

The stove supplements the original forced-air diesel heater, and Juho reckons that the heating efficiency is roughly the same. A clever addition to note is the addition of a pair of fans to recirculate the heat from the stove, self-powered via a Peltier element from the temperature differential between the flue and the fans’ heatsinks.


Anchored in one of the fjords of Sørøya, northern Norway. With appropriate heating the Beneteau Idylle makes a capable Arctic Circle cruiser

Aware that warming an uninsulated boat is less than ideal for the environment and also a significant expense to a low-budget sailor, Juho keeps the heat to a minimum at night, allowing the temperature to fall as low as 5°C. Outside, night-time temperatures in winter can drop to -15°C on the coast, with inland temperatures down to -30°C.

He also makes good use of electric fan heaters when shore power is available. “It’s slightly more expensive than diesel,” he said, “but more sustainable.” Beyond heating, Juho has also fitted a careful selection of essential electronics to help him communicate and navigate in the sometimes-hostile waters.

“I chose Raymarine, primarily because they’re known for quality equipment that you can trust,” he said. “For me, durability is top priority. The stuff needs to be as maintenance-free as possible. In the north I don’t have an easy access to maintenance facilities, spares etc.” On board, Sylvia now boasts an EV-200 linear autopilot pack, a RAY70 VHF with AIS receiver, Raymarine’s Quantum radar and an Axiom 9in multifunction display.


Juho Karhu, coming back from whale watching, at at Sylvia’s helm. Photo: Jakko Posti

“I did all the installation work myself, in fact I did all the wiring after already having left Helsinki, while we were anchored in the outer archipelago in Finland,” explained Juho. “All are connected to the Axiom screen, which is mounted on a 360° rotating base in the cockpit.

“This allows me to see all the necessary information and also control the autopilot while sailing from one central point. The EV-200 autopilot pack with the linear drive is essential for me. When sailing solo the autopilot is always steering – except when going in and out of harbour.”

Why sail in the Arctic?

The Arctic is no friend to pre-planned cruising – booking a week’s holiday months in advance is never going to pay off in this area. “In winter,” says Juho, “the weather is awful, to be honest, with low pressure systems coming from seemingly every direction. Then I only sail shorter distances, 20-40 miles per day, and I always try to wait for good weather to do so.


In weather like this on the north coast of Norway Karhu sensibly prefers to keep Sylvia in port. This was May 2019 after 40cm of snow overnight

“You need time,” he continues. “When the storms roll in, it’s best to hunker down in a small fishing harbour or protected anchorage. If you go out when it’s freezing and windy the seawater spray will freeze on the deck immediately, making for a nice skating rink, so I try to avoid that as much as possible. Luckily, as I live on board, I can choose when to sail.”

In summer, however, although it’s not really warm – last summer only saw a couple of days when the temperature topped 12°C – the winds are easier and more predictable, making for some quite good sailing conditions. For Juho, the skiing is a powerful draw, as is the solitude, scenery and general ambience.

“It’s just more wild here,” he explains. “It’s something that you can’t get in the Caribbean. I’ve worked two seasons there and also spent half a year in Australia, and they feel a lot tamer by comparison.”


Juho’s Axiom MFD display is mounted on a 360° rotating base

Not everyone would like Arctic sailing, but in Juho’s opinion some of the advantages of the area are overlooked. Where he is constantly asked about the cold by interviewers and followers on social media, people rarely ask tropical sailors about sweating and how hot it gets. “For me personally the tropics are just too hot, too uncomfortable,” says Juho. “So in many ways I find the Arctic more comfortable than the warmer places.

“If you’re thinking of sailing here, go for it. Norway itself is coastal sailing with a lot of protected harbours – there’s a good place to tuck in every 20-30 miles. If the weather is bad then you just wait. Your biggest resource should be time – you need plenty of that. And if you stay on for the winter, the ‘whale season’, when they come to the northern fjords to feed on herring, it is amazing.”

Navigating the frozen North

Juho sails half the time alone, and the remainder with his girlfriend, Sohvi, or other crew – who have shown a marked preference for visiting in the summer. Keeping the onboard systems simple makes single- and short-handed sailing easier, and ensures Juho has the best navigation information available.


Sohvi Kangasluoma takes a moment to read on Sylvia’s bow

“Sailing to Svalbard we had to carefully study the ice maps, especially because we crossed the Barents Sea in May: the normal cruising season begins in July. We sailed through the ice a few times, but only in calm conditions.

“The Quantum radar can detect the bigger bits of ice and this is certainly useful, especially because the southern tip of Svalbard is often covered in fog. We experienced this, sailing for two days in very thick fog. Despite the radar it was awful,” he remembered. “Up here in the north it’s not just the fog that can make your life difficult, but also the darkness and snow flurries,” he continued. “They can very quickly reduce visibility down to less than 100m.”

For passage planning, and as backup to the Navionics charts on the Raymarine system, Juho uses the SeaPilot app on his mobile phone and tablet. “Up here, where things are sometimes badly charted, I use them in combination with the other charts on the Axiom plotter and on my computer,” he explained.


Billefjorden, Svalbard. “The sea ice released with the north wind and we had to make our way through it,” Juho explains. Photo: Kuutti Haapanen

“I like to have two different sources of map data, because inevitably all charts will have some kind of mistakes, so if I’m going somewhere sketchy – a new, badly charted anchorage, for example – then I like to check both SeaPilot and Navionics, plus satellite pictures if they are available.”

Choosing a boat

Sailing in extreme latitudes – especially during the winter months – will always pose challenges, but Juho remains upbeat. “A normal uninsulated fibreglass boat will handle the conditions in northern Norway perfectly well; the only problem can lie with the crew, but so far I’ve done just fine,” he explains.

“Things like a snow shovel, and a rubber hammer to knock away the accumulated ice on the deck, do come in handy – during the winter I think I use them more than the winch handles. I’ve had some other small issues with the boat as well, like the mainsail track filling with ice and the toilet hoses freezing.


Small bits of ice like this don’t harm glassfibre boats, but make for nice drone shots

“The worst problem I’ve experienced so far was that last winter my roller furling headsail refused to work. The lower unit was shot, allowing water to enter the bearings, where it would freeze when the temperature got below zero. This was potentially dangerous, because sometimes the unit would freeze while sailing, which would mean a lot of trouble if the sail was only half-furled, in which case I couldn’t furl the sail in, or lower it either.

“I had to replace the whole lower drum. Not really such a huge undertaking, but in -10°C, in total darkness during the polar night in December it was not a fun job, and perhaps one of the few moments when I thought: ‘What the hell am I doing here?’”

Now a confirmed Arctic liveaboard, Juho has plans to change Sylvia for a more conventional expedition yacht for these latitudes. He said: “Next summer I want to transit the White Sea-Baltic canal through Russia, then spend the winter sailing the Baltic Sea.


A typical day’s ski equipment: Skis and poles, hired rifle, ice pick, crampons, snow sampling equipment, camera, flare pistol, red handheld flares, skins for skis, smartphone, GPS and satphone

In some ways, this will be more challenging than winter sailing in northern Norway, because large parts of the Baltic tend to freeze during the winter. I might try overwintering in the ice somewhere in the outer archipelago.

“The whole winter in the Baltic will be preparation for the future trips,” he continued. “I have my sights set on ideas like overwintering in Greenland, then transiting the North West Passage to Alaska. Overwintering in the ice is not possible in a fibreglass boat, so I’m actively looking for a 40-45ft steel or aluminium expedition-style boat that fits my budget.”

Life beyond sailing

Juho is a translator by trade, and, supported by good 4G mobile coverage in north Norway, he is able to work on board his boat. In addition, in between sailing, skiing and shovelling snow, Juho maintains a blog and several social media channels, and has actively assisted several scientific research projects.


Juho suited up to avoid contaminating snow samples while collecting them for Sval-POPs project pollution testing. Photo: Kuutti Haapanen

“The Arctic environment is incredibly fragile,” he points out. “It’s not just climate change that affects this area, but also other human impacts, like extractive industries and tourism – such as us. Sohvi is writing her PhD on the impacts of oil and gas industry to human security here in the north.”

While in Svalbard, Juho collected snow samples for the Sval-POPs project, which is jointly run by Gdansk Technical University and the Italian Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes.

The research uses snow chemistry to conduct spatial comparison of the distribution of persistent organic pollutants (POPs); man-made compounds that travel to the Arctic in various ways, particularly from long-range transport, and are already causing significant damage. Juho’s travels by sea and snow have provided the opportunity to collect samples from locations normally inaccessible to the science team.

In the spring of 2019 he also sailed and hiked to some glaciers that are only accessible by boat to take drone photographs of glacier tongues for the Glacier Atlas, compiled by the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. The atlas is used by scientists to study the effects of climate change on the glaciers, and by other Norwegian authorities to inform hydropower projects and other infrastructure affected by glacier melt.

“I strongly believe we should trust the scientists, that’s why I think it’s important to support the scientific research that relates to nature,” he said. “Some of the glaciers that I photographed are a lot smaller than they are depicted on the maps, both in Norway and Svalbard.

“I’d like to use my boat more as a platform for scientific research, and that’s a definite consideration in choosing my new boat,” he concluded. “I’m also looking for a Baltic-related project to support next winter.”


The Arctic is still a mostly pristine environment. The ice sheet the size of a football field on the right floated away and got stuck on Sylvia’s shorelines

Tips for northern sailing

Fishing is king in north Norway. There are few amenities specifically for leisure sailors, but basic facilities exist for small fishing boats, and mechanical services are easily found. Sailing equipment can only be found in the cities.

Small harbours can be found every 20-30 miles. The smaller ones are not suitable for big yachts, but boats under 45ft and 2.5m draught should not have any trouble. Diesel and water are available in almost all harbours, although water may need to be carried in cans during the winter. Boats can overwinter in larger harbours, such as Tromsø, Alta, Hammerfest and Honningsvåg.

Anchorages should be chosen carefully. Not many are suitable for all weather conditions: watch out for extreme depths and katabatic winds near steep mountain faces. Carry at least 100m of rode/chain, and a heavy anchor. The Gulf Stream keeps most of the coast ice-free through the whole winter, but sheltered waters may freeze. Watch out for a gel-like consistency in the water just before it freezes. A breeze will tend to clear the ice.


Rifle is for protection against polar bears – primarily to scare them off. Photo: Kuutti Haapanen

Visiting Svalbard

High season for visiting yachts starts at the end of June and continues to the end of August. Although the west coast remains free of ice for most of the year, sea ice can come around the southern end of the island and block the fjords at any time. Drifting glacier and sea ice form the biggest risk to visiting yachts.

Protection from polar bears should not be taken lightly. Signal pistols and rifles can be rented on Svalbard – just don’t be surprised if they are marked with swastikas, as the Nazis left plenty behind and they’re still in use.

Check out what paperwork you will need beforehand. The governor of Svalbard enforces various requirements on boats and their crew, including mandatory search and rescue insurance. You’ll also need a ration card if you wish to buy alcohol.

