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Sailor’s essential guide to AIS: Everything you need to know (21 Nov 2019, 9:26 am)

Pip Hare argues that AIS is one of sailing’s biggest technological developments of the past decade, but what exactly is it and how can sailors use it to their advantage?

Image from the Marine Traffic website shows AIS data concentrated in busy shipping lanes

If I were to pick one development that has revolutionised my own sailing over the past 10 years it would undoubtedly be AIS. Not only has it brought an enhanced level of situational awareness to yachtsmen, but it’s also making huge advances in search and rescue applications. As much as we rely on this system it is sometimes easy to forget its limitations.

A quick recap

AIS uses VHF radio to transmit data gathered from a vessel’s GPS and other navigational sources. Message types are predefined and the number and type of messages received and transmitted depends on the class of AIS fitted.

Class A systems are fitted on all vessels over 300 gross tonnes, all commercial passenger ferries regardless of size and fishing vessels over 15m. Most leisure sailors and smaller vessels choose a Class B system, which transmits a reduced amount of information and can also be receive only.

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Who can see you?

Because AIS is transmitted via VHF, its range is limited to ‘line of sight’. Transmissions can be relayed via base stations (and sometimes satellite for Class A), but topography can still be a barrier so if you are under cliffs or large obstructions it’s possible your AIS signal will be masked to vessels in relatively close proximity.

AIS is not compulsory for leisure vessels, or small fishing vessels, so never assume you have the complete picture – especially when coastal sailing. In busy areas, there’s the perennial question of whether some commercial vessels opt to filter out Class B AIS signals. Regardless of whether this is truth or myth; you should never assume you have been seen. If in any doubt take avoiding action early.

Finally, consider whether you always want to be seen. If passage making in waters where broadcasting your position may be a security risk chose a set with ‘silent mode’. In particular remember this feature when at anchor: if using a GPS alarm that’s part of an integrated system your AIS could be forgotten in the background, broadcasting your position to the world.

How we view information

I prefer viewing AIS data on a plotter when in coastal waters, allowing me to make complete navigational decisions. At sea, I’m happy with a course-up display; with no plotter to distract me I can keep my eyes out of the boat.

Don’t let your current system restrict how you view the data; systems can be adapted and linked to additional repeaters and laptops, while developments in NMEA Wi-Fi now allow AIS data to be viewed on mobile apps. If sailing short-handed or with inexperienced crew, audible alarms can also be retrofitted for peace of mind.

Limitations and useful tools

Proximity alarms

Get into the practice of ‘trimming’ your proximity alarm to fit situations. When setting a range, consider your speed as well as the potential speed of a closing vessel, the experience level of your ‘on watch’ crew, visibility and environment. Get into the habit of checking your proximity alarm setting regularly, especially if you tend to silence it in busy waters when everyone is on deck.

Look beyond the icon

Remember that the icon you see on a screen is your plotter’s interpretation of a situation. Always interrogate the information behind an icon to understand how reliable it is.

Time of last transmission

Class A vessels transmit every 2-10 seconds depending on their speed. Class B vessels are set to a nominal rate of every 30 seconds, however it could be longer depending on speed and the amount of priority traffic in the area (Class B does not have priority transmission).

Some plotters will continue to show ‘echoes’ of vessels for a number of minutes after their last transmission, and these plots in particular can lead to a false confidence in your situation.

Course, trajectory and CPA

The closest point of approach (CPA) is calculated by your own AIS plotter interpolating each burst of information it receives. The CPA is likely to change with every new burst of information. Always back up with radar, if available, and a confirmed visual identification and relative bearing using a hand bearing compass.

In reduced visibility beware that if a Class B vessel is moving at less than 2 knots the nominal reporting rate drops to 3 minutes. This can make calculating a reliable CPA impossible. It’s also worth checking the rate of turn (ROT) data from Class A vessels: if available it can indicate if a vessel is starting to alter course before the plotter calculation.

MMSI identification

One of the most useful features of AIS, this gives a direct line of communication to another vessel and the ability to clarify you have been seen. Although COLREGS are not keen on the use of VHF for collision avoidance, I’ve found that placing a DSC call using the MMSI and opening a dialogue with the bridge of a ship really helps.

Receivers only

Not all AIS receive-only sets are equal. Some receivers are not able to receive Class B vessel name and call sign, while older sets may not be configured for MOB or SART devices.

Search and rescue AIS is now being integrated into personal MOB beacons and as an additional homing signal for EPIRBs. These applications allow any vessel equipped with AIS to join in search operations, greatly increasing the chances of rescue. When using AIS MOB devices ensure you have tested each one against your mothership’s plotter, so all crew are aware of what an MOB symbol looks like.

First published in the May 2018 edition of Yachting World.

The post Sailor’s essential guide to AIS: Everything you need to know appeared first on Yachting World.

Road to the America’s Cup podcast episode 3: How the AC75’s soft wingsails work (20 Nov 2019, 8:32 am)

One of the biggest innovations for the new AC75 America’s Cup boat is the soft wingsail: a double-sided mainsail where each of the two ‘skins’ are attached to the back edges of the D-section wing mast. Sir Ben Ainslie explains all

America’s Cup rules allow plenty of scope for soft wingsail development. Photo: Harry KH / Ineos Team UK

It’s not a completely original idea – it has been tried in the past, but never with the resources that four big, well-funded America’s Cup teams can bring to the development. So if it’s ever going to work, it will be now.

The AC75’s 26.5m mast is stepped on a ball so that it rotates, and it has a single set of spreaders and running backstays. It’s a one-design section with the mast surface defined by the rule, along with a minimum laminate specification; so teams can further stiffen or strengthen sections if they wish.

The rigging is supplied and there are also rules defining the mast fittings, spreaders and so on. The boat is allowed up to six full-length battens and another six battens shorter than 1m that must all finish at the leech. The rules say they can’t be inflatable or hinged.

That is what is controlled. But there are other areas where designers have been given a lot of scope, with the goal of making this new soft wingsail as effective as possible. This is important because it has to generate the speed to lift a 7.5 tonne monohull out of the water.

The more efficient hard wing used on the AC50 multihull had to elevate a boat that was five tonnes lighter, shorter and with less wetted surface – albeit with a completely different and less efficient foil system.

“The class rule identifies two areas, one at the top and one at the bottom of the mast, called the upper mast and lower mast zones,” Ben Ainslie explained. “And in these areas the teams are allowed to develop whatever systems they think are going to control the sail the best.”

The laws of physics, practicality and the cost of the engineering are the limiting factors here, not the rules. So what are the INEOS team trying to achieve in the lower zone?

“The intent in the rules is to allow the teams to have the mainsail sweeping across the deck to create an effective end plate,” explained Ainslie. “And that has massive aerodynamic advantages, so the designers are really pushing for it.”

The end plate effect is a well-established fluid dynamics phenomenon, where the aero- or hydrofoil ends in a perpendicular surface. This reduces the loss of the pressure difference between the windward and leeward sides of the foil, and reduces the formation of a tip vortex. Both improve the efficiency.

The other area is the upper control zone – the top four metres of the sail, so it’s a big sail area. “We saw in the last Cup, particularly with the Kiwis, that sail twist was becoming a really effective power control. And so opening up the top of the rig here in this class of boat allows control of that twist,” said Ainslie.

“Then it’s really a balance of twist control over traveller control, again having that openness in the rule so you can control both effectively. It’s down to the teams to decide which one they think is more effective to give you control of the boat… and the greatest straight-line performance.”

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Headsail cross-overs

Forward of the mast the AC75 rule also allows both a jib and a Code Zero, and there has already been plenty of discussion about if and when we will see both sails used.

It’s possible to imagine a situation where the Code Zero is the right sail to accelerate the boat to take-off speed, but once the boat is foiling the apparent wind speed and angle will change dramatically, and the headsail might be the right sail. Is it possible to change sails while foiling, and even if it is possible, is it fast?

“How do you handle that sail, how do you hoist it, drop it, trim it? All of that obviously is going to take power,” said Ainslie. “And once you’re going through that hoisting and dropping process, you’re going to be losing power in terms of guys on the handles trimming the sails… they’re all interesting trade-offs that the teams have got to go through and work out.

“We spend a lot of time monitoring and observing the other teams to learn from them as much as we’re developing from our own work. That’s part of the game really. And frankly, it’ll be the team that develops the fastest that will probably come out on top.”

Sir-Ben-Ainslie-Team-Principal-and-Skipper-headshot-bwAbout 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’ll be talking to Mark Chisnell about the innovations and technology behind the new AC75 foiling monohulls.

First published in the December 2019 edition of Yachting World.

The post Road to the America’s Cup podcast episode 3: How the AC75’s soft wingsails work appeared first on Yachting World.

Enterprise: Is this restored 12 Metre the best yacht to never contest the America’s Cup? (19 Nov 2019, 9:04 am)

Enterprise is a 1977 S&S-designed 12 Metre, originally built to defend the America’s Cup, and fully restored in time for this year’s 12 Metre World Championships in Rhode Island. Dave Powlison reports


Among the 21 elegant Twelves lining the docks at Rhode Island’s Fort Adams for this summer’s 12 Metre World Championship, sat a yacht that for many was a huge disappointment. Enterprise, built for the 1977 America’s Cup, had everything going for her, but never got the invitation to the Cup she seemed destined to receive. Today, she’s arguably the best set-up 12 Metre in the world.

Designed by Olin Stephens and David Pedrick at Sparkman & Stephens, and built of aluminium at the Minneford Yacht Yard, Enterprise boasted a number of firsts. She was the first design to be tank-tested on a large scale, with a handful of models measuring roughly 7m each, in tanks designed for the aerospace and military industries.

Results from those tests suggested that over a typical 24-mile America’s Cup course in an average 10-knot wind, Enterprise would be a minute faster than her rivals. Enterprise was also the first yacht to pioneer laminate sails, using plastic films to stabilise the more conventional Dacron. Her sails included the ‘garbage bag’, a light airs genoa that (in colour, at least) suggested its moniker.


