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Locked out and locked in: World cruisers share their COVID-19 sailing dilemmas (6 Aug 2020, 8:19 am)
When countries locked down because of COVID-19, thousands of cruisers were stranded. We hear some of their stories
When the world abruptly locked down in March, many cruisers were caught out, and soon to be trapped. Hundreds, at least, were on passage at the time, and were forced to run between islands, or countries as the door was shut.
Some, such as those taking part in the World ARC and on a 3,000-mile passage (the longest on the tradewinds circumnavigation route) between the Galapagos and Marquesas Islands, found themselves temporarily refugees, with nowhere to go.
Many had to add more miles to what had already been a long voyage and were low on water, fuel, supplies then moved on again from the next country. Others were summarily ejected, and to this date find themselves liable to be moved on at short notice, or now perilously out of step with seasonal winds.
In some countries, for example St Lucia, those arriving were put in quarantine and unable to clear in. A month later, they were still not being permitted out of quarantine.
Others were on passage back across the Atlantic to Europe and, according to Sue Richards, who runs the cruising website Noonsite (a hugely valuable resource for world cruisers, and a mine of exchanged information in the crisis), some are having to give up the dream altogether. Those who have sold everything to move on board, or are funding themselves through rental property, now found themselves with no income and rising costs, and perhaps stuck in a marina.
“There is also a lot of fear – of being stuck in a place where the hurricane season or cyclone season is looming, and where they can’t get to a safe port or to haul out the boat, or even to fly home while there were flights out,” says Richards. “The hurricane season starts on 1 June and people need to get out of there.
“Working with the Ocean Cruising Club, we pulled together a list of refuge ports in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and northern Europe for boats needing to get across the Atlantic to repatriate to Europe. Grenada, Trinidad and the BVIs are working towards finding solutions for owners that want to haul their boats for the hurricane season.”
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Cruising clubs and organisations such the Ocean Cruising Club, Seven Seas Cruising Association, Cruising Association, the Cruising Club of America and the Royal Cruising Club all pulled together, with Salty Dawg rallies and World Cruising Club looking after those crews in their events.
What will coronavirus mean for cruising in the next few years? With a heightened sense of instability, some will certainly choose to stick closer to home. It may change the view of living on board as offering a greater freedom than on land. There could be a boost for organised events, where a team ashore is responsible for fixing and negotiating solutions to any unforeseeable problems.
But hopefully many will take their chances and go. There is always something to worry about. World economies are changing, there may be a different geopolitical order, we may look back at how COVID-19 was a watershed – who knows? But, as the saying goes, time is the only thing we really own, and it is finite.
Trapped in paradise
By Jennifer and Peter Bernard
“Whiskey Jack, Whiskey Jack, this is Uligan Coastguard.” We’re immediately on high alert. The coastguard is calling the yacht anchored right next to us.
“Coastguard, this is Whiskey Jack. Go ahead.”
“Whiskey Jack, this is Uligan Coastguard. We suggest you raise anchor and leave the Maldives, and find another country to go to.”
And there it is. The call we’ve been dreading for the past four weeks. With those 16 words, our worst fears have become real.
Immediately, the WhatsApp group that we set up with the other 11 boats in our anchorage in March starts pinging.
“Did you hear that?”
“Did I just hear what I thought I did?”
“Does that mean all of us?”
Clearly, everyone is listening in. And we all know the implications: our world is about to be turned upside down.
Where we are at
It’s May and we are anchored in Uligan, the second-most northern island in the Maldives. We left Sydney in July 2018 to begin a five-year circumnavigation and sailed through south-east Asia visiting Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka before arriving here in the Maldives in early March.
Our plan for 2020 was to follow the weather systems through the Indian Ocean, travelling southwards as the year progressed and arriving in South Africa around October.
When we left Sri Lanka in early March, word of the coronavirus was on everyone’s lips, but the term COVID-19 had barely entered public consciousness, and ‘social distancing’ was a phrase used by people who didn’t like Facebook and Instagram.
We checked with our agent in the Maldives but were reassured that all was good, and we would be welcome. It was a six-day passage during which we had no internet, so we were shocked by how much the global situation had deteriorated by the time we arrived on 12 March.
Two days after we arrived, the Maldives shut its borders, and we were told it might be a week or two until our cruising permit was issued, while the government worked out their approach to the emerging threat. By this point 12 boats were waiting in the anchorage with us. 55 days later, we were still there.
We were required to shelter at the current anchorage, and initially were not allowed ashore at Uligan or anywhere else in the Maldives. After a few weeks, we were given access to a small, uninhabited island five miles from Uligan for exercise, which significantly improved morale.
We were allowed to visit each other on our yachts, we could swim and snorkel among beautiful coral, and receive occasional visits from turtles, dolphins and manta rays. These are wonderful privileges, especially compared to some of our fellow cruisers locked down elsewhere in the world.
In the meantime, we were painfully aware of the dramatic impact COVID-19 has had on just about everyone on the planet. We consumed the news hungrily each day and feared for our friends and family who were on the front line: death or severe illness; economic meltdown; loss of personal income; future instability; and massive disruption to daily life.
And at times we felt guilty, as they wrote to us about lockdown and its impact. “Talk about the perfect place to practice social distancing,” they’d say. “I wish I could be sitting on a yacht, sipping cocktails watching the sunset, with no risk of contracting the virus.” But the truth was less romantic.
A precarious situation
Like many bluewater cruisers right now, our short- to medium-term future is fraught with high levels of stress, anxiety and danger. We have no home to shelter in, at least not in the conventional sense. We have limited supplies of food, fuel and water, no shops to visit to resupply, and limited access to land for exercise.
We’re subject to the vagaries of the weather, with storms, cyclones and worse and, with the south-west monsoon setting in, we can expect our anchorage to become progressively less comfortable. With an average height of less than 3m above water, the Maldives is not exactly famed for its secure anchorages to ride out storms. We’re strangers in a strange land, and know the locals are struggling. From social media we see some are fearful that crews from the yachts are carrying the virus to their homes or are consuming their scarce resources.
Underpinning everything is a persistent dread – how will we cope when (not if) our engine, watermaker or other critical system breaks down and we have no access to spare parts or replacements? Above all, each day is consumed by the thought of what happens if we are asked to leave, while every other country’s borders are closed and being defended by Navy gunships.
The Maldivian authorities have been helpful, providing regular supplies of basic groceries and diesel, and so the plan had been to sit out the worst of the coronavirus in Uligan, and then resume our onwards journey when borders reopened. But after a period of stability and low infection rates, the virus began to spread rapidly through the Maldives, and this call from the coastguard is clear evidence that the authorities want us to move on.
What are our options? We follow up with our agent, and he confirms that the authorities have asked all foreign yachts in the Maldives to prepare for emergency departure if the situation continues to deteriorate. Although there are two marinas further south, they are currently closed due to the virus – the authorities have so far been resolute that we cannot move our yacht there and fly home.
A couple of cruisers have chosen to sail home, no matter how long and unsafe the journey, hoping to take advantage of an assumed willingness of each country they pass to top them up with fuel and provisions. While a ‘short hop’ strategy like that might work if you’re in the Mediterranean and trying to sail back to the UK, for example, it’s more difficult in the Indian Ocean due to the huge distances and seasonal dangers to the weather.
For us, sailing directly home to Australia would be particularly challenging. The direct route via Christmas Island and Darwin is over 4,000 miles against the prevailing winds and currents. In fact, the Indian Ocean Cruising Guide does not even include a direct route from Maldives to Australia – instead the recommendation is to sail down the east African coast, turn left at Cape Town and then sail east to Fremantle and Sydney, turning it into an 8,500 mile non-stop passage in some of the most treacherous waters in the world.
While both options are technically feasible, they’re not passages I’d undertake willingly. I think they pose too much risk to our vessel and crew, especially considering there’d be nowhere to refuel or reprovision along the way, and no bail-out ports if serious problems arose.
So as we contemplate being asked to leave Maldives imminently, our criteria for finding an alternative are:
- Is the journey there viable and safe from a sailing perspective?
- Is the border open and the country itself safe to be in?
- If the border is not open, are there still some kind of medium-long term options there (either shelter in place on our boat for several months, or facilities to leave the boat and fly home)?
Every country that borders the Indian Ocean fails test No 2. Although Tanzania’s border remains open, their prime minister prefers to tackle COVID-19 through the use of onions, garlic and prayer rather than social distancing and lockdowns. Sadly, that means for us it fails the second part of the test. It’s also 1,700 miles away, mostly upwind, with very limited facilities for yachts of our size, making tests 1 and 3 marginal at best.
Between April and October, the south-west monsoon in the northern Indian Ocean means that the safest option for us is to sail to Malaysia or Thailand. Both countries have the facilities to store yachts like ours, meaning they could also pass test 3. Unfortunately both are in lockdown, and have stated that while they will refuel yachts, they will compel them to keep moving, and they will not be allowed to shelter in place.