You can see more of Juho’s adventures at:

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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eSailing: Virtual regatta racing booms during coronavirus lockdown (2 Jun 2020, 7:44 am)

As withdrawal symptoms have taken hold from being landlocked and unable to get on the water, virtual regatta racing has seen a surge in popularity


eSailing is not a new phenomenon; Virtual Regatta, the leading eSailing platform, was launched back in 2010, and has become a part of most major sailing events with online versions of the Volvo Ocean Race and Vendée Globe attracting hundreds of thousands of entrants.

But during lockdown there has been an explosion in growth, with Virtual Regatta reporting that 38,000 new players joined their inshore competitions during March 2020, and over 330,000 boats were racing in their virtual offshore races at the same time.

One of the first lockdown-specific events to be organised was the Great Escape in late March. Almost 130,000 competitors signed up to play in a 3,900-mile virtual transatlantic race from La Rochelle to the Caribbean, racing in one of four different classes (IMOCA, Ultime, Class 40 and Figaro 3) and saw many pro offshore sailors, including Sam Davies, Alan Roura, Jeremie Beyou, Armel Le Cleac’h and Phil Sharp taking part.


The Great Escape has proved hugely popular

“The Great Escape was set up just before news broke about the lockdown,” explained Philippe Guigné, founder of Virtual Regatta, on the IMOCA class website.

“It started out from a request from sailors, who for once were available to compete in a virtual race. It caught on immediately. We put all this in place in just a few days. For the skippers, it is an opportunity to get out there and meet their fans by joining in with their game. As for the amateurs, they have an opportunity to see how they do against some top class sailors.”

A series of virtual events that were originally designed to accompany real life races, such the Transat AG2R La Mondiale and Transat CIC, are now taking place even when the physical yachts cannot sail.

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Virtual Regatta has also enabled many sailing clubs and classes to set up races specifically for their members. In the UK, the RYA has launched an eSailing Spring Club Championship, with club competitions, regional events and then national finals on 3 May to determine the best eSailing players in the country.

A relaxed way to sail

Australian programmers Marine Verse, who make a virtual reality sailing game called VR Regatta (no connection to Virtual Regatta), launched a brand new free to play eSailing game called Pancake Sailor in April. Created as a direct response to the lockdown, Pancake Sailor is a relaxed single or multiplayer game that features idyllic locations and sealife encounters.

It is designed to be accessible to all levels of sailor, and gamer, and can be played on Windows or Mac computers, downloaded through Steam, and connected to a VR headset if you have one, although they’re not necessary to play.


The recently developed Pancake Sailor can be played for free

“You really don’t need any gaming experience to play,” explained lead developer Greg Dziemidowicz. “You can’t capsize, it’s meant to be quite relaxing with simple controls but we have these beautiful graphics and sounds that we’d developed for our VR games.”

“Once we’d realised the world was getting locked down, within two weeks we’d created Pancake Sailor to cheer people up, share the joy of sailing and bring friends together in multiplayer – for free, no strings attached.”

Marine Verse also reported a spike in both VR players and enquiries about virtual reality sailing. We’ll take a more in-depth look at the growth of eSailing in a future issue of Yachting World.

First published in the June 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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Solo Pacific sailing: The adventures of Webb Chiles and his Moore 24 Gannet (1 Jun 2020, 8:00 am)

Single-handed adventurer Webb Chiles outruns a south pacific storm as he sails between the US and New Zealand

Webb Chiles’s Gannet is a George Olson-designed Moore 24, a long-distance race-winning ultralight yacht built in the US

As soon as I opened the companionway I knew we had up too much sail. Gannet, my ultra-light Moore 24, is a thin and often permeable membrane, but the wind was much stronger than I’d realised down below. Gale force. Gannet was being overwhelmed.

I hesitated only a moment before deciding to let the main halyard go and continue under furled jib alone. Running backstays were installed in Honolulu for just that purpose. The windward one was already in place, as it usually is on passages when I expect the wind to be on the same side of the boat for an extended period.

The fully battened main slid down the Tides Marine track. I grabbed a line from a cockpit sheet bag, crawled the few feet to the mast and, hanging on with one hand as 12 to 15ft waves crashed over us, crudely lashed the sail to the boom. Back in the cockpit, I felt that even the remaining scrap of jib was too much and furled it down to T-shirt size.


Gannet ploughs on with a reefed mainsail

My last tiller pilot had died the night before, so Gannet was sailing on a close reach with the tiller tied down. The first tiller pilot had lasted four thousand miles. In the last 2,400 miles five had failed, including one that had been repaired and failed twice. But they’d lasted long enough to make it possible that we’d make Opua, New Zealand, this day after what had been a three act passage from Neiafu, Tonga.

The first act was fine sailing with Gannet covering half the 1,200 miles between ports in four days. Act two was nearly incredible as we sailed through a high-pressure system. For three days Gannet made only 60 to 70 miles a day, but she did so in zero apparent wind. The days were sunny. The ocean flat and glassy. We might have been in a perfect anchorage except that the water was miles deep.

The little sloop kept moving when almost no other sailboat would have. She was perfectly level. The tiller pilot almost completely silent. Our course straight. There was nothing to cause the slightest deviation. I stood in the companionway and tried to find the wind.

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I turned my head from side to side to feel it against my skin. Nothing. I held up my hand. Nothing. No cat’s-paws on the water. At the masthead the Windex was stuck and useless. Yarn tied to the shrouds hung limp. Gannet sailed on wind imperceptible.

And those 200 miles had brought us to within 40 miles of Opua and act three, a chance to get in before the north-west gale turned south-west and headed us, effectively shutting the door and keeping us at sea for several more days.

I sail without outside assistance. No sponsors. No shore team. No weather routers. But I don’t consider it inconsistent to listen to AM radio as I near land and so had heard the forecast on Radio New Zealand National, but I know how wind circulates around lows in both hemispheres and would have expected the wind to back anyway.


Gannet under sail in San Diego before the start of her voyage

For that matter the radio forecast was partially wrong, predicting the west wind would veer north-west the day before. I very much wished it had. Twenty-five knots aft of the beam would have made the ride easier and faster. We would have been in by now. But the wind remained west until well after dark, and Gannet laboured south on a course of around 210°.

After more than 6,000 miles in four months, the little sloop was unravelling. Tiller pilots dead. The port pipe berth unusable after the tube jumped from its socket when Gannet became airborne off a wave and crashed into a trough. One of the two floorboards split full length. Insufficient solar charging with at least two of the six panels non-functioning.

Gannet’s interior had never been wetter, messier or more chaotic. Not a dry surface anywhere. I’d slept the night before in full foul weather gear, including sea boots, with a sleeping bag over me as a blanket. We really needed to reach port before the cascade became a torrent.

During the night the barometer dropped steeply and the wind began to veer. Now finally it was on the beam, which was good and bad. Gannet wasn’t thrashing into the waves, but she was heeled 30° to 40° and when waves broke, they rolled her dangerously.

Taking a flotation cushion, I made my way aft to the tiller, untied it and turned Gannet a bit farther off the wind, braced myself with my left sea boot on the far side of the cockpit and my right on the post through which the backstay controls run up to the mainsheet traveller bridge.

The overcast was dark, solid and low. It seemed to press down on Gannet and me. I could feel its weight. Rain was falling, colder than the water from the ocean.

Although it was 0900, the light was that of pre-dawn; and when darker lines came toward us, which I quickly learned meant a 5 to 10 knot increase in wind and torrential rain, the sky was night, but the surface of the ocean frothed ghostly white by wind and splashing rain drops.


Gannet was not hard to steer. But I lost vision in my right eye a few years ago and the waves were coming from starboard, slamming unexpectedly into and over us, literally blind-siding me – hard blows, as though being punched by a ranked heavyweight. Several knocked me from my seat, lifting my body so that I started to fall forward and down into the sea.

I couldn’t possibly leave the helm long enough to go below to get my safety harness so, steering with one knee, I looped a sail tie through the slotted toe rail and tied a bowline as a strap for my right wrist. As long as my arm remained attached to my body, I was going to be attached to Gannet.

When the heaviest rain hissed down, I couldn’t see the mast-mounted Velocitek and steered by feel, turning Gannet and surfing down waves. She ran beautifully true with no tendency to round up, her bow waves rising above the deck. When visibility returned I often saw speeds of 11 and 12 knots on the Velocitek, but by then Gannet had slowed, so I don’t know how fast she may have gone. Whatever the number, it’s the fastest I’ve ever sailed on a monohull.


Chiles reading his Kindle in what he calls Gannet’s ‘Great Cabin’. With only 1m cabin headroom the sole is the only place he can sit upright

I couldn’t see my watch, but after what surely had been an hour, I started looking for land. Cape Wiwiki should be off the starboard bow. Cape Brett off to the south. But I found only cloud.

I had to twist my neck a long way to see the oncoming waves. Surfing down some, I turned up into others. A split-second decision, often based on how much crest was toppling, sometimes just on instinct. Still a few caught us and rolled Gannet almost to 90°, until feet braced, tiller in left hand, sail tie strap around right wrist, I was standing straight up almost parallel to the sea. As the wave passed gravity bought Gannet back onto her keel and sat me down.

Beneath my heavy set of foul weather gear, I was wearing a Polartec fleece and Columbia Omni-heat pants over my usual shirt and Levis. Despite rain and wave, they were staying dry and only my exposed hands were cold. My left knee began to feel the constant strain. I tried to ease it and take more weight on my right foot.


Breakfast is usually oatmeal, trail mix, dried fruit, protein powder, dried milk and water

The last position I had seen on the iNavX app on my iPhone I use as Gannet’s primary chartplotter before coming on deck put us 24 miles north of the waypoint at the entrance to the Bay of Islands. Surely we had covered seven or eight miles since then. But still no land.

Another estimated hour passed. We shouldn’t be more than 10 or 12 miles out. Perhaps less. Something should be visible. And then off to the south, clouds thinned and Cape Brett materialised followed by the ridge of land leading west from it.

Pleasure flooded over me, as well as water, both at seeing the familiar landmark – I based my last boat, The Hawke of Tuonela, in Opua for many years and the Bay of Islands is my favourite place in the world to keep a boat – and because it was the first solid indication that we were likely going to make it in before the wind backed.


At 78 years of age, Chiles still loves ocean passagemaking

A little later Cape Wiwiki appeared much closer. I began to steer more toward it, wanting to stay to windward as much as possible. I knew that even this close, we could still be in trouble if the wind suddenly backed and we were forced outside Cape Brett.

The low overcast continued to lift and patches of blue sky appeared ahead. I expected the wind and seas to diminish as we closed the distance to the land, but they remained at strength until Cape Wiwiki was abeam. As we entered the partial shelter of the nine-mile wide mouth of the bay, I was able to tie down the tiller for a few minutes and duck below to grab a protein bar and use the piss pot.

Gannet’s bilge has a narrow sump. Usually in rough weather a couple of inches of water a day collects there and I pump it out with a hand pump that has a hose long enough to go out the companionway and reach overboard. Now heeled only 10° to 15°, the bilge was overflowing. I got the pump and emptied it. But when I went down later it was full again and I began to wonder if I had a problem.