Enterprise posted two race wins in the 2019 12 Metre World Championships. Photo: Ian Roman

The 1977 Challenger matches were a rematch of the 1974 Courageous v Intrepid rivalry between upstart west coaster Lowell North and eastern establishment sailor Ted Hood.

At North’s right hand was sailmaking wunderkind John Marshall, who would be a dominant presence in Cup competitions for years to come. Many of Enterprise’s crew had cut their 12 Metre teeth on Intrepid’s successful 1970 Cup defence. In fact, Intrepid was brought out of retirement and trucked to San Diego to spar with the new design.

Yet it was Courageous, a 1974 design, that secured the spot to defend the Cup (Courageous successfully saw off Alan Bond’s Australia in the Cup match). So what went wrong for Enterprise? Anyone who knows the boat well won’t hesitate to respond. “Enterprise had a foretriangle dimension that was about three feet shorter than what was conventional,” Marshall explained to me recently.


Enterprise hull is now painted battleship grey – the original colour was white

Most 12s have a 24ft foretriangle, give or take a bit. Enterprise’s was 21ft. “Computer predictions that evaluated flow over surfaces suggested this would give us an edge,” Marshall recalled. But when it came to tacking, getting the stiff headsails quickly across was a challenge, as there was now 3ft more sail that had to pass around the front of the mast.

“The jib didn’t fill quite as quickly, and we didn’t accelerate quite as quickly coming out of tacks,” Marshall adds. In the early challenger races, Enterprise performed well. But as the summer progressed, Courageous got distinctly better. “Once the difference got down to being pretty small, and the boats were always close together, tacking performance became much more important.”

Consider that it wasn’t unheard of for 12 Metres to do over 50 tacks on a four-mile beat, and it’s clear why the writing was on the wall.

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Back to her best

Fast-forward to 2019 and Enterprise is back in fighting form. After stints in the Med she had been donated to the US Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation.

With the impetus of the forthcoming 2019 Worlds in Newport, a major refit was begun in earnest. Tommy Rich, from New England Boatworks, which carried out the refit, recalls: “The boat had been bastardised. They had put a flush deck on it and a bogus interior, and it was basically in a state of disrepair.”

The refit was done over roughly two years, and in that time virtually everything on the boat was upgraded or replaced, except the hull and framework.


The hull structure is one of the few parts of the boat that remains original

Rich explains: “S&S, along with David Pedrick, designed a new keel. The boat got a more modern spade rudder to replace the old, barn-door type, and a more modern deck. That included new cockpits and a spinnaker pole trough – basically all the working deck – as well as a new chainplate structure.”

The boat received a new rig: an aluminium mast, as per the class rules, but with carbon used everywhere else, as well as all-new Harken hydraulics. And, of course, the ‘J’ foretriangle dimension is at 24ft once again.

For this level of investment in time and money, there was just one goal: to win the World Championship. Enterprise was chartered by Clay Deutsch for the summer, but the race started even before she had hit the water. “The challenge for us has been the calendar,” says Deutsch. “We didn’t have the boat in a position to go sailing until the end of May. And it’s pretty humbling how long it takes to get these boats dialed in.”


Double wheels: outer one for steering; inner one for trim tab control

Nevertheless, her pedigree showed quickly. In her first competition in Newport this summer, Enterprise posted a pair of 1sts in the two final races. In the 2019 World Championship in Newport she finished a solid 2nd overall in the Modern Division to the more seasoned Challenge XII.

For Deutsch, the 12 Metre seed was planted long ago. “When I was a kid, while other kids had baseball and football cards, I had an Intrepid scrapbook, and I have always fantasised about 12 Metres. Then, out of the blue this past winter, North Sails’ Mike Toppa came to me with, ‘What about Enterprise?’ It was the furthest thing from my mind, and I just figured we wouldn’t be there.”

But Deutsch was persuaded, and work shifted into a frenzied pitch at New England Boatworks. “I remember when I first looked at it, and it was in a million pieces, and I said: ‘I’m not a professional, but my amateur opinion is that this boat has no chance of being ready.’


Asymmetric foredeck hatches – the port hatch has a roller on the aft side for spinnaker take downs

“But Ben Quatromoni, the project manager, and his team jumped on it, working around the clock, and we made it to the starting line.” Today Enterprise’s decks today are remarkably spartan for a 12 Metre: it’s 1977 meets 2019 technology, with lots of carbon. “The boat setup is complicated,” says Quatromoni, “but it’s very user-friendly.”

The port foredeck hatch has a roller on the aft side, TP52-style, for the string take down spinnaker system. Once around the roller, the chute is pulled through a Dacron tube that runs to the stern. With the grinders working in unison, the sail disappears in five seconds.

Control lines run through custom-made carbon ‘trumpets’, allowing them move effortlessly out of sight. Carbon reels take up the halyards. These are ratchet system reels, where one control line spins the reel, bringing the halyard in, and another control line releases it. Unlike those reels, the spinnaker take-down reel is powered off the pedestals.


The spinnaker take down bag; the spinnaker comes down through the forward deck hatch and is pulled through this long Dacron bag

The aluminium cockpit has been lowered to get the grinders down and allow the boom to just avoid grazing the deck when fully sheeted in. But the boom is low. “Man, is it crowded,” says Deutsch. “I can barely fit under the boom – when we’re tacking, I’m literally down on all fours.”

The port and starboard jib trimmer pits have hydraulic controls for the jib tack and jib leads, which is standard for the Twelves. As on most 12 Metres, below decks is anything but simple.

The 150ft of mainsheet runs from the traveller car up into the boom, forward to the gooseneck, below deck, then aft to a turning block where it goes up into the mainsheet pod. Rather than using a winch for the traveller, the car is controlled by a Harken magic wheel below decks, with a 17:1 purchase.

With so many hydraulic systems, continual pumping is required to keep them pressurised, and the aft cockpit pedestal is set up to run a rotary pump, mounted below, for that purpose. For trimmers, there’s no downtime. Once they’ve finished trimming, it’s back to pumping to keep the hydraulics powered up.

The workmanship on many of the systems is truly extraordinary. The turning blocks for the spinnaker sheet and guy are so inconspicuous as to be barely noticeable. The traveller control line looks as if it has been simply laid on deck. Enterprise’s original white hull is now battleship grey. Coupled with black spars, the effect is stunning.


LOA: 20.15m (66ft 1in)
LWL: 13.41m (44ft 0in)
Beam: 3.78m  (12ft 5in)
Draught: 3.78m  (12ft 5in)
Displacement: 25.7 tonnes
Sail area: 168m2 (1,808ft2)
Design: Sparkman & Stephens
Year: 1977
Builder: Minneford Yacht Yard, Inc.

Dave-Powlinson-bw-headshot-400px-squareAbout the author

Dave Powlison has been writing about sailing since the late 1970s and is currently an editor-at-large for Sailing World magazine. When not writing, he races Etchells and an RS Aeros in Vermont, USA.

First published in the November 2019 edition of Yachting World.

The post Enterprise: Is this restored 12 Metre the best yacht to never contest the America’s Cup? appeared first on Yachting World.

Pete Goss transatlantic: Vendee Globe racer embraces life in the slow lane (18 Nov 2019, 9:13 am)

Round the world racer Pete Goss dreamed of cruising with his wife, Tracey, and bought a yacht to sail the world. He looks back at the delicious unfurling of life at a gentler pace

All photos: Jason Pickering

Out of the blackness a breaking crest makes itself known with an alien glow of tumbled phosphorescence and roars past. This is not what we expected when we set off on the glamour leg of our circumnavigation from Lanzarote to Antigua. Friends of ours set sail a month earlier and all their pictures are of the bimini up, sundowners being enjoyed, and fishing.

Be clear about this, I’m not complaining. As an army sergeant once said to me: “If you’re looking for sympathy you’ll find it somewhere in the dictionary between shit and syphilis – get on with it, son.”

I’m very conscious, as I write, that we’re on a dream trip, sailing an amazing yacht called Pearl in celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary. The kids have left home and we want to grab this window, before grandchildren arrive, to explore the world. Having hung up my competitive boots it’s time to have a look at those amazing places I have rushed past while racing.


Pearl just runs with the wave, straight and true”

Another wave lifts the stern. I can sense the bow is buried deep. It’s that pregnant pause when all sorts of forces compete for control of the boat and the outcome is out of your hands. Your fate lies in the past, a designer’s pen scratching out a concept, a build team that decided to make something to be proud of. A boat that, when a stranger walks past, their natural inclination is to run their hand along it in appreciation of the curves.

All the elements and bits of equipment that make up our new yacht, a Garcia Exploration 45, just seem to sit together in harmony. There isn’t that one angle or bolted bit of equipment that jars. She stops people in their tracks.

The moment is upon us and Pearl, seemingly docile, just runs with the wave, straight and true. The B&G autopilot doesn’t need to labour as we surf off at 17 knots. The glow of the instruments gives me a sense of the cockpit and I feel safe but not lulled.

I have done enough sailing to know these to be dangerous conditions but I also revel in the transformation in Pearl once the centreboard is up. All lateral resistance moves aft to the rudders and there is no keel to trip us up. As we race down that treacherous liquid slope, a broach couldn’t be further from my mind. A smile spreads across my face, but then I hear a phone ring.

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Coastguard calling

It’s the Iridium Pilot and MRCC Falmouth calling. My immediate thought is that one of our EPIRBs has gone off. I glance at the main one but it’s secure in its mount waiting patiently for that moment that we all hope will never come. Is it one of our lifejackets?

But this thought is swept away as the Coastguard officer explains that one of the Atlantic Rowing boats is in trouble. I give our position, explain that we have all the medical support they might wish for and they put us on standby as they explore options.

I finish by saying that if the casualties are to windward they shouldn’t tarry, for to fight back in this will be tough and take a long time. It brings back memories of the time when I rescued Raphael Dinelli during the 1996 Vendée Globe – it’s a similar time of the year. I feel for those poor souls in a small rowing boat out in this night of nights.