Despite this, if we are formally asked to leave, our best option currently seems to be to set out on the 1,800-mile passage from Uligan to Malaysia, knowing it will take 15-20 days at this time of year. Throughout the journey, we will have no insight into what awaits us.
Challenged by the Malaysian Navy, with guns pointed at us? Refuelled and moved on? And if so, to where? And in what mental state will we be as we embark on the next passage, again without knowledge of what awaits us at the other end? On the other hand, if the Maldives does allow us to stay here until our visa expires, it buys us some time to try and make the best decision we can about where to go.
To help with answers to these questions, we’ve reached out to our embassy, both in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. While they are trying to be helpful, they are simply not geared up to deal with our tiny niche, and so the initial advice has not been relevant to our situation. The constant refrain is: fly home.
“But what about the yacht”, we ask? “We can’t just leave it to sink, can we?”
“Oh yeah, well you need to stay in the Maldives then.”
“Yes, but we’re being warned by the Maldives that they may ask us to leave imminently. What then?”
“You need to have a plan in place in case you can’t stay.”
“That’s why we contacted you. Can you liaise with the authorities in Malaysia or Thailand about our situation?”
“No, their borders are closed, and we cannot challenge their laws. That’s not our role here.”
And round and round we go.
A new reality
When we first started considering our options, we imagined it was just a case of waiting out a few months, and then we’d be able to resume our circumnavigation. Now we’re not so sure.
Malaysia or Thailand are definitely the best choice for us if we think it’s going to take a year or two for normal border crossings to resume. And if we can’t get in there, then finding a way to get back to Australia with or without the boat is the fall-back.
On the other hand, if we thought normal cruising could resume in the next few months, we’d regret heading back east, only to have to retrace our steps.
So our decision (if we have the luxury of making it ourselves) is really all about one question alone: will normal cruising resume later this year, early next year, or some time later than that? Obviously we have insufficient data to answer that with any confidence right now. It will involve a guess and a gamble whenever we have to choose, but the later we can make that decision the better our data will be.
Since this article was first published (June 11th), Jennifer and Peter left the Maldives on July 11 and are currently en-route to the Seychelles. You can follow their ongoing adventures on their blog Sailing Steel Sapphire.
The post Locked out and locked in: World cruisers share their COVID-19 sailing dilemmas appeared first on Yachting World.
Expert sailing advice: Pip Hare’s top tips for crisis communications (6 Aug 2020, 8:01 am)
When things start to go seriously wrong, your communication skills can go out of the window. Pip Hare explains how to communicate clearly in a crisis situation
When sailing with any number of crew members, good communication is not only key to good seamanship but is the route to a harmonious and happy crew. In times of crisis, however, good communication is often the first thing to slip when we start to panic.
Here are some of my tips for communicating with your crew when it matters the most.
Use names and be direct
Using people’s names when giving orders or when asking questions brings clarity to a situation, avoiding confusion around who is to carry out a task. It can also reassure crew that you are in control of the situation.
Every time I go out with a new crew I learn their names within the first five minutes and always ask if I forget – even if it may cause embarrassment. When asking someone to carry out a task it will be by name and if I want someone to stop doing something I always preface the request with their name.
If two people have the same name we find a way to distinguish between them (but avoid making up nicknames on the spot – in a crisis situation a person is unlikely to respond to a name they’ve only just been given).
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In my safety briefing before any voyage I’m clear that in emergency situations I’ll delegate responsibilities by name and only those crew who have been requested to act must do so. This needs to be done in such a way that crew will still be happy to offer their help or suggestions but it clarifies my role as a coordinator and avoids confusion over who should do what.
This briefing should also eliminate feelings of panic from crew who feel they should be doing something but don’t know what to do – if your name isn’t mentioned it’s OK to do nothing.
When taking command in any sort of crisis, whether it be a man overboard or a ripped spinnaker, try to use clear and direct language, modulate your voice to be loud but not sound alarmed (the difference between ‘shouting to’ and ‘shouting at’), and give time between commands for crew to respond.
People do not expect to hear please and thank you in crisis situations but they will respond best to calm, respectful communications. Communicate each task as simply as possible and, no matter how stressed, try never to use expletives.
Give the crew time
Once an order has been given, wait first to see if it has been heard or understood then wait for it to be carried out. In your initial safety briefing highlight the importance of acknowledgement of orders – this should be done verbally with simple, single words or with an exaggerated hand signal if there is a clear line of sight.
If there is a lot of background noise, shouting commands at each other is a very inefficient way of communication; if possible, get closer to each other or use an intermediary to relay messages. Using pre-agreed hand signals can work well.
If your commands are not being carried out, find out why – watch what is happening or ask what the problem is, but give the crew time to work things out before demanding an immediate explanation.
Following any sort of ‘crisis’ on the boat I’ll always try to carry out a short debrief to evaluate what could have been physically done differently and also how I as a skipper performed. Talk it through with those you feel will offer the most insight. For a small crew that will be everyone, for a larger crew I’d choose key players from each area of the boat.
If there has been one crew member who either struggled to understand me or appeared not to agree with my method I’d talk to them separately and identify what was the cause – sometimes a change in language may make things clearer.
Communication off the boat: Data then voice
Ability to deliver a Mayday voice message is vital, but don’t forget that the most effective way to communicate a distress situation is via electronic means – a VHF or HF distress alert, via Sat C or using an EPIRB. Use these methods first, then back up with a voice message.
When transmitting a Mayday over the radio try to write down all the information you need to deliver before going ahead. Make sure you’re clear on your position, particularly if you are reading from a GPS. Don’t forget that most GPS units display in degrees, minutes and decimals of minutes. Be clear on how you’d speak these numbers – they’re the most likely places that people trip up.
Practicing delivery of a standard Mayday message is not an onerous task and if the words and their order are well drilled into your brain it’s far more likely you’ll get them out calmly and clearly when they’re needed most.
If communicating a distress situation with the coastguard over the telephone (sat phone or GSM) use the same message organisation as with a Mayday radio call: identification, position, nature of distress, assistance required, number of people on board, plus any other information.
You should get prompts from the person at the other end, but if there’s a satellite delay or you have limited time to speak it may be necessary to get your message across in one go.
Make sure you’re aware of the call sign and MMSI of any new boat you are crewing on – these should be displayed on a Mayday card close to the VHF.
First published in the July 2019 edition of Yachting World.
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Heaven and hell: Sailing the Magellan strait on 37m superyacht Pumula (5 Aug 2020, 8:22 am)
‘A love and hate affair’ is how Michael van Bregt describes sailing through the Magellan strait and around the South of the Americas
A voyage around the southern tip of the Americas, will always be a mix of heaven and hell. If you’re prepared to take on the abrupt and unforgiving weather systems, then the pure remoteness of Patagonia, with its marine life and unspoilt deserted coastlines, all await.
In the southern hemisphere winter of 2020, Pumula was docked in the small marina of Punta del Este in Uruguay. It had been decided to curtail cruising plans for South America and bring this 37m/123ft Royal Huisman sloop from Uruguay to the warmer climes of the South Pacific.
Once that call was made, we then had the choice of sailing all the way around Brazil into the American armpit of Panama, going through the cumbersome formalities of the Panama canal and onto the regular fair wind trade route to Polynesia, or taking the more logical yet challenging option to save thousands of miles by ‘simply’ passing through the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America.
Pumula was designed by Dysktra for global cruising and has been down south before. I’ve sailed her there on previous passages and know that such a voyage is not to be taken lightly. So as soon as the decision was made, the crew and I started preparing the yacht for all it might face.
All weather systems approach from the west across the wide southern Pacific before clambering and streaming over and through the southern Andes. We were heading to the south and east into the face of this. Traditionally the winter and spring seasons offer lighter weather than the summer, even though the temperatures may be lower, but in my experience all seasons anywhere near the Horn of South America offer a full scope of weather, ranging from idyllic calms to raging tempests.
The latitudes nicknamed roaring forties and furious fifties always seem to live up to the sailor’s worst expectations.
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For any captain contemplating a passage to the region of Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego, I’d advise studying (and being amazed by) the passage transcripts of Ferdinand Magellan, who first passed there to the east in the 1500s, and the famous Joshua Slocum with his ordeals aboard his tiny sloop Spray. In my childhood I’d always dreamed about sailing there and after the first time knew I both loved and hated the place, but above all that it offered zero tolerance for complacency.
Our passage to Polynesia would be broken up in three stages. The first leg would be to the Punta Arenas in Chile, lying at the gateway of Patagonia just after the entrance to the Magellan Strait. The second would be through Magellan and up the Chilean channels to the sheltered Puerto Montt, where the yacht could be prepared and resupplied for the third long leap to Polynesia.
To start with I needed a good team. We can normally sail and maintain the yacht with four crew: our first mate Ollie, who had sailed with me through many a storm; Abbi, our seaworthy crew chef; and deckhand Tom, who’d only recently joined the yacht but had already proved himself to be steady in a blow. However, it’s easy to become short-handed on such a voyage, so we increased the crew to seven, which included flying in my good friend Rob, who I knew to be a seasoned sailor and dependable watch leader.