Forepeak is used for sleeping in harbour

I took the protein bar back on deck just in time to see two of Gannet’s handsome namesake birds glide across our bow. We still had 14 miles to reach the Quarantine Dock at Opua. While the water was smoother, lee rail-burying squalls continued to hit as we sailed deeper into the bay. I furled and unfurled the jib like a venetian blind, and alternately hand-steered, tied down the tiller, hand-steered…

Familiar islands drew closer. A cloud of birds around Bird Rock, white with guano. Vivid green hills. Exposed brown cliffs falling into the sea. Tiny foot long penguins bobbing on wavelets. I smiled when I saw Paradise Cove on Urupukapuka Island where I’ve often anchored and the lookout platform high on Roberton Island to which I’ve often hiked.

Not until we made the final dogleg turn beyond the rocky ledge off Tapeka Point just north of Russell did the wind moderate. I brought Gannet about and hove to so I could fit the outboard bracket, Torqeedo, fenders, dock lines and ‘Q’ flag. Then I turned us again and continued south under sail. I knew the way.


Sailing in Neiafu, Tonga, before the start of the passage to New Zealand

Just north of the car ferry crossing, within sight of the Quarantine Dock, the wind died. I furled the jib, turned on the Torqeedo and lowered the main. Misty rain began to fall as we covered the last 200 yards at dusk. Opua’s Quarantine Dock is the easiest to approach of any I know in the world. I had Gannet prepared to tie up port or starboard. With no wind, the tidal current was decisive. It was running out, so I continued forward to tie to port.

We were weeks ahead of the herd of boats sailing across the Pacific. The long marina breakwater, of which the northern 200 yards are the ’Q’ Dock, was empty. I turned the Torqeedo tiller arm to neutral, glided the last few feet, stepped off and tied dock lines. Then back on board to duck into the cabin for the bottle of Laphroaig in which I had saved an inch for this moment.

My two crystal glasses did not survive the Pacific, so I poured into a plastic tumbler, straightened up and, still wearing foul weather gear, stood in the companionway indifferent to light rain, which was nothing compared to the total immersions of the morning. The little sloop’s deck came to just above my waist. I looked around at familiar hills and took a sip. Then another.


Sailing in the Bay of Islands a week after arrival in New Zealand and trying out a new North G2 asymmetric gennaker

The date was September 20, 2014. We had sailed from San Diego on May 20, 6,400 miles in four months. Actually because of crossing the International Dateline, a day less than four months.

Passage over. Ocean crossed. And, though an American not a New Zealander, I was home. The wind backed to the south-west that night and increased to 50 knots, closing the door on a 31ft cutter that left Neiafu the day after Gannet. She reached Opua a week and a day later. Water continued to trickle into the bilge from odd corners of Gannet’s interior for several days afterwards and then stopped.

solo-pacific-sailing-webb-chiles-bw-headshot-600px-squareAbout the author

Webb Chiles has owned three boats – a Drascombe Lugger, She 36, and his Moore 24 – and completed six circumnavigations, creating several records along the way including being the first American to sail solo around Cape Horn.

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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5 expert racing tips: How and when to take tactical sailing gambles (28 May 2020, 8:18 am)

Andy Rice gets some pro tips from navigator Libby Greenhalgh on how to know if it’s the right time to make a brave call and break away from the fleet

Tactical decisions aboard Team SCA in the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race: It’s important to get the team to buy-in if you’re taking a risk. Photo: Anna-Lena Elled / Team SCA / Volvo Ocean Race

Often you don’t actually know if your breakaway move will be a lone bid until later in the race. Libby Greenhalgh recalls her baptism into the Volvo Ocean Race, straight after the start of Leg 1 out of Alicante. Libby was the navigator for the all-women crew on Team SCA skippered by Sam Davies.

“As we approached the Strait of Gibraltar there was a forecast of marginally better breeze near the African coast but quite a lot of adverse tide. Sam and I liked the look of the alternative and tacked out soon after the position report. It seemed like a bit of a no-brainer, but we didn’t know for a while if anyone else was coming with us.

“It wasn’t for another four hours or so when the fleet converged again at the Strait before we’d find out if we’d lost or gained. Initially we couldn’t see anyone, and it took us a while to work out what had happened. We’d gained about 20 miles on the others because the wind had just dipped from about 8 to 6 knots which, with the adverse current they were battling, made a massive difference.” Here Libby helps you identify the right time to go for the brave breakaway.

1. Know your boat

Sometimes a reason to break away is because your boat has radically different polars compared with your competitors. For example, in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, Pip Hare got a jump on all the newer foiling IMOCAs when she headed inshore along the south coast of England and found better breeze there.

Generally speaking, the slower your boat, the more it operates in displacement mode, and the more likely you’ll want to opt for the shortest route. The more dynamic your boat – whether it planes or maybe even foils – the more you’re likely to get rewarded with a carefully planned breakaway.

That said, when you’re in close proximity to other boats of similar speed, crews tend to sail and trim the boat with more intensity. So if you do break away the potential gain needs to be big enough to overcome a slight loss in boatspeed.

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2. Tide trumps forecast

For the days leading up to the start, and all the way through the race, you want to track the weather models closely. But just because you’ve invested all that time in analysing the models, remember they’re still only predictions, not gospel.

If in doubt, go for the most favourable tidal option. You know where the tidal gates are going to be, and you know that there are high-risk periods of time where the wind has a tendency to drop, typically around sunset and sunrise. If you think there’s a chance of the breeze going funky, put the tide at the top of your priorities.

3. Be brave

One thing often underestimated is the team dynamic on board. I’ve been fortunate with the teams I’ve been with, particularly with Team SCA, where we’d have an open conversation on the strategy. That’s not to say you don’t feel terrible when a move goes wrong, even if no one is blaming you. But on SCA we had this ‘never give up’ attitude that made it easier to make those big calls. It can be harder to get that kind of team dynamic in amateur racing.

One thing that can be quite hard to manage is when you’ve got great sailors from different backgrounds, like we did on SCA, with a lot of Olympic talent. They’re used to racing short courses, sailing to what they see. If you’ve got to convince people that sometimes you might need to sail 90° or more away from your destination, it can be hard to convince them if they’re not familiar with offshore decision making.

4. Do your homework

On the long leg from China to Auckland we knew there was a big chance of a split in the Pacific. We did tons of homework on the weather models so when it came to decision time we were as clear as we could be about which was the right call.

It’s an obvious point, but get as much of that large-scale decision-making done on shore, when you’re warm and well rested. The whole crew is relying on you to make clear decisions, which is why it’s important to take yourself out of the watch system and grab your downtime when there are no big decisions to be made.

Make sure the skipper and the watch captains are well briefed on your strategy and things to watch out for, then go and grab some food, get some sleep and do whatever you need to be at the top of your game for when those critical moments come along.

5. Timing is critical

Boats in the Volvo were often close enough to see each other on AIS, tracking each other’s moves. But AIS only really stretches to ten miles or so. Whenever you have a big move to make and your position reports are only updating, say, once every six hours, then you need to wait until the position report ticks over before you make your move. You’ve then got six hours to execute your breakaway – although of course there might be others with the same idea.

tactical-sailing-gambles-libby-greenhalgh-bw-headshot-600px-squareAbout the author

Libby Greenhalgh competed in the last two editions of the Volvo Ocean Race as a navigator, with SCA in 2015 and Scallywag in 2018. A trained meteorologist, she is in hot demand with the top Olympic squads, currently working with the Australian sailing team in the build-up to Tokyo 2021.

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.


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Three hulls, one planet: Neel 51 owner explains how he went self-sustainable (28 May 2020, 7:29 am)

A Swiss sailor and organic farmer has customised his Neel 51 to prove that boats can be completely self-sustaining. Sam Fortescue reports

Wolf chose a Neel 51 trimaran for speed and comfort

Bluewater sailing stories usually start with someone who has been around boats all their life. But not this one. A Swiss man who goes only by the name ‘Wolf’ freely admits he came late to the sailing party when he started to spec out a new Neel 51 trimaran in 2016.

“I came to the boating world in an accident of life after a medical problem that made me think about how to spend the rest of my life,” he tells me before listing his new aspirations. “The first one was living on a boat, like a child’s dream.”

Coming to boat ownership without any of the preconceptions or traditional constraints that inform many of our choices, Wolf knew straight away that he wanted a multihull. “I wanted a fast and comfortable boat,” he says. But he also wanted something a bit more than that. “I wanted autonomy and environmental sustainability.”


Plans for sustainable sailing include growing crops on board as well as making use of zero carbon renewable energy

This is where Wolf’s story takes a really interesting turn, because he wasn’t prepared to settle for standard ‘greening’ measures such as synthetic teak decks or a few solar panels. “Usually with boats, your life is based on a diesel engine. I thought ‘I’m not prepared to be dependent on fossil fuels’.”

So he looked at the design of a boat’s systems in a fundamental way to determine how he could live aboard with the lowest possible carbon footprint. It led him to develop his own straightforward solutions to harvesting fresh water, electric propulsion, growing food on board and managing waste – all interconnected.

“I didn’t want to do a concept boat, just one that I agreed with and understood,” he says. Now he wants to use his experience to prove to boatbuilders and other sailors that boating doesn’t have to pollute.

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Going electric

The first thing was to install an alternative to the standard 75hp Volvo engine of the Neel 51. “An electric motor seemed to be promising because I could also produce that energy as I went along,” Wolf says.

After some research, he decided to install a 50kW Deep Blue electric motor from Torqeedo to drive the boat, hooked up to six i8 lithium batteries, each containing 10kWh of energy. These batteries have their own dedicated shelves in the mechanical space usually given over to the diesel engine.

As is possible with all electric drives, the prop can generate electricity as the boat sails to recharge the batteries and run house loads, like the induction hob, electric cooker and the instruments. “I made some calculations and strangely it was quite easy to produce enough energy to cover all my needs. The Torqeedo system should produce 1kW at around 7-8 knots boat speed.


Engineroom space is mostly given over to batteries

“It could be much more, though, so I am also considering an independent hydrogenerator that you could lift out of the water when you don’t need it. This would be interesting because then there is more power available at a slower speed.”

Solar panels naturally cover part of his overall power equation, with the potential to dwarf the generating capacity of the propeller. He reckons that his 3kW of flexible DAS panels glued to the coachroof can generate 6-13kWh per day and estimates his demand to be 8kWh. The final piece of the jigsaw is two wind turbines that will help charge the batteries day and night.

Getting supplies of fresh water on board is a regular chore for bluewater cruisers. Most boats will install a watermaker to free them somewhat from the tyranny of the water tank and provide peace of mind in case of unexpectedly long passages.


Harvesting and waste recycling systems conserve water

Wolf has also put in a watermaker, a Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E capable of producing five litres per hour. After all, he, “didn’t want to make any compromise on safety on board, or on comfort. I want to live on the boat for long periods of the year.”

Saving water

But the watermaker is a back-up – there just in case. He tries not to use it. “I didn’t want to depend on a watermaker, because it’s a very complex piece of technology,” he explains. “Desalination puts brine back into the sea, which contributes to the eutrophication of the marine environment. What’s more, they require a lot of energy, usually fossil fuels, reducing the range of the boat and increasing its environmental impact.”

