High am­bi­tions


Yachting World - - Contents -

What equip­ment, mod­i­fi­ca­tions and prepa­ra­tions are needed for sail­ing to high lat­i­tudes? Ice pi­lot Mag­nus Day ex­plains

Spe­cial­ist high lat­i­tude yachts in­vari­ably have metal hulls and are very solidly built with large fuel tanks and in­ter­nal steer­ing po­si­tions. But that doesn’t mean that a well-in­su­lated, prop­erly pre­pared, solid ocean­go­ing yacht built of other ma­te­ri­als can’t cruise some high lat­i­tude ar­eas.

The key is that a yacht needs to be solid – solid hull, solid rig, solid sys­tems and solid crew and, if of fi­bre­glass con­struc­tion, avoid high risk ar­eas. You’ll need to out­fit and equip to com­mer­cial stan­dards: a vast amount of yacht­ing gear will not last in these con­di­tions. Any boat so lightly built that it de­forms in a sea­way should be avoided, so if your rig­ging goes slack or you find doors and draw­ers don’t fit when pound­ing to weather, for­get it. Wa­ter will find its way in and make life below mis­er­able, quite apart from the risk of a cat­a­strophic ice or ground im­pact.

The hull and rig should be ca­pa­ble of tak­ing a full speed ground­ing on solid rock and the stem strong enough to smash into that un­seen berg. Glacial ice should be con­sid­ered rock hard and even a small bergy bit can weigh tens of tons, prob­a­bly more than your yacht. Un­less you have ab­so­lute faith in your stem you should con­sider pro­tect­ing it with a stain­less or Kevlar sheath. If noth­ing else, this will pro­tect your gel­coat against abra­sion if you do de­cide to get in­volved with the brash in front of a glacier. Three-bladed fixed pro­pel­lers are much tougher in ice, but never en­gage re­verse gear un­less some­one is watch­ing astern for ice that might get sucked un­der the hull. Carry a spare pro­pel­ler.

Ready for any­thing

All sys­tems must be in tip-top con­di­tion. That means a full ser­vice or over­haul of the en­gine and its as­so­ci­ated sys­tems. If your en­gine is at all re­luc­tant to start, go back to first prin­ci­ples be­fore you leave home.

Are the bat­ter­ies in good con­di­tion and get­ting prop­erly charged? What con­di­tion are the starter mo­tor ca­bles in? Do you have a spare starter mo­tor on board? Is it easy to change fuel fil­ters? Du­plex fuel fil­ters are a great idea here. Change your gear­box oil and carry spares and re­pair ma­te­ri­als for ev­ery­thing. Make sure you know how to ser­vice and fix all the sys­tems on your boat.

If there are items you con­sider too big or too ex­pen­sive to carry, do some research be­fore you leave home port for sup­pli­ers that have stock and are used to deal­ing with in­ter­na­tional couri­ers. Make sure you have se­rial and part num­bers and sup­plier de­tails writ­ten down.

Down­load man­u­als for ev­ery­thing. Re­search­ing these de­tails on­line once you get to re­mote lo­ca­tions may very well be im­pos­si­ble. Many a high lat­i­tude ex­pe­di­tion has wasted its time wait­ing in port for spares to ar­rive.

The po­lar high ex­tends south in the north­ern hemi­sphere dur­ing the sum­mer and long pe­ri­ods of calm are com­mon. The same is true on the south­ern half of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula. Con­sider the fuel range of your ves­sel and re­mem­ber heat­ing and gen­er­a­tion de­mands as well. Ex­am­ine the dis­tances be­tween fuel stops along your pro­posed route and re­mem­ber that re­mote north­ern com­mu­ni­ties may only have enough fuel for them­selves.

The same is true of the south but there is no fuel avail­able in Antarc­tica, South Ge­or­gia or any sub­antarc­tic is­land. Look at where a fuel blad­der could be se­curely placed as low down as pos­si­ble in your ves­sel and re­vert to jer­rycans on deck only as a last re­sort. Have a naval ar­chi­tect in­ves­ti­gate how this added weight will ef­fect your sta­bil­ity curve.

If you must have cans on deck they should be of the very strong­est de­sign and they’ll need a bombproof cra­dle sys­tem to hold them in place in the worst con­di­tions. And are your stan­chions strong enough?

Wa­ter ev­ery­where

Drink­ing wa­ter can be made from glacial ice but not sea ice, and clean, fresh wa­ter can be hard to find in the Cana­dian and Amer­i­can Arc­tic. If you have a wa­ter­maker, check with the man­u­fac­turer what its per­for­mance is like in 2°C wa­ter. It can be as lit­tle as 20% of that in 20°C wa­ter. If you think that will be an is­sue, plumb a heat ex­changer into the raw wa­ter side of the sys­tem.