When you’re in no particular hurry the sun is bound to come out sooner or later

Tracey and I feel confident as we brace ourselves mentally. We spent a long time choosing Pearl. She is what we think of as a ‘Land Rover of the Sea with a BMW interior’, a blend of our differing expectations.

Tracey has done little sailing: when we set sail across the Bay of Biscay in December she had only done two separate night sails. People ask if she is afraid, to which she answers: “I don’t really know what to be afraid of so, no, I’ll keep an open mind and deal with things as they come along.”

Given this lack of experience, her priority is for our yacht to be a home, whereas mine is for a safe, functional platform. With Pearl I can sit with a glass of red in one hand and an inflatable globe in the other and know there is nowhere we can’t go.


Pete’s new office space aboard his Garcia Exploration 45

We want to sweep up the tropical gems of the Caribbean and Pacific but we are also drawn to the rough diamonds of the extreme north and south. Places such as Alaska, the Chilean fjords and South Georgia all call in their own way.

Tracey loves wildlife and is excited by the opportunity of being able to see these places in the flesh as opposed to on an electronic box in the living room. We have a loose time frame of five years so Pearl really is to be our home; she has to do more than offer utilitarian function.

She must be warm, pleasing to the eye below, have a double bed, a good galley and, above all, she mustn’t be a ‘cave’, as Tracey describes most boats. Tracey just doesn’t understand why you would design something to transport you to an exotic bay and then live down below.


Pete and Tracey at home in Pearl’s saloon, which proves ideal both for day to day living and world cruising

Ours must have an all-round view, much like a catamaran. I was looking for a strong, safe platform about 45ft LOA: big enough to go anywhere but small enough for us to sail two-handed with ease. We both wanted the layout to give us a private cabin with en-suite – we have done with camping on a boat. For privacy, this should be separated from a double guest cabin and separate heads by the saloon and galley.

I wanted a robust aluminium hull with watertight bulkheads, twin rudders, and a centreboard to reduce draught and open up shallow areas, but give directional stability off the wind. Drying out should be easy. She should have lots of stowage, a big capacity for fuel and water, and be well insulated.

Nothing quite fitted the bill and so I started a detailed design brief knowing that we were, once again, going to have to build our own boat. That was exciting on the one hand but from experience it’s a much bigger undertaking than most people realise, so we started to steel ourselves for a lot of work and stress.


Pearl offers plenty of comfortable aft cockpit space for relaxation

Until, in Dubai of all places, Yachting World came to the rescue. I was delayed on return from a job in Australia, and treated myself to a copy of the magazine – and there was a Garcia on the front cover. She had something that immediately drew me in.

Here was the culmination of Jimmy Cornell’s lifetime of long distance cruising and 15,000 detailed surveys of others’ bluewater lessons. Her DNA was impeccable and she fitted the picture in my mind. It was so exciting; I called Tracey to say that I had stumbled across the yacht of our dreams.

All this offered us comfort as I started to visualise the possible outcomes of a rescue. How would we pick the rowing team up? What if there was serious injury? Where would we make the sick bay? Would we have to divert to Cape Verde, and if we did it’d be a very rough ride. It might it be better to keep going to Antigua, trading time for stability.

And the pickup would be difficult. Hope we can wait for dawn. I wonder what experience the casualties have? They’re amazing people, many launching themselves into the Atlantic with very little knowledge, but naivety can be both an asset and a threat.

It reminded me of my early days of learning the ropes through lessons that no experienced sailor would countenance. Bravo to them and their zest for life.

But it transpired we were not called upon so we surge off into the night, relieved yet in some way disappointed at the same time. There must be help closer to hand than us, but you can’t help thinking that it would have been good to help.


A grey crossing of Biscay

In at the deep end

We have a week of strong winds, big seas and thermals. I can’t believe it, this isn’t what I sold Tracey after the ordeal of the Bay of Biscay in December. We left Guernsey – had to – at a time when most boats are laid up and sensible heads are below the parapet. Production schedules dictated our launch.

A grim night saw us off Ushant pushing spring tides, 30 knots of wind and rain. It was one of those forecasts you know will be a challenge but won’t get out of hand. If we didn’t bite the bullet we would be trapped by a fortnight of gales.

We, or more to the point Tracey, would just have to suck it up in the interests of the overall plan. That was all well and good in the marina but it broke my heart to find her ill and in tears as I came below for a moment’s respite in the early hours. This was going to be a single-handed night. I’m happy to carry the weight as she adapts.

The weather improves and we find ourselves able to have breakfast in the cockpit as we close Finisterre, albeit in thermals. Suddenly, it dawns on us that we have done the right thing, this leap of faith with no return.

It takes us nine days to make Lanzarote and it’s with some pride that we moor up and I initiate Tracey into the traditional ending of a long passage, namely a bar and a steak.

On reflection, it’s been good and we look forward to sailing to Antigua. It takes five days to feel ready for the off and we sail into conditions that exceed the forecast until Christmas Day when it suddenly turns. Yet I hesitate to say we have hit the Trades.

We’re in shorts and M&S have offered up a shockingly good Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. We open presents from the kids and have a lovely day, which ends with a sundowner in the cockpit.

Old Father Christmas knew what we were wishing for. We have made it through the rough stuff, we feel blooded, the three of us. Cheers Pearl; proud of you, Tracey.


Pearl’s maiden Atlantic voyage: Guernsey to Antigua

It takes a while for a novice to settle into a long spell at sea. There’s a key moment when they stop focusing on the destination and realise that it’s all about enjoying the moment. Making the most of the little things that a simple life has to offer, real things. It’s a truth that the rat race is keen to stifle with its insatiable hunger for consumption.

We are out here to see the world but also to escape the madness of modern life. We want to spend our money on memories not things. But the transition takes time and at times feels alien. This is our life now. We’re not flying home from Antigua.

My diary isn’t booked up years ahead. I have some writing and the odd job but it’s enough to be fun and adequate to help us along our way. As my Dad used to say: “You might think you own things but you don’t. The only thing you truly own is time. Now spend it wisely.”

And so the days settle into an easy routine that makes the best of our strengths. Tracey still doesn’t like the nights. She gives me a few hours’ sleep after supper and I’m happy to cover until dawn with the odd catnap. We always sit together with a cuppa for the sunrise and, of course, a sundowner at dusk.


This is the life: sundowners for Pete and Tracey

Tracey’s knowledge grows as I revel in the liberation of cruising. I don’t have to keep the boat on the edge or drive myself to the limits. I can sit back, read, write, play Scrabble, chill out to music, have a hot shower. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can have an ice cream too!

A week out from Antigua the wind eases at 0400. It’s time for a spinnaker. I leap into action and am about to give Tracey a shout when it strikes me that it can wait until dawn. Those last couple of hours’ sleep for Tracey are worth more than the couple of miles we might gain. It really doesn’t matter when we get to Antigua.

Restorative powers of the sea

I grab a coffee and watch the sun push the stars aside, feeling completely relaxed and at one with the world again. The ocean has restored me. It’s taken a while to shake the exhaustion that comes with depleted batteries. You know that feeling: when you wake up more tired after a night’s sleep than when you went to bed.


Pearl’s galley

That was the reality when we set out, for leaving took more out of us than we could have imagined. Breaking away from a life is tough; many things need addressing that you couldn’t foresee. They’re often small things, but when added up they’re significant and draining.

Like Gulliver tied down in Lilliput, we are bound by thousands of unseen ties and they all need severing, emotionally and practically.

The kids, parents and close friends are the fabric of our life. Are we being selfish? Our house needs to be sold. It all needs thinking about and squaring away.

Although this is our trip it’s also a family event, with the kids queuing up to parachute in. They can join this five-year adventure whenever and wherever they fancy. We will pop home for at least a month a year and, modern communications mean that it’s not quite like my parents had to endure when our family emigrated to Australia when I was a child.

It’s another lovely day. Dolphins welcome the dawn and we have had a tern circling the boat as it eyes up a perch but can’t quite build up the courage to go for it. It has an aerodynamic beauty enhanced by a delicate streamer tail – we have a book on ocean birds and the time to read it.

Lunch is served and suddenly there’s a big spout in our wake, close enough to hear. The thrill is off the scale and we dance about in excitement. It’s a couple of 30ft minke whales. They’re known to be inquisitive and are very nosey. They stay with us for a couple of days, coming to within feet of the hull and at times swimming with their heads out of the water as if checking out the topsides. The ocean isn’t as lonely as you might think.


Pearl at anchor in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua

But come the end we’re ready to stop, so I shout “Land ho!” with great gusto as Antigua rises ahead of us out of the haze.

We’ve timed it perfectly. We arrive late afternoon and as we turn towards Falmouth Harbour we can smell the scent of an exotic island like perfume after so long at sea. We pick up a mooring, crack open a bottle of champagne, revel in the companionable silence, the stillness, the lifting of 24-hour responsibility. It’s a magic moment as the sun sets behind the bay.

Special things in life must be earned and the toil has been a pleasure. Not a single cross word has been spoken. I think we’ll take to this new life. And lying ahead of us now there is so much to see.

Pete-goss-bw-headshot-400-squareAbout the author

Pete Goss is a former Royal Marine and adventurer who has competed in the OSTAR, TWOSTAR, been a skipper in the British Steel Challenge round the world race, the Vendée Globe, Transat Jaques Vabre and the Route du Rhum.

He built the lugger Spirit of Mystery and sailed her from the UK to Australia, and has kayaked round Tasmania, led four expeditions to the North Pole, and is an Associate Fellow at Saïd Business School, Oxford University. But most importantly, he says, he is husband to Tracey and father to Alex, Olivia and Eliot.

First published in the April 2018 edition of Yachting World.

The post Pete Goss transatlantic: Vendee Globe racer embraces life in the slow lane appeared first on Yachting World.

