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Boom preventers: How to use one and why they’re worth the hassle to rig (20 Feb 2020, 9:24 am)
The two minutes it takes to rig a boom preventer properly can pay off in so many ways, yet still a lot of sailors consider it an unnecessary hassle. Pip Hare begs to differ
Rigging a boom preventer will allow you to sail a true downwind course without a constant worry about crew safety. I also use it to pin the boom in its preferred position in light winds with sloppy seas.
When racing short-handed with a symmetric spinnaker it also allows me to use aggressive windward heel to make extra metres to leeward. Here are a few of my top pointers for getting the most out of this valuable set-up.
The preventer should be attached to the outboard end of the boom to avoid damaging the tube in the event of an accidental gybe. Some boom end castings have a designated hole through which a preventer can be attached.
If this is not the case then a large bowline loop passed around the end of the boom between the clew and the end casting will work just as well. The loop should be long enough so it can be undone from the side deck without the need to re-centre the boom.
Alternatively, to avoid hauling the boom in every time the preventer is required, make a strop around two-thirds of the length of the boom with an eye in both ends. One end can be permanently attached to the boom and the other will be attached to the running part of the preventer.
The strop can be accessed easily from within the footprint of the deck while the mainsail is out. When not in use, the strop can be tensioned with an elastic cord from either the kicker fitting or inboard boom casting.
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A shout, the mainsheet whips through the cockpit and the boom crashes onto the other side of the boat…
Think of the preventer as a part of your running rigging. It works in opposition to the mainsheet and so needs to be accessible from the cockpit and easy to trim in as you let the mainsail out. For maximum resistance to an involuntary gybe the preventer line should lead from the boom end as far forward as possible, then back to the cockpit.
I often use a forward mooring cleat in lieu of a turning block, making use of the fairlead to avoid toe-rail chafe. If you have no mooring cleats available then use a snatch block on the toe rail or mid-foredeck.
The preventer line should be trimmed from the cockpit using a winch. Often the best winches for this function are halyard winches as they tend not to be in permanent use. This may mean feeding your line under a sprayhood.
If you have absolutely no winches free, then it is also possible to take the line back along the deck to a stern mooring cleat. If choosing this option, check for chafe as the line passes down the deck and ensure the preventer leads into the cleat with a fair or open angle so it can be eased smoothly under load.
As soon as your preventer is rigged, make sure your crew are aware of what to do in the event of a gybe, both planned and accidental. For a planned gybe ease the preventer out as the mainsheet is pulled in. Once the attachment point can be reached safely, a crewmember should detach it, working from the leeward side of the boom in case of an early gybe.
Once gybed, set it up again on the other side. Accidental gybing with a preventer rigged can be alarming, especially in the dark, with the noise made by the sail and the windward heel of the boat. In most cases, if the main loads up from behind, the helmsman should gently steer the boat back onto the original gybe. Be aware that the windward heel caused by the backed mainsail will bear the boat away further, so take action promptly.
In the worst cases, boat speed will slow significantly, and steering the yacht back onto the original gybe becomes impossible. In this case the preventer must be eased under control. Make sure all crew are away from the path of the boom and traveller, then gently ease the preventer with sufficient wraps around the winch to maintain smooth control. Pull in the mainsheet as it becomes slack, then gybe the main as normal.
Boom preventer tips
- Do not tie off the preventer forward. This would require a crew member to go forward for a release in the event of a gybe, whether voluntary or not.
- Resist the temptation to improvise a ‘quick fix’ to avoid pulling in the main by, say, tying vang fittings to the toe rail.
- On longer passages regularly check your preventer for chafe, particularly where it crosses the toe rail, or if you are using a mooring cleat as a turning block.
- A preventer line should be around 1.5 times your boat length and the same diameter as your mainsheet. Double braid polyester is ideal.
First published in the September 2017 edition of Yachting World.
The post Boom preventers: How to use one and why they’re worth the hassle to rig appeared first on Yachting World.
Francis Joyon sets new Hong Kong-London record on IDEC Sport (19 Feb 2020, 3:29 pm)
French skipper Francis Joyon added yet another world sailing record to his collection this morning
IDEC Sport sailed under the QE2 bridge at 0737 GMT to set a new Hong Kong to London record of 31 days, 23 hours, 36 minutes and 46 seconds, shaving more than 4 days off Giovanni Soldini’s record, which was set on Maserati in 2018.
Joyon and his crew of Bertrand Delesne, Christophe Houdet, Antoine Blouet and Corentin Joyon sailed a total distance of more than 15,873 miles for an average speed of 20.7 knots.
IDEC Sport’s arrival was made all the more impressive as it came after a tricky overnight passage through the English Channel, navigated without the benefit of radar or AIS due to depleted batteries.
Speaking to Yachting World at Butler’s Wharf, Joyon admitted that the last leg of the journey was the hardest: “We feel well now, but we had three very difficult nights before arriving in London and then we had to tack all the way into the Thames, so it was very tiring and there was not one minute of rest last night. We had no autopilot, no computer, nothing was working on board.”
“About five miles from the finish, there was a cargo ship alongside us and there was no space to tack, so we had to gybe and during the gybe there was maybe 20cm between us. The cargo ship did not stop, it was very, very dangerous.”
Another challenge that the IDEC Sport crew faced was a broken halyard, which required a crew member to climb the 33.5m mast to repair. The crew worked a 3-hour watch system and used a modified exercise bike to power the winches.
In keeping with the traditions of the clipper route, Joyon brought back a souvenir of his Asian tour: “There was a producer in Vietnam who gave us some tea, so if you want some we will sell it at a very good price!”
The Jules Verne Trophy holder was characteristically tight-lipped about his future sailing plans, adding: “We have no immediate projects with the boat. I just want to rest and have some time with my family.”
The post Francis Joyon sets new Hong Kong-London record on IDEC Sport appeared first on Yachting World.
Battle of the giants: The inside story of the Brest Atlantiques Race (19 Feb 2020, 8:27 am)
The first big ocean test for the Ultime trimarans broke new ground. Helen Fretter talked to the skippers to find out why
On Tuesday 5 November four giant trimarans – Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Macif, Sodebo and Actual Leader, and their double-handed crews – left a grey and sodden Brest on Brittany’s most westerly tip. They were two days later than planned after a North Atlantic storm created monstrous 8m seas in Biscay, and hurtled out under triple-reefed mainsails and bare forestays. But still the leaders passed Madeira by Thursday morning and the Canaries by teatime that same day.
The Cape Verdes whistled past their port bow late on Friday night. Then, after crossing the breadth of the Atlantic in less than a weekend, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was first to arrive at Recife, Brazil, in time for breakfast on Monday.
And so it went on: Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier on Maxi Edmond de Rothschild sailed from Rio to Cape Town – the entire South Atlantic leg, diving down to 43°S – in six days. Only when you plot their track around the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean do the incomprehensible speeds the newest foiling trimarans travel at become real.
Not until the northbound return stage did they slow down: after rounding Robben Island off Cape Town to port, the next mark of the course was the finish at Brest, necessitating a climb past Namibian shores at mere 20-knot averages before skirting the St Helena High. By the finish, the Ultimes will likely have sailed some 14,000 miles around the Atlantic Ocean in fewer than 30 days.
The Brest Atlantiques Race was borne out of the crumpled carbon of the 2018 Route du Rhum, which had been hotly anticipated as the first transatlantic contest for the trimarans, but turned instead into a demolition derby.
Banque Populaire capsized, broke up, and was ultimately written off. The Gitana stable’s Maxi Edmond de Rothschild had a whole bow section ripped clean off. The newly foiling Macif limped to the finish missing one rudder and one foil, only to be beaten by Francis Joyon’s 12-year-old IDEC Sport, right on the finish line.
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This week solo yachtsman Thomas Coville opened the doors to the build of his Sodebo Ultim 3, the newest Ultime…
Before the start of this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race it was far from clear that the race record for the…
The much feted Ultimes were clearly nowhere near ready for the single-handed around the world ‘Brest Oceans Race’, originally due to start in December 2019. Heads were put together and a new calendar was unveiled, building up to a crewed around the world race in 2021 and a solo in 2023. But first was a new concept, a double-handed looping course around the Atlantic.
A battle of men
Besides being the first big ocean contest for the Ultimes, the Brest Atlantiques Race breaks ground in several ways. It is double-handed, but each boat has a media crewmember on board. Their daily videos have captured life on these extreme machines in a way that we’ve never seen before – the howling background noise, the sheer difficulty in moving around.
The course veers from the path most travelled. While the eastbound course from Europe to Brazil and the Atlantic loop from South America to the Cape of Good Hope are well practised segments of any around the world course, the return leg – turn left at Cape Town, then head north or north-east – is much rarer.
Also unique is the length of the competition: at one month it is not the exhausting sprint of a transatlantic race, nor is it quite as gruelling as a full around the world loop. Pacing it was always going to be a challenge.
But racing Ultimes is not really about pacing over days, weeks or months. It is about what happens in microseconds, the tiny fractions of margin which these skippers must operate within to avoid errors, when errors could potentially see them cartwheeling a 100ft, €10m trimaran. Even among the superhuman world of short-handed racing, the Ultime skippers are dicing with incomprehensible levels of risk.
“The mode we sail these boats in is almost like an ORMA 60 mode,” explained Cammas, who sailed the notoriously tender ORMA trimarans during the early 2000s. “You are on the sheet to release quickly, and you have to stay on the sheet all the time. When you are on the limit you have less than a second to react.”
Every skipper said that the most dangerous moments in these giant trimarans are sudden changes of wind speed and direction – just the type of conditions you get in mid-Atlantic squalls.
With risk, comes stress. The boats themselves are deceptively reassuring, Caudrelier explained before the race. “It’s like comparing an old car with a new car, you go faster in a new car but you also have better brakes, you are more protected in case of a crash, the tyres are better. So the boats feel quite safe, it is very impressive. We were going 25, 26, 27 knots upwind in big 4m waves, and it was comfortable.
“But the hardest thing is the tension. Whenever you are on a multihull, you are thinking: if I am late, if I don’t anticipate, if I make a mistake, I am going to capsize. There is so much power that if you make a mistake there is no escape.”
The boats simply do not compare to even ocean monohulls. “You make a small mistake – and you have 70 tonnes in the mainsail, which would be two or three tonnes in the Volvo 65s. It’s 160 tonnes righting moment.”
The stress is exacerbated by the constant noise and violent motion. Sodebo, with her cockpit area forward of the mast, is even noisier. Co-skippers Thomas Coville and Jean Luc Nélias wear ear defenders to rest. They started the race in rugby helmets and have a monkey bar rack of handholds in the roof to move around.