Except for Ollie, none had been down south before, so it was key to prepare them for what may lie ahead.
Prep for the worst
It was important to go over all mechanics as well as update and revamp the spares list. Once underway we’d need to be very self-sufficient. Whatever we could not find in Uruguay, we needed to fly in from Europe and we only had a few weeks to get the yacht ready.
The rig was checked and double checked, and all deck fittings were extra secured as we added a spiderweb of straps and lines to help keep all in place in the event of a storm. Abbi stocked up for the first leg, doubling up some supplies just in case and pre-cooking several comfort meals for the expected cold and rough weather.
Once we completed customs and immigration formalities the sun was already setting, so I decided to anchor off just outside the port for the night to start the passage with a rested crew on a fresh morning.
Next day, the wind had picked up to a stiff breeze, blowing out of a dark grey front at 30 knots. Not a nice overture, but the crew were alert as we motored out of the mouth of Rio del Plata. The weather settled once we made our way from the murky brown delta into the open sea.
Some main and staysail was set in a lighter breeze but, as often, the wind veered south onto our bow. After trying a high angle with a full main and full blade, we finally had to give up sailing all together with a dying 12 knots directly on the nose.
After another 24 hours of trying to keep the yacht moving in varying winds, we picked up a steady system of wind. The passage plan would be to cruise reasonably close to the Argentinian coastline. Any heavy weather would be from the west and the further out to sea, the wilder the sea state would become. The large ocean bay Bahia Grande, stretching down to the entrance of the Magellan Strait, was something to get especially right, as this was where the toughest conditions were expected.
My plan was to hug the cape and use the lighter weather to get as far west as possible. Unfortunately, as we were beating upwind a few miles offshore the breeze picked up to over 30 knots and the swell in the relative shallow water became quite uncomfortable, also hampering any boat speed. We had to change plans and head out to deeper water straight into the oncoming waves.
As often, these kinds of situations occur in the darkness of night. The crew in the forepeak were thrown out of their bunks. After a few bumpy miles, the sharpness of the swell decreased to a normal storm level, the crew resettled and normal passagemaking resumed.
With no relative calm to work with, it was now a matter of heading straight for Magellan. A big blow was on its way, so it was important for the watch to be extra vigilant. In this region things can change at an enormous pace. Several years ago, in the same area, I’d been taken by surprise and was determined not to let that happen again. I was on watch when the storm announced itself.
During steady coursing, a strong gust blasted through the rigging. It only lasted about ten seconds, but it made all the stays and mast hum with excitement – a dark rumbling sound. There was no time to lose in shortening sail. In the regular breeze that resumed we went straight down to four reefs in the main and furled away the jib.
Just after resetting the sails the wind arrived in earnest. A new regime had now come into place. With a minimal main and the engine pushing us over the waves we managed to progress southwards. We needed to course about another 300 miles south to reach Magellan.
I knew we had to make it by the end of the storm, so we could navigate due west through the Strait to Punta Arenas. If we waited to move until the next calm we may well have been hit by the next storm at the entrance or when moving west through Magellan.
Motoring directly into something in the region of 50 knots of wind in the narrows of Magellan would not be possible. And if we chose to bear away and make for Port Stanley in the Falklands, we’d later have to pay the price of a direct westerly course with all weather on the nose.
It didn’t take long for the swell to build, and with peaks of over 70 knots of wind, we were soon riding up and down 7m waves in a fuming sea. Progress was slow and extremely uncomfortable. The 115 tonnes of Pumula were being thrown around like a drunken sailor and even with minimal mainsail the 50m rig on its own produced a pronounced heeling.
At first the crew was looking a little worried in the howling conditions, but after a while they got used to it and maybe even enjoyed the challenge. Tom especially, being a keen surfer, loved it all – the waves were majestic and powerful. Abbi was happy with her pre-cooked meals, as were the hungry crew. The temperature had plummeted down to just above freezing and watchkeeping was hard work.
I was happy sailing a very well-built Royal Huisman yacht. Pumula has proven herself to manage even the most adverse conditions over the years. Despite the very stylish Spirit of Tradition freeboard, the designers at Dykstra had drawn a modern underwater hull which functions well in extreme ocean conditions, either downwind or beating up against it all.
Although moving slowly, we managed to keep course without too much drift. The crew gained confidence, more grins appeared on deck, even though everyone, including myself, really longed for it all to end as soon as possible.
It took us three days to finally spot the lighthouse at the entrance of the Strait. As if by magic, conditions lightened, and we motored into a calm and flat Magellan Strait. It was so nice not to be thrown around, to eat, drink and sleep in a fine, stable and upright yacht.
It was another 100 miles to Punta Arenas. With a large tidal difference between there and the entrance of the strait, tidal streams can run up to 8 knots against any vessel on the approach, but with 450hp and little wind it posed no real problem for Pumula.
We contacted Tomas Miranda of SASYSS, a dependable Chilean agent I’d worked with before, to set up the welcoming committee. Working with an agent is essential when travelling to and through Chile. It’s very bureaucratic and a local man to streamline procedures definitely pays off.
The port of Punta Arenas does not amount to much. It has one large commercial jetty and all yachts must anchor off with little shelter from the weather. Fuel was to be delivered by truck to the dock, timed with the army of officials to board simultaneously.
The weather window to continue west was looking good, so I was eager to get going as soon as possible, but allowed the crew one day of relative rest and a little sightseeing ashore.
The next morning, fresh supplies restocked and with fuel tanks brimming, we set off on the next leg. It would be another thousand miles to Puerto Montt. The first part would be some south followed by due west through the Magellan Strait and after a few days, we’d turn north for the passage through the Chilean channels.
We couldn’t have wished for a better start: no wind to speak of and clear bright skies. Spectacular landscapes emerged. The approach to Punta Arenas from the east is very flat and lifeless, but soon after this port it becomes a wilderness of the wind-beaten southern Andes.
This is the separation channel between Patagonia and Tierra Del Fuego and on both sides of the sea strait are clear, wide views of enormous peaks and extensive glacier fields. It was the end of winter so there was a lot of snow, reflecting the crystal sunshine with a deep blue backdrop. It was absolutely stunning.
We made good progress south and west and left the Strait of Magellan. Within only a few hours a new depression closed in on us. While we were cruising in the relative shelter of the narrow channels going north, storm winds blasted eastwards through the strait.
If we’d been headed by that system there would have been no choice but to find some shelter, to anchor in a bay with a spiderweb of shorelines and sit it out. The area is famous for williwaws. In severe weather these katabatic winds have been recorded to locally exceed 130 knots. As the cloud base scoured the mountains and we were pelted by icy wind and driving rains, we were fine to motor on with relative ease.
It would take another four days to reach Puerto Montt. We were missing the poetry of using the wind and waves: motoring for 100 hours is no fun, but the amazing scenery around us wiped away most boredom.
Sparing pages of superlatives, to summarise, Patagonia offers the peak of raw beauty and wilderness. The remoteness and savage feel drew us back in time, to a wide and largely uninhabited world that has disappeared from across most of the globe.
Pumula plodded along dependably mile after mile. Hours of bright calm were alternating with seemingly longer hours of storm and cold. We reached Puerto Montt on a clear night, anchoring outside until morning. The compulsory pilot took us safely past the shallows on the approach channel. We docked at a small marina, again with officials and their elaborate paperwork to greet us.
The log showed around 2,500 miles since we left Punta del Este – a 16-day passage never to forget.
About the author
Born and raised in the Netherlands and UK, Michael van Bregt’s first yachting experience was a Mirror dinghy in the Bristol docks. Since then the boats have become larger and destinations more exotic. van Bregt helped with the commissioning of Pumula and has skippered her to both polar extremes.
First published in the July 2020 edition of Yachting World.
The post Heaven and hell: Sailing the Magellan strait on 37m superyacht Pumula appeared first on Yachting World.
Lagoon 46 first look: Updating this catamaran is a significant step for the yard (4 Aug 2020, 8:06 am)
An extraordinary number of 40-45ft cruising catamarans continue to hit the market, and one of the most notable in recent times has been the Lagoon 46
Lagoon has sold 900 of its 450 catamaran model in eight years, maxing out the 130-a-year mould capacity in latter years. Updating such a popular model then is a significant step.
Yann Masselot, CEO of the CNB yard where many Lagoons are built, showed us over the new Lagoon 46 at the 2019 Düsseldorf boat show. He explained that the focus was placed on circulation aboard and living spaces, while increasing the level of comfort.
Despite the increased volume, Lagoon wanted to keep the same if not better performance than the 450. A glance at the hull shapes tells you how VPLP has achieved this.
Keeping the waterlines narrow, but flaring them out significantly inboard, helps increase volume inside, particularly in the forward cabins. It’s the first time on this size of cat that you can have the same size of bed fore and aft, Masselot declared.
Other modifications over the 450 include a new cradle-style davit system or optional hydraulic platform, and a lighter weight bimini roof. There is a larger sunbathing area on the flybridge, which has access from both side decks, more exterior galley options and increased cold stowage space.