His solution was to turn to a system that has been keeping mariners in fresh water since man first took to the sea: rainwater collection. By installing a small fiddle around the edge of the coachroof, which drains to a central point, it is easy to collect, filter and store fresh water.


Solar panels are used for electricity and heating water, while a fiddle surrounding the coachroof collects rainwater

By the simple expedient of rejecting the first few minutes’ worth of water, all the salt and any impurities caught by the sails or the coachroof are purged, he says. The first yard he approached just looked at him blankly when he outlined his project, but Neel was more responsive, readying the boat for all his subsequent modifications.

Wolf is an organic farmer in his other life, and also plans to grow food aboard Noos. He will make use of the “many wasted spaces” on the boat and apply intensive indoor growing techniques to cultivate simple greens such as lettuce, radish and herbs, as well as courgettes, tomatoes and even aubergine.

“As an organic farmer, I know it’s possible to produce quite a lot in a very small space,” he says. “My expectation is to cover the vegetable needs for four people all year round. This requires selecting the right vegetables, and always starting the next crop before the old crop is finished.”


Corridors between cabins have built-in troughs that are lined with plastic, troughs are then filled with a lightweight soil growing medium so lettuce, radish, herbs, courgettes and tomatoes can be grown

Special racks fill the corridor between the cabins, and what would normally be guest heads in the outer hulls. They are lined with a kind of plastic to keep the lightweight ‘soil’ and water in. Then a perforated fabric is buttoned over the top of the plants to stop things coming loose in rough conditions. Wolf has laid 400 litres of soil.

Some further adjustments will be necessary – such as removing the anti-UV coating on some hatches and windows, to allow the plants to photosynthesise. He plans to install some additional hatches to bring in more natural light, and top the whole system up with greenhouse-standard LED lighting as needed. The darker nooks and crannies will be perfect for growing mushrooms, he says.

Waste disposal

Of course, boats don’t just take on supplies; they also have to get rid of waste. And here again Wolf has some novel ideas. Already a mandatory feature on superyachts, water treatment systems are a key part of Noos’ equipment.


Button-down covers reflect light and help keep soil in place around the plants

By keeping so-called black water separate from other wastewater, it is possible to filter and reuse the grey water from showers and basins. This is re-circulated in a closed system that supplies the vacuum heads (which flush with just 0.2 litres), washing machine and showers – everything except for drinking water, in fact. In this way, around 75% of grey water is recycled.

All organic waste on board, whether from cooking, growing food or from the black water system, is collected in a Clivus composter containing woodchip and worms. This produces a rich humus and liquid compost, which will be applied to the growing racks as organic fertiliser. “The waste that goes overboard is biologically neutral,” Wolf insists. “It can produce bad smells when the black water arrives in the composting tank, but a carbon filter solves that problem completely.”

Despite all of this renewable technology and the sustainable systems, Wolf has also put in a diesel-powered generator from Torqeedo. “Its advantage is to store a great amount of energy for a long period, which can be given up instantly on demand,” he admits with a sigh. “At the end it’s always about security.”


From boat garden to galley… produce doesn’t have to travel far

The aim is not to use the system at all, but he knows that may not be possible. “There may be some conditions in which you really need power and you haven’t generated enough – when you have cloudy weather without wind, for instance. During two weeks off Palma de Mallorca, I didn’t use the generator at all and from my calculations, I shouldn’t need it. With just 4-6 hours of sailing per day, I should still be able to do 1-2 hours with electric propulsion.”

For high-latitude sailing, he plans to install a small Refleks-style woodburning stove. “Burning driftwood, which is abundant on many beaches, offers a source of complementary energy. Depending on where it is positioned on board, it can also be used for cooking.”

The cost of pioneering

Wolf calculates that his modifications may have cost an extra €120,000 compared to a standard diesel-powered boat. But he believes that lower maintenance and almost no fuel costs will help to amortise the difference. “Noos is maybe the first boat to fully integrate that new approach; so let’s bet on the fact that in a few years, the systems will cost a lot less and that the difference will be smaller and smaller,” he says. “In the end, it may be even cheaper than a diesel-based boat.”


Noos is novice sailor Wolf’s first yacht

He plans to refine his systems during the coming season in the Mediterranean, before striking out to sail across the Atlantic and explore the Caribbean. And though he’s fulfilling his dream of living aboard, he has a more serious purpose too: to showcase a sustainable way of sailing. It is all in line with the concept of ‘noos’ or awareness, which he has embraced.

“We as humanity have knowledge about everything, from particle reactions to the limits of the universe. Yet we are not able to solve some very simple issues like water and food for everyone, and an ethical society. What is missing is awareness. Noos means rationality, intelligence. The boat is a materialisation of that concept.”

Noos, or ‘nous’ as the Anglo-Saxon world styles it, is a concept from Greek philosophy that refers to the ability of the human mind to understand what is true or real. These days, Wolf and others use it to describe the sharing of information and awareness to break down silo mentality and solve the problems facing humanity.


He is launching a website called ‘Permaboat’, which will detail the systems he has developed to reduce the environmental impact of sailing, and he plans to use his boat as demonstrator. There will be seminars and practical events aimed at spreading his findings more widely.

But he hopes that his example will reach further than just the sailing world. “We won’t change agriculture by bringing agriculture on a boat. But what it will show is that we can use a small space for growing; if it applies to a boat, it could also apply in a city.

“In a closed cell and a hostile environment, it is possible to feed people. Imagine if half of every urban roof space was planted? And if we collected rainwater in cities?”


About the owner

Although Wolf recalls a few minor brushes with sailing when he was growing up, he’d be the first to admit that he has very little experience. The 52-year-old pursued other interests, running an organic farm near the Swiss-French border and an IT security business, until a health scare brought him to the sea.

He chose a trimaran from Neel because he felt it combined the safety of a monohull with the comfort of a multi. He took delivery of Noos in June 2019 and hired professional skipper Timothé Bruneel, the son of the yard’s founders, to get him up to speed during the four month cruise round to Palma. Since then he has lived sporadically on board as he finishes fitting out the boat.

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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Hurricane season: Cruising and mooring options from Maine to Grenada (27 May 2020, 7:37 am)

Every year around June there is a mass exodus of yachts from the Caribbean and Bahamas ahead of the impending hurricane season. Terysa Vanderloo and Erin Carey explore the options of where to go next

Rockport Harbour, Penobscot Bay, Maine. Photo: George HH Huey / Alamy

The hurricane zone extends from Cape Hatteras or the Florida/Georgia border to Grenada, so cruisers who intend to spend the following season in this cruising ground have to make a choice: continue to cruise in the Caribbean during the hurricane season or leave the hurricane zone by going south to Grenada or north to the east coast of the USA. Unsurprisingly, most choose to leave.

Deciding where you want to go depends on how you wish to spend hurricane season as well as where you want to sail in winter. While many cruisers continue to cruise during hurricane season, others store the boat and visit family, travel, or live on land for a while.

Many strike a balance between the two options by choosing a ‘home’ marina from which they can work, send their children to school or summer camp, or simply live within a marina community. While both options are possible for cruisers sailing north to the US or south to Grenada, the experiences of each will be very different.


Palmetto Bluff is around 70 miles south of Charleston on the US east coast. Photo: Shutterstock

US East Coast

There’s no shortage of boatyards and skilled labour on the US east coast due to the popularity of sailing in the region, writes Terysa Vanderloo. This is a good time and place to get boat projects done thanks to the huge chandleries, experienced workforce and excellent facilities.

The whole coastline, from Canada down to the Florida Keys, is highly conducive to cruising; the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) stretches the entire length and provides a protected inland route if conditions don’t allow for coastal sailing. The ICW is a worthy destination in its own right, and many cruisers spend time exploring parts if not all of it.

My partner Nick and I chose to spend our time living in a marina in Charleston, South Carolina, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It’s only 400 miles from the Bahamas and so was easily accessible; finding a weather window for the three-day passage was straightforward, and a north-setting jet stream worked in our favour on the way there.


Charleston has plenty to offer the seasonal liveaboard cruiser. Photo: Clarence Holmes Photography / Alamy

Charleston has many marina options, a good liveaboard community, an interesting culture and historic ‘downtown’ as well as excellent marine services including boatyards for storage. We chose to store our 39ft monohull Ruby Rose on the hard during the peak hurricane months (August to October) and fly home, but otherwise based ourselves in the marina.

Others we met continued to cruise. Behan and Jamie Gifford, with their three children, continued to live aboard their 47ft yacht, Totem, as they sailed north from the Bahamas in 2016. Their priority was to base themselves near family in Connecticut and Boston, but still continue cruising, and they found New England (the six states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut) to be an excellent option.

“We loved the old New England charm of Cuttyhunk, one of my favourite stops in a long list!,” says Behan. “The wild beauty of a disconnected island devoid of affectation calls you, gently, in to explore… The only place that left a bigger impression than Cuttyhunk was anchoring off Liberty Island and seeing the lights of Manhattan come up at night.”

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Many cruisers are drawn to the state of Maine, which borders Canada. While the distances involved may be off-putting to some (it’s 1,200 miles from the Bahamas), the reward is one of the most popular and unique cruising grounds on the US East Coast made up of over 4,000 islands. Emily Whebbe, her partner Kai and their daughter have chosen this option for several years in a row between sailing seasons in the Bahamas.

“We found anchorages easy to come by, with multiple directions of protection within a few miles. The towns are really friendly, many with fresh lobster and local produce. We like Maine because you can be in a city one day with arts, events, good food, nice people and good wifi, and then be in a remote anchorage in a few hours of sailing.”

For those looking to remain in one marina for the hurricane season there are plenty of options. Michelle Duca Peacock and her husband Michael, along with their two sons, live aboard their Lagoon 420 catamaran. They spent several years sailing between the Bahamas and the Caribbean, returning to the US for the hurricane season.

They chose to base themselves in a single marina as they enjoyed having a ‘home base.’ Michelle advises booking ahead if this is your plan, particularly if you have a catamaran. She also points out that terminology is important when contacting prospective marinas.

“I’ve found that you don’t tell people you want to be a ‘liveaboard’ on the East Coast, unless they offer liveaboard [which many marinas do not]. Liveaboard implies that you’ll be there year-round.” We agree; it’s important to ensure the marina knows you don’t plan to stay permanently, as they usually have limited slips available for full-time liveaboards, but may well be happy to accommodate a cruiser for several months.

Michelle and her family based themselves in Hampton, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay, and subsequently in Wilmington, North Carolina. Choosing a marina can seem daunting, as there are so many options. Michelle looked for marinas that were relatively affordable (the Hampton marina was $400 per month; Wilmington was $800 per month), and close to a town, but advises booking early as, despite the apparent abundance of marinas, they can fill up quickly.


Totem in a family-friendly liveaboard anchorage

Costs for dockage on the US East Coast vary drastically, but it’s generally more expensive than Europe and the UK. Our boatyard storage was $12/ft/month ($468/month) and our monthly rate in the marina was $20/ft/month ($780/month).

This tariff was quite typical along the entire coastline. Electricity and water are an additional cost, around $10 per day. A mooring ball in Maine costs between $20-$40 per night, although lower rates can be negotiated if renting a ball long term.