Hugo Boss: Sailing on board Alex Thomson’s £6million foiling machine (14 Nov 2019, 8:59 am)

Alex Thomson’s bold new Hugo Boss will change how the solo skipper sails, but will it win the 2020 Vendée Globe? Helen Fretter got on board to find out more

All photos: Alex Thomson Racing / Hugo Boss

“What’s my speed? What’s the speed? What’s the boatspeed now?!” Alex Thomson hollers into a microphone. Thomson, at the helm of his brand new Hugo Boss, is pumped. As we headed out for today’s photoshoot he said they weren’t going to push the boat too hard. After all, they’re still getting to know her. Instead the aim of the day is mainly to get some drone shots of this futuristic yacht flying high.

But with 18-20 knot westerlies as we thunder out and back from Gosport, it quickly becomes all about the numbers. “32 knots boatspeed in 18 knots of wind with a… a… storm jib up!” Alex gesticulates at the rig, “That’s amazing isn’t it?”

It’s not really a storm jib, it’s a J3 with a single-reefed main, although it’s definitely not all the sail area this machine of a yacht can carry on a moderate inshore day. And we haven’t even opened a valve for the water ballast. But Thomson’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the boat truly is amazing.


Yachting World deputy editor Helen Fretter at the helm of Hugo Boss

At one point Thomson is so buzzed he does a little happy dance, then wiggles the tiller mischievously from side to side. He’s clearly having a whole lot of fun.

He’s not the only one. The sensation of speed is astonishing – a foiling IMOCA does not scoot forwards like a dinghy being hit by a big puff of wind, nor does it have the thundering momentum of a Maxi powering up, or even the screaming white-knuckle ride of a foiling catamaran. Instead it is like a jet plane taking off, or a turbo kicking in – a relentless acceleration that makes you involuntarily hold your breath. It feels as if it will simply get faster and faster forever.

It doesn’t, of course. The IMOCA 60s don’t have T-foil rudders for constant flight, so some of that fighter jet surge of speed levels out, until you are simply hammering along at 30-plus knots.


“The hot pink coachroof rises in a curve like a classic Buick”

It is tricky to judge how high you are flying until the boat crashes down again. On our Solent sail, those plunges back to sea level are not particularly violent, although the next day my legs ache from bracing. It’s impossible to comprehend how bone-shattering and relentless the motion would become in a big Southern sea.

The reason Thomson is shouting into a headset to ask for his windspeed and boatspeed is because he can’t see them. The radical design of his seventh Hugo Boss means there is no outside cockpit. There are no number displays on the mast or anywhere else. Thomson is perched, temporary tiller in hand, on the scooped transom, one foot on a small brace point on deck, the other balanced on some taut lines. Clearly this is not a helming position designed for trans-ocean racing.

In front of him the hot pink coachroof rises in a curve like a beautiful 1940s Buick. But this is the wacky races cartoon car version, because Thomson is standing on the equivalent of the rear bumper to steer, while invisible accomplices control his accelerator and gears inside.

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Immediately aft of the mast is the cockpit, quite unlike any other I’ve seen on a monohull – a closer comparison is the enclosed cuddy of an Ultime maxi trimaran. If you stand at the mast base you see a bank of winches and clutches in front of you, and above them four screens.

But over your head is a solid coachroof, and at your back a solid bulkhead. And coming through that bulkhead are two tiller extensions. It is a room, and it is in here that Alex will navigate, trim, play the keel and minutely adjust foils – and helm – for 28,000 miles around the globe.

For the drone shoot, two or three crew toil in this engine room, grinding the main on, constantly shifting the keel cant and angle of the enormous curved foils to power us ever higher. Through the closed comms headsets Alex’s questions and instructions come thick and fast “What’s my angle of attack? Keel up. Main on. Let’s go!”


It’s not just about producing spectacular photographs, every time Alex takes out the yacht he calls his ‘crazy science project’ he wants to see what it can do. And the first impressions are very good indeed.

£6 million machine

The ‘science project’ is a £6 million gamble. The latest Hugo Boss is designed to win the 2020 Vendée Globe, that’s it. All of Thomson’s yachts have been built, or optimised, to win the solo round the world race. But this time around the boat has literally one job.

The result of the Transat Jacques Vabre is irrelevant. There is no double-handed Barcelona World Race or multi-stage Velux 5 Oceans on the calendar any more. Any notion of building a boat that could also work for the crewed Ocean Race IMOCA class was dismissed at a very early stage.

After retiring from the 2004 Vendée, and abandoning ship in the 2006 Velux 5 Oceans, and being crashed into by a fishing boat in 2008, there was a time in Alex’s career when he simply needed to get around, to finish a solo round the world race. But with a 3rd (2012) and a 2nd (2016) place under his belt, that time is over. Now he only wants to go one better.

For the 2016 Vendée, his last Hugo Boss was already one of the most foil-reliant IMOCA designs of that generation. Thomson, famously, broke a foil during the race, but managed to push ferociously hard despite it to remain in touch with winner Armel Le Cléac’h and finish 2nd.

This time around all the new IMOCA launches (eight for 2020) have committed further to using foils for lift and stability. But whilst there are big variations among the different designs, Hugo Boss is arguably again the most radical of all.


There are rotating cameras on the mast, stanchions and rudders

There are a few reasons that led them to this point. One was the central cockpit. “This was my idea. I wanted to stop being wet and I wanted to see more of what is going on,” Thomson recalls.

He suggested the concept to his design manager, Pete Hobson. Hobson in turn discussed it with the yacht’s structural engineers and designers, who worked out that it could bring big weight savings.

Class rules define how much structure is required around the keel, Thomson explains. “By moving the cockpit here, the sides of the cockpit become the structure. So it’s free, essentially it’s cost us nothing in terms of weight.”


The hull shape is designed to be low drag for foiling

There are other benefits – by moving the pit to the mast base, it reduces the need for heavy line tunnels and reduces friction. Although it feels restrictive, Alex is adamant that the visibility is, if anything, improved.

The cockpit roof just skims the top of Thomson’s head at 5ft 10ins; for anyone shorter the visibility is obscured, but for Alex it’s a panoramic view. There are portholes looking forwards and to each side as well as directly upwards, and there are rotatable onboard cameras – seven at last count – which can be viewed on the nav station tablet screens.

“Most people assume you’ve got no visibility but actually it’s more than what you had before,” Thomson explains. “The cockpit was at the back of the boat, you could never see past the mainsail or the boom, whereas now you can see everything.


The enclosed cockpit includes the nav area

“What if you want to see the jib? On the old boats you’d have to come out, and then walk up the side of the boat, look, then come back in, do a bit of winding, then go back out and look again. It’s unsafe. It’s a big use of energy. Whereas now you can just look up.”

The team was able to make other gains from the set up – the roof over the forward cockpit is solid, but it doesn’t have to be. The coachroof, further aft, provides all the stability the boat needs to right in the event of a capsize, which also saves keel weight.

By lowering the boom to the coachroof there is an end-plating effect on the mainsail, and it also generates a vast space for solar panels – some 19m2, all part of Thomson’s plan to rely on electric power rather than carry diesel.


The new Hugo Boss has an electric motor. Thomson plans to reduce the amount of diesel carried from over 220 litres to just 80.

To make every design decision work on so many multiple levels meant that Thomson’s team had to have a very complete vision of what they wanted to achieve before the design was finalised. Besides working closely with VPLP again, for their newest yacht they also took a huge amount of the development in-house, with Hobson, who Thomson introduced as a ‘genius’ at the boat’s official launch in London, working relentlessly on the design.

Hobson was able to invest near-limitless amounts of time and energy in trying different iterations of each design, looking to find the neatest, lightest solution to every requirement. It was, he admits, a true passion project. The hull shape is by VPLP and, with its low freeboard and reverse sheer, clearly shares some genetics with Jérémie Beyou’s Charal.

“Basically you chop stuff off the bow until structurally it makes no more sense,” explains Hobson. “What you’re doing is taking panel weight out of the corners, and as you take that structure off the boat gets lighter, you give up some form stability at high angles of heel that make your Angle of Vanishing Stabiilty (AVS) worse, which would eventually involve adding weight to the bulb. So what you do is you keep cutting it away until the point where it starts to penalise you in other ways.”


The tiller extension is visible at Alex’s shoulder

A recurring theme in the design and build was an obsessive control of weight. Thomson says Hugo Boss weighs 7.6 tonnes, of which the hull structure itself is just 2 tonnes (the keel accounts for around 4 tonnes, with everything else – mast, engine, winches – another 2).

Some of the cleverest details of the yacht are almost invisible. “That little tube in the cockpit that you can hold onto is actually a tension bar that takes the structural load of the sheets,” explains Hobson. “That saves 4kg on a bulkhead. It’s a step, and Alex’s seat will sit on it. So that little thing that weighs 0.3kg replaces something that weighs 4kg, but then how much else has it saved? Those are the coolest little bits around the boat that nobody knows about.”

Everywhere you look there are custom modifications. The pedestal winch in the cockpit is actually a structure that supports the winch deck. The winches themselves tilt 12% forward, which means the lines at the mast base don’t need to be deflected for the most efficient lead angle.

But the most visible innovation on this IMOCA 60 is the foils. Whereas the other IMOCAs sport foils with angular ‘elbows’, Hugo Boss’s enormous 7m foils are drawn in a near constant curve.

Drawn in a foggy car window

The curved concept was originally doodled by Alex and Hobson in the condensation of a car windscreen. “The minute we sketched it out we knew what we wanted to do. We ran it past VPLP, and they ran it through their first VPP programme and it immediately came out percentages faster than what they were calling the VPLP 2018 foil, which we knew was Charal,” explains Hobson.

The design is a response to the IMOCA rule change, which now allows skippers to adjust the angle of attack of the foiling daggerboards.

“We’re focusing on control,” explains Hobson. “And what I mean by that is this translation in the top bearing allows you to control directly the angle of attack of the foil, so as you push that by 2° you get 2° of angle of attack. If that was a straight shaft with a tip on it, you might change 3° there and sort of change that by 1°. The curve is a trick to get control within class rules.”


Seven moveable cameras can be controlled from inside the cockpit

Again, there is other sorcery going on here. The structural spar inside is constructed in such a way that as it flexes under load it has a self-dampening effect. The additional depth of the foils also means that they don’t aspirate as quickly.