The art of safe, en­joy­able high lat­i­tudes cruis­ing is a com­fort­able life on board so you can keep a fully vig­i­lant watch on deck. At the very least, a good dodger will be needed and ex­cel­lent cloth­ing. All-in-one in­su­lated wa­ter­proof suits from the likes of Mus­tang and Fladen are easy to get into and solidly warm. Breatha­bil­ity is not as im­por­tant as be­ing 100% wa­ter­proof. Semi-per­me­able mem­branes don’t work well in cold, damp con­di­tions.

Don’t bother with any form of ‘win­ter’ sail­ing or moun­taineer­ing glove; buy rub­ber fish­er­man’s gloves with re­mov­able lin­ers and sev­eral pairs of cheap fleece gloves to go in­side. Most of them will be on the dry­ing rack most of the time!

Neo­prene welly boots and hats that cover your ears should com­plete your out­er­wear, along with plenty of lay­ers of fleece and/or wool un­der­neath – avoid cot­ton. Ev­ery crewmem­ber should have an im­mer­sion suit and prac­tice get­ting into it in a hurry. Clear gog­gles such as those work­men use to pro­tect their eyes will help you see into windy bliz­zard con­di­tions with­out hurt­ing your eyes.

Below decks it’s all about heat and mois­ture man­age­ment. Keep doors open to al­low air to cir­cu­late and open all the hatches on those warm sunny days. Drip pot diesel heaters are re­li­able and don’t use any elec­tric­ity and as they’re de­signed to run non-stop on small and medium fish­ing ves­sels most come with hot­plates and even ovens for cook­ing too. Con­sider a rack over and around the heater for dry­ing wet gear but make sure it’s im­pos­si­ble for any­thing to fall on the hot­plate – which is the best place to keep the ket­tle hot.

If you can’t find a space for a drip pot heater you’ll prob­a­bly have to re­vert to a diesel fired forced air heater, of­ten called a night heater or bus heater. They use con­sid­er­able elec­tric­ity and can be un­re­li­able and are tricky to fix so car­ry­ing a spare is a good idea. They’re also a bit noisy so think about where to in­stall it and the route­ing of the hot air ducts so you lose as lit­tle locker space as pos­si­ble. Lead a duct to the bath­room and, if suf­fi­cient ven­ti­la­tion can be ar­ranged, you’ve got an in­stant dry­ing room. They crew will be much eas­ier to en­cour­age on to deck if they have nice, warm, dry foulies to get into.

Hatches and port­lights are likely to run with con­den­sa­tion and can be in­su­lated with closed cell foam pads, tem­po­rary acrylic dou­ble glaz­ing and even bub­ble wrap can help here. Take care that any added in­su­la­tion is in­stantly re­mov­able from any hatch that may be needed in an emer­gency.


Your crew’s con­sump­tion of hot food and es­pe­cially hot drinks is likely to go through the roof as it gets colder and you’ll there­fore use more propane/bu­tane for cook­ing. Think about ship­ping twice the gas you’d usu­ally need for a cruise of the du­ra­tion you’re con­sid­er­ing. Where will the bot­tles live? You may not be able to get your gas bot­tles filled in far­away lo­ca­tions but if you carry a univer­sal adapter kit you can use lo­cal bot­tles if you can find them.

The crew may also de­velop a taste for roast meals and the oven will warm up the cabin but the at­ten­dant con­den­sa­tion will need to be dealt with. Amaz­ingly, ev­ery 13kg bot­tle of gas burned in your gal­ley pro­duces 20lt of wa­ter as steam!

Fully clos­ing the com­pan­ion­way for long pe­ri­ods will make the boat seem colder due to mois­ture. A hatch over the kitchen will help with this.

For com­mu­ni­ca­tion, VHF will work well for lo­cal weather in the north and Irid­ium for email and GRIB files in both hemi­spheres and ice re­ports where they are avail­able. If you have a re­li­able shore con­tact they can down­load and com­press ice re­ports for you and send them by email. The per­for­mance of these sys­tems is usu­ally down to an­tenna place­ment and con­di­tion. Check your coax­ial con­nec­tions for both an­ten­nas and con­sider re­plac­ing if there is any sign of wa­ter ingress or if the ca­ble or the an­ten­nas are not first class.

Irid­ium has just launched a new con­stel­la­tion of satel­lites which they claim will give high speed con­nec­tions world­wide, but this has yet to be proven. If you’re in­stalling new equip­ment, though, it might be worth wait­ing to see how that pans out and what costs are like.

HF ra­dio tends not to be very re­li­able the closer you are to the mag­netic poles and while In­marsat based sys­tems will work in most of the fre­quently cruised south­ern des­ti­na­tions it’s un­re­li­able above 70°N.

A sharp look­out

Mod­ern radar sys­tems are a god­send and much bet­ter at pick­ing up smaller bergs than they used to be but are still no re­place­ment for an at­ten­tive watch­keeper with a good view and in­stant ac­cess to the helm and throt­tle. Make sure all your crew are fa­mil­iar with the tun­ing and fil­ter­ing con­trols of your radar. It is amaz­ing what a well-tuned radar will pick up and how huge a berg can be en­tirely missed by a badly tuned set, es­pe­cially in a sea­way.