“You have to just learn how to accept the noise and how to make it something normal. It’s like the speed – we have already pushed until we accept the speed going from 30 knots to 40. Now 40 knots is just normal,” commented Coville.
But in these boats, danger can present itself in the most extraordinary ways. In the South Atlantic, Sodebo hit what Coville believes was a whale. The impact was strong enough to break off the starboard rudder, and caused so much damage that the aft section of the starboard float filled with water and later also broke away.
Although the boat was able to continue sailing, even foiling, with the truncated float, Coville revealed in Cape Town that it could have been disastrous: “A few hours before, I was inside trying to seal it, and I could have left with the piece that broke away, so I was lucky on that one.”
Contest of machines
Up close, the Ultimes are surprisingly agricultural. Everything is on such a giant scale that it looks like some piece of industrial machinery. The constant modifications are often visible through patched sections – paint and filler are heavy, and so used sparingly.
On Coville’s Sodebo, to achieve an aerodynamically efficient end-plating on the mainsail, the underside of the boom is swathed in black tarpaulin-like panels. The overall effect is curiously Heath Robinson. The Ultimate Class 32/23 box rule is relatively unrestricted, and within its rough dimensions, a maximum of 32m long, 23m wide (104/75ft), the teams have adopted different design solutions. Each boat is also at a different stage of development.
Sodebo does not yet have a T-foil central daggerboard, nor elevator flaps on her rudders (factors that Coville says should give the boat a further 25% performance gain). Meanwhile Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has T-foils on both the central daggerboard and rudder, and huge transom hung rudders, with flaps on the trailing edges, housed in giant protective casings.
But beneath the roughly faired surfaces the Ultimes are riddled with technology. The Maxi Edmond de Rothschild has over 500 load sensors on board, creating terabytes of data. In this race shore teams are allowed to monitor and process this data – and discuss it with the sailors.
“We set up a whole alarm system back at the base, and I will also receive messages on my phone, saying the boat is overbearing on that sensor. So I can wake up and tell [the crew], if they haven’t seen it, to be careful,” explained Gitana team project manager, Sébastien Simon.
“Our aim is to prevent the problems. Sometimes they’ll have the feeling that the boat is just slamming and they’ll maybe slow down, and actually if it’s OK for them physically, they can go faster. Or sometimes if the alarms are going on all the time – obviously I have some margins on those alarms, and I’ll be telling them, OK you can go a little bit more that way.”
During the Brest Atlantiques the skippers are also allowed to use weather routing, and Simon will liaise with team weather guru Marcel von Triest throughout the race as they decide how much stress to put the boat under. Surprisingly, there is no absolute rule of whether the skipper’s intuition or the inarguable neon numbers on the display take precedent. “I have no idea. Maybe it’s 50:50?” pondered Gabart.
“For sure we have a lot of numbers, and we know what is the good and safe configuration with the wind speed and angle. But when you are right on the peak this is the moment where the feeling is more important than the numbers,” explained Cammas. Technical monitoring, weather routing and sailing double-handed means the Ultimes can be sailed to a very high percentage of their potential performance.
“It’s not like a solo race because we can helm a lot, this is good because we can really push the boat,” said Cammas. “The gain you make [by helming] depends on conditions, but sometimes you gain 5%, and if your speed is around 40 that’s a lot. VMG downwind at 20-25 knot wind speeds, for example, is the place where it’s really important to steer.”
Helming by hand to maintain maximised flight time is key. “We will be flying more than 50% of the time,” commented Gabart pre-start. “We – certainly Gitana and Macif – will be the sailors that have spent the most time flying, ever. The sailors in the America’s Cup that sail maybe 100 or 200 times before the Cup, they fly for just a few minutes a day. We will be the sailors that have the best, longest foiling experience.”
What lies beneath
However, while sensors can monitor inside the boats, and weather routers work to interpret the skies ahead, nobody can see what is in the water in front of a trimaran hurtling along at 35 knots, least of all the skippers.
The Ultimes are trialling solutions. Macif has masthead and infrared cameras which connect to an ‘Oscar’ collision avoidance system. Sodebo has heat-sensing cameras, designed to detect a mass at a different temperature to the water: colder for ice, warmer for sea mammals. But the speeds are too great and an ‘Ovni’ – unidentified underwater object – too small or too fast to detect.
The start of the Brest Atlantiques saw the leading Ultimes averaging over 30 knots and hitting peak speeds in the 40s over the first couple of days. Macif took an early lead, ahead of Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. “Macif are being really aggressive. We’ve managed to keep pace with them, but we’re stalling, we don’t want to break anything. This is the first time I’ve been trying to go slower on a boat,” commented Caudrelier at the time.
After the first key gybe south, Macif and Maxi Edmond de Rothschild had begun to pull away from Sodebo and Actual Leader and were trading places for the lead in what Cammas called “a beautiful chess game in the Atlantic.”
But the game of strategy rapidly became a contact sport. First, Macif collided with an unidentified foreign object (UFO) as they entered the Doldrums, damaging the central rudder. Then Cammas and Caudrelier suffered daggerboard damage, probably from a collision.
Both boats pulled into South America to make F1-style pitstops (allowed under the race rules without penalty), where they were joined by their shore crew. The Macif team arrived with some spectacular luggage: an entire central rudder, thanks to the Banque Populaire team.
The repaired Ultimes then restarted, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild chasing new leader Sodebo, which had a 200-mile advantage. But Sodebo made a full U-turn, heading back towards Brazil. About to be caught on the front edge of a depression tracking south-east, Coville and Nélias bailed out to sail a great circle, and the race restarted with all four Ultimes within 100 miles.
Coville explained: “We had no choice but to set off on this southern route which was trying to pass under [a] big depression. Jean-Luc told me: we’re not going as fast as expected, the depression is catching up with us and we’re going to find ourselves stuck upwind in 45-50 knots, so it was with a heavy heart that we decided to turn around.
“I was really disappointed, because if we had managed to get through this depression, we would have found ourselves with a very comfortable lead, being one weather system ahead of the others. It’s hard to accept losing so much ground.”
Skirting that same frontal system the skippers fought extreme sea states as they headed into the South Atlantic. “These are the worst conditions since the start and not far from the worst I have ever encountered on a multihull,” said Yves Le Blevec on Actual Leader.
“With each wave, it feels like the boat is going to smash; this is not fun. We have about 30 knots of wind, but what’s hard is that we have the waves face-on and the sea is completely crossed and we are being thrown about which means we have to hold on at all times.”
“It’s a pity, because I imagined this Rio to Cape Town to be full-on flat-out speeds on flat seas, I’ve been dreaming about it for the last few months,” mused François Gabart. “Unfortunately, it won’t be like that this time. We will have to come back.”
As the boats gybed east, Sodebo became the next to suffer a major UFO collision, ripping off their starboard rudder, and later the aft 5m of starboard hull. As they arrived in Cape Town it transpired that the crash had also damaged the starboard foil. Their race was ended.
With three of the four teams having to pull into port to make repairs, is the Brest Atlantiques a true race or an elaborate sea trial? In many ways it is both. The Ultimes are still very raw, and early in their development curve; they still need nursing round. But the skippers believe they have the potential to change the sport radically.
“We’re trying to imagine what’s going to be our world tomorrow, what’s going to be the offshore racing of tomorrow, and for sure the planet is going to be our playing field,” explained Coville. “I don’t know if we are right or wrong, but we’re trying one way and I’m very enthusiastic to be part of this history.
“In two years we’re going to have six boats, nearly the same numbers as the last Volvo Ocean Race, but trimarans that are 32m long, 23m wide and 35m high! If you remember how we started on the Vendée Globe 25 years ago and now the success of it today, and I think we are pushing the limits even further.”
The rewards are worth it. “For sure these big boats are the most impressive and incredible boats in the world, but they are very fragile,” agreed Coville. “This is the price you have to pay. You have to accept that point if you want to be one of the luckiest sailors in the world.”
First published in the January 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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Ester: The classic Swedish racing yacht that came back from the dead (18 Feb 2020, 9:08 am)
Ester is a revolutionary Swedish racing yacht that was built in 1901, sank in the 1930s, and raised in 2015. In 2019 she completed a four-year rebuild to race again
The phrase ‘ahead of its time’ is over-used, but in the case of Ester, a remarkable 50ft racing yacht built in 1901, it couldn’t be more apt. For a yacht that was drawn 120 years ago by Swedish designer Gunmar Mellgren, Ester bears a striking resemblance to an IACC yacht, with that flying bow and full-length toerail, while below the water she had a modern fin keel and spade rudder.
The similarities are not just aesthetic; Ester was built with the same obsessive focus on weight reduction as any modern America’s Cup boat – albeit out of oak, mahogany and steel – and a similar disregard for cost. Her original build cost 15,000 Krona – over half a million pounds today.
Ester was built to win the Tivoli Cup, a sailing competition between Sweden and Finland held at Sandhamn, in the Swedish archipelago. Bo Eriksson who, together with Per Hellgren, found and rescued the yacht, explains: “Competition between Finland and Sweden – nowadays it’s in ice hockey – but it’s always life or death! It was a big thing here. Ester was built to win one race, and they spent a lot of money – it was very, very expensive at that time.”
Ester won the 1901 Tivoli Cup, as well as pretty much everything else she entered that decade. Even by the later 1930s, having been resold and modified several times, she was still highly competitive. But one day she sank, and a piece of yachting history was presumed lost forever.
Bo Eriksson, a classic yacht aficionado, read about the legend of Ester and developed a fascination with the yacht, even hand-building a small model from drawings and photographs. “We were thinking of building a replica, but that was just a dream. The boat was for sure gone, it wasn’t in my head that we would find it,” he recalls.
However, in a bizarre twist of fate, a fisherman told him of a yacht which had caught fire and sunk outside Örnsköldsvik, in north-west Sweden, in the 1930s. Eriksson realised it could be Ester – and it was less than 2km from the front of his own house. After several years and diving explorations, the wreck was located. Ester had settled upright on the mud, rig in place, in nearly 50m of water.
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Raising the yacht was no small task; specialist divers were deployed, and the water was so murky that her exact location was only realised when one diver hit his head on her overhanging bow, having felt his way along the seabed in search of the yacht. Compressed air had to be blown into the mud to free the keel and hull.
Ester’s survival is remarkable, as she captures a moment in yachting history when the very best designs were reaching far ahead of the materials and technology available at the time. Ester featured radical build techniques. She was built two years before the Wright brothers made their first flight, but is constructed using hollow rivets on a metal frame for weight reduction, a technique adopted by the aeroplane industry. She displaces just 3.5 tonnes, of which 1.5 tonnes is in the keel.