“On a lot of the boats their foil is basically a flat lifting surface, and when it comes out of the water you lose all your lift, and you drop back down again. On our foil as you lift you proportionally lose the foil area so it’s a dampened lift and loss of flight. And when we get it set up right the boat starts regulating it’s own flight when we get it just right,” Hobson explains. So why is no one else doing it? “I don’t know, that’s the worrying thing!”

The main reason no one else is doing it is probably because the Hugo Boss design and build (at Jason Carrington’s yard in Hythe, UK) was a very closely guarded secret. The team decided from the outset that they wanted to be the last to come from the VPLP drawing boards in this cycle, and they are one of the latest to launch ahead of the Transat Jaques Vabre [Hugo Boss was to retire after hitting a submerged object 380 miles west-north-west of the Canary Islands.]

That’s not to say that the Hugo Boss development is finished. Thomson will be building a second set of foils (each set costs around £500,000) after the TJV. The final decisions will need to be made quickly – designer Vincent Lauriot Prévost tells me that he thinks teams need to have committed to any foil design changes by November in order to build and test in time for next year’s Vendée.

There are still plenty of other details that haven’t been finalised. As yet Thomson has no bunk, or even a chair. “We’re not really that bothered about where I’ll sleep, maybe I’ll have a nice comfy seat. We need to start thinking about suspension. On the Route du Rhum I felt like I nearly broke my coccyx.”


The access hatches (open, aft) and windows of the enclosed cockpit

More important is avoiding impact injuries. One of the advantages of the small cockpit area is literally not being able to fall very far. “I took a rugby scrum helmet on the last two Vendées already. I think we’re getting close to being in body armour now,” he muses.

Certainly Thomson will be able to trim without putting on oilskins, or even sunscreen. More problematic will be the heat. “My concern is the tropics, in could be 50°C in here,” he admits. Hugo Boss’s black livery uses a specially designed light reflective paint to – theoretically – reduce the amount of heat absorbed.

Other elements have been kept the same where possible. The sail programme is very much a development from the previous Hugo Boss. Even the lines running into the cockpit are in identical colours as on the last boat.

Eliminating errors remains a huge part of any successful Vendée campaign. Alex has, famously, had some of the worst luck in sailing. He came down with appendicitis days before the start of the 2010 Barcelona World Race. Before that his 2008 boat was dismasted and ruined by a French fishing boat days ahead of the Vendée Globe.

At the time, that collision felt like the cruellest luck ever. Afterwards, Alex says, they examined their own failings and did everything they can to ensure something similar can never happen again. They took a similar long hard look at the decisions that led up to his previous boat being rolled, dismasted, and nearly sunk in the TJV four years ago.

But yet, stuff just keeps on happening to him. Having never won any of the IMOCA transatlantics, last year he was on course to take 1st in the Route du Rhum when he went for one last power nap before the finish. Exhausted, after averaging 21⁄2 hours of sleep in 24 over the course of the race, he set his infamous electric ‘shock’ watch to wake him up. The watch ran out of charge and Thomson overslept, Hugo Boss crashing into the island of Guadaloupe on autopilot.


The keel cant controls

So does it feel like a risk to go to such a radical place? As Thomson will use cameras to help him trim and keep watch, is the chance of some technical glitch causing a knock-on problem something that concerns them?

“Actually it wasn’t the tech that failed,” Thomson says of the Route du Rhum grounding. “I failed to make sure that the tech was fully charged. So we’re putting a lot of effort and energy into making sure that’s not going to happen.”

Thomson even plans to start from his indoors helming position – be prepared for the surreal image of an apparently pilotless Hugo Boss lining up with 30 other yachts on the start line for the 2020 Vendée Globe.

The whole point of this latest Hugo Boss, and of Thomson’s entire 2020 Vendée Globe campaign, is that it is genuinely uncompromising. “This whole campaign can only be measured on whether I win or not. Whether I like it or not, there is only one place we can go.

“What that means is I didn’t feel like I had to compromise in any way with this. Normally you look at what the other boats are doing. Whereas we just said ‘**** it, let’s go as far as we possibly dare’, and that’s what we did.”

First published in the November 2019 edition of Yachting World.

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Tidal streams: How to read the waves to gain a sailing advantage (14 Nov 2019, 8:23 am)

Pro navigator Mike Broughton explains how tidal streams can give racing sailors a lot of free information

A strong tidal stream flowing past The Needles – you can see the stream accelerating though the gaps. In the lee of the large outer Needle is an area of ‘tidal shadow’ where the stream is not so strong. Photo: Mike Broughton

Navigators need to have a close knowledge of tidal streams and currents. The latest studies show just how multifarious even mid-ocean currents are. Closer to the coast, matters of fluid dynamics get more complex and it is important to be able to simplify what is happening and use tidal streams to our advantage.

When on the water, knowing what the tidal stream is doing right now is a start and it is easy for people to miss basic clues. Every single time you see a buoy or lobster pot, take in the ‘free info’ it is offering on tidal stream. Even if the tide is slack, it is useful to know.

It takes a little time, but it’s useful to calibrate your eye to be able to look at the tidal stream flowing past a buoy and know the difference between, say, 1.5 knots and 2.5 knots of flow. For racers, every time you go to get your start transits next to the committee boat, remember to look down at the flow of water next to the anchored vessel.

Another way of gauging the tidal stream is to look at the way other boats are moving in comparison to their background. Watching how another yacht is sailing upwind relative to a distant shoreline can give you a vital clue. If she is seemingly crabbing sideways to windward when beating, then we have a windward-going tidal stream.

Prior to departing a mooring or marina it helps to always look down and see what the flow of water is doing. If at anchor look at the way other yachts are lying, remembering that the bigger the vessel the more likely it is lying to the tidal stream (unless you are at slack tide). You can see the direction of tide very clearly in some locations, for example by looking at vessels at anchor in the eastern Solent whilst sailing off Cowes in the central Solent.

Tide plotting software

Navigation software can be a great help, particularly when sailing with no land around. Some programmes allow you to plot a useful graph of tide set and direction. You can also get a read-out on a ‘data bar’, which is best used when the tide or current data is averaged over, for example, the previous five minutes.

Even just comparing boat speed and SOG, and heading and COG gives you a clear indication; though remember the information is only as good as your instruments are calibrated.

Just looking at the waves can reveal the presence of tidal streams. Clues come from the angle of the wavelets or whole waves relative to the wind, or by looking at a wider patch of water, most obvious when it appears as a ‘moving carpet’. Looking at the way bubbles or spume move relative to the wind also helps identify current or tidal stream.

Waves tend to be steeper and sharper with wind against tide and you only need about three knots of current against 25 knots of wind to kick up very nasty waves.

Most of the rogue wave areas are due to wind against current. Some of the worst are the waves off South Africa with a strong westerly wind blowing against the notorious Agulhas Current, which flows like a river from Madagascar around the south of South Africa and into the teeth of Southern ocean winds.

In 2015 an Agulhas array was set up off Port Elizabeth to monitor the effects of this fast moving current, which gets totally redirected eastwards in the Southern ocean while some of its eddies spin off north west into the Atlantic ocean and have recently been shown to eventually combine and modulate with the Gulf Stream.

Strong currents against gale force winds create very steep waves and even help create ‘rogue waves’. Rogue waves have smashed the bridge windows of two cruise ships off Cape Horn in recent years and have been the subject of several studies to try and determine their formation and frequency.

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Wind-over-tide waves

In years with a strong east Australian Current flowing south into strong south-westerly winds in the Bass Strait, waves can be very steep indeed on the Sydney Hobart race. Even close inshore, tidal streams can create very nasty waves and should not be underestimated. Off the south coast of England, south-westerly winds of ‘only’ 25 knots in the needles Fairway can kick up dangerous steep waves of over 5m when a spring ebb tide is running.

It is also useful to know where we are likely to encounter weaker currents, such as in shallow water where the seabed causes extra friction to slow the flow. Less obvious are areas that create a current or tidal shadow. One area is illustrated in the above picture of the tidal flow past the Needles.

Here we can see a spring flood tidal stream, showing acceleration past the lighthouse and in between the chalk needles, but slack tide in the lee of the first needle where there is even an eddy running against the strong flood tide.

Mike-Broughton-Headshot-400x400About the author

Mike Broughton has been a pro navigator for 25 years and currently races on yachts such as the 107ft superyacht WinWin. He also races and cruises on his own Swan 48, Assuage, and carries out race tuition and navigation masterclasses.

The post Tidal streams: How to read the waves to gain a sailing advantage appeared first on Yachting World.

Cruising British Columbia: Exploring Canada’s Wild West coast by boat (13 Nov 2019, 9:01 am)

Magnificent scenery, quiet anchorages and sometimes hair-raising pilotage make the coast of British Columbia very special. Suzy Carmody reports

Photo: Manuel Sulzer / Getty Images

The coastline of south-east Alaska and northern British Columbia is a fractured network of islands, like a broken pane of glass, and the Inside Passage threads in between them.

My husband Neil and I arrived in Sitka, Alaska, from Hawaii at the end of June and spent three months cruising the inshore waterways in our Liberty 458 Distant Drummer.

After a great trip down through south-east Alaska we entered British Columbia (BC) at Prince Rupert. We continued our journey south through the Inside Passage to Queen Charlotte Sound and then sailed down the west coast of Vancouver Island to Victoria.

The voyage was a feast of magnificent scenery and tranquil anchorages, hot springs, historical settlements and salmon. Salmon everywhere.


Neil fishing for cutthroat trout at the log jam at Butedale Lake. Photo: Suzy Carmody

Approaching Prince Rupert from Ketchikan, Alaska, required us to come out from hiding among the islands and cross the Dixon Entrance. This gap between Prince of Wales Island and Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands) is exposed to the strong winds and large swells of the north-east Pacific and is known for its rough seas.

After waiting up in Foggy Bay for a couple of days of strong southerlies to pass by, we were lucky enough to cross the entrance on a very pleasant starboard tack in a light westerly wind.