With the mast further aft, a self-tacking jib is now standard. The Nauta interior thankfully demonstrates more rounded edges coming back in, with light oak or walnut Alpi finishes offered.
LOA: 13.99m (45ft 11in)
Beam: 7.96m (25ft 10in)
Draught: 1.3m (4ft 3in)
Displacement: 16,600kg (33,603lb)
Price: €433,000 (ex. VAT)
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5 expert sailing tips: How to gain an advantage downwind with asymmetric trim (3 Aug 2020, 7:37 am)
Andy Rice gets asymmetric trim tips from Olympic silver medallist and SailGP sailor Stu Bithell
The beauty of asymmetric sails is that they are very simple to trim. There’s no spinnaker pole to worry about, just a bowsprit and a simple gennaker to play with. However, there are still plenty of subtleties to get the best out of your A-sail. Stu Bithell knows how to make asymmetric boats go faster than most, with experience ranging from the 49er skiff up to large keelboats.
The simplicity of the gennaker is also one of its limitations, because asymmetrics tend to have a narrower ‘sweet spot’ compared with a conventional spinnaker where the pole can be laid forward for a tight reach or pulled aft for a run. So there are some interesting tactical considerations to bring into play, as Stu explains.
1. The low or high road?
One of the big factors in asymmetric racing is knowing when to take the high road or the low road, especially in moderate ‘crossover’ conditions.
In lightweight, dynamic skiffs like the 49er, you’re pushing the tiller away and looking to really build the apparent wind over the gennaker from quite early on in the wind range. But in a heavier boat like a J/70 or SB20, you don’t always get that instant feedback.
If you’re not careful, you can end up sailing extra distance for not much extra speed gain. And tactically it can leave you exposed because any boats that hoisted behind you on starboard gybe and soaked in low mode will now have rights on you when you look to gybe on to port.
So if in doubt, going low is tactically generally the safer option. But if you reckon someone is making better VMG in another mode, then be prepared to change your mode too.
If you’re way back in the fleet, gybing away from the pack and going for a fast mode can be a great way to make up lost ground while everyone is fighting with each other in low mode.
Article continues below…
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2. How low can you go?
If you’re pushing to get as low as possible, then communication between the gennaker trimmer and helmsman needs to be spot on. The trimmer can feel when there’s enough pressure in the kite through the tension in the sheet.
Especially in light winds, keep up constant comms, letting the helmsman know whether they can soak any lower, or if you need them to push up a bit higher to get some air back across the gennaker.
3. Set up for an early drop
Because you’re doing bigger angles on an asymmetric compared with other types of boat, your approach to a leeward mark or gate becomes even more critical.
Going dead downwind with a gennaker is dead slow. I’ve seen people goosewinging the gennaker out to the opposite side of the mainsail on the J/70, which is a good short-term tactical move for positioning yourself on the inside of a rounding. But your thoughts about what kind of rounding you want to make need to start a lot further back up the run.
A strong approach into the leeward gate is to come in towards the left-hand mark (as you’re looking at it downwind) slightly heated up on starboard gybe. This gives you starboard rights and inside rounding rights at the mark.
4. Throttle off
Sometimes with fast asymmetrics you need to be prepared to take the throttle off. Basically the gennaker sheet is your downwind throttle.
For maximum speed, most of the time you’re trimming the luff so that it’s curling nicely. In the 49er and other fast skiffs, there’s a risk of pitchpoling if you plough into the back of a wave at full pelt, so in extreme conditions we’ll oversheet the gennaker to choke the efficiency out of it and slow the boat down so that we’re not overtaking the waves too quickly.
Playing the throttle is a useful tool when you find yourself on a collision course downwind with a boat on starboard gybe. If you want to stay on port, rather than being forced into a gybe by the other boat, oversheet the gennaker and take the speed right off the boat, letting the starboard boat pass in front of you as you ease the sheet again for maximum speed.
5. Trim the mainsail
The more apparent wind you’re generating, the closer in you need to sheet your mainsail. A good rule of thumb for the mainsail trimmer is to watch the mainsail luff and sheet in until any backwinding disappears.
Keelboats also seem to like a mainsail that matches the profile of the gennaker leech, so it can be good to try a fairly loose vang, sheeting the boom quite close to the centre and with lots of leech twist.
About the expert
Stu Bithell won an Olympic silver medal at the London 2012 Games in the 470. He’s currently competing for Great Britain on the foiling catamaran SailGP circuit and, having won the 2017 World and European Championships, is bidding for another Olympic medal next year in Tokyo, this time in the 49er.
First published in the July 2019 edition of Yachting World.
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Pip Hare reveals the 15 essential items she packs in her grab bag (30 Jul 2020, 8:10 am)
Every time you think about your liferaft, the grab bag should be included in the same thought. Pip Hare reveals what’s in hers
The kit packed inside a liferaft will vary hugely across different brands and models and there is no way of checking that the liferaft’s contents are serviceable outside of its regular inspection.
So what’s in the grab bag should always be considered as an essential part of the liferaft inventory. The grab bag’s contents should be inspected and packed before each offshore voyage, tailored to reflect crew numbers and the length and location of your voyage.
In the event of an abandonment, aim to gather as much equipment, food and water as possible to take with you into the liferaft to aid survival; your grab bag should be considered the number one emergency essential. This is the vital bag that gets grabbed first – and always – in the event of abandonment.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential items that should be packed into every emergency grab bag.
The first thing to consider is what form your grab bag itself should take. The container that holds this vital survival equipment needs to be strong, waterproof, easy to identify and a bright colour. It also needs to be big enough to contain the optimum amount of survival equipment for your entire crew, but not so big that when full you won’t be able to lift it or store it sensibly.
Most grab bags on the market are roll-top dry bags with carry straps, but it’s also worth considering using a hard waterproof container, similar to a flare box.
I use a hard container. Mine is clearly marked ‘survival’, striped with reflective tape, has a robust carry handle and is fitted with a lanyard and carabiner.
This is the style of container favoured by most ocean racing classes and I prefer it to a soft bag as it provides more protection for the contents inside and is very buoyant.
Grab bag contents
Electronic location aids
These need to be in two forms: with the ability to call for help globally, and the ability to help search and rescue (SAR) services and rescue vessels home in on your position locally. An EPIRB or PLB will provide you with both of these functions – transmitting on both 406MHz (for the global message) and 121.5MHz (for homing).
It’s worth noting that merchant ships and leisure vessels will not have the ability to receive 121.5MHz; this frequency is predominantly used by aircraft and SAR authorities. Therefore, it’s wise to include another homing device such as a search and rescue transponder (SART), either radar or AIS. Personal AIS devices could also provide AIS homing ability, but will have a limited battery life and need to be held aloft for maximum range.
What I carry: I have two EPIRBs, one mounted by the companionway, the other in my grab bag. I carry a PLB on my person and have a personal AIS device fitted in my lifejacket. In my grab bag I have an AIS SART, and a second PLB.
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Making a liferaft as visible as possible is critical to rescue. It’s important to understand what is in your liferaft already, what will work best in extreme wet conditions, battery and charging requirements, as well as range of visibility, then supplement this where necessary.
Items to consider are flares (additional to your liferaft contents), laser flares, torches, strobe lights and glow sticks. Remember many modern torches have rechargeable batteries so without a means of charging have a limited lifespan.
Ensure you have replacement batteries for all devices individually stored in waterproof containers.
What I carry: Multiple torches using conventional batteries, including two head torches, one high powered LED light, one strobe light, spare batteries for all, four glow sticks and two packets of fluorescein (sea marker dye prescribed for all offshore grab bags in French offshore racing classes). I also carry four handheld red flares and two orange smoke flares in addition to those in the liferaft.
Food and water
If abandoning to a liferaft you should gather as much food and water as time allows, in addition to your grab bag. The amount of food and water in the grab bag needs to be adjusted for each trip to take into account the size of the crew. You need to balance the minimum to survive for a short period and the maximum you can fit into the bag and still be able to lift it.
The emergency water in the grab bag and liferaft (if applicable) comes in 0.5lt pouches, which avoids contamination problems. When calculating how much water to put in the grab bag consider that the recommended intake of water for survival is 0.5lt per person per day.
Your liferaft may have emergency water packed in it. Also think about how far offshore you are going and how close you are to rescue. A person is able to survive without food for up to a month but can only survive without water for about a week so prioritise water over food if short on space. Always aim to take additional water in jerrycans.
What I carry: I mostly race alone or double-handed and have a four-man liferaft that contains 1.5lt of water per person inside; I therefore do not carry emergency water in my grab bag.
However, I am generally racing a long way offshore with rescue unlikely inside a week. So, I keep a 10lt jerrycan ready to go beside my grab bag. This is filled with 9lt of water so it will float above sea level, is covered with retroreflective tape, has the name of my vessel on it and a lanyard and carabiner. In my grab bag I have emergency rations of 10,000kJ per person.
This includes satellite phones, handheld VHF and trackers. The difficulty here is around budget; buying two of each item then designating one for the chart table and one for the grab bag is ideal but can be expensive. If you include a sat phone, or handheld VHF, make sure you also have a portable GPS so you can give out your position by voice; trackers and DSC radios have GPS inbuilt.