“She is one of a kind,” explains Eriksson. “There were other designers designing this kind of boat, but they existed for quite a short period, only up to about 1905. They were ruled out because they became so fragile, kind of like the America’s Cup today, the yachts were going in the wrong direction so they changed the rules. And they were so lightly built so they didn’t last.”
That Ester did survive is testament to what Eriksson describes as the ‘genius’ of her designer Gunmar Mellgren, and the craftsmanship and attention to detail applied during her build. “Every detail is on purpose,” he explains. “And all together small things, tiny deck details and reinforcements, if you take them out separately each part is not so strong but together as a composite it’s very strong.”
Ester was raised in good shape. The late naval architect and yachting historian Theo Rye, who did some early design work on the project, measured her after she was lifted and was astonished to find that there was less than 7mm difference between port and starboard sides after nearly 75 years at the bottom of sea.
This is even more extraordinary considering that when Ester was originally launched, a reporter who went to see her was surprised that her lines remained true just three weeks after launching, so lightly built were similar yachts of the time.
The salinity of the Baltic Sea may have helped preserve the wood. Nevertheless, as she was raised and the wood began to dry, millimetres of planking began to peel away. Ester was going to need a complete rebuild.
The boat was carefully set up in Eriksson’s yard. In order to prevent the timbers drying out too quickly, she was placed in a shed with a bare earth floor to maintain humidity levels that would suit the yacht – but in freezing Arctic temperatures that made the restoration project even tougher for the boatbuilders.
The boat was rebuilt, piece-by-piece. The original steel keel fin was kept, but very little else. “The boat is composite built with a mild steel frame, but the frames were totally corroded away, so we made new templates and new frames and put them into the whole hull, bolted them in with the planking,” Eriksson explains.
“Then we made new deck beams and put them together with the new steel frames. We were cross-bracing the whole thing to stabilise the hull. Then we took the keel out, put a new keel plank in, and then we started to change the hull, plank by the plank.”
Materials were kept authentic wherever possible – stainless steel was used to upgrade the mild steel of the day, and the planking is glued together more effectively than she was. “Otherwise it’s exactly the same: mahogany and oak, and Swedish pine, and spruce or pine for the rigging,” recalls Eriksson.
“The planking is all the same dimensions, she has only seven planks per side, the garboards are 600mm wide, and it’s a single scarf joint between the planks each side. We had some fantastic 12m long mahogany planks, so that’s made a small difference. We had a better source of materials, so there was more scarfing in the original hulls than there is today.”
Other elements have been kept as the original, but are strikingly modern. “When I looked at the old rigging, I was surprised it was so simple, with wire loops around. It looked so old fashioned, almost like a fishing boat,” says Eriksson.
“But on second thoughts I was thinking this is absolutely genius, it’s like a modern racing boat – they have Kevlar loops or Dyneema loops on the rigging, and it’s exactly what they were doing in 1901. If you have a metal fitting on the mast it’s a breaking point on the mast. If you have a wire loop around it’s much softer, safer and lighter.”
Four years after she was raised from the mud, Ester was relaunched in time for Monaco Classic Week in 2019, also competing at Les Voiles de St Tropez, where sailing her proved worth the two-decade wait for Eriksson.
“The boom is only 50cm above the deck, so sailing her is quite physical. You have to be on your [toes] the whole time, and diving under the boom when you’re tacking and gybing. So after five or six hours you’re quite exhausted. But at the moment it’s like seeing a Ferrari in first gear. It will take years to find the full potential of the boat.
“For the first season we’ve put on a minimum of sails because we didn’t know how she would behave, so we were under-canvassed. But on a couple of days when we had wind that suited our set up we were really flying. She’s very stiff. And as soon as you come off the wind, she’s like a hot knife in butter: she’s off.”
LOA: 15.38m (50ft 4in)
Beam: 3.08m (10ft 1in)
Draught: 1.75m (5ft 9in)
Displacement: 3.8 tonnes
Sail area: 110m2 (1,184ft2)
Built: 1901 (relaunched 2019)
Design: Gunmar Mellgren
Rebuild: Bo Eriksson
First published in the February 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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Solo overboard: An extract from Miles Hordern’s Sailing The Pacific (17 Feb 2020, 8:33 am)
Single-handed sailor Miles Hordern meets a storm in the Pacific and recounts the visceral shock of being swept overboard
Back in the early 1990s, a young man called Miles Hordern sailed his 28ft Kim Holman-designed Twister single-handed from the UK to New Zealand. He lived aboard in Auckland for the first winter before moving ashore and becoming progressively divorced from the sea.
After five years, however, the call of the Pacific could no longer be denied and he set himself a voyage around the current system of the world’s greatest ocean. Following the streams, he sailed the Twister across the Southern Ocean to Chile, cruised the archipelagos, then headed for Easter Island before following the classic South Seas route back to New Zealand.
His book, Sailing the Pacific contains a good deal of historical commentary, some profound general observations on life at sea and is so beautifully written that, unlike many voyage accounts, it is a genuine page-turner. We join him in the trade-wind belt on the early part of the return passage a few days out from Juan Fernandez, when a fair weather idyll takes a sudden, nasty turn.
From Sailing The Pacific by Miles Hordern
On deck the trade was fresh, between 20 and 25 knots, warm and woolly; in these latitudes the wind is a light angora that surrounds your whole body, tugging in the direction of the flow. I ran between 140 and 150 miles a day, and was sure it could get no better than this. At 27°S I altered course and sailed due west for Easter Island, some thousand miles beyond the horizon.
Over those days the sea took on a quality I hadn’t expected, measuring out the miles as if progress was a certainty. The swells were a metre high, sometimes a metre-and-a-half, perfectly suited to a boat of this length. As each one passed around the keel I felt my home perform a cycle of predictable motion, lifting at the stern, dipping to leeward, always stiff and reasoned.
After breakfast each morning I faced the prospect of a whole day of easy progress. In the cabin I had time on my hands, surrounded by an ocean world of wind and seas that appeared almost mechanical.
I cut my hair and trimmed my beard. I sat with charts and books of the islands ahead and dreamed that this might be my best passage. It was light and warm: this alone was sufficient to guarantee contentment. I drank lime juice from a glass placed on the gimballed cooker.
I found pleasure in simply looking at that glass. It was a heavy, round tumbler, a little taller than the width of my hand. I had never used a glass in the Southern Ocean for fear of breakages; instead, I drank everything from one stainless steel tankard. But in the trades glassware could again be part of the fabric of my life.
I looked proudly at the glass sometimes, as sunlight flashed through the airy cabin. I saw it as a trophy of the peaceful times I had won for myself. As the tradewinds settled into place over the ocean, I all too quickly became accustomed to this genteel world of sipped drinks and mahi mahi steaks poached in Chilean chardonnay. It was easy to forget how quickly it could all fall apart.
Many of the things that I remember about the passage through the tropics happened at night. Daylight can be a corrosive force on the tropical seas. It is an anomaly of the marine landscape: by day, there is often nothing to see. The sky is hard and burnt, the water a bulge of silver reflections.
When the wind is light, the heat is desperate. During the day I often hid in the shade, seldom venturing out for long. There are events hidden among the shadows and languor, of course, but they are indistinct.
Critically, in my memory, all lack a clear starting point at which any one event can be said to begin. And because most things that happen at sea are so routine and inconsequential, without a starting-point, they disappear.
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The clarity of night
At night it is different. In the night-time any event, even a binge on chocolate and booze, is bounded by sleep, and so begins at the point of waking. The night has this clarity, like a frame around each scene, which has the effect of making it seem the most eventful time at sea.
I woke one night early in the passage and knew that something was wrong. I couldn’t think, or even focus my eyes at first. On deck, there was liquid everywhere. Then I began to feel the rain, heavy pellets biting into my bare back. After that I was fully awake.
The sky was yellow; cloud was layered at different heights, tearing overhead. Sheet lightning flashed in several places around the horizon, a gold circle revealing wet, black cloud. The sea looked thick and warm, like boiling broth.
Sound was all around, a mix of wind, waves, and rain beating on canvas. The boat was run through with energy, its roll urgent. The waves were steep and close, green water coming over the stemhead, white furrows cast to either side. The squall had struck hard.
I’d left the boat carrying full sail. Now she was over-pressed, the sails wrinkled and misshapen, straining to get free. The pole holding the genoa to windward was pinched tight, trembling when the boat surfed. The backstays were rods. The whole rig looked out of place: a paper-and-dowelling kite caught in a gale.
I hesitated. I was already beginning to feel cold, dressed only in shorts. I pulled the harness out from beneath the sprayhood. I preferred to wear it under, not over, a jacket; it was quicker to put on against bare skin.
I was still cold. My jacket was also stuffed beneath the sprayhood. Now it was sodden with rain from the squall. As I pushed my hands through the wet sleeves they kept catching on the lining. I shoved harder, growing impatient. I needed to get the wind out of the sails quickly. The boat was careering downwind and I was worried it might broach. With the jacket finally on I did up the zip. The tether came up from underneath the jacket, onto the harness at my chest.
The sheet for the furling genoa was coiled in a pocket in the cockpit coaming. I pulled it out and flicked two turns off the winch, then the rope was snapped from my grip, the sail rushing forwards, spilling its wind. But the sheet fouled in the sidedeck fairlead. The sail was flogging heavily.
I clipped onto the jackstay, then set off down the sidedeck. I don’t know exactly what happened next. I’ve climbed around the deck at night hundreds of times, sometimes without a harness. It was a bad squall, but not exceptional, the rain hard, the wind at 40 knots.
The problem was that I was carrying too much sail. Now, half-released, the genoa was crashing in the air overhead, sending tremors through the boat. One minute I was moving down the narrow sidedeck as I had so often done before. It is a tight squeeze around the sprayhood, awkward on a rolling boat. I was looking at the tangled rope in the block just ahead. Then it all changed.
The first thing I remember was a crushing blow to my chest. It felt like being broken in half. The jerk was unforgiving, spinning me round in the water like a rag doll. My body felt numb and dead. But I knew exactly what had happened: I’d fallen over the side and was being dragged through the water. The strong point on the jackstay had held. The tether was stretched like a bar over the rail, then down to the harness on my chest. I was somewhere against the boat’s quarter.
I couldn’t breathe. Water seemed to be everywhere. I’d been stunned by the initial blow, and now didn’t know up from down. I could find no window through which to break out into clear air. And for a moment there seemed little point in trying.