We took a shortcut through Venn Passage, which had to be planned for slack water as the tides rip through the narrow strait. The channel is not very well buoyed but the charts were good so all went well and we arrived safely in Prince Rupert (simply ‘Rupert’ to the locals).

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We completed our customs and immigration formalities and tied up at the dock at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club (PRRYC) in time for sundowners.

Rupert is a very friendly town with most of the facilities we needed – supermarket, laundry, fuel dock and a good selection of pubs and restaurants – all within cycling distance of the PRRYC.

The museum is interesting with great displays of implements and carvings used by the indigenous First Nation people (Inuit; Metis), who have lived in the area for thousands of years. I loved the clothing and headdresses decorated with puffin beaks, bear claws and seal whiskers.

cruising-british-columbia-canada-wild-west-mapRupert is the railhead for the so-called Rupert Rocket and we decided to take the train into the mountains to the pretty village of Smithers, to see some of the hinterland.

The railway follows the Skeena River valley deep into the Coast Mountains and stops a number of times to wait for enormous freight trains carrying wheat and coal to the docks at Rupert and bound for Asia to pass. The journey was great fun and we were able to enjoy the superb scenery from a panorama car.

Back on board Distant Drummer and heading south our first destination was the hot springs at Bishop Bay. When we left Prince Rupert a big fat high was sitting in the north-east Pacific with gale warnings for the offshore areas.

However, we were following the inland route down the Grenville Channel, a narrow slit that runs north-south between Pitt Island and the mainland. With a stiff northerly breeze we got the headsail up and zipped along at over 8 knots. Wonderful!

There are a few places to spend the night along the way, at the north end of the channel we stopped at Kumealon Bay and we anchored at Coughlan Anchorage at the southern end. Both were peaceful bays lined with fir trees illuminated by golden evening sunshine.

Bishop Bay lies 40 miles due inland from the Pacific, near a town named Kitimat. The anchorage was amazingly quiet and the water so calm it felt almost stagnant.


Distant Drummer and dilapidated buildings at the dock at Butedale. Photo: Suzy Carmody

A wooden bathhouse has been constructed over the springs and is decorated with memorabilia from various boats that have passed through. As we soaked in the warm water we looked for souvenirs from people we knew and when we left we hung up a coconut from Hawaii to record Distant Drummer’s visit.

Our next stop was Butedale, an easy day passage from Bishop Bay via Ursula Channel and Princess Royal Channel. Butedale was one of the 50 or so canneries dotted along the coast of BC built at the turn of the 20th Century to provide fish processing facilities to the fishing fleet in the area. The cannery operated from 1911-1967 but the buildings are now dilapidated and slipping down into the sea.

The only person living there was Cory Lindsay, the caretaker, who showed us around and explained the uses of the machinery, which is now overgrown with weeds.


Passing the time while Neil fishes at the log jam, Butedale Lake. Photo: Neil Carmody

The roof of the remaining bunkhouse has fallen in but it is possible to enter the old cook house and see the range and the long wooden tables where hundreds of workers ate. It has such a poignant atmosphere. In the power house, which straddles the creek, a pair of water-powered generators have been preserved.

While at Butedale we walked up to the lake in the valley above the settlement to a fishing hole where Cory had told us we could catch cutthroat trout. The end of the lake was jammed with huge logs, about 1-2m in diameter and often more than 30m long, which we had to scramble over to get to the fishing spot at the centre.

We were a bit tentative at first, but we quickly got the hang of balancing and soon were leaping about like lumberjacks. We didn’t catch any fish but had a great time trying.


Fishing in the evening sunlight at Kumealon Bay, Grenville Channel. Photo: Suzy Carmody

It started raining as we left Butedale and did not stop for the four days it took us to thread our way through the slender channels and turbulent narrows to reach Shearwater.

The islands and passageways in BC are even more of a jigsaw than those of Alaska. Despite the weather, we were enchanted by Bottleneck Inlet, a tiny slot on the eastern side of the northern end of Findlayson Channel.

The crevice is less than 100m wide and the tight, sinuous channel is breathtaking. We dropped anchor squeezed in between cliffs and rockfalls – it felt primeval.

Shearwater was established as a seaplane base during World War II and is now a privately owned settlement. We spent a couple of days tied up at the dock while we topped up our provisions and enjoyed a meal and a couple of glasses of wine at the local pub.

The First Nation settlement of Bella Bella is a short sail or boat-taxi ride away. There’s not much too see there except the Band shop, where the groceries are cheaper than in Shearwater, and the little shop by the dock, which sells coffee and gifts.

We spent six days at Pruth Bay on Calvert Island waiting for a good weather window to cross Queen Charlotte Sound. Our plan was to head down the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.


Logs litter the southern beaches at Pruth Bay. Photo: Suzy Carmody

The beaches behind the Hakai Institute (and scientific research organisation) in Pruth Bay are spectacular; broad sweeps of white sand with the swell crashing against rocky offshore islets and splashing and foaming on to the beach.

Finally, a big fat high settled in to the north-east Pacific and brought us a favourable nor’wester for a fantastic reach across the sound.

We passed Triangle Island at sundown, giving Cape Scott a wide berth as it is known for its treacherous currents and rough seas. Throughout the overnight sail to Cape Cook we were in heavy fog.


The boardwalk at Hot Springs Cove is carved with the names of passing vessels. Photo: Suzy Carmody

With a 2-3m swell it was pretty uncomfortable so at dawn we decided to cut in to the coast and anchor in Esperanza Inlet. The route into Nuchatlitz Bay was a tortuous, a narrow conduit between islands, rocks and shoals.

But it was worth it; the anchorage was beautifully peaceful and after a spectacular sunset we had a long, sound sleep.

Although we were bound for Tofino we were looking forward to a long, hot soak at Hot Springs Cove on the west side of Sidney Inlet.

It is about a 2km walk to the springs through magnificent forest, checking out the planks of the boardwalk, which are engraved with the names of yachts that have passed by.

The springs were the most pleasant that we visited down the coast as they were in the natural rock with no pipes or concrete.

We got up early in order to avoid the onslaught of tourists from Tofino and it was glorious to bask in the warm sunshine and soak in the steaming hot water.


Tofina and Clayoquot Sound Photo: All Canada Photos / Alamy

We had very little wind we left for the hop down to Tofino so we motored at a leisurely five knots through the islands and shallow channels at the mouth of the Clayoquot Sound.

One thing we found surprising about the west coast of Vancouver Island (apart from the lack of wind) was the shallow depth of the water. Unlike the steep cliffs and deep waters of the inland passages the coastal shelf here is less than 100m deep and extends 15-20 miles offshore.

Although this makes for easier anchoring, parts of the route into Tofino were barely underwater and in the marina we were touching bottom at low tide!


Swarms of jellyfish invaded Pruth Bay. Photo: Suzy Carmody

Tofino is a tourist town and consequently has several good restaurants. We had a superb meal at a place named Wolf in the Fog.

South of Tofino we stopped at the historic town of Ucluelet, a pretty fishing port lying at the northern entrance to Barkley Sound. It’s a good place to kick off and cruise the islands of the Broken Group, but we decided to continue down through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and on to Victoria.

The strait has a bad reputation for short, rough seas due to an evil combination of a narrow entrance, large ebb tidal flows and strong summer onshore winds. Add fog and a rocky coastline into the mix and it’s party time!


Khutze Inlet in the fog – Distant Drummer anchored on the sand bar. Photo: Suzy Carmody

We covered the 90-mile stretch from Ucluelet to the southern point of Vancouver Island in two days. Fitting favourable tides within daylight hours was becoming harder.

We stopped overnight in the conveniently located San Juan Bay, then reached Beecher Bay at sundown the following day. We managed to find a space between the crab pots to drop the pick and enjoyed an icy beer.

It was an early morning start the next day for the last 15-mile hop up to Victoria. We had thick fog as we navigated through Race Rocks at Vancouver Island’s southern tip.

We tracked our course very carefully on the electronic charts and followed it diligently, while keeping a close eye on the radar. We posted a look-out (me) clutching a pair of aerosol fog horns and which I blew vigorously every two minutes.

It was a hair-raising few miles but we managed to avoid the rocks, fishing boats and container ships and arrived safely in Victoria inner harbour for lunch.


Distant Drummer alongside at the Causeway Marina, Victoria. Photo: Suzy Carmody

The scenery we sailed through and the bays we anchored in revealed the breadth of the beauty and culture of British Columbia. Our voyage left hundreds of serene anchorages yet to visit and we are already planning our return trip.

suzy-carmody-bw-headshot-600px-squareAbout 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 in the Pacific Northwest and blogging at:

First published in the March 2018 edition of Yachting World.

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Viracocha III: The Chilean reed boat built to sail across the Pacific (12 Nov 2019, 8:47 am)

Viracocha III is unlike any other vessel – this 60ft reed boat was built on a remote Chilean beach for a transpacific voyage. Andy Dare explains all...


Adventurer Phil Buck is no stranger to reed boats, having twice before sailed from Chile to Easter Island non-stop. However, his latest project aims to sail more than twice that distance, bypassing Easter Island, aiming for Mangareva Island in French Polynesia, in a boat that will start sinking as soon as it’s launched.

“Nobody has done it – at least [not since] ancestral rafts. We are using a very different sailing system that nobody has tried in modern times that I know of,” explains Buck.

As the reeds will be continually absorbing water, there will be little time for celebrations in Polynesia, before they head off again, on another 5,000-mile leg to Sydney, making a total voyage of some six months.


One of the individual tortora reeds which, en masse, form the hull

Adventure sailor

A professional adventurer, Buck cycled from one side of America to the other aged just 17. A few years later, he kayaked coast to coast, then spent ten years climbing the highest mountains in the Americas.

When he was 11, Buck read about Thor Heyerdahl, and ever since has dreamt about making his own expedition across the Pacific. Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki was a balsa raft, but Buck was fascinated by the reed boats of Lake Titicaca and wondered if it would be possible to recreate the voyage on such a boat.