US options

Charleston: Despite being outside the official hurricane belt for some (not all) insurers, Charleston is regularly affected by hurricanes, and having a hurricane plan is strongly advised; ie hauling out at a nearby boatyard or taking the boat to the mangroves upstream. Charleston City Marina is in the downtown area, with slips costing approximately $30/ft/month. Just a 10-minute drive away is St John’s Yacht Harbour, with slips for $23/ft/month.


Summer nights in a Charleston marina. Photo: Terysa Vanderloo

Maine: Hurricanes very rarely come this far north. There’s no need to spend your time in Maine in a marina, as there is an abundance of free, well-protected anchorages. However, if you did choose a marina costs would be in the region of $20/ft/month depending on proximity to towns and facilities.

New England: New England is a great option for those wishing to cruise actively during summer, but who don’t want to travel as far north as Maine. Marinas and mooring balls are priced higher than average in this part of the US (up to $50/night for a mooring ball) but there are always plenty of anchoring options.

Chesapeake Bay: Home to an extensive inland cruising ground and a dedicated sailing community, the Chesapeake area is just north of Cape Hatteras, which is the all-important demarkation of the hurricane zone for many insurers (check individual policies). It’s a great option for spending the summer either cruising or living in a marina.

The Annapolis Boat Show takes place in October (it’s possible to anchor nearby and dinghy in to the show), and the ARC Caribbean and Salty Dawg rallies depart from this area to take cruisers back to the Caribbean in the autumn.

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Sailing to Jan Mayen: An extract from So Far, So Good by Paddy Barry (26 May 2020, 8:10 am)

Paddy Barry takes his traditional Galway Hooker to the far north on a seafaring and mountaineering adventure to Jan Mayen

Southern seas and Paddy Barry at the helm of his Galway Hooker, Saint Patrick

I first met Paddy Barry in the late 80s at a Breton traditional boat festival. I was on a raft of unrestored pilot cutters. Paddy’s and his friends’ Galway Hookers from the wild west of Ireland were lying alongside one.

To describe Paddy’s hooker Saint Patrick as ethnic would be an understatement. She was the epitome of a traditional working vessel and the music that came floating out of her soon had our hearts racing. We became friends, then went our ways, as sailors do.

We of the pilot cutters did our bits of seafaring, but Paddy and Saint Patrick outstripped us all. I’d be stuck for space if I had to list his voyages, but he has been to New York, Greenland, the Arctic pack, South Georgia, run the North West Passage and fought his way clear through the North East Passage for good measure.


Paddy Barry has been described as ‘Ireland’s Great Man of the Oceans and the Mountains’

His book So Far, So Good is pure Irish magic. It tells not only of his seafaring and the attendant mountaineering, it is also frank about family life and how he contrives to finance his adventures. Beautifully produced, the book is required reading for anyone who dreams of cutting loose.

This extract finds Paddy and his shipmates arriving in Jan Mayen, 400 miles northeast of the Horn of Iceland. After leaving Dublin on 1 June 1990 they are bound, via Spitsbergen, towards Murmansk for the first-ever Arctic Regatta, whence back home to work on 1 September. The description of the run ashore sums up his attitude to life, while the achievement of making these passages in such a vessel will command the respect of all who go to sea.

From So Far So Good

About five miles off the island of Jan Mayen the fog and cloud lifted and Beerenberg, 8,000ft, showed in all its majesty. The splendid magnificence of that mountain made the privation of the passage from Iceland worthwhile – almost.

Jan Mayen Radio spoke to us – a woman! The bad news was that the wind was forecast to go easterly. The weather closed in and by dead reckoning only we felt our way round to Walrus Bay, where we found flat water and laid out one anchor, then another; satisfied and tired.

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On the shore, near a hut, was a Land Rover and two people. We prepared our inflatable dinghy and Mick and I went ashore. It was about midnight – broad daylight of course. Dressed in army fatigues, a man and a woman introduced themselves as Eden and Thorarnfin from the Norwegian station. They would collect us next morning at seven.

They were glad to see us, visitors being rare. There were 25 people on the island manning the weather station, the Loran Navigation station and Jan Mayen Radio. The monthly airdrop had been missed for the last two times running. The plane had come all right, but in the fog couldn’t find the runway to drop the cargo. And today was St John’s Day, the day the Norwegians celebrate midsummer.

There would be a barbecue that evening. Of course we would come. There are 20 men and 5 women. There’s a nurse, four in the kitchen, four on the Met, eight on the Loran/Radio. The others run the machinery, the generators and the workshops of this well-regulated world out here on the edge.


Saint Patrick was much travelled: she was sadly lost on rocks off the coast of Cork during a storm in 2002

During the afternoon we marvelled at the trappers’ huts, still intact in the cold, where men had endured in search of the skin of the fox and the polar bear. The Norwegians carry a gun at all times while outdoors. Bears had not been seen since last May, but any still about would be getting aggressively hungry by now. During that afternoon, word came by radio that the supply plane was coming.

Bulldozers, lorries and Jeeps converged on the landing strip. A speck appeared in the sky to the east. It grew, circled the landing strip making three circuits to drop bundles from 30ft, then it turned and flew back eastwards. Half an hour later the post had been distributed. There wasn’t a soul in sight. All had retired to their rooms with the long awaited post from home.

As if the day wasn’t already sufficiently full, word came that two fishing boats would be coming in to allow crew, a month out from Norway, to take a break for St John’s Day. The camp dory was launched by bulldozer. I went out in it, like the others clad in a survival suit. We brought the outgoing post and brought in 20 men, a wild but competent-looking bunch, and thirsty, as we soon saw.


Saint Patrick sails through an ice cathedral

There was no scarcity of bonfire material. The shore was covered with driftwood logs, swept down, they said, from Siberian rivers in the spring thaw, finding their way to the shores of Novaya Zemlya, Svalbard and Jan Mayen. This driftwood has provided an unending supply of building material and firing over the centuries.

That evening the mountains looked down on almost double the usual population, gathered around the outdoor fire on that rare fine evening. Mick played fiddle, I played the guitar. Later in the bar I listened to men who spent months at a time at sea fishing. They enquired about the rate of pay on our ship, shaking their heads with incredulity that we should be doing this for ‘fun’.

I spoke to a man, aged hardly over 35, who had been six years on the west Greenland whale fishery, three years in Antarctica and four years in Spitsbergen – and we amateurs think we know the sea. These men are bred to hardship, the direct descendants of those who travelled to the Poles with Nansen and Amundsen.

Unforgiving anchorage

For three further days we lay alone in Walrus Bay with a solitary cross commemorating seven Dutchmen left to winter here in 1633. None survived. The wind rose, whipping spume off the sea. Our hands suffered as we adjusted twisted anchor chain and rope moving into better shelter.

Within the boat a warm fire burned, but it heated only the immediate area. The radio said that it was blowing a mean 50 knots at the airstrip. We kept full sea-watches with a third anchor out, sometimes running the engine to relieve tension on the ground tackle.

The wind eased and, glory be, went round to the north-west. We were off. With the wind on our beam we drove hard, sometimes reefed, sometimes headsails only, but consistently making more than 25 miles a watch.


Paddy has explored the extremes of both nothern and southern latitudes – here in sea ice off the east coast of Greenland in 2015

On the fourth day, the white peaks of Spitsbergen appeared ahead. Eastward up Isfjorden we raced, the high glaciered mountains of its south side close to starboard, while off to the north the sun caught the whiteness of that vast mountainous land, here and there lighting a sparkling river of glacier ice.

We rounded into Adventfjord, on which is the settlement capital of Longyearbyen. The 600 miles we did in four days out of Jan Mayen compensated for a lot. Our climbers, David Walsh and Donal Ó Murchú, had been camped by the airport and were glad to settle in to the warmer, if somewhat mankier, cabin of Saint Patrick.

The ice reports showed that a circumnavigation of Spitsbergen would not be possible. In many ways this was good, because instead of rushing around trying to knock off mileage and steal a few mountains on the way, we would be able to take our time, select our mountains and dally if we chose.


So Far, So Good by Paddy Barry is published by The Liffey Press, RRP: €19.95

Passing out of Isfjorden, we turned north up Prins Karlandsundet and a couple of days later made into the settlement of Ny Ålesund. This is the most northerly village in the world, now a scientific research station of about 20 people.

We set off to climb, and were defeated. Slogging up the arête in fog, on rock with the consistency of loose sugar, we could have gone on but, as David said: “When in doubt, count your children.” We retreated. Roped together, downward, pitch by pitch, we went and then had the long walk back to the village across icy moraine.

Overnight the whaler Globe came in, now converted for tourists. Her master, Captain Einar Abramson, had been aboard since 1946. Between the Arctic and Antarctic oceans she had killed over 6,000 whales, of which he had fired the harpoon on 4,000. In this situation you pass no remarks, whatever you might think. Whaling was a living for these people when there was little else for them.

We untied our lines and pointed our bowsprit to the north, our steering compass now increasingly lazy. All day we sailed about two miles off the shore until that evening we laid our hook in a corner of Magdalena Fjord, formerly favoured by whalers of all nationalities. A graveyard is the sole reminder of those who never made it home.

There we climbed, very satisfyingly, on good snow and in good visibility. Coming down, we spied tents – an Austrian climbing party who had been dropped off and would be collected two weeks hence. We envied their skis, great for getting down mountains quickly. They envied our boat, and our mobility.

The next day it was off to the north. We passed outside of Amsterdam Oya and Dansk Oya and onwards, in thickening fog. The satnav might not be as picturesque as the sextant, but it does a great job without all the hassle. We counted down the seconds of latitude and cheered as 80°N flashed on the screen.

For a few miles we kept going. The pack ice had to be soon. The sky showed ice blink ahead, a white upward reflection in the sky. The fog, at a temperature of 4°C, felt clammy. Our heaviest clothing, hats and gloves, was now being worn. Shortly we met a solid field of ice, the polar pack. We turned to the south-east.

Majesty in isolation

That night our anchor lay in Raudfjorden on the north coast of Spitsbergen. True isolation and majesty surrounded us. David and myself, in the dinghy, spent a couple of hours doing a reconnoitre of the various climbing prospects. He selected an inland peak being more likely than a coastal one not to have been climbed, the price being a daunting walk in.

At 1100 we started and 13 hours later we finished, all in, but happy. Lead climbers David and Donal, Gary, Johnny and myself had climbed a mountain where no foot had ever stood before. The peak, reached after eight hours of cold struggle, over crevassed glaciers, unstable snow slopes, gaunt rock ridges and finally 100m of corniced terror, was sweet indeed. No cairn adorned it. We were first up. Roped, cramponed, ice-axes in heavily gloved hands, our downward five hours compared with Caesar’s triumphant return to Rome. Time pressed now. We had to get south.

A freshening wind with fog from the southeast brought us a thoroughly miserable 20 hours or so as the tidal stream, which had delivered such good time from Jan Mayen, was now against us. The wind direction forced us out from the land, one problem less, but we were reluctant to stray far off the rhumb line course as we only had a week to sail the 700 odd miles into Soviet waters in time for the first ever Arctic Regatta in Murmansk.