I had thought I would struggle and fight, keep going to the end, but actually those first moments in the water were a time of resignation and defeat, of sulking at the self-inflicted mishap. The sea was hard and unyielding: it seemed I was being dragged across gravel.
When I lay on my front and arched my back I found I could get my head clear of the water. My right shoulder was hard against the side of the boat. At anchor in flat water, it’s just possible, when you are swimming, to reach the toerail on deck and, if you are fit, pull yourself out of the water.
But the boat was heeling downwind and this distance was increased. In the big swell I kept slamming into the side of the hull. It was slimy with weed, the underwater sections exposed as the boat heeled.
I pulled myself up on the tether and made a lunge for the rail. Nothing happened: I couldn’t lunge against the force of the water. The sea was pouring in through the cuffs of my oilskin jacket, which was ballooning out around my shoulders, dragging me back. The bottom of the jacket was pulled up around my chest by the tether attached from underneath. I could feel the jacket biting into the small of my back. I had to get it off.
When I lowered my head to look for the zip, my body dived back under the water. My hands were torn from the collar. I rolled into my back and dropped my chin. This way I could breathe, and the collar opening was protected from the seas.
I found the zip with my fingers and undid the first half easily, but the bottom part of the jacket was bunched around my chest by the tether, which was now stretched hard over my shoulder. The fabric of the coat was torn all around the zip, and the zip itself was so buckled that the slider had jammed. I started trying to tear the zip open.
As I struggled, the loosened jacket came off my shoulders. I put my arms behind my back and the water did the rest, pulling the jacket down around my waist like a skirt. It was still caught round the tether. I tore at it some more, now from the bottom of the zip. The material finally parted, perhaps the zip broke. The jacket was gone in an instant. I must have lost my boxer shorts as soon as I hit the water: now I was naked in the harness.
I pulled up on the tether, waited for the boat to roll back towards me, then grabbed for the toerail with my right hand. My fingers closed around the worn teak. But when I let go of the tether with my left hand to get it on the rail, the force of the water broke my grip.
I fell into the sea, and was again slammed up hard against the tether. I didn’t wait now. It was impossible to rest in the water: every second left me more tired. I pulled up on the tether again and got one hand on the rail. Just then the boat gave a long roll downwind, lifting me almost clear of the water.
Without its weight around me I was able to pull my shoulders up onto the rail, then hook my feet up one at a time. It was a horrible tangle: there’s no sidedeck here because the cockpit coaming comes almost to the edge of the deck, and as I wriggled under the lifelines the tether got caught on the stanchion. I unclipped it and slid into the cockpit.
The first thing was to get the bloody sails in. I was thankful I had this task, some urgent work to focus my racing mind. I crawled along the sidedeck, freed the tangled sheet and furled the genoa. The power had now drained from the boat’s rush downwind, the noise overhead was hushed and the motion began to ease. Lightning strikes revealed a luminous green world folding and reforming beneath driving rain. Between time it was pitch black.
In the cabin I dried myself, put on a dry jacket, and went outside again. I wondered for a time if I would need to reef the mainsail as well. I waited five minutes. Then the boom of the thunder became more distant, and the wind died away. I sat beneath the sprayhood in the cockpit and smoked a cigarette as the lightning receded to the north-west and patches of starry sky emerged to windward.
The seas were shapeless. Heavy strands of spray occasionally slopped out of the darkness. It took me a long time to warm up, though the wind was softer now and my hair began to dry. I felt empty and thought I might drift off to sleep. But I was dragged back to the present. The front of my jacket and my legs were wet and sticky. I realised that I was being sick.
First published in the December 2019 edition of Yachting World.
The post Solo overboard: An extract from Miles Hordern’s Sailing The Pacific appeared first on Yachting World.
The inside story of Greta Thunberg’s upwind Atlantic crossing on La Vagabonde (13 Feb 2020, 8:59 am)
To sail climate activist Greta Thunberg across the Atlantic – eastbound – aboard La Vagabonde was the voyage of a lifetime for skipper Nikki Henderson. She shares the inside story
The sky flashed a blinding white light and a spark came down just a few hundred metres to port. We were going fast, and getting faster: that kind of fast where the helm becomes light, as if La Vagabonde had taken off at the top of the wave and was still flying.
The sea was ominously flat. Not that I could see it – except during those electric illuminations – and I wasn’t sure how windy it was. We had isolated the batteries and switched off power to the boat in case of an electrical strike, so the anemometer screen was blank, along with the rest of our instruments, but I judged it was blowing 40 or 45 knots.
Then the rain started. It was torrential; driving horizontally but also sliding off the sail above me, and blinding me. The light of my head torch was the only visual thing keeping the boat going in the right direction as I intermittently shone it down at my feet to where the compass was located. “Riley, let’s furl – now.” I paused for what felt like a few minutes, but was more likely a few seconds, “Like NOW, now!”
It was that feeling where the wind increases, and you know it’s stronger than you have felt all night. I could feel nature’s pressure on the back of my legs, and the wind must have been in the high 40 knots, maybe even 50. The boat was flying. Another flash came, lighting up the sky just long enough for me to see the towers of water surging up either side of us as we carved through the water.
“This is ****ing amazing! This boat flies. We must have hit 20 knots,” I screamed at Riley, as shouting was the only way he could possibly hear me. He ran forward and furled the headsail. The furling line had broken earlier that day, and we had tied it together temporarily meaning Riley could only furl by pulling the line right at the drum and tying it to the bow cleat. We both regretted not fixing that line earlier in the day.
When he came back to the cockpit the wind was already subsiding and the rain had stopped. I was on a total high, ready to increase canvas again. “Make that call earlier next time, Nik,” he said. I felt put out, and must have showed it. “Nik, my kid is down there.” I thought of baby Lenny, and Greta. It was one of the most grounding moments of my life. When I had first discussed this trip with Riley I had described it as “bigger than any of us.” Those words suddenly felt very, very real.
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How did we get here?
In the autumn of 2019, Greta Thunberg, 16, and currently the most famous teenager in the world, was in the United States, having sailed across the Atlantic on the IMOCA 60 Malizia for the UN Climate Action Summit. She planned to travel on to Chile for the 2019 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP25.
But civil unrest in the country meant the event moved at short notice: back to Europe. Thunberg was looking for a solution that didn’t involve an aeroplane. On 1 November 2019 Thunberg sent out a tweet from Los Angeles: “As COP25 has officially been moved from Santiago to Madrid I’ll need some help… to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November.”
Thirteen days later she left Virginia, USA, on La Vagabonde. This 48ft Outremer performance cruising catamaran is a liveaboard yacht owned by Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu, creators of the La Vagabonde YouTube channel. Along with their 11-month-old son Lenny, they came to the rescue. “I hear a certain young girl needs a ride across the Atlantic,” was Whitelum’s typically laid-back offer.
Appreciating the risks associated with the North Atlantic, and their precious cargo of baby Lenny, and 2019 Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg, the couple contacted professional sailors in search of someone to bolster the crew.
“Nikki, meet Greta” read the message on the group chat that was started late in the evening on Thursday 7 November. We talked and talked, and two days after that first text I met Greta for real. We arranged to meet outside Norfolk, VA airport, next to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s electric car. The Governator had lent Greta and her father, Svante, his car as a green method of transportation while on their US tour.
In my bag were three sets of foul weather gear to share around, a drysuit, a medical kit, a paper chart portfolio, a handheld GPS and minimal personal belongings. Six strangers came together, prepared a yacht for a 3,000-mile ocean passage, informed the world’s media of our plan and swiftly set sail. It felt like we were trying to prove the impossible possible.
Preparing for an ocean voyage is always stressful. Going to sea is always a challenge. Sailing with strangers is always a bit of a voyage into the unknown. This trip was like some epic social experiment: two Swedes, two Australians, one baby, and a Brit. Two fathers, one daughter, a mother and baby, a captain: and a skipper. A climate activist, an ex-rigger, a semi-retired actor, a team boss, social media influencers, introverts and extroverts, leaders and followers.
We were united by one steadfast purpose; to cross 3,000 miles of North Atlantic ocean, and one deadline; Greta was due to speak at the COP25, so we had four weeks to compete the voyage. We were motivated by more fluid incentives. Greta to continue raising awareness about the climate emergency, Svante to support and protect his daughter, Riley and Elayna to support the climate movement, experience an adventure and capture it on videos. Lenny had no choice.
As for myself? I wrote down my thoughts at the time: “It was one of those moments in life that takes you by surprise. Where you have to look inside your heart to think what is right.
“To get to know the person behind the shell, the voice that the world is listening to, is such an opportunity. To have the chance to help her on her journey is remarkable. The greatest opportunity is spiritual: I will get to know someone who will inspire me.”
Heading west to east across the North Atlantic in November on a sailboat is not a recommended place to be. Even the pharmacist in Virginia commented on it while he was helping me find ear ointment that was suitable for a baby. “Conditions this year aren’t great, you know. You make sure you check the weather now…”
He had the right idea. In the winter, statistically there is a high risk of severe depressions or tropical storms. These strong fronts can pack quite a punch in wind speeds and sea state.
Naturally we should have left three days before we were ready. Why does that always seem to happen? We decided to wait for a cold front to pass over and left at dawn to clear fresh skies.
Apparently ‘cold front’ is a more literal term on the eastern seaboard; it was snowing on departure, and ice was still cracking off the sail cover and falling onto the deck by nightfall. There were a few looks between us that day along the lines of: “What have we let ourselves in for?” But by the next day we were sailing in the 25° warm water of the Gulf Stream and all breathed quiet sighs of relief.
The voyage could be divided into three phases. The first was all about strategic positioning. It was important for us to position ourselves south of the depressive nastiness, keeping far from the centre of the lows. Remaining in the westerly wind flow rather than headwinds was crucial. Basically, this meant sailing south, quickly, and then east, slowly, to avoid the worst of one of those long frontal tails ahead, and later tropical storm Sebastian.
The first week was a tough navigational challenge, not just for weather routing, but for the people on board. With 3,000 gruelling miles ahead of us, and sub-zero temperatures on day one, the 170° COG beat to windward with a waypoint bearing of 090° was miserable. A few days later we turned left and pointed east, but were limited to 4 knots.
It was potentially worse. For a few days our calculated ETA based on boat speed and course was some time after Christmas. Morale was directly relative to progress. We had to accelerate the acclimatisation process.
There were contrasting priorities for different people and I was either the piggy in the middle punch-bag, or the glue holding everyone together. The low point of the whole journey was probably day three, where the conversation turned to: “Let’s take a guess at when we are going to arrive.”