The most renowned reed boat builders in the world today still live and work on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, specifically the Limanchi family. Heyerdahl had taken the Limanchi family to Morocco to build Ra II for his successful expedition across the Atlantic in 1970.

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Buck also sought out the Limanchis and they have built all three of his Viracocha boats. “I learnt from my father at seven years old. I built models, then bigger and bigger boats up to 8m,” explains Juan Limanchi, one of the builders from Huatajata, who is now in his 80s.

Buck’s first reed boat took two years to build. Setting off in 2000, he sailed from Arica, in the extreme north of Chile, 2,850 miles westwards to Easter Island, arriving after 44 days – relatively fast for such a boat at an average speed of 2.7 knots.

Based on this success, Buck built another boat with the aim of showing it was possible to sail across the Pacific to Australia. They set off from Via del Mar, some 1,000 miles further south, to make better use of the Humboldt Current.


The two sides of Viracocha III’s hull are bound together and compressed by ropes

They arrived in Easter Island after 76 days – much slower than expected, running low on food, with a severe list to one side and with the boat sitting about 1m lower in the water than at the launch. Buck sensibly decided not to continue.

Now, on his third boat, Buck’s experiences have led to some changes for Viracocha III. A system of longitudinal ropes will keep the boat tensioned in the swells, and it also has taller masts and much more sail area.

He is keeping the whole boat as authentic as possible in its construction, so there is no metal, no plastic, and no nails. The boat is built with simple wooden dowels, together with ropework and knots – lots of knots!

“I have managed to make three blocks or pulleys to install on the very top of our three masts, critical pieces of equipment as we will need to raise and douse sails quickly through the many storms we expect to encounter from South America to Australia,” says Buck.

“I could have installed metal pins and fasteners for added security but that would have compromised my no metal, self-imposed rule. Will they last the whole six-month voyage? Only time will tell.”

Reeds and knots

To make a reed boat, you simply tie more and more reed together until you get the size of boat you want, but it takes a lot of reeds: about 22 tons. Even for ten experienced Aymaran builders, this process has taken five months.


Port holes are unglazed, and instead covered with painted wooden washboards

After being dried in the strong altiplano sun for two to four weeks, the reeds are gathered and tied into ‘amaros’, or large bundles of approximately 500 reeds, about 50cm wide by 2m long. Hundreds of amaros were then joined together into ‘chorizos’ along the 18m length of the boat.

Thirty of these chorizos were then laid along two sides of a platform, each being tied to the next, to form two giant cylinders. In the centre is a smaller inner core, called the ‘corazón’, or heart.

Here Buck has added wooden poles, hoping to stiffen the boat against the Pacific swells. Next, two smaller cylinders of reeds are tied to either side, before the ‘estera’, or skin, is wrapped around the outside of the whole boat.


Reeds are tied together with rope. As the reeds expand in the water, the boat becomes stiffer

The whole boat is joined together and tensioned using very long sisal ropes, each 685m in length. These ropes are spiralled around one of the bundles and the heart, spaced every 30cm over the entire length of the boat. The same is done on the other side.

They’re then tightened using a block and tackle, while being hit with a wooden bat to promote an even compression. The two hulls are not directly tied to each other, but each is tied to the heart under tension, holding the boat together, deep inside its core.

Rigid expansion

On land, reeds dry and shrink over time, yet the fibrous rope stretches as it dries, requiring more tightening. Fortunately, the opposite occurs at sea as the reeds expand with the absorption of water and rope shrinks, further tightening and creating an amazingly rigid boat.

Finally, two further large reed bundles are tied to each side to form the ‘sawi’, similar to gunwales. These widen the boat, and thus the deck, giving the rigging more stability, as well as helping to break the rolling ocean waves.

The rigging is the only thing that looks remotely similar to something seen in a ‘modern’ boat, using traditional wooden blocks to tension the natural fibre ropes.

Along both sides are many ‘guaras’ or leeboards. These can be independently raised, lowered, or even removed completely.


Crew accommodation in the central deckhouse

Stowage is difficult, as there is no interior due to the hulls being solid. The gap between the hulls and the deck has some limited space, but there are three cabin structures built onto the deck.

The smaller forward one is for stowage, the largest central cabin is the main accommodation area, with four double-level and four single bunks. The aft cabin houses the navigation area, galley and additional stowage.

From the aft cabin crew can climb out of a small opening onto a raised deck area, where the helmsman will access the tiller.


In a test-run of the launch, thousands of volunteers assembled on a Chilean beach to haul the boat towards the shore on wooden rollers

Man-powered launch

It was only fitting for Viracocha III to be launched in a traditional way, and in February 2018 Buck arranged for a ‘test run’ to prove it could be done. Using local media to drum up interest, he managed to gather thousands of volunteers.

First the boat was lowered from its platform by hand and, with just the muscle power of about one thousand men, women and children pulling on ropes, the boat was moved along a system of wooden rails and rollers toward the sea. It was rather like a Ben Hur film – but 100 per cent real.


Viracocha III at sea after her March 2019 launch


LWL: 18.0m (60ft)
LOA: 22.5m (74ft)
Beam: 4.9m (16ft)
Weight(circa): 2,200kg (4,850lb)
Draught at launch: 1.0m (3ft 4in)
Draught after one week in the water: 1.25m (4ft 2in)
Crew: 8-12

First published in the June 2018 edition of Yachting World.

Viracocha III was successfully launched in March 2019 and reached Tahiti four months later. The boat has remained here ever since, having suffered severe hull damage in the Tuamotus. You can follow their adventures on the Viracocha Expidition Facebook page.

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Southern hemisphere cyclones: Everything you need to know (11 Nov 2019, 9:21 am)

Meteorologist Chris Tibbs explains how Southern hemisphere cyclone systems develop and what sailors need to know about them

Google Earth image showing the track of Tropical Cyclone Gita in February 2018

Although New Zealand is not in the tropical cyclone (hurricane) belt, the remains of Tropical Cyclone Gita hit the west coast of both the north and south islands in late February 2018, bringing high winds and storm surge.

As a Category 4 cyclone Gita had already devastated Tonga as the worst storm since modern records began, flattening the 100-year-old Parliament building, among many others. It then continued across the Pacific, missing the more populated islands before curving south then east towards New Zealand.

This does sometimes happen – after we had lost our rig on Concert in the 1996/97 BT Global Challenge we made our way to the Chatham Islands, arriving at the same time as the remains of a tropical storm. With 60 knots through the harbour it was not quite the port of refuge we had hoped for!

Head for Auckland

With Auckland at 37°S, New Zealand is south of the hurricane belt making it an ideal cruising destination in its own right, and also a place to sit out the cyclone season during the southern hemisphere summer. Therefore a significant number of yachts head to New Zealand at the end of the tropical Pacific sailing season, returning at the start of the next one.

This can be a tough passage as at the end of the South Pacific winter depressions frequently still rattle through the Southern Ocean, sending cold fronts across New Zealand and pushing further north. The tropical cyclone season officially starts at the beginning of November (finishing at the end of April) and insurance companies require yachts to be well south by then, or cover will be reduced.

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We therefore sail south before the start of the cyclone season while avoiding the last of the winter gales. Although Auckland is a similar distance south of the equator as the Algarve is north, the cold Southern Ocean is not far away and with large temperature contrasts the weather can change rapidly. It’s around 1,100 miles from Fiji to Auckland and a couple of hundred fewer from New Caledonia, requiring a weather window of a week or more to make the passage.

This makes it quite tricky as there is often a 6-9 day pattern formed of cold fronts, followed by a ridge of high pressure before this is disturbed by the next front. With passage times similar to this cycle, choosing the best departure time to avoid arriving at the same time as an active cold front is important.

The ‘normal’ pattern of high pressure between New Zealand and the tropical Pacific islands means starting the passage in mainly easterly trade winds, but close to New Zealand the predominant wind direction is south-westerly, as it is on the south side of the high pressure.

If all were static it would be a relatively simple passage: let the tradewinds take you to the west of the direct route then the westerlies will bring you east again. However, active cold fronts will come through strongly swinging the wind more to the south.

These are the same cold fronts as the ones bringing ‘southerly busters’ in Australia – just a little further north and generally not quite so aggressive. Starting from New Caledonia, the distance is shorter but you are significantly further east than from Fiji. The passage to New Zealand has a reputation for being a tough one, and timing is everything. Although the pattern may average out at 6-9 days, nothing in the weather is that consistent.

Easier return

The return from New Zealand to the tropical Pacific is generally easier, getting east in the westerlies before tracking north into the trade winds and the tropics. It’s also considered safer as the worst and most changeable weather is likely at the start.

However this is not always the case: as the UK has the Fastnet 79 disaster and Australia the 1998 Sydney Hobart, New Zealand has the Queen’s Birthday storm of June 1994.

A tropical depression quickly formed between Vanuatu and Fiji, and as this low deepened and moved south out of the tropics it entrained cold air, causing the low to rapidly deepen. ‘Explosive cyclogenesis’ is the technical term, although these are sometimes called meteorological bombs when the barometer drops more than 14mb in 24 hours.

In 1994 this generated winds in excess of 50 knots and a swell of 10-15m. This was the height of the season for cruisers heading to the tropical Pacific and whilst 21 people were rescued, three lives and seven boats were lost. It was not a tropical cyclone but still a nasty storm in an area where we expect conditions to be benign.

Chris-Tibbs-BWAbout the author

Chris Tibbs is a meteorologist and weather router, as well as a professional sailor and navigator, forecasting for Olympic teams and the ARC rally.

First published in the May 2018 edition of Yachting World.

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41 great Christmas gift ideas for sailors – our pick of the very best kit (7 Nov 2019, 2:15 pm)

Stuck for Christmas gift ideas for the sailor who has it all? Yachting World is here to help with 41 great ideas


Are you wondering what to get the sailor in your life for Christmas? Here is our pick of 41 top products that are perfect Christmas gift ideas for sailors:

1. Garmin inReach

Christmas gift ideas: Garmin inReach

This is a clever portable device that provides an affordable way to keep friends and family in touch with your whereabouts when offshore. It allows you to send and receive SMS text messages to any mobile phone, email address or other inReach device, anywhere in the world, via the Iridium satellite constellation.