In thick fog in the Drake Pas­sage on the way back from the Antarc­tic Penin­sula, we came within 50m of a sheer-sided berg the size of an IKEA store. The radar sim­ply did not see it. I sus­pect the radar sig­nal was re­flected straight off into the dis­tance un­til we were ad­ja­cent to it. Luck­ily the mark one eye­ball was pay­ing at­ten­tion!

For­ward look­ing sounders are good for scop­ing out un­charted ter­ri­tory but have yet to prove their worth for spot­ting bergs. They just don’t look for­ward enough yet – but the tech­nol­ogy is im­prov­ing all the time. A good idea for shal­low un­charted ar­eas is launch­ing the ten­der and send­ing the crew in with a hand­held depth sounder so they can get back by ra­dio with sound­ings.

Get your­self a pair of ice ‘tuks’ – long poles with a metal spike at one end –for push­ing ice away from the boat or, more ac­cu­rately, push­ing the boat away from ice in most cases. These can be wooden poles or, if you want to be fancy, a pair of two-part wind­surf­ing masts.

You’ll need two or three nice big an­chors, and all-chain rode. The mod­ern con­cave de­signs with the roll bars re­ally do out­per­form older de­signs and some stow al­most flat.

Also use­ful for awk­ward an­chor­ages are sev­eral very long polypropy­lene shore lines, some heavy-duty lift­ing strops to wrap around rocks on­shore and a bunch of large shack­les to join it all to­gether. The best way to store, de­ploy and re­cover these lines is from rope drums on deck but if that’s a step too far for you they can be stored in clim­ber’s rope bags, laun­dry bas­kets or even sacks.

As pre­vi­ously dis­cussed you’ll need spares and re­pair ma­te­ri­als for all your sys­tems but what about the crew? Feed them well – any idea of op­er­at­ing a calo­rie deficit to lose weight is a recipe (pun in­tended!) for dis­as­ter. Work­ing in the cold is fa­tigu­ing. Look out for each other.

Carry a full med­i­cal kit. An­nex 1 of MCA UK MSN 1768 Cat A will point you in the right di­rec­tion for med­i­cal stores and


equip­ment. The kit for men and women is slightly dif­fer­ent. Do you need gear for both? In­vest in train­ing for at least two crewmem­bers and subscribe to a doc­tor on call ser­vice from a provider like Med­i­cal Ser­vices Off­shore, which can also pro­vide equip­ment, drugs and train­ing.

High lat­i­tudes sail­ing is very fash­ion­able right now but to head north or south in a lightly built, ill-pre­pared ves­sel is to risk your boat, your crew and any­one who tries to help you. Take the time to re­view, plan, bud­get, or­gan­ise and ex­e­cute solid mod­i­fi­ca­tions to your boat and her equip­ment and you can safely en­joy the won­ders of the po­lar regions.

Mag­nus Day has been work­ing and trav­el­ling on boats from 40-185ft in the Arc­tic and Antarc­tic ev­ery year since 2005. He is best known for his long-term in­volve­ment with Skip No­vak’s Pe­lagic Ex­pe­di­tions and now runs High Lat­i­tudes, www.high­lat­i­tudes. com, a con­sult­ing com­pany to yacht own­ers and their cap­tains on ves­sel choice, mod­i­fi­ca­tion and re­fit, per­mit­ting, crew­ing and lo­gis­tics for both po­lar regions. He also acts as ice pi­lot to sail­ing su­pery­achts through EYOS (www.eyo­s­ex­pe­di­tions.com) and owns ex­pe­di­tion yacht Bal­tazar, which is avail­able for in­ter­est­ing projects world­wide.

Learn more about pre­par­ing for high lat­i­tudes cruis­ing and storm sail­ing from our 12-part se­ries Skip No­vak’s Storm Sail­ing on www.yacht­ing­world.com, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing videos and ex­pla­na­tions by Skip on the Storm Sail­ing se­ries on Yacht­ing World’s Youtube chan­nel.

Col­li­sion bulk­heads, wa­ter­tight doors and plenty of stowage space aboard the new 66ft Qi­lak de­signed by Owen Clarke De­sign and built by KM Yacht­builders

Top: biodiesel stove pro­vides warmth, com­fort and re­li­a­bil­ity below decks. Above: warm un­der­lay­ers need to be kept dry with 100% wa­ter­proof out­ers

Morn­ing Haze is an alu­minium-hulled Beste­vaer 55ST built specif­i­cally for high lat­i­tudes cruis­ing

Ice floes threat­en­ing off the sub-antarc­tic Mac­quarie Is­land

Above: this fore­peak is a stowage area for stores, spares, veg­eta­bles, ten­der and shore gear. Left: heavy ice build-ups need reg­u­lar re­moval to main­tain boat sta­bil­ity

Gear has to be well main­tained to keep work­ing in ex­treme con­di­tions

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