Someone suggested it would take 29 days, and the mood plummeted. It opened the door to everyone’s fears and anxieties. By the following day we had done a food inventory, filled the water tanks, and had some heavy conversations about the level of responsibility we all had to ensure this was a safe trip.
But weeks two and three saw us warm into our groove. Navigating the Azores High and various wind holes was our main challenge. It became a game of weather forecast interpretation. After a week sailing mainly the great circle rhumbline – sometimes with a best VMG east, sometimes best VMG to Lisbon, and sometimes randomly north or south – we concluded that basically there would be a few wind holes and a few windy bits but the best thing to do was to keep moving in the right direction.
Routines bound us together. It’s amazing how predictable the lives of six strangers can become. A distinct difference between this trip and racing crossings I’ve done was that the sailing fitted in with the routine, rather than the routine fitting in with the sailing.
For 21 days, Lenny woke every morning an hour after dawn to a bottle. Greta and Svante had breakfast, which would always include crackers, hummus or peanut butter at 1030 boat time. Greta would brush her hair after breakfast. Svante would have two coffees before lunch. Either Riley or myself would have an afternoon nap.
Dinner would be at 1800 sharp and we would eat together. It was generally a two-hour affair, from cooking and socialising to washing up, then switching to red lights and bed by 2000 every night. At around 0200 Riley and I would discuss the weather and live our most productive hour of the day, perhaps down to the comforting knowledge that Lenny was sleeping soundly, and Greta and Svante were safely in their bunks.
The third phase was the final week. We were just half way as the crow flies, but the Atlantic gifted us dreamy fast downwind sailing; everything you could hope for from an ocean crossing. We attached ourselves onto the bottom of a depression and rode it all the way into Lisbon.
This was testing in an altogether different way – we needed to go fast to stay with the system, but what is fast enough? How much sail can we safely hold? What sea state is too big? There was more emotion wrapped up in these decisions. Our eagerness to arrive and our sadness that the adventure was coming to an end blurred our vision. Riley and I alternated in being the sensible voice, checking each other and reminding ourselves to play the long game.
We encountered our most fractious moment when disagreeing about when to put in our last gybe to head south to Lisbon. Anxiety about the forecasted 40-60 knots of wind and 6-8m seas for our last 24 hours, combined with the looming pressure of arrival, were excellent ingredients for an argument!
After an hour disagreeing and going around in circles we laughed at ourselves, napped, then excitedly made our last gybe south. It may have been pre-empted with a ‘gybe dance’. By day 16 we had started to get weirder.
Greta at sea
I’ve committed my life to sailing because I’ve seen how the sea changes people. No one steps ashore the same person they were when they left the dock. People reach this almost meditative state at sea; they discover life’s sparkle, its lightness and freedom.
Watching Greta change was moving. She was quiet – close to timid – when I met her. She had the watchful eye of international press and social media on her every minute of the day. And then she stepped on board, and out of the limelight. She escaped the burden of responsibility she now carries on her shoulders.
As we sailed away from shore, Greta quickly became shaky, pale, and needed to lie down. It could easily have been interpreted as seasickness. But I think it was more likely an overwhelming adrenaline-fuelled rush of emotion: anxiety, excitement, and relief that she was finally going home.
After the first 12 hours of sailing, Greta didn’t show even the slightest hint of discomfort. In fact she and her father warmed to life on board very easily. They seemed at home at sea, that it was a happy place for them both, breathing clean air. They both slept at least 12-hours a day and spent many more hours watching the sea go by.
As the days went by the weight on Greta’s shoulders started to melt away, and it was only as it did that I appreciated how heavy it must be to be a role model, a figurehead and a performer for so many millions of people around the world. It was a privilege to create a space for her where she could be her 16-year-old self.
We chatted, we shared tears and laughter, we danced, exercised, debated, read the news and played games, and through all that she relaxed and gained more colour in her cheeks. She began to glow with this aura of hope and positivity.
Although she is brave in her cause, Greta was physically cautious of getting hands-on with the sailing. But she was keen to learn so I spent time explaining the terminology, and recreating some good old RYA diagrams. She and her father held watches during the day and had a good understanding of the wind strengths and when to reef or put up more canvas. Unsurprisingly they were keenly aware of our speed. As new and perceptive crew members often are, they were hyper-aware of not getting in the way.
A daunting landfall
The arrival to Lisbon was hard work. We had a tacking battle with the tide and the dying wind up the river; which in a catamaran is difficult, and slow. After desperately trying to squeeze every bit of boat speed and heading out of the collapsing conditions, we finally made it to the marina at lunchtime on 3 December. Elayna parked us up, and just like that our privacy and our adventure came to an end.
After immigration, we headed to the press conference. Looking around at the audience was remarkable. People were crying and praying and throwing their hands in the air rejoicing. This was significant: and not just for us, or for Greta, but for the world. Greta herself is a very interesting person to talk to. She listens more than she speaks; thus when she does speak everyone pays attention. She is driven by science, but she is also empathetic to the more emotional needs of others.
A favourite conversation I had with her was about hope and fear, and which can have more impact. I suggested sailing as a case study, how at least 50% of the crew tends to freeze and becomes useless in a high stress situation. Calling an ‘emergency’ or ‘panic’ are not necessarily constructive. Seeing her now, I think she took it on board.
All throughout 2019, the climate emergency and the Friday strikes, Greta’s message had been in my peripheral vision, but I hadn’t really acknowledged it. I knew I would have to eventually, but I wasn’t ready. For me doing this trip was a way to surrender to the reality, but also to properly learn what the climate emergency was all about, to give it context and the knowledge I needed to make my own decisions.
A fellow crewmate once said to me: “There is too much time to think at sea.” Going to sea changes us because it is like spending three weeks in front of the mirror. Living in such a close community and intense environment means that who you are, how you behave, how your behaviour affects people, what you feel, and what you make other people feel is amplified. Loudly.
What if we all had the opportunity to go to sea for two weeks each year? What if we all took the time for this type of reflection? Maybe it would help us come to terms with reality – as I did on this trip. We would realise that we can survive minimally. We would appreciate the beauty of our world, and work harder to protect it. We would feel empowered, confident that our future, and our freedom, is in our hands.
Sailing on La Vagabonde
Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu are an Australian couple who have become sailing’s most popular vloggers. Their YouTube channel attracts nearly 4 million views per month, and has 1.2 million subscribers.
“Riley and Elayna have one of the most unique lifestyles I have ever come across,” explains Nikki Henderson. “Their lifestyle bridges many communities: liveaboard cruisers, YouTube vloggers, social media influencers, sailors, adventurers, freedivers – and now parents. They are so relatable, which I think is why they are so successful.
“But don’t be fooled by their modesty – they are solid sailors. Riley was making some very professional and complex decisions on the trip, and they were both absolutely capable of every job on the boat from bow to stern.
“Elayna was in many ways the unsung hero of the trip: victualler, home-maker, sailor and 24/7 mother. The phrase ‘one hand for you, one hand for the boat’ didn’t quite cut it – it was more like one for her, one for the dinner she’s cooking, one for the winch handle, and eyes in the back of her head for Lenny. Lenny spent a 10th of his life on that trip – it was amazing to be a part of.”
“I spend a lot of my year offshore, so had never watched any of their videos – which is unusual for them to experience these days. But while you might think a couple who make videos of their life and live on crowd-funding would be showy or shallow, they were two of the most down to earth, generous and hilarious people I’ve ever met. And now two, I hope and suspect, lifelong friends.”
More videos from the Atlantic crossing with Greta and Nikki will be appearing soon on La Vagabonde’s YouTube channel, see: sailing-lavagabonde.com
About the author
At 25 Nikki Henderson became the youngest ever Clipper Round the World Race skipper, bringing Visit Seattle home in second place in the 2017/18 edition. She has sailed the RORC Caribbean 600, two Fastnet Races and was a guest skipper on Maiden.
First published in the February 2020 edition of Yachting World.
The post The inside story of Greta Thunberg’s upwind Atlantic crossing on La Vagabonde appeared first on Yachting World.
Road to the America’s Cup podcast: What can sailing simulators teach us? (13 Feb 2020, 8:32 am)
If there is one single technology that will define the outcome of the 36th America’s Cup it will be simulation: the ability to accurately model and so predict the performance of a boat before its construction
The reason is simple: every other means of performance evaluation has been neutered – or, at the very least, significantly hampered – by the Protocol, which bans tow-tank and wind tunnel testing and sailing two AC75s at the same time.
These rules move the battleground to a virtual arena, where a team’s ability to model and predict all the different aspects of the AC75’s performance will be definitive. The most talked about tool is the full size simulator, which at INEOS Team UK consists of a motion platform, several sets of virtual reality goggles and all the same control hardware that’s used on the actual boat. This simulator allows the crew to sail a virtual version of any AC75 for which the team has a CAD or 3D model.
The computer code that makes this possible rests on many other subsidiary simulations. For instance, the performance of the rudder, the T-foils, and the rig and wingsail must be simulated with computational fluid dynamics (or CFD) software to know how much lift and drag the different foil elements can produce at all the different trim settings, wind speeds and angles.
A virtual world
These force vectors must then be combined in a traditional velocity prediction programme (VPP) to calculate the steady state speed of the AC75 in all conditions. And then a final layer of code must introduce the dynamic elements to enable a full-blown simulation of the boat’s performance with sailors in control of the rudder, and the trim of the foils and sails.
The simulator is the overall tool that lets the humans sail the whole package in a virtual world. And it’s a remarkable tool, despite its limitations and differences, as Ben Ainslie explains: “To start off, there’s no apparent wind, or wind at all really, and there’s no water, so the seat of the pants feeling is very much reduced… but the simulator does have all the same HMI or control systems that we use to steer, trim and pilot the real boat. It’s really important for us to be able to develop those tools.
“Then there’s working with other key guys in the boat in terms of the performance loop… the sail trim, the piloting of the boat, keeping it flying out of the water and the helming of the boat. So that performance loop is really important, and the simulator helps us massively to develop those relationships and skill sets.”
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The early work with the simulator focused on simply getting a feel for this very new concept of boat, before moving onto more specific trials and tests of different techniques to try to work out the optimum way to sail the AC75. This work will continue right through the America’s Cup, but the final stage has been to test different AC75 designs.
“We are trying to make decisions on different hull shapes and dynamics… how the boat manoeuvres, how it takes off out of the water. On the straight-line speed, we’d probably actually get a better handle on that through pure VPP modelling, but the simulator helps us in many ways from the sailing perspective; how does the boat handle and perform and then we feed that back to the designers and help them to make some of their key decisions.”