In Reach works like a Sat phone and provides live online tracking and email and can also be sinked with your phone and operated through an app.

inReach SE+ £399.99.

2. Henri Lloyd neoprene gloves 

Henri Lloyd Cobra Winter Glove

Christmas gift ideas: Henri Lloyd Cobra Winter Glove

Sailing with cold hands sucks. We tested a selection of winter gloves and these came out top. The full-fingered gloves have neoprene thermal insulation, which means that even when they (inevitably) get wet, they keep your hands warm.

The grippy surface on the palms proved particularly good when handling intricate jobs and overall we were really impressed with this glove. Tough, flexible and easy to get on and off even when wet.


3. Yachting World subscription

Xmas gifts

Christmas gift ideas: A Yachting World subscription

A hardcopy of the world’s favourite sailing magazine every month from £18.49 a year – or an ipad/iphone digital issues for £15.49…

Now THAT’S Christmas!

See the latest Yachting World subscription offers

4. Musto Corsica BR1 Jacket

Sailor gift ideas: Musto Corsica ladies jacket

Warm, waterproof, and ideal for both winter sailing or walking the high street, the Corsica jacket is lined with heat-retentive Arctec fleece that keeps much of its insulating power even when wet.


5. Gill Tarp Barrel Bag

Christmas gift ideas: Gill Tarp Barrel Bag

All sailors need a decent kit bag. This 60L no-nonsense barrel bag is made from durable waterproof tarpaulin and features a two-way zip and padded shoulder strap.


6. Jerrycan backpack

Christmas gift ideas: Dacoblue portable jerry can

Dacoblue founder Conny Dahlin became all too aware of the difficulties of transporting fuel and water during a five-year circumnavigation on his Oceanis 411. His solution? These sturdy, UV-resistant 20lt bladder that can be carried with a shoulder strap or full backpack style harness.

The bags can be lashed for stowage on deck when necessary using stainless steel eyelets around their edges. Once empty the bladder can be folded away and stowed in a locker, eliminating the need to have the deck festooned with empty cans. Different colours and labels are available for fuel and potable water.

From $176.

7. Wing-Surfer 

For the person who has or wants every toy, this is the latest compact watersports trend. The inflatable handheld wing offers a cross between windsurfing and kitesurfing rigs, but with no strings or rigging needed. It allows a very simple, pure method for a board rider to harness the wind, be it on a foiling kiteboard or a SUP – just blow it up, grab the handles and go.

From $799.

8. Papa’s Pilar Rum


Christmas gift ideas: Pilar rum

Because every sailor enjoys a drop of rum, right?! Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s adventures between Florida and Cuba on his boat, Pilar, this rum brand was created in collaboration with Hemingway’s estate, and the family remains involved and donates a majority of its proceeds to charity.

The blonde rum version costs $29.99. Dark rum $39.99

9. Waterproof iPhone housing

Christmas gift ideas:Proshotcase waterproof phone housing

GoPros and similar action cameras are great devices, but they are both expensive (some more than £500) and need charging. Recent smartphones have a camera that is just as good as a high-end action camera. This neat case turns an iPhone into a fully waterproof action camera.

It’s waterproof to 50ft or 130ft, depending on model, and is compatible with all GoPro mounting accessories. Full control of the phone’s camera is achieved via the volume buttons.

From US$119.99

10. Carboteck bracket and bezel

Christmas gift ideas: Carboteck bracket

An upgrade for the dinghy sailing enthusiast in your life. This forged light and impact resistant carbon bezel is designed for use with a Velocitek Prism or a Raymarine Tacktick Micro Compass. The forged carbon is created by mixing paste fibres with resin, then squeezing the material into the desired shape.

Prices: Bezel £49.99; Compass bracket £89.99.

The post 41 great Christmas gift ideas for sailors – our pick of the very best kit appeared first on Yachting World.

Fastnet 79: Could sailing’s biggest disaster ever happen again? (7 Nov 2019, 9:31 am)

This year marked the 40th anniversary of a race never to be forgotten. Elaine Bunting looks back at crews’ experiences of the 1979 Fastnet Race

Helicopter winchman goes to Grimalkin. Photo: PA Archive

Back in 1979, Ted Turner’s Tenacious won the Fastnet Race, with a corrected time of 3 days 8 hours. Over the last 30 years the average speed across the 605-mile Fastnet course has increased phenomenally: at the elite end, the fastest Ultime trimarans complete the course in just a third of Tenacious’s time. Yet for the smallest yachts in the race, the race can still take five full days.

Yacht design has changed enormously in 30 years, but even more so communications, navigation and access to weather information. So it begs the question of whether a tragedy on such a wide scale could ever happen again?

Navigating in 1979 was a world away from today. Since today there is never a doubt as to our position, the role of the navigator is more one of tactician and strategist. Back then, nav aids such as Loran and Decca were specifically banned and sat nav, then in its infancy, was also prohibited. The tools for the navigator were a sextant, a radio direction finder (RDF), compass and experience of dead reckoning navigational skills.


Royal Navy helicopter comes to the aid of Camargue. Eight crew were rescued at 1033 on 14 August 1979. Photo: Getty Images

Communications were poor. VHF or MF radio was not mandatory. The larger yachts mostly carried VHF but only an estimated 25% of the smaller yachts did. Radio sets were heavy, cumbersome and expensive, and also power-hungry on yachts with small capacity batteries.

Professional navigator and columnist Mike Broughton was just 17 when he took part in the 1979 Fastnet, the youngest competitor in the race, along with Yachting World’s former technical editor Matthew Sheahan. Broughton was racing Hullaballoo, a 3/4 Tonner.

“It was all about the shipping forecast in those days. The news came from the radio. There was gossip that a storm was on the way and we knew the Prime Minister [Edward Heath in Morning Cloud] had retired,” he explains.

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“The navigation was quite primitive. We did have RDF, but on the Irish coast it was a reciprocal and if you had a 5-10° error, with no cross-cut you never knew [exactly] where you were. We didn’t even have VHF. We had a French search tug signalling Kilo, ‘I wish to communicate with you’, in Morse code.”

Now yachts not only have EPIRBs, but AIS, often radar, and access to weather through multiple means, not least long periods of 4G mobile phone coverage. Crews carry PLBs and AIS personal locators. YB trackers allow teams to see each other’s positions, tracks and speeds.

Safety gear is checked and of a regulated standard; 40 years ago, only a very few tether lines met any agreed standard, and liferafts without drogues were apt to blow rapidly downwind, or even (as happened) to disintegrate.


A yacht 150 miles north-west of St Ives under jury rig. Photo: PA Archive

Clothing was poor by modern standards, and leaked as a matter of course. Hypothermia was a real risk. Attitudes to safety gear were also very different; lifejackets and harnesses were not routinely worn. Crews were much less drilled and there were no mandatory qualifications.

While one could argue that, as a society, we may be more risk averse than we were 40 years ago, we are also better informed. Access to better forecasts allows skippers to decide earlier whether or not to press on. The number of retirements seen in any Fastnet Race is to its credit, and not a negative. If a storm of similar ferocity were to affect the race again, it is almost certain many would seek shelter rather than press on.

But could a storm ever cause another Fastnet disaster? Very possibly. The sea state that brewed so violently 30 years ago would probably still see boats rolled and damaged. Even short-term forecasts can be sufficiently inaccurate to lead to unforeseen conditions, duration of peak winds or sea state, just as we saw during the race this year in August.


A well equipped 1979 yacht, with Sailor VHF radio and RDF

“Boats are better now, organised better, the weather forecasts better,” says Mike Broughton. “But as yachtsmen we are easily belittled by 40-45 knots of wind. And boats get more radical. When you hear of inshore yachts doing it that are thin and lightly built, and so wet that guys didn’t go below, you wonder if it is the same trend as in 1979. But the training and the gear is just so much better.”

The 1979 Fastnet storm

The first indication of a storm to come was at 1505 on Monday 13 August, when the BBC Shipping Forecast broadcast the following warning: ‘Sole, Fastnet, Shannon. South-westerly gale Force 8 imminent.’ By the next broadcast at 1905 that had been upgraded to: ‘Force 8 increasing severe gale Force 9 imminent.’

It was while hand-drawing the 2200 chart around a low pressure of 978mb that forecasters realised the isobars were tightening up to such a degree that it was inevitable a Force 10 would occur in the Fastnet sea area. But the length of the shipping forecast storm warning was not enough to allow the majority of competitors to run for shelter.


Satellite picture of the storm as it was developing on 1532UTC 13 August 1979

The strongest winds were in a corridor to the south of Ireland, which lay across the race fleet, bringing winds of 60 knots plus. The growth of the sea state was initially puzzling, as it increased ahead of the wind.

Some competitors later reported 6-7m seas and, later, huge, confused cross seas. Although estimating wave heights is very difficult from a yacht, claims of huge waves were substantiated by a report from a Nimrod pilot on 14 August of wave heights of ‘50-60ft’.

Satellite pictures showed a well-defined, active cold front, and this was followed by a trough, shown on the later charts. Most importantly, the change of wind direction behind the trough was in the region of 90°.

The strongest winds arrived as the pressure rapidly rose after the trough. Gusts contained within the leading edge of squalls could have been half as much again as the average wind speed (or perhaps more than that), making reported gusts of 80 knots realistic.

This change in the wind direction was the one overriding factor that generated problems for the boats. In other circumstances, yachts might have run under bare poles or towed warps, but on this occasion crews had no chance and yachts were knocked down repeatedly.

Storms of this intensity, or greater, are not unknown in this area, though they are rare in summer. In October 2017, a record wave height for Irish waters of 26m was recorded at the Kinsale gas platform off the Cork coast. Some of the highest waves in 1979 were also recorded by the Marathon platform in the same gas field.

First published in the October 2019 edition of Yachting World.

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