Many trackers can be used for two way communication and may also have the facility to call for help, though it’s important to remember that not all satellite networks have global coverage and this type of device is not required to conform to the same standards of battery life and ruggedisation as an EPIRB or PLB. Remember charging and spare batteries for all devices.
If taking a satellite phone, ensure you have a SIM card that is in date and has airtime, your device is programmed with key numbers (such as the MRCC from your country of registration) and take a laminated card with numbers as a back-up.
What I carry: I have both a dedicated handheld DSC VHF and Iridium phone in my grab bag and a handheld GPS (all with spare batteries). I have a separate SIM card for the Iridium phone that is reloaded at the start of every race or delivery.
Pip Hare’s 15 grab bag essentials
- Torch and strobe
- AIS SART
- First aid kit
- Emergency food rations
- Fluorescein dye markers
- GPS personal locator beacon
- Handheld GPS
- Handheld DSC VHF radio
- Satellite phone
- Spare batteries for sat phone and VHF radio in waterproof case
- Red and orange flares
- Survival blankets
- Strobe light
- Spare batteries in sealed bag
- Glow sticks
I regularly change the extras in my bag, but try hard not to overload it and have enough room inside so I can rummage around without having to take everything out. Typical contents would be sunscreen, waterproof notepad and pencil, passport, ziplock bags, fishing kit (hooks well protected), narrow diameter string (to hang things up inside the raft), lip balms, a multitool, and a survival blanket for every crew member.
It’s worth noting that in the event of an abandonment I’d also aim to put on my immersion suit and lifejacket.
First published in the July 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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A world beneath: Freediving in Northern Norway from a 37ft production boat (29 Jul 2020, 8:15 am)
Freediver Andreas B Heide has spent a decade whale watching in the far north from his 37ft production yacht
It’s below freezing, the wind is blowing 25 knots and we’re in a 2m swell. Barba is dancing over the waves, the pot of soup we made first thing in the morning is clinging bravely to the gas stove. I tumble around down below as I get into the business attire of the day: a 7mm wetsuit, the only thing I’ve ever had tailor-made. Then I strap an AIS emergency beacon around my arm, for the worst-case scenario of getting lost in the icy waters.
Going on deck I survey our arena. Steep, snow-covered mountains flank the dark blue sea. It is February and the sun has just returned following three months of absence during the polar night. We are in open waters outside the Island of Senja in northern Norway. The radar shows incoming snow clouds as I move to the stern together with my French dive buddy, Fabrice.
We have a small window of opportunity, the atmosphere is tense, and we’re all focussed on the tasks at hand. My trusted friend Emil is at the helm, he tells us to get ready; the countdown has started. Starboard, 200m; starboard, 100m; and then go. We plunge into water that is cold and refreshing, until we are suspended in 800m depths over the continental shelf break.
Out of the blue, a god-like silhouette emerges. A 15m sperm whale glides past us effortlessly, within touching range. We are there to capture the moment on film for a local museum. I can hear the distinct clicks of the whale as I watch it disappear into deeper, darker waters, where it will spend the next hour feeding on squid.
Of all the whales, the sperm whale is the one that triggers my curiosity the most thanks to its ability to dive down to 3km, staying submerged for up to two hours.
I am quickly woken from my reverie, Barba has made a U-turn and is coming to get us back aboard to safety. During the dive operation we have two spotters keeping an eye on us at all times. It’s easy to get lost under these conditions, something which we are all acutely aware of.
Article continues below…
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As we get back aboard we cheer out of relief and excitement. It’s mission accomplished. To me it’s one of many favourite moments at sea, and it’s an achievement made possible each time by the combined efforts of the crew, aided by a finely tuned boat and a great deal of experience. It’s part of the excitement that drives us to keep sailing and keep exploring, fuelled by curiosity.
That curiosity was developed in my childhood home of Stavanger, Norway, where I was fortunate to grow up with the ocean as a playground. It was one that I quickly learnt to respect. Dead calm at times, at others a dark beast that once crushed our boathouse. I would stare at the ocean, wondering what was hiding in the deep and beyond the horizon.
I had a typical Norwegian upbringing. My friends and I left pretty much to ourselves playing outdoors, learning the hard and sometimes wet ways to interact with nature. We built rafts from driftwood, and I had access to a small 4hp boat at the age of 10.
About the same time I got a wetsuit and started freediving, which eventually led to a career as a combat diver and parachutist in the Norwegian Navy from the age of 19, working with submarines along the Norwegian coast. Military service was followed by a Masters degree in marine biology, and my ocean exploring background has been of great use for my later work.
I was only introduced to sailing at the age of 29. Together with a friend, we bought a used charter boat in the UK, which we sailed home and brought back to life. The following year we sailed to Greenland, meeting icebergs and whales. There was no turning back.
It’s now ten years since we first sailed to the east coast of Greenland, with limited knowledge and gear, relying on USB GPS antenna for navigation and a rather inexperienced crew. Since then I have sailed to the Arctic Island of Jan Mayen, up to the pack ice surrounding the North Pole, as well as spending four winters in Arctic Norway tracking whales.
The first expeditions were for the sake of the adventure alone. Today, the boat serves as a platform supporting scientists, film crews and journalists in the field, with storytelling in the greater context of nature conservation as an ultimate goal.
Over time, the boat set-up and our approach to sailing have evolved dramatically. Based on hard learned experience, and thanks to additional funding and support from sponsors, Barba is now teeming with equipment. The USB antenna has been replaced by a comprehensive marine navigation system, and radar now allows us to see what hides in the dark, even in a blizzard at night in the far north.
The latest upgrade is a hydrophone built into the hull, which allows us to better understand whales. Thermal binoculars also allow us to follow them and understand their night time behaviour.
Even though the equipment has changed, the boat remains the same. Barba is a Jeanneau Sun Fast 37, designed for comfortable cruising in the Mediterranean. My mantra is that the best boat is always the boat you have. With unlimited funding, I’d undoubtedly be sailing an insulated aluminium expedition vessel of some sort. But my modest Barba has numerous advantages. The low price made it possible for me to escape the confinements of an office at a relatively young age.
The small size is also an advantage as you can better access sheltered harbours, and loads are more manageable. The large cockpit has proven useful when operating with dive teams and film crews, and the open stern allows for easy access to the water for deploying divers and the dinghy as well as landing a cod for dinner, or any crew that took an involuntary bath.
But one of the biggest drawbacks of Barba has been the lack of insulation. Every summer after a winter in the cold, the boat’s thermal insulation has been progressively improved. An early cheap solution was to glue sleeping mats to the hull, which made a massive difference.
Pricier, but perhaps our best investment to date, has been to cover the floor with cork. It insulates exceptionally well, provides added grip and gives camera gear, wine bottles and crew a second chance thanks to its cushioning properties.
When finances and budget will allow I intend to cover the deck with cork as well. For heating, I used a 4,000W Webasto diesel heater, which has been sufficient so far. I have also installed a heat exchanger on the cooling system of the engine.
Ideally I’d have wanted a watertight bulkhead in the bow as well, as colliding with icebergs, driftwood or whales is one of those things that can be difficult to defend yourself against.
Although it can be comforting to protect yourself from all kinds of unthinkable incidents with ever better gear and safety equipment, from experience the greatest threat is always mistakes made by me or the crew.
Countless errors have been made over the years, fortunately without serious injury to crew or boat so far. It’s fair to say we have pushed the limit at times, with our fibreglass eggshell. But it’s always been a goal to do this in a way so the crew is not put at unnecessary risk.
When you spend enough time sailing, no matter how safe you play it, you will end up getting in trouble of some sort. Having experience of getting out of trouble is therefore an important skillset to have.
A collective effort
As for the crew, they are primarily selected by the same criteria that defined our family dog, Barba, who looked after me as a child: loyal, respectful and with a great appetite for the outdoors and the simple things in life. Add some determination into the mix, and you have the hallmarks of an ideal Barba crew member.
We are often a little short on sailing experience, as devoted scientists and photographers typically lack sailing skills, but we always try to have a minimum of two competent sailors.
I wouldn’t want to sail alone, as sharing the memories with others is far more rewarding. One story that comes to mind is when lifting the anchor in Svalbard, (which was done by hand in the early days). I looked over my shoulder to see a Golden Retriever-like creature approaching the boat. It took only a split second to sound the polar bear alarm.
The crew scrambled on deck, armed to the teeth as the hungry looking bear approached us. Fortunately a wooden stick was sufficient to keep him at bay, together with combined shouting in Norwegian, Russian, German and American.
I’m also thankful of being able to share the memory with my friends of the time I was curled up into a ball, trying to make myself a small target having been caught between a humpback and its bait ball of herring. So far all adventures have ended well – a statistic we work hard on keeping.
Even though I enjoy the cold outskirts of the North Atlantic, the Norwegian coast is where I spend the most time sailing. The coastline is blessed with sheltered inland waterways, and the entire coast can be traversed with only shorter stretches of exposed coastline. As such you can move around in all but the worst storms. There is always an island or a fjord where you can take shelter, and there are endless anchorages.