One of the main advantages of the simulator in this task is the repeatability of the conditions. This has always been a problem when testing full-sized boats in the real world, where tests are held in different wind speeds with different wind sheer, different wind gradient, and so the noise in the data that’s generated for analysis is huge.
“The simulator seems way more efficient than testing two boats out in the middle of the Solent where you’ve got tides and wind shifts and everything else going on. The simulator is a totally controlled environment… it’s a more efficient process for testing different concepts and getting accurate results,” said Ainslie.
While there are definite advantages to working in the simulator, the key question is to what extent the results can be trusted. “I’d probably be giving too much away if I gave you the full answer to that from our perspective,” continued Ainslie.
“But the answer is that we wouldn’t be investing so much effort and time into the simulator if we didn’t think it was worthwhile. And clearly in this particular America’s Cup where you’re not allowed to line up two boats against one another then it’s really your only true method of comparing different design concepts.
“Yes, we will go out and we will sail the 75-footer. We will make changes to that, and we’ll evaluate that on the water. But we will get, frankly, a more accurate read on a number of the key components through the simulator. And so it is a way of massively speeding up our development.”
About the author
Ben Ainslie is the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, and Team Principal of the British America’s Cup challenger. INEOS Team UK will be challenging for the 36th America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2021. Each month he talks to Mark Chisnell about the innovations and technology behind the new AC75 foiling monohulls.
The post Road to the America’s Cup podcast: What can sailing simulators teach us? appeared first on Yachting World.
Sailing Hawaii: A leisurely cruise around these picture-perfect volcanic islands (12 Feb 2020, 8:56 am)
Suzy Carmody on the vibrant culture and storied history that awaits cruisers visiting the remote pacific archipelago of Hawaii
We started our Pacific voyage on board Distant Drummer, our 45ft Liberty cutter-rigged sloop, from Wellington, New Zealand, in June, 2015, bound ultimately for North America and the Pacific Northwest. The 26-day passage to Tahiti went well and we spent six months enjoying the delights of French Polynesia. By November, as the cyclone season switched from the northern to the southern hemisphere, boats were gathering in the Marquesas for the crossing to the Hawaiian Islands.
In mid-December we left Nuku Hiva in the company of three other boats, with whom we kept in touch during the passage via an SSB radio check-in each evening. For the first week we stayed on a tight starboard beat to try to gain as much easting as possible, in case the later Trades backed towards the north.
We planned our passage to avoid cyclones and to minimise our time in the low-wind zone of the ITCZ. It worked out quite well: the wind did not drop below 15 knots, but the weather was pretty squally until we reached about 8°N. For the final week the sailing in the northeast tradewinds was superb. We celebrated Christmas at sea and all arrived in Radio Bay on the Big Island, Hawaii, in time to welcome in the New Year.
Radio Bay is on the east coast of Hawaii, about two miles from the centre of Hilo. There is space for five boats to tie up at the quay, Tahitian style, and the bay is protected by a sea wall, so very little swell gets in. Apart from the noise and dust of containers being shifted around in the port area nearby, it was perfect.
Across the bay, beside the beach, was the canoe club. The locals were very friendly and invited us to go out paddling with them. The double canoes held 12 people, six each side, and we went out for about an hour across Hilo Bay. It was great fun, but took a bit of practice to get the timing and the changeover just right. One evening one of the ladies gave us a hula-dancing lesson. The moves were really quite simple, but we couldn’t seem to capture the grace and allure the way the Hawaiian women do!
The east coast, or windward side of Hawaii, is known for its tremendous rainfall, with up to 140in per year, so what might have been a remarkably scenic drive across the Big Island with views of the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, turned out to be like a bad day in Scotland.
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But on the west side of the mountains, the sky turned blue and the sun shone as we descended into the tourist town of Kailua-Kona. We wanted to find the site in Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook was killed. Having sailed in his wake around Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia, it was interesting to visit the place where he met his demise.
As a geologist I couldn’t leave Hawaii without seeing some molten lava. We visited the tongue-tying Halema’uma’u Crater but later found out that the Eastern Rift is where all the action is. I took a tour that guaranteed some of the hot stuff. We hiked for a couple of hours through the forest up to the lava front.
It was incredibly exciting to see the lava oozing out of fissures in the crust, and then solidifying into Daliesque shapes. The heat, smoke and noise were indescribable; trees were spontaneously catching fire. It was so hot my wellies melted!
It was a 20-hour passage from Hawaii to Maui across the Alenuihaha Channel. The channels between islands are known for their strong winds and the secret is to cross when the winds are predicted to be less than 15 knots. We hit the channel at sunset as the wind dropped, and had a very gentle crossing with virtually no breeze – but no nightmares, either.
Our first port of call was La Perouse Bay on the south-western corner of Maui. The best snorkelling was on the west side of the bay, which is part of a marine sanctuary. Boats with motors are not allowed in the area, so we pumped up our inflatable kayak and paddled over instead. Snorkelling the lava flow was amazing; the intricate topography of underwater gullies and sea stacks provided a refuge for a variety of reef fish, and the water was incredibly clear – almost sparkling.
After three days, we moved on. There’s a 72-hour rule in Hawaii, which limits the amount of time you are allowed to stay in a single anchorage to 72 hours. It is not clear exactly how far you have to move, and in practice, enforcement is inconsistent. We headed up to Lahaina, stopping on the way at Molokini, a submerged volcanic crater with just a crescent-shaped section of the rim poking up above the water.
The south side of the island is said to be a top-class dive site, so I hopped in. Actually the dive was unspectacular – crater rims look the same under the water as they do on the surface – but the dive was saved by two highlights.
Firstly, the backdrop of whale grunts, whistles and songs was haunting and unforgettable. The second was a manta ray that circled me repeatedly as I was doing my three-minute safety stop. It checked me out and seemed to approve, as it stayed within 5m of me up to the surface.
Lahaina was the seat of Hawaiian royalty and government until the annexation by the US in 1898. In the 19th Century, it was the centre of the whaling industry and now it is second only to Honolulu for its vibrant nightlife. For us it had a laundry, good shops for provisioning and the Lahaina Yacht Club, which has safe and secure moorings.
We used it as our base from which to cruise the nearby islands. The town itself has a quaint, pioneer look with plenty of old buildings to explore, but due to the number of tourists from the cruise liners and hotels, every shop on Front Street is a gallery, a jeweller’s or a gelateria.
The food on the Hawaiian islands is definitely worth a mention. Traditionally, the staple ingredients are fish, breadfruit and taro – not much to work with! Poke is a dish of raw tuna or salmon seasoned with anything from shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) to spicy piri piri, reflecting the diversity of the population.
Poi is a grey-and-purple, gelatinous paste made from ground taro mixed with water. It is often served with lau lau, which consists of bits of pork, chicken or fish marinated in a tasty, spicy sauce, wrapped in a taro leaf and steamed – it’s about the only thing that makes poi edible.
The most popular breakfast in Hawaii is the American-influenced loco moco – a meat patty served on a mound of rice and macaroni-cheese, topped with two fried eggs and brown gravy. Take it with a side-order of fried spam if you’re really hungry!
After a week in Lahaina, we moved up to Honolua Bay on the north-west corner of Maui. This anchorage is known for its good snorkelling and great surf. We skirted the swell breaking on either side of the entrance and found a relatively calm spot with a sandy bottom to drop anchor. The next day we climbed up to the headland to watch the surfers.
It was mesmerising to watch the endless sets of waves, each of which would build to about 3m, then crest to form a translucent green tube. As we looked down we also realised what a precarious anchorage we had chosen. The swell was coming at us from three different directions, but not affecting that one spot.
Sea stacks on Lanai
A strong northerly blow was forecast, so we moved across to the south coast of Lanai to the small harbour of Manele Bay. It only took a couple of hours to cross the Au’au Channel and we soon spotted the sea stacks that mark the entrance to the bay. We dropped anchor outside the harbour wall only to discover the next morning that the bay gets crowded with tourist boats. There is not much space between the channel, the reef and the harbour wall and our presence in the anchorage made it even tighter.
The history of European habitation on Lanai is interesting. The Mormons were the first to build a colony there, before it was purchased for ranching and growing sugar cane in the 1870s. In the 1920s the island was sold to James Dole who turned it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world.
In the town built for the workers, the houses are laid out in neat rows shaded by Cook pines. The place has a utopian, otherworldly feel to it. After changing hands a few more times, the island was recently purchased by Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle Team USA, the most recent defender of the America’s Cup. He re-opened the cinema and the swimming pool in the town and has refurbished the two hotels on the island, so the tourist hordes should be arriving shortly!
Once the winds eased, we moved around to the west coast of Lanai to an anchorage called Nanahoa, just to the north of a row of sea stacks. It is a dramatic spot: the dry, brown hills are cut by gulches filled with thorny green acacia trees and there is a blow hole at the base of the cliff from which plumes of water erupt high into the air. The coastline appeared deserted, but we did stumble across a hunting camp while exploring the gulch.
Our next stop was Honolulu. We waited for light winds to cross the Ka’iwi Channel to Oahu and moored up in Ala Wai Harbour, which is at the west end of Waikiki Beach. Once again we were tied stern-to, which, without a gangplank, made getting on and off the boat a bit of a scramble. To make life easy we left our bikes on the pontoon locked to a lamppost, but unfortunately, Neil’s was stolen.
Apart from the disappointment and potential cost, it was incredibly inconvenient to lose our main form of transport. By a stroke of luck, a friend spotted the bike the next day in a park about two miles away, propped up beside a homeless guy who was fast asleep. Neil dashed down there, grabbed his bike and rode home!
We had a terrific time visiting the historic vessels at Pearl Harbour, a must-see while on Oahu. On Ford Island we went on board the USS Missouri, nick-named Mighty Mo. This was the vessel on board which the Japanese surrender document was signed in 1945, ending the war in the Pacific. The guns were pretty impressive, as was the citadel, a fortified steel tower where the bridge and other vital functions of the ship are located.
We departed Honolulu bound for Molokai, which involved another overnight crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel. Molokai is sparsely populated, with little development, and has a reputation for being the ‘real’ Hawaii. There are no chain stores or franchised restaurants and there is virtually no tourism.
The town of Kaunakakai has a frontier feel to it: dusty streets, wooden buildings, covered sidewalks, and shops beneath big square facades with Japanese names in 1930s script (the Japanese are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii).
The first order of business for me was to visit Kalaupapa, a peninsula on the north side of the island, which is cut off from the rest of the world by 600m tall sea cliffs. Until 1969 the peninsula was used as a leper colony.