Sorkap was left astern. The wind backed to the east, which allowed us to sail our course, which was just as well. The engine, which had been backfiring, now ceased to work at all. Unperturbed, we sailed on. We had fixed various engine problems before, mostly to do with fuel supply, but this one we failed to remedy. We bled the system, changed the filters, the fuel pump, the fuel lines, even the fuel tank, all to no avail. We were now truly a sailing vessel, a long way from anywhere.

Close hauled still, we pressed on into the Barents Sea. Sometimes we could lay our course for Murmansk, but too often we were being set south. We kept at it, hoping that a windshift would favour us. If we had to tack back to the north, our chances of being in time would be slim indeed. Johnny sailed like a man with a mission. There was no way we were going to miss this regatta, even if we had to swim and tow the old Hooker.

First published in the April 2019 edition of Yachting World.

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Pip Hare’s sailing masterclass: How to make the most of a water ballast system (21 May 2020, 8:18 am)

Water ballast is no longer the preserve of ocean racing yachts, it can now be found on performance cruisers and smaller racing boats. Pip Hare shares her top tips for using it

The JPK 1030 features transfer pipe and inspection hatches. Photo: Jean-Marie Lio

No two water ballast systems seem to be the same, but the principles for use and troubleshooting remain the same. Here are some guidelines for success.

Filling ballast

The ballast is filled via a scoop in the bottom of the boat, which is like a ‘reverse snorkel’. The snorkel is pushed down with the hole forward to fill the ballast, when the hole is facing aft the tanks can empty. To seal the system the scoop is retracted into the hull, leaving a flush finish.

A single scoop will be situated on the centreline, while twin scoops are placed outboard, so the leeward scoop must always be used for filling. When the scoop is pushed down, providing water is moving over the hull it will start to fire water into the boat. Filling can be achieved through continued forwards motion although this can take a lot of time so a pump is often used to accelerate the process.

Before pushing down the scoop, ensure all valves are in the correct position – this takes concentration if you’re not familiar with the system. Check:

  • Valve to leeward scoop is open.
  • Valves to leeward tanks are shut.
  • Valves to water pump is open.
  • Valves out of water pump are either directing towards windward tanks, or open on windward and closed on the leeward side.
  • Correct windward tanks are selected – you can fill multiple tanks at the same time.

Once the valves are in the correct position push the scoop down then turn on the ballast pump. Once water is overflowing from the breathers on deck, first close the tank valves, then shut off the pump and retract the scoop.

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If you’ve been running the ballast pump but the tanks are not filling then look for air in the system. Airlocks are a common problem with a pump and can be tricky to remove. Start by identifying where the lock is; transparent pipes are helpful. Then your objective is to flood that part of the pipe.

Every system will be different but things that can work include turning off the pump, rotating the scoop aft to empty for a few seconds, then face it forward and turn on the pump again. Or try changing the angle of heel to flatten the boat momentarily.

If all else fails, changing tack but leaving whatever ballast you have on the same side might shift the air. Tack, then tack back and try the whole process again.

Transferring ballast

Any manoeuvre involving transferring ballast is going to take time and it’s important to factor this into your planning and make sure you have enough ‘runway’ to complete your manoeuvre. For example, if you know it takes 140 seconds to drop the ballast and you’re sailing upwind at eight knots you’ll need one third of a mile to complete the tack from the moment you open the valves.

Use the time it takes for the ballast to transfer to get set up on deck for tacking and to move the stack to leeward (if allowed). Remember the trim of the boat will change while the ballast drops, so ease the mainsheet or traveller to control excess heel and feather the boat into gusts.

The process for transferring ballast is simple:

  • Check scoops are retracted and valves closed.
  • Open leeward tank valves, open transfer valves, open windward tank valves.
  • Once all water has transferred, close all valves.

The most common mistake is to close the valves and tack before all the water has run down. Sight glasses can help but they often don’t go to the bottom of the tank. Try putting your ear close to the windward transfer pipe, you should be able to hear water running through; if there’s no sound then the tank is empty. Water will rush out of the deck breathers on the leeward side but this may happen before the windward side is empty.

Always check the leeward side after a manoeuvre and empty out any water that’s left. Expect to top up the windward side over time.


Deck-mounted control rods can open or close the ballast transfer valves. Photo: Jean-Marie Liot

Dropping the ballast

There are no tricks to emptying the ballast, other than adding a little extra heel towards the end of the process. The routine is:

  • Push the leeward scoop down and turn it to face aft.
  • Double check leeward tank valves are closed.
  • Select the tank you wish to empty and open all valves between that tank and the scoop.
  • When finished close the valves and retract the scoop.

Management and maintenance tips

  • Put luminous tape on the scoops so you can easily see which way they’re facing in the dark.
  • Check inspection hatches and seals regularly. These hatches are a constant pain and expect them to leak. If going on a longer voyage, then take plenty of spare hatch seals and a couple of spare hatches.
  • Try very hard not to step on ballast pipes or valves.
  • Check both tank levels regularly. It’s not uncommon to lose water from the windward tank or for the leeward tank to start to fill over time.
  • Check all valves, particularly gate valves, are closing fully and also check the leeward deck breathers are not letting water into the tanks – which can happen if sailing with the rail constantly underwater or if the breathers are damaged.

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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Marc van Peteghem interview: Up close and personal with the king of cats (21 May 2020, 7:26 am)

Marc van Peteghem of French design leaders VPLP talks extreme foiling, cruising cats and sustainability with Sam Fortescue

VPLP co-founder Marc van Peteghem. Photo: VPLP Design

With Lagoon catamarans at one end of the spectrum and world-girdling Ultime class trimarans at the other, there’s not much in the multihull world that design studio VPLP has not turned its hand to. It is among the biggest of the French design offices, which seem to dominate this sector, and one of the best regarded.

Founded by the naval architects Vincent Lauriot-Prévost and Marc van Peteghem, who met during their studies at Southampton University in the late 1970s, the company has always carried the acronym of their two surnames.

“I called Vincent in February 1983 and said there’s maybe a first boat to design, do you want to partner with me?” recalls van Peteghem, who is now the cruising half of the VPLP duo. “We shared the same values and the same vision of the world and we’ve been partners ever since. When I was 12 or 13, I said I was going to be a yacht designer. Then it was only a question of patience.”


VPLP’s first ever design, the radical 50ft trimaran Gérard Lambert

And though I say ‘cruising’, I use the term somewhat loosely, as van Peteghem has designed everything from dinghies to superyachts. While these days he takes care of clients such as Lagoon, Excess and Outremer, he and co-founder Lauriot-Prévost actually began their careers designing a radical 50ft foiling trimaran called Gérard Lambert.

The boat was built for Vincent Levy’s 1984 OSTAR and showed real potential until its loss during the Route du Rhum in 1986 following a collision with a cargo ship.

Voiles et Voiliers magazine noted at the time that the boat ‘sowed terror’ among competitors at the 1984 Trophée des Multicoques off south Brittany, where it was overhauling maxi-multihulls. VPLP was off to a winning start. Commissions for racing multihulls began to pour in for a rollcall of skippers that sounds like the offshore racing hall of fame: Kersauson, Le Cam, Tabarly, Arthaud.

That commitment to race boats has never waned, although it is more the preserve of Vannes-based Lauriot-Prévost. Together, they have drawn winning MOD70s, IMOCAs, and even the triumphant Oracle USA17, which swept all before it in the acrimonious 33rd America’s Cup held in Valencia in 2010. They were also the designers behind LHydroptère, the advanced foiling trimaran launched in 1994, which held the world speed record over one nautical mile from 2007 until 2012.

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Nonetheless, in the midst of all this frothy racing work, van Peteghem recalls being approached to design a 55ft cruising catamaran in the mid-1980s: a one-off for a nascent builder called Lagoon, which was then part of the well-regarded Jeanneau Techniques Avancées, which also built ocean-racing multis. It was the start of a relationship that has endured to this day, down more than two dozen different models spanning lengths from 37ft to 77ft, and some 5,000 boats launched.

Success with racing would not have been possible without the cruising work, says van Peteghem. “All the money we got from cruising boats was invested into new software and engineers and technology and knowledge to be better. And it’s still the case.” VPLP now employs 32 people, a third pure engineers, and the remainder naval architects and designers.

Trademark look

The Lagoon tie-up has been good to VPLP, but it has also helped the catamaran brand to become the most recognisable multihull in the world, with its vertical trawler windows and cavernous interior. So much so that the term ‘lagoon’ has come to apply generically to all catamarans in some parts of the world. It’s clearly a source of pride to van Peteghem, although he protests that he is a “humble person” when I put it to him.


A VPLP-designed Lagoon 55 catamaran of 1987 vintage

“Lagoon has been a little bit forward of the market – offering more and more comfort and space, towards more of a floating home direction than it was at the start,” he says. “In the hull design, we’ve really made a lot of progress to make the comfort at sea as good as possible, and also to minimise the drag.”

Most recently with the launch of the new Excess brand, the owners of Lagoon have asked VPLP to take catamaran design in a slightly different direction. “We are drifting towards something that is lighter and trying to be a little bit faster,” says van Peteghem. With the simpler, curvier lines of its 11m, 12m and 15m models launched so far, it is also aiming to appeal to younger and sportier owners.

“We were very happy with the performance [of the first generation], but I think the next generation could be a bit more radical. It could be one step further in terms of an exciting sailing experience.”


Lagoon 560 is a leader in cruising cats. Photo: Nicholas Claris

At first, Groupe Beneteau wanted to find a different design office to underscore the different look and feel of the new range. But VPLP had a secret weapon, which enabled it to win the new business. And that weapon is, in fact, a man; a man called Patrick le Quément who ran Renault’s 350-strong design department for more than a decade before joining the team as a consultant.

“I convinced them that it was much better that we do [the design] ourselves because we had designed the Lagoons and we knew exactly how to move the dosage of the personality,” says le Quément. He shows me a mood board contrasting the two lines. While Lagoon is all ‘mineral’ – bold edges and manmade forms – Excess is ‘animal’, with flowing curves.

Le Quément brought a certain aesthetic flair with him, but he also introduced VPLP to a new way of working. The technique he’d developed at Renault was to break each new project down into just a few keywords, then produce various sketches that exaggerated one or other of those characteristics – in effect, turning each concept into an illustrated spectrum.


Tan 66 is a VPLP luxury catamaran proposal

Allied to Autodesk software, which allows users to create quick, attractive renderings, this approach suddenly made it possible to visualise hundreds of different possibilities for each brief.

Van Peteghem now sees this as a major strength for VPLP. “We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding the preliminary phase of the design and fully understanding the part about the aesthetic,” he says. “Working with Patrick [le Quément], we learn. Our designs are certainly better now: because he’s there, but also because the other half of the design company is evolving.”

The potential was spotted early on by Xavier Desmarest, the CEO of catamaran brand Outremer. When he was building a team to create the ‘ultimate’ catamaran, he chose VPLP and le Quément, among others. The result was the award-winning 5X, designed for family living, but with good light-airs performance. Despite a price tag of well over €1m, more than 20 hulls have been sold to date.