I use the coastal pilot books mainly for practicalities, such as knowing where to find diesel and water. For anchoring, I use the naval charts, as well as Google Earth to get an idea of the anchor hold and the surroundings. I avoid guidebooks, as they typically take you where you are more likely to encounter other boats. It’s part of the luxury to get away from society at times.
A latest useful update has been installing 2x60W LED lights on the lower spreaders, which gives you ample light when anchoring at night, or when looking for one of the 21,000 navigational markers spread along the 103,000km coastline. Spreader lights in the bow should be avoided in my opinion, as you’ll get blinded by the reflection of rain, and especially so against snow.
Sailing in the winter is not always pleasant. The cold and dark makes it all the more challenging. Halyards freeze, your jacket turns into an ice shell at times, and the early darkness and deep snow prevent you from doing the typical hikes we do in the summer.
Our main motivation for sailing in the winter is the influx of Norwegian orcas in the thousands, as well as dozens of humpback whales. When you add the excitement of blizzards, polar low pressures and the beauty of frequent Northern Lights into the mix, it’s always worthwhile.
Complaining about things does not help, so complaining is prohibited on the boat. I always remind myself that, for centuries, men would sail and row up the Norwegian coast in open boats to harvest the wealth of nature. There would be handles on the keel, so you had something to hang on to when the vessels were flipped over, which they frequently were.
A sailboat provides the perfect platform for interacting with the ocean and nature in a non-intrusive way. With whales as ocean ambassadors, we push to the outskirts of the North Atlantic. When I was a child I never thought it was possible to see blue whales, polar bears and other fabled animals of the far north.
As men and women of the sea I think we all have a special obligation to make sure that these creatures will be around for generations to come. As for me, I still look at the sea, wondering what is beyond the horizon, and what secrets are left to discover under the surface.
Andreas’s cold weather kit tips
- Wool as inner insulation: I favour wool thermal layers as they are warm even when wet, fireproof, and environmentally friendly.
- Primaloft mid-layers and Musto HPX Gore-Tex Pro waterproof smocks and trousers for warmth.
- Large fishing gloves with removable wool inner gloves; cheap but efficient and easy to dry.
- Rope cutter on propeller, and forward-looking lights, a boat saver for fishing gear entanglement.
- Takacat open catamaran dinghy: very low drag and does not fill with water – useful when towing and when landing on a choppy beach.
- Forward looking sonar for uncharted waters. We also have a B&G radar fitted on a self-levelling mount from Scanstrut which provides a good image even when the boat is heeled over.
- Cork as teak and a synthetic deck cover replacement, interior and exterior. Superior insulation, good grip, comfortable and environmentally friendly.
- A Webasto 4,000W diesel heater has kept us comfortable as temperatures drop to -20°C outside.
- Pulsar thermal binoculars for night navigation and wildlife tracking.
About the author
Andreas B Heide is an ex-Norwegian Navy diver and parachutist and is skipper of the Barba project. He is planning an Arctic expedition in 2021, and is currently looking for crew and partners.
First published in the July 2020 edition of Yachting World.
The post A world beneath: Freediving in Northern Norway from a 37ft production boat appeared first on Yachting World.
Figaro Series: The hardest sailing race on the planet where money means nothing (28 Jul 2020, 7:48 am)
The legendary Michel Desjoyeaux says the Figaro Series is the hardest race in the world. Matthew Shehan finds out why
“This is the hardest race – not to win, just to do. Winning is something else,” says Michel Desjoyeaux. “For me, the Figaro is harder than the Vendée Globe.” It is a bold statement about an annual single-handed coastal series that involves four offshore legs of around 500 miles apiece, each designed to take around three to four days to complete. But when Desjoyeaux speaks, the solo sailing scene listens.
La Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, attracted a big fleet of 47 entries, including a spectacular gathering of the most decorated and accomplished solo sailors, but is still a world apart from the 28,000-mile, non-stop, 100-day round-the-world marathon.
In France, the 54-year-old Desjoyeaux is a national hero. He is the only person to have won the Vendée Globe more than once, taking victories in 2001 and 2008. He is not alone in thinking that this is harder, though. There are plenty of other French A-list offshore sailors who point to winning the Figaro as their proudest moment.
“People always expect me to say that the Vendée Globe is my best victory,” said Alain Gautier, who won the solo around the world race in 1992. “For me, it’s not. Winning the first leg of the 1983 Figaro into Kinsale when I was 21 was my proudest moment as I crossed the line ahead of one of my sailing heroes, Philippe Poupon.”
A scroll down the list of winners in both events reveals a close connection between the two races. Five of the eight Vendée winners have been Figaro champions. All but one have been Figaro competitors. Both Desjoyeaux and Gautier have won the Figaro outright; Desjoyeaux three times from 13 events, Gautier once from 17. The numbers speak volumes. The bottom line is clear: winning the Figaro is always hard, no matter how many times you have tried.
“It took me nine editions of the race before I won it,” said three-time Figaro winner Jérémie Beyou, whose long-term project lies with the 2020 Vendée Globe aboard his radical new IMOCA 60 Charal. So why was he, and so many like him, back in a boat a fraction of the size he is used to, in a race that could deliver potentially embarrassing results?
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“This is a very special event,” he explains. “It is an irresistible challenge because the Figaro boats are identical and so you know how you are really doing compared to your competitors.
“It’s a very personal race and it’s very intense. There are times when you doubt yourself and want to give up. Times when you think: I’m better than this, I’m not happy with being so far behind, I don’t need this, I want to turn on the engine and head home. But every day is like this in the Vendée Globe. So the Figaro is good training for that. You have to learn to cope with the highs and lows.”
Others, like Gildas Morvan, have shown even more commitment to the Brittany-based race. With 22 races under his belt and six leg wins, he is one of the longest serving Figaro sailors, yet he has never won overall. “It’s hard to explain why it is such a big pull, but it is like a love affair,” he said.
Event director Mathieu Sarrot has a different theory. “It’s a drug – a good drug, but one for masochists,” he says with a smile. While his work is ashore, he has followed 25 races, and is also clearly hooked.
Up against the world’s best
Going into the 2019 Figaro Series, top French star Yann Eliès had won the event three times from 19 attempts. “If you miss out racing for a season it takes years to get back to the front,” he says. “It takes a long time to get to the stage to be ready but just a few minutes to lose all your confidence. But for some it’s a brutal experience.
“In 1998 the first leg took six days. On the second leg, one boat sank near the coast and the skipper had to swim ashore and climb the cliffs with an injured arm, so this race can be very hard.”
The 50th anniversary marked a step change for the event with a brand new boat, the Beneteau Figaro 3. At 10.85m long, the new VPLP-designed, production built monohull is roughly the same size as her predecessor, the Figaro 2, but she is significantly more powerful downwind.
Asymmetric spinnakers flown off a fixed bowsprit mark a move away from the conventional poles and symmetrical kites of the previous model that lasted 15 years. Plus, the new sailplan includes a Code 0.
But from the outside, the most obvious change is the retractable, curved daggerboards that extend out from the topsides like giant aquatic stabilisers, designed to provide righting moment on the leeward side at speed.
The combined effects of these changes, in addition to a more modern, faster hull form, has thrown conventional thinking out of the window. Far less is known about these boats than their predecessors, making it harder for skippers to plan their tactics and routing. Feel has become an important part of identifying the Figaro 3’s sweet spots.
“This is one of the reasons that there are so many top sailors this year,” offshore legend Loïck Peyron tells me. “We are like kids at Christmas with the new toys and we want to know what makes the new boats work. It’s also exciting to be discovering this at the same time as everyone else and it gives those of us who haven’t been in the Figaro for a long time a chance to see if we can beat the Figaro specialists.”
Alain Gautier agrees, and adds that the campaign costs also make this event and the new boat appealing. “Unlike an IMOCA campaign where a new boat is going to cost around €5 million, money doesn’t influence success in the Figaro class,” he said. “If you charter a boat you can do a season’s campaign for around €200,000 and be sailing against the world’s best.”
For the current Vendée Globe champion and local poster boy Armel Le Cléac’h, the new boat also means a return to some valuable hands-on training. “On the IMOCA and Ultime boats we rarely steer by hand, so the Figaro gives us the feel once again,” he explains.
“It’s easy to forget the feeling and how to achieve perfect balance aboard the big boats as there is so much else to control. Hand steering also puts you back in touch as you look at the clouds, feel the weather and the current.”
All of which has also helped to level the playing field this year across a fleet in which the skippers’ ages span almost 40 years. In general, there were two different approaches. The young guns were sailing by feel while using AIS to keep an eye on the big names to validate their own thinking. Meanwhile, the old hands were quick to adopt their own tried and tested offshore routines, yet they were also trying to unlearn what they knew made the Figaro 2 go quickly.