There are no roads down the pali (cliff), which separates it from the rest of the island, so you have to hike or take a mule down the three-mile track, or fly in on the nine-seater plane. The hike is not particularly gruelling, but the path was very muddy and quite rough.
As April passed into May it was time to head to Kauai, where we planned to rendezvous with several other boats that were bound for the Pacific Northwest. Kauai is easily the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian Islands: lush and verdant with narrow, sinuous roads weaving their way around the south and east coasts. Tourism is not overdeveloped, although there are plenty of ‘ye olde shell shoppes’, and the like.
We anchored in Hanalei Bay and, one beautiful sunny day, we sailed with some friends along the Na Pali coast, a stunning and deserted part of the island. The high cliffs of soft volcanic rock have been eroded into pinnacles and deep gullies, each sporting a white waterfall. It is incredibly picturesque. We anchored for lunch off a sandy beach and watched the helicopter tours buzzing in and out of the valleys.
We thoroughly enjoyed cruising in the Hawaiian Islands. They were more densely populated than I expected but we have happy memories of comfortable anchorages, welcoming people and a superb climate. No wonder the tourists keep coming back.
About the author
Suzy, 53, and Neil Carmody, 62, live on board Distant Drummer, a Liberty 458 cutter- rigged sloop, which they bought in Thailand in 2006. They are currently based in the Pacific Northwest and blog about their adventures at: carmody-clan.com
First published in the September 2017 edition of Yachting World.
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Staysails: 5 tips on using them to turbocharge your boat speed (10 Feb 2020, 8:33 am)
Andy Rice gets top tips on how to use a staysail to turbocharge your boat from Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Mike Sanderson
As Mike Sanderson points out, staysails are hardly a new idea. The old clipper ships used to use multiple staysails. However, the past five years have seen staysails become a ‘must have’ item on high-performance raceboats, not least in the Volvo Ocean Race, where footage of triple-headed VO65s blasting along became some of the defining images of the 2017-18 edition.
As sailors are increasingly looking to gain smaller and smaller advantages in competition, staysail technology is trickling its way further down the sport. Mike looks at which kind of boats are best suited to deploying staysails, and how best to use them on the racecourse.
Genoa staysails tend only to appear on the highest performance raceboats that generate significant apparent wind. So here, Mike focuses his tips on spinnaker staysails, which are more applicable to a wider range of boats.
1. What’s your angle?
It’s surprising how little you need to ease sheets from close-hauled to start feeling the benefit of adding a genoa staysail. Provided the wind is more than 7 knots, even just bearing away 10° or 12° from fully upwind means you can start to feel the benefits of a genoa staysail.
Spinnaker staysails tend to come into play once you’re sailing at an apparent wind angle between 38-90°. Provided your boat experiences that kind of apparent wind angle (AWA) with a spinnaker or gennaker up when VMG running, chances are that a staysail will improve your performance.
A staysail will continue to work until quite a deep angle, but not when you’re getting close to dead downwind. Once you go beyond 150° to 155° true wind angle, you’re often better off furling it away.
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2. No penalty power
The beauty of the staysail is that rating rules like IRC and ORC don’t penalise you for using it. It’s measured as a jib, so you’re getting added power for no penalty.
On a Maxi 72, a spinnaker staysail will give another 100m2 of sail area, which powers up the boat more, bringing the apparent wind forward. It’s a very efficient way of increasing the flow across the sail plan, enabling you to sail faster and deeper downwind.
3. Use the jib
Once it gets windy on a high-performance boat, you might want to just leave the jib up and have that working as your staysail. If you’re racing on a short windward/leeward course, the risk of sending the bowman up on a white water foredeck might not be worth it.
You’ll notice that small sportsboats like J/70s and SB20s tend to keep their jibs flying downwind in most conditions, because it provides added power and improves the flow over the back of the mainsail, just like a dedicated staysail would do.
If you’ve got 100 miles of strong wind straight line sailing ahead of you in a Fastnet Race, for example, then the staysail is a no-brainer. In rough conditions, if in doubt, stick to the jib, and save yourself the potential jeopardy of stuffing up the staysail.
On slower, lower performance boats, you will want to keep the staysail flying for longer, most of the way up the wind range until you’re thinking about using the J4 jib. In many cases the staysail is an easier sail than the jib to handle through gybes as it can be furled.
4. Spec your staysail
When ordering your staysail, we talk about percentage of STL, or the bowsprit length. The longer the bowsprit, the closer to the headstay you can mount the attachment for your staysail.
That’s the case on a Maxi 72, for example, but if you’re operating with a short prod then you will need to mount the attachment further aft along the foredeck. Otherwise it will interfere with the flying of the gennaker and can also be a real hassle for the bowman to get the jib down and furl the staysail – dealing with the bulk of the jib and the risk of the furler line jamming in the jib and so on. This means you’ve got a trade-off to consider between performance versus boathandling.
5. Trim for speed
Trim the staysail like you would trim the jib. If in doubt about how much to sheet on, it’s better to have the luff slightly luffing rather than oversheeting it, but really just keep focussed on the telltales, especially around the middle of the sail.
If you have a fixed, non-adjustable sheeting point then you may want to have a series of strops for the tack of the sail so you can adjust the lead position by raising or lowering the whole sail off the deck at the tack, which achieves the same effect as adjusting the lead.
About the expert
Mike Sanderson is one of the most respected professional sailors on the circuit, having skippered ABN Amro to victory in the 2005/06 Volvo Ocean Race and sailed with Oracle in the America’s Cup. These days Mike is chief executive of Doyle Sails and races on board the Maxi 72 Bellamente.
First published in the February 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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5 expert sailing tips: How to win a yacht racing protest (6 Feb 2020, 9:09 am)
Andy Rice talks to Stuart Childerley about how to make your best case in the protest room and set yourself up for success in a dispute
You spend so much time and money honing your craft as a sailor, making the boat go faster… and then it can all blow up with a protest. In the blink of an eye, you’ve been transported out of a sporting contest and into a law court. This is not what you signed up for, but now you have to switch from sportsman to being your own legal representative. No wonder we’re so uneasy about going into a protest room.
Stuart Childerley has operated in every part of the sport, from grassroots to elite level, and from both sides of the fence as competitor and race official. Going into the room requires a completely different set of skills from those of sailing a boat, and very few equip themselves properly. It’s an adversarial process that can be intimidating unless you’re prepared for it. These are Stuart’s tips for making sure you end up on the winning side.
1. Avoid going in
The first rule of protests is don’t get involved in a protest if there’s a way of avoiding it. Once you go into the room, regardless of the circumstances of the incident in question, you’re in going with a 50/50 chance of winning. Do you really want to subject your race result to those kinds of odds?
When the incident happens, even if you think you’re in the right, weigh up the pros and cons of taking a penalty turn there and then. You’ll have to read the sailing instructions carefully beforehand, so you’ll know if it’s a standard 720° penalty turn (two spins) or whether there has been a change to just a 360° turn.
What will be the cost of taking a single penalty turn? It depends on the type of boat you’re sailing, your boathandling skills, how many places you might lose in taking the turn, and so on. These are quick decisions to be made under pressure but, if you’re in any doubt, take the penalty turn and protest the other boat or boats anyway. At least then you’ll have acquired an insurance policy by taking the penalty.
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2. Flag and hail
If you’re racing a boat that measures 6m or more in length, you’re obliged to fly a red protest flag in the event of an incident. In all cases, whatever boat you’re racing, you must hail ‘protest’ at the first reasonable opportunity. To fail to do these things could invalidate your protest.
Which begs the question: what if your competitor fails to fulfil these obligations when protesting you? Well, you could ignore it and pretend the incident never happened, but should you? What if the protestor swears blind they did hail protest? Perhaps they did, but you never heard it. And regardless of all that, shouldn’t you do the right thing anyway?
If there’s an incident, especially one that involves contact between two boats, our self-policing sport requires us to honour the rulebook.
3. Sit on a committee
One of the best things you can do to demystify the whole process is to sit on a protest committee. You’ll discover people employ very different techniques for putting across the facts. And you’ll also discover an alarming lack of knowledge about Racing Rules. Perhaps it will highlight gaps in your own knowledge.
Observing the process from the other side of the table will also show you how to communicate your message effectively and clearly to the protest committee, because you’ll notice what you respond to best, and whose evidence you find to be the most credible.
4. Avoid accusations
If you’re convincing and well rehearsed in how to put the facts across, and if you’re good at cross-examining people in the protest, you’ll have a good success rate. A good tactic is to ask questions rather than making accusations.
Very often you’ll hear two extremely different interpretations of the same racing incident, and you may feel your rival is outright lying to try to win the protest. Don’t accuse them of this, however. Just as a lawyer asks a difficult set of questions, use the same technique that will lead your rival to undermine their own argument. Questions, not accusations, are the way to make your case.
5. Shake on it
Protests can be intimidating, and it’s very easy for them to become adversarial. Once the decision is made, accept it with good grace, win or lose. Hopefully you can be proud that you represented yourself as best you could, and that you have learned from the process. After all, we all make mistakes at times.
The best outcome is when the two competitors leave the room together, shake hands and get on with the rest of the regatta without malice, but with mutual respect.
About the expert
Stuart Childerley twice represented Britain at the Olympics in the Finn, has won two Etchells World Championships and competed in the Volvo Ocean Race. Now one of the most in-demand race officers at the top of the sport, he’ll be officiating at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
First published in the January 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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Spirit Yachts: Inside the British yard behind some of the world’s most beautiful boats (6 Feb 2020, 8:14 am)
Few builders possess the power of seduction demonstrated by British wood epoxy experts Spirit Yachts. David Glenn reports
For more than 25 years Spirit Yachts has been melting the hearts of yachtsmen with its distinctive range of wood epoxy modern classics. In that time the company has built more than 60 yachts ranging in size from 37ft to 111ft and accumulated a volume of knowledge in sophisticated, timber epoxy yacht construction few, if any, companies in the world can match. In short, it’s a story of great British boatbuilding.
Today, Ipswich-based Spirit Yachts is embarking on a new phase in its development, having recently launched a 111ft sailing yacht that exploits the benefits of electric propulsion, the latest high voltage lithium battery technology and smart control systems to reduce the need for fossil fuel power.
Like all Spirits, she was constructed in timber from sustainable sources and because of her light and easily driven hull she could potentially become one of the most efficient sailing yachts afloat. On the face of it she’s an eco-warrior’s dreamboat, which means she was scrutinised down to her last plank of Douglas fir before her launch last year. But more of her later.