The souped-up lightweight Outremer 5X No Limit

VPLP also worked on a souped-up version, appropriately called No Limit. Built in carbon and with a foam-cored interior fit-out, the boat is 2.5 tonnes lighter than the typical production version.

Something completely different

With Lagoon as his biggest client, van Peteghem intrigues me by saying he thinks that simpler boats are the way of the future. On the face of it, the brand of “little houses on the water” is the exact opposite, with its growing equipment list and burgeoning interior volumes.

“The market is more or less like an ostrich that has swallowed a watermelon – over the years, it is talking to the same population,” explains van Peteghem. “In the 70s, people were sailing on simple boats. Over time, they got older and richer and wanted a bigger boat with more comfort – more, more, more – and we drift away from the pleasure of sailing.


L’Hydroptère slashed speed records. Photo: Celine Levy

“What about the younger generation? We’re asking ourselves how we will offer solutions that are closer to their aspirations and money. At the moment there’s no real offer of a really simple multihull inside in terms of space.”

Van Peteghem seems particularly animated on this point, and it soon becomes clear why. He lives out the conviction himself, sailing a 6.2m Muscadet designed in the 1960s by Frenchman Philippe Harlé. “She is a monohull built in plywood with 1.12m headroom, and I was in Corsica with my parents in it 45 years ago. I still have it as a family boat. For me, I don’t need much: what I like is to be at sea and really be close to the sea.”

He says he’d love to sail a catamaran that follows the same simple logic as this boat, with four berths and an easy sailplan. “There’d be no compromise on the galley, because I like cooking,” he says with a laugh. But as he puts it, he doesn’t have four bathrooms at home, so why does he need four heads on the boat?


OceanWing concept has been proven and features fly-by-wire sail controls and a reefable wingsail. Photo: Thierry Martinez / Sea & Co

His thoughts are bending towards a Mediterranean cruise with the family. “What I really like is to sail for at least three days, then you get away from the perception of time. There are no more set hours to do things – it’s another rhythm: you wake up, you remember all your dreams, you have a few hours to take care of the boat, you socialise with the rest of the crew. I really love that.”

Despite his personal sailing tastes, van Peteghem believes that technology can make yachting more sustainable in the future. VPLP has just finished working on a desktop project with aircraft builder Airbus, which owes more to aerodynamics than traditional hull shape.

The foiling S-Jet took its form from VPLP, combined with state-of-the-art fly-by-wire controls from Airbus. Two different rigs were designed, including one with a pair of OceanWing sails from VPLP to create a real flying boat. VPLP’s OceanWing has developed out of the towering 68m sail that drove US17 to victory in Valencia ten years ago. “I had the impression that if we could make it stowable, reefable, it might be a good solution for yachts and the shipping industry too.”


A rendering of the AirSeas85 foiling trimaran concept

With French development money and other support, several prototypes have emerged, including that for 8m eco trimaran Gwalaz. “With a projected surface area of only 21m2, compared with 32m2 or 46m2 for standard rigs, the prototype OceanWing propels the boat to an equal or higher speed in every wind condition,” says van Peteghem.

A larger scale test is being carried out on the French hydrogen-powered boat Energy Observer, which uses two 12m wings. And the studio has also published renderings for a genre-defying 282-footer described as “a trimaran or stabilised monohull – with wings”. The concept explorer trimaran Komorebi’s towering OceanWings will get it up to 15 knots or allow it to burn 30% less fuel in hybrid mode.

Van Peteghem says there has been interest in the concept, but nothing serious. “Typically, it is an example of something a little too early. Timing is everything – you can have very good ideas, just not at the right time, when people are not ready to accept or to understand.”


Hemisphere is the world’s largest catamaran

Far from being disappointed by the lack of take-up to date, he is confident that the boat will lead to a concrete project, even if it metamorphosises along the way. After all when, it comes to size, VPLP has nothing to prove: the two largest sailing catamarans afloat came off its drawing boards.

They are the 145ft catamaran Hemisphere, which was delivered in 2011 by Pendennis of Falmouth, and 138ft Douce France from 1998. “A big multihull is the perfect platform because you have a huge range, and the sail and the power, plus the stability and the space. Owners keep their boats for decades.”

Van Peteghem believes that it is down to designers like him to push the industry in the right direction on sustainability, and on construction methods too. For glassfibre boats, for instance, he is thinking about how the constituent elements could be assembled without gluing, so they can be taken apart again.


Canopée is an OceanWinds-powered cargo vessel designed to carry the Ariane rocket launcher

“Changing is very difficult,” he observes. “You either change because you’re under pressure, or because you want to.” It’s all part of an approach that starts with making boats lighter and more efficient in light winds.

“Being light is being green,” he says. “When you sail in the Med and you have a boat which is able to sail in 6-7 knots of wind, then you are only going to use your engine 5% of the time. “If your boat needs 10-12 knots of wind, then you’re going to be using your engine 60-65% of the time.”

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

The post Marc van Peteghem interview: Up close and personal with the king of cats appeared first on Yachting World.

Sailing England’s East Coast: Extract from On and Offhore by Dick Durham (19 May 2020, 7:34 am)

A novice sailor’s unhealthy enthusiasm for rough weather is doused by the muddy brown waters of the East Coast

Dick Durham and Almita are right at home on the East Coast. Photo: Tim Cornall

Dick Durham knows the East Coast of England better than most. He has sailed it, both deep water and shoal, since putting to sea in the 1960s as mate aboard the last Thames barge trading under sail. When he writes we can see straight away that his knowledge goes far beyond that of the casual yachtsman plying between Harwich and the Crouch.

As a sometime Fleet Street journalist, he has a sharp ear for a story and an encyclopedic memory bank whose offerings flash from scholarly historical anecdotes to comments made by ancient fishermen caught between a rock and a hard place.

Dick has written a number of books. The following extract is taken from On and Offshore, published in 1989. In it, he describes a bread-and-butter passage up the channel known as The Wallet running inshore of the Gunfleet Sand between the Blackwater and Harwich. What in other hands could have been a dull account of the unremarkable is brought to vivid life by the fact that Dick’s crew is a dreamer who has never tasted salt water in anger.


Almita was sailed with various crew including Tim Cornall

Dick is determined that this short heavy-weather trip in his small wooden cutter will disabuse the lad of any airy notions. He wins the challenge he has set himself, then blows his own cover with a final sentence showing that he, like the rest of us who follow the sea, hides a romantic streak at the bottom of his heart.

From On and Offshore

Cumuli cauliflowers are ballooning on the western skyline and white, ragged streamers of cirrus are already scratching the free blue sky over our heads. The wind is picking up and it looks like a summer gale is on its way. We sit below patiently waiting for the frivolity of the Archers to finish, a strange prelude to the grim march of Atlantic depressions, which the Shipping Forecast duly heralds.

“I’d like to do some real sailing,” announced Tim. Like most novices Tim wanted a gale. His enthusiasm would be quickly extinguished with a North Sea wave down his shirt.

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“Well, don’t start praying for bloody bad weather,” I said and snapped off the radio. We are speeding along with a fair sou’wester and the brown wooden teeth of Clacton Pier a mile inshore. In quieter weather you can hear the tribalistic tattoo stamped out by skinheads bored with the cancellation of summer football.

Tim takes the helm while I hop up on the coachroof and take a third of the mainsail away from her. Immediately Almita raises her lee rail out of the sea. Down below bilge water has rushed up the sides of the hull as she dipped in the gusts, lapped onto the bunk cushions and soaked my sleeping bag.

Up in the cockpit again and I see Tim is straining two-handed on the tiller fighting the weather helm. We still have too much sail up. Working forward in clumsy stages by first grabbing Tim’s shoulder, then rushing to the shrouds, then dashing to the tack of the staysail, I land crouching on the foredeck.


Dick Durham sailed the 26ft centreboarder Almita as a Bermudan cutter

Again, the halyard zips away with a run once it is loosed, and the large triangular red sail collapses with a frenzied clapping. With the sail bowsed down to the bowsprit end and the halyard tightened once more, Almita smokes along through the rising wind. Tim has straightened up, and now with just one hand at the helm is back in control.

“That’s better. Is it a gale yet?” he asks. “Yeah, getting that way, you’d better give her to me,” I say brutally, “and how about a cup of tea?”

“What did your last servant die of?” Tim replied, rather hurt, but goes below nevertheless. When your whole world is at a 45° angle, stubborn old liquid still battles to find its own level. I reckoned a dose of boiling water over the fingers might cure Tim of his insatiable appetite for tempting fate.


Built in 1906 in Teignmouth, she has now been restored to her original gaff rig. Photo: Tim Cornall

The spray which explodes off the occasional wave and splinters into my face tastes fresh, salty and good, but with the amount of gulls seen floating limply, heads down in the sea these days I fear for the health of those swimming off Clacton. For a nation of seafarers we certainly give our waters a lot to swallow: Britain saves £1 billion a year in cheap waste disposal by using the North Sea as a dustbin. So far we have turned a blind eye to where it goes.

Suddenly the le’ward cabin door swings back on its hinges and crashes against the cockpit bench. Tim, struggling to brace himself by use of backside and boot, shuffles out into the air once more holding two cups of anaemic-looking tea. He is grey-green round the gills.

“Coo er, felt a bit off down there,” he said. “The blinkin’ wind kept flattening the gas and the kettle took ages to boil. I’m afraid I spilt some milk in the bilges.” Smelly bilges are a small price to pay to assuage Timothy’s lust for bad weather. He nibbled sadly at a chocolate biscuit, but then the cool air and spray seemed to revive him and soon he was back.


“Have you been out in weather as bad as this before?” I ignored him and spitefully conceived a plan to cure him once and for all. “When you’ve had your tea, do you reckon you could manage to change the staysail for our half-sized jib?” Tim is not a man to avoid a challenge, especially if he can be active in a gale; such a sail change necessitated getting out on the end of the bowsprit.

Abreast of us now, hanging just clear of Walton Pier is the orange and blue Walton lifeboat, twisting and tossing on its mooring. Soon we would have a bit of weather shelter under the Naze cliff, the Essex coast’s only feature, the one occasion when the smudged line of land rears up with anything approaching elevation. Nature is working on this phenomenon however and the sea is gradually licking away the Naze’s feet of clay causing the crumbling cliffside to slump down onto the beach.

Roughening sea

Two miles out in the roughening sea a lonely buoy bobs as a memorial to nautical persistence: the Medusa marks a twenty-foot deep way out across the Stone Banks. Admiral Nelson was lying in Harwich Harbour in a gale, unable to get out to sea. His ship was refused passage out by windy local pilots, so he ordered a marine surveyor aboard to get him to sea. The channel he chose was named after Nelson’s ship.

Tim, looking like a man from NASA in his spanking new oilskin suit, is now fearlessly changing the headsails from the bowsprit end. Unfortunately, the flood tide we are pushing is also being pushed by the increasing wind and the seas are picking up. A larger brother of these steep waves lifts Almita’s bows into the sky. Tim is up there staring down at me. Is there just the hint of a snarl?