Helming for 24 hours
If the new boat was clearly one of the reasons for a big shake up in the results, the weather was another. The 545-mile opening leg from Nantes to Kinsale in Ireland saw Yoann Richomme, the 2018 Route du Rhum winner in the Class 40 fleet, take the first win, but only by one minute and 13 seconds ahead of Figaro rookie Tom Laperche.
Just under 22 minutes behind, Loïck Peyron was 6th. Three minutes further back Desjoyeaux was 8th. Then came Le Cléac’h in 11th. Such a closely packed fleet in an event which is all about aggregate time rather than points, is typical of this race. In previous events, seconds have often been the winning margin. Not this time…
The course for Leg 2 from Kinsale to Roscoff via the Isle of Man was changed at the last minute to avoid a forecast that included winds of up to 35-40 knots in the St George’s Channel. Instead, the fleet went east to Bishop Rock, then up to the Needles Fairway buoy to the west of the Isle of Wight, before then heading to the finish in Roscoff. But sending the fleet up the English Channel didn’t keep them sheltered.
“At one point we had a 40 knot squall that was only forecast to be 25 knots,” said Britain’s Will Harris, racing Hive Energy. “The big kite was up when the breeze hit and I wasn’t able to get it down. I’ve never dropped it in that kind of breeze and it would have been far too risky. So I ended up helming for 24 hours.
“Fortunately, because I thought it would be a windy period, I’d packed my pockets with food and snacks as I knew I wasn’t going to get any hot food. But the worrying thing was that we were all heading straight towards the TSS exclusion zone. Luckily, in the end we just missed it by about a mile.”
The 26 year old from Surrey made a name for himself in his first Figaro in 2016, winning the rookie prize for the highest-placed newcomer. This year, he was frequently punching above his weight once again.
A fast learner, he only took up keelboat sailing five years ago, but after his 2016 performance the French professionals saw his talent and invited him to join Pôle Finisterre in Port-la-Forêt, regarded as one of the best training establishments in offshore race training.
“I’ve spent the last six months living in Brittany, where I’ve been training with the likes of Yann Eliès, Armel Le Cléac’h and Michel Desjoyeaux,” he said. “It’s been incredibly useful. You have to be at a certain level before you can be a part of it, past the basics of navigation and avoiding rocks. You need to be looking at the finer details. It’s very intense training.
“You think that these sailors are untouchable and that they know all the answers, but they don’t, especially with this new boat. They still need to sleep, just like the rest of us, they’re just more efficient. And I learned it’s not simply about fitness. For example, I now have lists for everything so I don’t spend time fiddling around with settings, especially when I’m tired and not thinking as straight.”
Hitting the red zone
Sleep is a major topic in the Figaro. No one sleeps for more than 20 minutes at a time – they simply daren’t. The racing is so close and the difference between the performance of the boats so noticeable between the autopilot and hand steering that going for a kip costs places.
“You’ve got to know your limits, when you’re in the red and, more importantly, when you’re about to hit the red,” says British sailor Alan Roberts. “The red zone is where you’re hallucinating, you’re talking to yourself, you’re imagining things are going on and you’re seeing things in the water.
“You’re so tired that when something comes over the radio you can’t string the words together to understand it and write it down. But you need to have been there to understand what you need to avoid because it’s hard to simulate.”
In a previous race it is said that one skipper woke up when his boat went aground on the sand. As he rushed up on deck he was convinced that he was doing a delivery with his girlfriend and panicked when he discovered that she wasn’t there.
Fearing that she had gone overboard, he dropped the sails, broke the seal on the engine and motored around and around to try and find her. The penny only dropped when he saw the dodger in the guardwires with the Figaro logo and his name on it.
By the time the fleet had arrived back in Roscoff, this time at the end of Leg 3, the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation meant that the effects of the red zone were starting to show through.
As skippers arrived at the dock, even the pros struggled to answer questions and left long pauses as they stared into the distance. If this had been any other major racing event you would put their behaviour down to team politics, diplomacy or mind games. But here, they were simply so tired, so mentally exhausted that thinking before speaking was a big effort.
Slowed by weed
Leg 3 had been long and, for many, frustrating with some major tidal gates. In particular, one at Alderney, where the infamous tidal race and a light breeze that was insufficient for the fleet to overcome the current, shut the door and only a handful made it through.
Weed was a big problem too. Carbon weed-flossing sticks were often insufficient to remove the clumps that wrapped around each yacht’s five foils. “At one point I had to stop the boat and go over the side to remove it as it had wrapped itself around the keel,” recalls Alain Gautier.
After a relentless and often windless Leg 3, the rankings were bad for many of the big names, now several hours off the pace. Overall race leader Yoann Richomme had lost 10 hours on this leg and saw his enormous lead hacked back to just 1hr 26 mins for the fourth and final leg. This would have been a decent margin by normal standards, but 2019 was turning out to be anything but normal.
For newcomers, a position on the podium was unlikely, but winning the rookie prize is a big first step in the Figaro. Even then, as an indication of just how different and difficult this event is, rookies aren’t always what you might think.
“On the face of it, with three round-the-world races under my belt including a Vendée Globe, it makes no sense to say that I’m a rookie. Yet for me the learning curve has been vertical,” said New Zealander Conrad Colman, who was racing Ethical Power.
“The reality is that, no matter where you have come from, be it the Vendée Globe, the Olympics or any other discipline within the sport, when you come to the Figaro for the first time you’re a rookie because you need to combine so many different types of racing. This year there were 11 rookie sailors.
The event is dominated by the French and while international sailors do take part, learning the language and the culture make the challenge of competing even tougher.
The 2019 Figaro Series in numbers
“The hard fact is that if you want to be even remotely competitive in the Figaro you have to come to France, you have to live here, you have to get involved with one of the training centres and you have to change your phone number to +33,” says former Figaro sailor and professional project manager Marcus Hutchinson of Vivi Resources.
“It requires a big commitment; you’ve got to be here full-time. To reflect this challenge and to encourage those who do make the commitment we have provided a new perpetual trophy this season, the Vivi trophy, which is for the first international skipper.”
As Leg 4 played out, there was continual intensity in a 500-mile needlematch across the Channel from Roscoff to the finish in Dieppe. The tactical challenges of working along the UK’s south coast with its notorious tidal gates and tricky headlands were made even tougher by a mixture of light winds, squalls, thunder, lightning, rain and fog.
Within the 47-boat fleet, the battles between the newcomers and some of the world’s most accomplished sailors continued to rage. La Solitaire Urgo Le Figaro is like a one-design dinghy race, played out on a coastal course. Everyone knows it’s tough. There is no shame in being at the back; everyone has been there.
And be they rookies or rock stars, Desjoyeaux speaks for them all when he sums up the Figaro: “This is the best offshore school in the world. The one who wins will be the one who makes the least mistakes.”
And the winner is…
By the end of the final leg, the Figaro had at last played to form, with the bulk of the fleet finishing within one hour. But no one was able to eat into Yoann Richomme’s leading margin, giving the French skipper, also the 2016 overall winner, another Figaro victory.
“I am really moved. I never thought I’d win two. This was a really tough event,” he said. Meanwhile, British sailor Alan Roberts took the Vivi Trophy for the first international skipper, and Benjamin Schwartz earned the top rookie prize.
This article was first published in the August 2019 edition of Yachting World. The delayed 2020 Figaro Series is due to run from August 27 – September 20.
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Sleep deprivation and sailing: How to make the right call when you haven’t slept (27 Jul 2020, 10:35 am)
Sleep deprivation and offshore sailing go hand in hand for navigators, and in particular for short-handed sailors. Mike Broughton shares his top tips on dealing with a lack of sleep
There’s no getting away from the fact that tiredness profoundly affects our performance. Sleep deprivation can severely degrade our decision-making abilities. The latest scientific research into sleep, such as brain scans carried out by leading neuroscientist and sleep specialist Professor Matthew Walker, has shown how we are more likely to make flawed decisions when tired, sometimes with big consequences.
The military use sleep deprivation in training and selection procedures and have been at the forefront of research into its effects. Sleep education was considered an unusual subject when I first learnt to fly in the Fleet Air Arm, but there are many times sleep deprivation has been shown to be a major factor in accidents and disasters, from the Exxon Valdez tanker grounding and oil spill, to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the fatal Air France crash in 2009.
On a less cataclysmic scale, two of Britain’s best single-handed racers have grounded their yachts while leading their race. They won’t thank me for mentioning it, but Mike Golding had a huge lead in the Around Alone Race in 1999 before he grounded on New Zealand’s North Island while suffering from heavy sleep deprivation.
Meanwhile, in the last Route du Rhum, Alex Thomson had a 200-mile lead on the final approach to Guadeloupe. Unfortunately for Thomson, he slept through his sleep alarm and sailed Hugo Boss onto the rocks on the northern corner of the island and had to use his engine to extricate himself, incurring a penalty which lost him the race win.