In spite of a full order book, Sean McMillan, founder of Spirit Yachts, whose distinctive design style and inherent skill as a woodworker are responsible for these luscious-looking yachts, is the first to admit that it hasn’t always been an easy ride: “It’s been a roller-coaster, but it’s also been a great experience,” he says.
McMillan’s passion for wooden boatbuilding, and dogged determination to retain a highly skilled workforce through thick and thin has put him and Spirit at the very forefront of modern wooden yacht building.
Raising the profile
Five years ago the Ipswich-based company was facing a tough market as the ripple effect of the 2008 financial crisis continued to hobble business. Refit came to the rescue, but only up to a point. “I knew that we could not afford to lose staff,” said Sean, who has always placed his boat builders at the heart of Spirit’s success.
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The directors also realised that running the company and designing the yachts (as well as not being able to resist some hands-on boat building), was too much for one man to handle. So they appointed Nigel Stuart as managing director. He came from Discovery Yachts and quickly raised Spirit Yachts’s profile.
Together with the Brexit effect and the consequent fall in sterling, making British products considerably more attractive, things began to look up. Today the company has an enviable, trend-bucking order book.
Fling in timber
After just a seven-month build period Spirit launched one of its more remarkable modern classics in the summer of 2017, the completely stripped out Spirit 52D for high profile, serial racing yacht owner Irvine Laidlaw, who was keen to add a modern classic to his fleet of Highland Flings. The D incidentally stands for ‘Distilled’.
On her first outing at the Panerai British Classic Week in Cowes, Oui Fling, surely the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing, dispatched the opposition in short order. Her victims included Sean McMillan (sailing his own Spirit 52, Flight of Ufford, which is anything but stripped out) who couldn’t quite catch Fling on handicap!
Laidlaw’s boat, which apparently touched 16 knots in the Solent, weighs just 6.8 tonnes – extraordinary for a wooden 52-footer – and is two tonnes lighter than Flight.
In addition to Oui Fling’s exploits, the announcement of the 111ft sloop contract was a massive boost, in fact a potential game changer for Spirit. Sean McMillan believes she is the largest wooden yacht of her type built in Britain since the J Class Shamrock V was launched by Camper & Nicholsons in 1930.
The Spirit 111 is, of course, a largely wood epoxy build, but incorporating a high voltage lithium ion battery-powered electric propulsion system and smart electrical management. Together with an original interior by world renowned designers Rhoades Young, and the appointment of a specialist project manager in the form of the highly experienced German Jens Cornelsen, this yacht places the company firmly in the superyacht league.
Spirit Yachts put its toe in the water with larger yachts when the 100ft Gaia was launched in 2007, but there were issues, especially in race mode upwind, when her timber hull deflected marginally more than anticipated, making it difficult to keep rig loads stable. The structure was re-worked back in Ipswich and Gaia returned to the circuit in good shape.
Refreshingly, Sean McMillan is not afraid to admit that he and the company have had to learn lessons over the past 27 years. With limited scantling and engineering information available from classification societies for modern wood epoxy construction, Spirit has, at times, had to feel its way along the design route. Today, with what they call their ‘file of evidence’ containing historic calculations and structural data, they are con dent about tackling just about anything.
For the Spirit 111’s structural engineering, there was input from Sean McMillan, his experienced in-house naval architect Lawrence Peckham, composite structures expert Gary Scott-Jenner of Ipswich firm Synolo Design, and the classification society RINA.
Work involved 30 laminated sapele ring frames over which Douglas fir planking was laid and then finished with quadruple diagonal layers of 3mm mahogany veneer. There is some local reinforcement in carbon fibre and the entire structure will underwent epoxy saturation for structural integrity, impact resistance and longevity.
The owner of the Spirit 111 had an unfortunate accident with his previous yacht, a Spirit 52, when he hit a rock at eight knots while sailing in the Baltic. The yacht took in no water but a number of ring frames were cracked, so she returned to Ipswich for repairs to include‘ sistering’ or doubling up the frames in question.
Demonstrating his faith in Spirit, while visiting their offices to check progress on the 52’s repairs, the owner caught a glimpse of a previous design Sean McMillan had been amending. Not long afterwards the deal for a boat that would be more than twice the size of the Spirit 52 was on the table.
Highly stylised furniture
Two of the defining features of the Spirit 111 are aesthetics and a determination to use modern technology to make the yacht as efficient as possible, reducing the amount of fossil fuel required.
In profile she has a noticeably low freeboard and while the owner was warned this might limit headroom in the ends of the accommodation he was prepared to sacrifice this for looks. “The freeboard is just 1.4m which means she looks stunning – she’s more J then a J,” said Sean McMillan who is clearly relishing working with a client who won’t let anything get in the way of aesthetics.
Using some unusual, highly stylised furniture as guidance on how he wanted the interior designed, the client went to Rhoades Young in the UK to develop the accommodation. The result, which suits the use of wood construction perfectly, is quite extraordinary.
The yacht’s drive train comprises a 200hp electric engine served by four banks of lithium ion batteries providing a 380V system. The technology has been developed by the German outboard manufacturer Torqeedo, which has branched out into other forms of what it calls ‘water-based electromobility’ in response to the need for boats to be super eco-friendly on European inland lakes.
Nigel Stuart and Sean McMillan visited several companies developing the technology and were impressed by what they saw at Torqeedo in Gilching, Bavaria. One of the attractions is that the company considers the system as a whole, including batteries, the drive train to the folding Gori propeller, the ‘freewheeling’ prop generator system while sailing, and smart control to keep electricity consumption to a minimum.
The electric propulsion package perfectly suits the Spirit 111’s easily driven hull and relatively light displacement of just 59 tonnes. The batteries, which are similar to those used by BMW for their i3 and i8 electric cars, have a nine-year warranty and are small enough to fit under the yacht’s cabin sole in way of the keel.
It is anticipated that the Spirit 111 will be able to remain in quiet ship mode (no generator running) using all domestic appliances including air conditioning and water making for three to four days, assuming charging via the propeller while sailing can be achieved for up to five hours a day. Recharging the batteries using the yacht’s twin 25kw/33hp four-cylinder Torqeedo generators takes just four hours.
In addition to propulsion efficiency, low current means running motors for cooling systems for the battery bank and the electric engine itself, plus pumps for the hydraulic system and a Webasto electric water heater, will also be far more efficient through smart control and monitoring. If these targets can be reached, the Spirit 111 will use half the amount of fuel than that of a conventional system, demonstrating a big advance in the search for the genuinely eco-friendly superyacht.
Another yacht in search of low consumption, and attracting considerable attention, is the recently-launched Spirit P70 motor yacht. She’s a semi-displacement fast cruiser with a top speed of 25 knots, whose owner required a 1,000nm range at 18 knots enabling him to complete cruises from Hamble in the UK to Scandinavia and back without refuelling.
Her advantageous power-to-weight ratio is achieved through her lightweight timber construction requiring two MAN diesel inboard engines of just 800hp each to reach the required performance. She carries 10,000lt of fuel, divided into five tanks, which is automatically distributed between the tanks to maintain efficient trim as the fuel is consumed. With luxurious accommodation on three levels this is a businesslike-looking yacht capable of high average speeds in almost all sea conditions.
With these three yachts alone, Spirit Yachts is displaying not only its known ability in sophisticated wood epoxy construction, but also its keenness to use advanced technology available from other industries. It’s a powerful combination likely to attract considerable attention in the demanding world of superyachting.
The Spirit Yachts story: From a cowshed in Saxmundham to building superyachts
Spirit Yachts has come a long way since a 37-footer called Spirit was built in a cowshed in Saxmundham in 1993. The hull of this beautiful long-ended, wood epoxy sloop was so light that Sean McMillan and his late business partner Mick Newman could pick it up between them and turn it over for completion.
Demand for larger yachts soon grew with eleven 46s built to date, four 52s and many other sizes including a 56, 74 and the 100-footer Gaia. Despite a steady flow of orders over the years and a big spike in interest when a Spirit 54 ‘starred’ in the James Bond movie Casino Royale, Sean McMillan had to spend a lot of time explaining the advantages of building in wood epoxy to the boat buying public.
“Thirty years ago people thought wooden boats were dirty smelly things, difficult to maintain with dodgy stuff lurking in the bilges,” said McMillan. “The journey has involved subtly re-educating the yachting public about composite wooden yachts.”
Due to its epoxy saturated protection, composite wood yachts are almost maintenance-free, they are easy to repair and can be done so invisibly, maintains Sean McMillan. The very structure of the hull is, without doubt, a thing of beauty something illustrated by the interior of the stripped out Spirit 52D Oui Fling. And it is the outward appearance of the Spirit genre that gives it its must-have status.
In 2007 Spirit Yachts launched five yachts including the 100ft Gaia, but it was also the year in which Sean lost his business partner Mick Newman, who died in a light aircraft crash in Turkey. Shortly after that in 2008 the financial crisis hit, although the effects didn’t filter down to Spirit Yachts until 2010 when business slowed.
When Nigel Stuart arrived in 2013, the first thing he did was replace the industrial style metal door leading to reception with a solid mahogany one. He booked a stand at the Düsseldorf Boat Show, fired up the media machine and sat Sean down at his drawing board.
Stuart has also encouraged the company to re-define its range, which now includes, The Classic Style (Spirit 46,52, 56); The Cruising Style (Spirit 47CR, 55CR); The Deckhouse Range (Spirit DH57, DH60); Spirit Superyachts (100 to 130) and then the entirely bespoke. Spirit Yachts expanded into new, modern premises in 2017, making the build process faster. In all respects it’s a very long way indeed from that cowshed in Saxmundham…
The go-faster factor
A key player in almost all Spirit Yachts projects is John Parker of OneSails, based in Suffolk Yacht Harbour. He is passionate about Spirit’s modern classic ethos. His sails are not only Spirit’s preferred choice, but clients are urged to discuss their needs from early on in a project.
“It’s important to understand how people are likely to use their yachts,” said Nigel Stuart. “Are they setters and leavers, or non-stop tweakers? Will they simply go cruising or take to the race course?” Based on these facts carbon mast specification can be decided.
“We try to futureproof yachts by building in items like additional sheave boxes and mast track laminate reinforcement for spinnaker poles – it’s amazing how many clients seem convinced they don’t want to race but end up being tempted,” said Stuart.
Low friction rings, soft shackles and bespoke, colour-coded running rigging – even hand stitched leather winch handle pockets – are all part of what’s on offer to ensure clients get the best out of their Spirit and that the boat looks the part.
Adapted and updated from an article published in the September 2017 edition of Yachting World.
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