For as we all know, that which goes up has to come down, and it is now the turn of Almita’s stern to rise into the air, which leaves only one place for the opposite end. The last I see of Tim is a red and blue figure being plunged into a brown-green sea. The next time he is aloft his hair is clinging to his head, a long cowlick stuck down from his forehead to the end of his nose like the protective strip favoured by the Norman infantry.

“Reckon that’s a Force 8 now,” I shout, though fortunately the cruel sentence is snatched away a few feet from my tongue, shredded into vowels and consonants and tossed harmlessly into the spume. A dripping Timothy makes his ungainly way aft on his bottom, dragging the jib with him, Almita’s wild lurching making him move along in a crab-wise, sidling fashion.


Dick Durham at Almita’s helm

“Where are we putting into?” he enquires, unwittingly signifying he is a cured man and becoming a seasoned hand. “We’ll skirt along the Pye Sand until we can feel our way over it and into the channel which runs into the Backwaters.” I am delighted to be more forthcoming.

Lobster lightheartedness

Suddenly we are in among many little bobbing flags and I warn Tim to watch out; we must take care not to snag Almita’s rudder on the lines of these lobster pots. Reminded of a colleague, Stanley Meagher, whose fastidiousness at the dinner table caused him to return a male lobster and order the sweeter female variety, Tim remarked, as the flags whizzed by: “If Stan was here he’d want those marked with his ’n’ hers signs!” It bodes well that the lad has not lost his sense of humour.

Almita points her stern to the red, flat-topped Stone Banks can buoy and her head to the grey-blue watertower over on the Dovercourt shore, and makes a run straight for the disturbed, frothy, beer-coloured water over the Pye Sand. It is possible to leave the Pye End buoy a good half mile inside, though in this weather you have to ignore what appears to be a collision course with the bank itself.


On and Offshore by Dick Durham was published in 1989 by Ashford Press

For Almita now it is a dead beat up into Hamford Water. The channel is not even half a mile wide which means some smart sailing, though if we miss-fetch the relentless flood will carry us into the wind’s eye. The gallant Tim, still with a wave inside his oilskins, tends the fores’l and jib sheet with the precision required in very short boards.

If it were not for the port and starboard buoys, it would be hard to believe there was a channel here at all today, wind and wave has flecked up a bouncing, seething canvas with the brown sand of the Pye running across to merge with the mud on Crab Knoll. The channel has no definition; our horizontal plane looks as though it should be snaring us at any moment. Soon though we weather the corner at Mussel Scarfe, a tight bend studded with red cans.

Zig-zag wake

Now it is a long and a short up the Walton Channel. The long tack on starboard takes us diagonally across the creek faster and faster towards the mud. There’s an oystercatcher ahead: is it floating or walking? It’s walking… ‘Ready ‘bout,’ Tim twirls the jib sheet off the winch, ‘Lee-ho!’ He lets it fly, and leaps to haul in the le’ward sheet. Almita spins round and across the bow of one yacht and under the stern of another, leaving a zig-zag wake up through the moorings.

We suddenly smell delicious wafts of cooking meat and come across a large motor cruiser, her fat owner, complete with gold necklace, is barbecuing his dinner on a huge grill screwed to the craft’s stern. Raising his sunglasses he waves and looks perplexed at the rather damp, oilskin clad figures on Almita. In here the water is flat, the sun is warm, only the wind tells the tale of Walton’s front door, outside in the Wallet.

We moor on the bend leading into the Twizzle, and, sails down, we drop exhausted into the cockpit. Oilskins are stripped off, tea is brewed and we sit staring with satisfaction at the 160ft Naze Tower built by Trinity House in 1720 away to the east. Not much more than an hour ago it was west of us as we walloped through the seas of the Wallet, but now we have hemi-navigated it and come in by the more appropriate tradesman’s entrance.

Sadly it is time Tim was back at work and so we row ashore to the landing steps in Foundry Creek. “Where do you reckon you’ll get to tomorrow?” he asks, gazing out over the brown waves.“Depends if I can get a crew,” I say.

I was lucky. Unlike Tim, my new hand arrives without oilskins, sea boots, sleeping bag, without even an American Express card to pay for them. Baden-Powell would have despaired. Leaving him in the galley, I filled our jerrycans ashore and started the long row back. Astern of Almita there was a puzzling line of black dots.

Empty tin cans bobbing by told me what was in store for dinner. As I sank John’s ham-fisted attempts at waste disposal I read a discouraging menu of stewing steak, sweetcorn and mushrooms, but I should have had more faith. After the master’s touch of garlic, a splash of wine, herbs and whatever else he could find in the lockers, we dined like kings in the cockpit by lamplight.

First published in the June 2019 edition of Yachting World.

The post Sailing England’s East Coast: Extract from On and Offhore by Dick Durham appeared first on Yachting World.

ArmorKite 650: Kite-surfing yacht pushes the boundaries of sailing (18 May 2020, 7:28 am)

The ArmorKite 650 is a Mini Transat-style yacht sailed under power kite, with no conventional mast or sails, writes François Tregouet


It’s a grey and wet February day on the pontoons at Port la Forêt, the Mecca of French single-handed ocean racing. Olivier de Kersauson, a man never stuck for finding the right words, once renamed the place ‘La vallée des fous’ (the valley of madmen). Michel Desjoyeaux, Armel le Cleac’h or Jean Le Cam, all prominent locals, take this as a compliment.

But standing in front of this boat (I’m not sure we can even call it a sailing boat?), without a mast, boom, stanchions or any apparent sailhandling gear, I’m beginning to wonder if that local madness isn’t contagious.

At first glance, the ArmorKite 650 is as intriguing as its deck is empty. To sail it, we’ll clearly have to forget everything we’ve learned to take for granted. What’s more, even though it’s not apparent at first glance, there’s no keel, or even ballast. Stability comes from the hull form, thanks to a 2.2m (7ft 3in) beam, and a design reminiscent of the Mini Transat 650 class.


The power kite offers good boatspeed on or off the wind. Photo: Chloé Dubset

So it comes as no surprise that the ArmorKite’s architect, Etienne Bertrand, not only took part in the legendary transatlantic race back in 2011, but has designed some 15 of the development boats.

ArmorKite’s Maxime and Marc Denoix gave me a quick briefing before we headed out – and it was brief. The ArmorKite has only two lines for trimming, and a tiller; the boat can be sailed double-handed easily. Pushing off from the pontoon by hand and getting out of the harbour powered by the small outboard is particularly easy with a hull weighing only 273kg (602lb). With no ballast or rig and therefore very little structure, weight is kept to a minimum.

Once out into the bay though, our sail radically differs from a traditional outing. First, a drogue is deployed astern, to limit drift while we prepare and ‘hoist’ the kite. Even more unusually, we contact the Coastguard by VHF to warn them about our forthcoming test sail: twice well-meaning sailors have triggered the rescue services after seeing a boat without a mast, apparently dismasted and trying to set up a jury rig while deploying the kite!

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The wind is light, around 7 knots, the theoretical minimum required to get the kite off the water. So we take out the biggest sail, at 25m² (270ft2). There are five size options, at 8, 13, 21, 23 and 25m² (89, 140, 226, 248 and 270ft2) for all types of wind from 7 to 35 knots.

The kite is placed on the coachroof, well-flaked in its sailbag, and the five lines connected (two forward lines, two aft lines and a fifth line) to the boat via an athwartships Harken track. The kite flies free and to leeward as we go upwind, thus limiting any heeling, even though the design allows the ArmorKite to heel up to 15°.

Once connected to the boat, the kite can be unfolded and the leading edge inflated using the on-board electric pump. Having inflated the kite, all five lines are unwound simultaneously using the electric winch. With ArmorKite’s board sports specialist Thibaud Grasset at the controls and Maxime Denoix at the helm, they launch the kite in perfect rhythm – but they do have more than 50 outings under their belts. This is useful because in this low wind range the kite tends to stick to the water, and take off can be tricky.


Launching the kite is the trickiest part of sailing. Photo: Chloé Dubset

Eventually the wind picks up to 9 knots, the kite launches, the drogue is brought back aboard and the boat takes off! The speed is immediately exhilarating. We make a few tacks, sailing with the wind on the beam, going at almost the windspeed.

The ArmorKite is extremely sensitive on the tiller, and also sensitive to the positioning of the crew, whose total weight can easily equal that of the boat itself. It’s important to keep a close eye on both longitudinal and lateral trim. A central footrest would help you keep balanced at the helm, but the sensation of gliding across the water is delicious.

We don’t get close to beating the record of 19 knots the team has already achieved, but sailing at 10-12 knots when the true wind is barely 15 knots is more than enough to put a big smile on your face.


The current speed record for the ArmorKite of 19 knots (SOG) is certain to be beaten as the team work her up to full potential. Photo: Chloé Dubset

When it comes to turning up to close-hauled, sceptics will say that a kite can’t go upwind. But the ArmorKite holds a windward course that is comparable to a keelboat, sailing at 30° either side of true wind, at speeds very similar to a Mini 650 of 6-7 knots in 10-12 knots of wind. But where the boat becomes even more impressive is downwind. We had 9 knots showing on the GPS with 11 knots of wind dead astern. What conventional boat could offer that?

The power developed by the kite is impressive, and at times surprising; you have to hang on for the gybes, for example. More importantly, if there is an error in the angle of the rudder or the kite, or a lack of synchronisation between the helmsman and the trimmer, instead of the pulling power being transformed into speed, it tips the boat on its edge.

We experienced this during a wild ‘downloop’; Denoix had his hand on the automatic release of the fifth line, and the boat came back down the right way up – unlike the two capsizes they’ve already experienced during test sails, when they had to right the boat like a dinghy.


Raising the daggerboard with one hand while controlling two lines with the other is the only time things get a little complicated when sailing two-handed without an autopilot. Photo: François Tregouet

So, if there’s a foiling revolution underway, will the next be a kite revolution? There’s quite a way to go before this solution could be universally adopted. Even if learning to handle the kite takes just a couple of weeks, according to its inventors, the constant attention and adjustments required to the kite during sailing put a real brake on its usage outside of competition.

Although they are tempted to test their radical design’s performance in an event like the Bol d’Or, or even the Mini Transat, the designers admit that they don’t yet know how to manage the necessary sleep times over such a long period.

There are so-called self-stable kites, but they are no match in terms of performance, with speeds reduced by 50-60%. At present the choice is between performance and peace of mind. The challenge is to reconcile the two, possibly through the development of a kite autopilot, or by adopting a faster furling winch to bring the kite back on board quickly.

In the meantime, a second boat is trialling some design modifications, including a single pivoting centreboard. This saves one manoeuvre, as the asymmetric daggerboards require moving each time you tack or gybe. With an autopilot at the helm, the whole thing starts to look like a very enjoyable dayboat: simple, efficient, fun and easily transportable.


LOA: 6.50m (21ft 3in)
LOW: 6.05m (19ft 8in)
Beam: 2.20m (7ft 2in)
Draught: 0.07-1.00m (2 3⁄4in-3ft 3in)
Displacement: 273kg (602lb)
Sail area: 8-25m2 (86-269ft²)
Design: Etienne Bertrand

First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.

The post ArmorKite 650: Kite-surfing yacht pushes the boundaries of sailing appeared first on Yachting World.