Know your cycles
For sailors likely to experience sleep deprivation, understanding the different cycles of sleep is important, and can hopefully help mitigate mistakes. The cycles are categorised into Non- Rapid Eye Movement (NREM, both deep and light sleep) and the more active dreaming cycles of Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
During each cycle we experience a period of light NREM sleep followed by deep NREM sleep, followed by a period of lighter REM sleep – when we dream. Each cycle takes roughly 90 minutes. If we wake while in a NREM deep sleep phase we feel very groggy and take a while to properly wake up.
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At night, we usually fall into deep NREM a few minutes after falling asleep. Among other benefits, NREM deep sleep helps your brain file away events of the day and clear the decks for lucid thinking once more.
Without deep sleep, our thinking often feels very ‘mushy’ and we can struggle with decisions the following day. Recent research into decision-making when very tired shows people often make over-optimistic gambles and can become reckless about losses. On the ocean this can negatively affect racing tactics or even key safety decisions.
Creativity has been linked with REM sleep. Most REM sleep is generally in the latter part of a normal night’s sleep, so only getting short naps for a prolonged period isn’t great for achieving the benefits of REM, but can provide some of the deep sleep of NREM.
Sleep on it
Ellen MacArthur famously enlisted the help of a neurologist, Dr Claudio Stampi, who trained her to sleep in a series of naps, like a baby. During the Vendée Globe her average period of sleep was just 36 minutes, and on one day she only achieved 1h 17min of sleep in total.
These days, most offshore racers would agree that short or ‘cluster naps’ are the best way to handle short-handed sailing. François Gabart slept in 20-minute bursts during his record-breaking solo around the world in 2018, once managing as much as six hours in a 24-hour period, other times much, much less.
As a race navigator, it makes sense to plan your sleep around key moments in the day, such as rounding a headland, receiving the latest weather or GRIB update, or when you plan to make a change of course. But you also need to be ready to react to unforeseen changes, or a rival’s course alteration.
The grogginess we experience between sleeping and being fully awake is known as sleep inertia
Before attempting to go to sleep it can be helpful if the navigator briefs the watch leader on tactical ‘what ifs’ so they might be able to sleep undisturbed – although I may be being optimistic here!
The old maxim of the power of ‘sleeping on a decision’ has also been backed up by neurological studies. Brain scans have shown that the brain mulls over problems while you are asleep. This unconscious processing can help lift the fog.
Dee Caffari experienced this during a solo transatlantic. She recalls: “During the Transat in 2008, the start was pretty full-on. All the boats were within sight of each other’s nav lights for the first few days. It was my first solo race in the boat and I had autopilot issues. I was tired and not managing myself well at all, as far as eating and sleeping.
“I was struggling to make a decision looking at the GRIB file that had come in. I could not make sense of it and make the critical decision of what angle to sail at. Eventually, I fed myself some pasta and slept for 30 minutes and it was like I woke as a different person.
“When I looked at the weather and routing, the answer came almost immediately. That was the first time I noticed the effect sleep deprivation had on life and death decisions.”
Critical decision making
- Prior preparation is essential – checking through the route, weather predictions, GRIB file update times and tidal stream changes.
- Use a waterproof notebook to make notes in clear, easy to read, bulleted points.
- Ensure you are well fed and try to have regular power naps. These are often best done on a reaching leg. I always have a secret stash of snacks for sleep-deprived navigators to raid.
- Brief your watch leaders thoroughly on what to expect and tactical ‘what ifs’, as well as when to wake you up.
- Anticipate and make sure you are wide awake for key points such as headlands, transition zones and when approaching land.
About the author
Mike Broughton is a pro race navigator who has won many titles including World and European championships. He is a qualified MCA Master to captain superyachts and previously had a successful career in the Fleet Air Arm flying Sea King and Lynx helicopters.
First published in the July 2020 edition of Yachting World.
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Excess 15 first look: This vibrant catamaran can sail in the lightest of winds (23 Jul 2020, 7:47 am)
This is the first model from a new Groupe Beneteau brand launched at Cannes Boat Show. Toby Hodges gives his first impressions following a sea trial off Barcelona
Launching an entirely new sailing brand in this day and age of economic uncertainty is a rare, brave move. XCS or Excess is a new catamaran business, an arm of the Groupe Beneteau empire, forged from a desire to cater to a younger, more active generation.
Its launch was accompanied by some heavyweight marketing hype, with subtle details of parts of the designs released as teasers over the last year. Build something up too much, though, and you risk an anticlimax.
The group has stuck to the same designers used for its established Lagoon brand, VPLP and Nauta, and in its haste to get an unprecedented five new Excess models out in just 18 months, it elected to adapt existing Lagoon moulds for its first two models, the Excess 12 (Lagoon 39 hulls) and Excess 15 (Lagoon 50 hulls).
Of course, it makes financial sense to share design and manufacturing knowledge with its sister company where possible but, for me, these first Excess models appear too similar to that well-established brand of popular catamarans.
The principal differences are that the helm stations have been moved to the aft quarters to give more direct sailing feedback, retractable biminis are an option to open up the cockpits to the sun, and the interiors are much brighter.
Weight has also been saved when compared with the Lagoon models, but as Lagoons are considered to be the heaviest production catamarans in the market anyway, the Excess is arguably no more performance-orientated than competitor cruising cat brands.
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The yard tried to save weight everywhere, product manager Bruno Belmont explains, shaving one tonne over target weight for the Excess 15 (compared to the Lagoon 50). “The big difference is how quickly you kill the engine,” he insisted when we first viewed the new Excess models at Cannes Boat Show. Belmont says that happens in as little as 5 knots breeze, or 1-2 knots sooner than a comparable Lagoon.
Our subsequent sailing trials proved his point. On a day where we would ordinarily have had to resort to motoring a cruising cat of this size, we were able nearly to match true wind speeds under Code 0 and asymmetric spinnaker (6 in 7 knots and 7 in 8 knots). Impressive stuff.
We were sailing the Excess 15 Pulse Line during the European Yacht of the Year trials. This has a taller mast and longer bowsprit than the standard boat and features graphics on the hull. Although the standard boat starts at €625,000, this Pulse model with its many extra options came in at €925,000 (ex. VAT). As a comparison, a standard Excess is more expensive than a Lagoon or Fountaine Pajot but includes more equipment.
The rigs have very high aspect mainsails with short booms sheeted right aft. Shifting the centre of effort of the sail further aft, combined with the move to direct steering, gives greater response to the helm. But the benefits were marred by vibrations from the rudders.
My fellow judges also experienced problems with steering, especially when sailing in anything above 15 knots, where the pressure on the helm became unreasonably heavy. Excess is investigating the issue with the design team.
Sailors coming to the Excess 15 from monohulls may find the aft helm positions more familiar. A great deal of focus has been placed on making sure there is good visibility here, by using vertical and clear coachroof windows and forward-looking cameras fed to helm displays. The running rigging leads into large tail bags close to hand, which makes the Excess 15 easy to sail short-handed, yet leaves space for crew to contribute.
For the interior, the use of wood was minimised wherever possible to create a vibrant look with lots of bright areas. Elsewhere the accommodation is conventional, available with layouts from three-cabins to suit private use through to six cabins and six heads for the catamaran charter market.
The fact that we could sail at all in such light breeze shows that the design and lighter weight of the Excess 15 pays off. But this was the performance version of the 15. It may be lighter than an equivalent Lagoon, but it is no lighter than many similar sized standard production cats. Such a concept is surely flawed if you need to add more and more sail area to encourage the weight to move.
The test boat, with all its extras, costs over €1m taxed. The money appears to go on space and gadgets rather than build or finish quality. However, a full judgement is reserved until I have seen an entirely new Excess 15 – once any teething problems have been ironed out – and have had the chance to sail it in proper winds.
LOA: 14.76m (48ft 5in)
Beam: 8.03m (26ft 4in)
Displacement (light): 18,400kg (40,572lb)
Upwind sail area: 159.5m2 (1,717ft2)
Pulse line: 171.6m2 (1,847ft2) +10%
Price: €625,000 (ex. VAT)
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Aventura 44: This Tunisian-built catamaran is well worth a closer look (22 Jul 2020, 7:49 am)
This 44 is the new flagship of the growing Aventura brand. These Tunisian-built catamarans are designed by Lasta Studio, like the Bali range
This means a modern look and feel to them with a marked chine, heavy reverse sheer, dreadnought bows and a prominent but swept-back coachroof.
Key features include a raised bulkhead steering position, sliding windows and door between cockpit and saloon, and a dedicated chart table with a fine view ahead.
Aventura makes much of its ‘innovative’ saloon/cockpit design, although there doesn’t appear to be anything too original about it.
What it does do is to create good walkthrough space to reach the aft platform. The Aventura 44’s layout can accommodate three or four double cabins, with either two or four heads.
Aventura also cites the use of oversize deck equipment as proof that it has been developed with input from offshore sailors.
That also seems to extend to the engines, which offer 2x40hp or 57hp depending on the option – for a 10 tonne catamaran, that’s pretty generous.
LOA: 13.20m (43ft 4in)
Beam: 7.00m (23ft 0in)
Draught: 1.3m (4ft 3in)
Displacement: 9,500kg (20,944lb)
Starting price: €329,500 (ex. VAT)
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