Two ocean voy­agers prove you don’t need big boats to do big deeds

SAIL - - Contents - By Peter Nielsen

Blue wa­ter, small boats

In the broad spec­trum of hu­man sail­ing en­deav­ors, few con­fuse the unini­ti­ated more than the de­sire to sail around the world in a small boat. By “small” I mean re­ally small—like less than 20ft small—and in some cases much tinier than that, like the 5ft 41/2in Vera Hugh, which the re­doubtable Tom McNally built from a wash­ing ma­chine and a wardrobe to sail across the At­lantic in 134 days. His record (and pos­si­bly his heart) was broken the same year by Hugo Vihlen, who made the jour­ney in 115 days in Fa­ther’s Day, just half an inch shorter than his ri­val’s craft.

Such tooth-and-nail com­pe­ti­tion is not un­usual in the mi­cro-world of mi­cro-boats. It dates back to the mid-19th century, when a heated transat­lantic ri­valry be­tween Amer­i­cans and Brits in­volv­ing boats as small as 14ft went on for nearly half a century as sailors sought to outdo each other. The high ca­su­alty rate in those pre-EPIRB days was ap­par­ently no de­ter­rent.

It’s not just non-sailors who fail to see the point in such masochis­tic prac­tices—any­one who has made long ocean pas­sages in sail­ing boats of what­ever size has ob­served the metaphor­i­cal daily shrink­age of their habi­tat un­til, af­ter a week or three, it some­times be­comes al­most un­bear­ably con­fin­ing. If you can feel such cabin fever in a 50ft cruiser, imag­ine it in a boat a quar­ter that size.

This of course does not de­ter sailors of a cer­tain mind­set from pursu- ing their dreams in boats that many of us would not sail across a pro­tected lake, let alone an ocean. Two such have been in the news lately; one for com­plet­ing an im­pres­sive voy­age, the other for em­bark­ing on one.

In May, Szy­mon Kuczyn­ski sailed into Eng­land’s Plymouth Ma­rina af­ter com­plet­ing a solo non-stop cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion south of the great capes on his 22ft boat At­lantic Puf­fin. The young Pole’s achievement was note­wor­thy not just for set­ting a new record for the small­est boat to gir­dle the globe non­stop and unas­sisted, but be­cause it was ac­com­plished in a mod­i­fied Maxus 22 trailer-sailer, hardly the weapon of choice for

such a voy­age—you would think. It was ac­tu­ally Kuczyn­ski’s sec­ond time around in the boat. He made a solo cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion, with stops, in 2014, and prior to that had sailed a dou­ble transat­lantic on an even smaller boat.

As Kuczyn­ski was drain­ing the last drops of cham­pagne, an­other ex­pe­ri­enced small-boat sailor was preparing for a big voy­age. At the ripe young age of 79, Sven Yrvind—or, as he prefers to be called, just Yrvind—was prep­ping his self-built, 18ft 11in long Exlex for a solo odyssey from Din­gle, Ire­land, to Dunedin, New Zealand. This was no first voy­age for the tough old Swede. Since his first off­shore ven­ture in 1962 he’s sailed smaller boats longer dis­tances, and had orig­i­nally planned to make this pas­sage in a 14-footer. He be­came well known in the 1980s (be­fore he changed his name from Lundin to Yrvind) for a se­ries of am­bi­tious voy­ages on var­i­ous mini-boats called Bris. Among them was a mid­win­ter round­ing of Cape Horn, at that time the small­est boat ever to round the fa­mous land­mark.

The bright yel­low Exlex, de­signed by Yrvind and built of foam sheathed in fiber­glass, car­ries just four square me­ters of sail on her two stubby car­bon-fiber masts, which are de­signed to sur­vive a rollover in the tur­bu­lent seas of the South­ern Ocean. She is self-right­ing but has no bal­last keel, just lee­boards and twin rud­ders. Yrvind can trim the sails and steer the boat without go­ing on deck. He has de­signed a ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem that, he says, will ad­mit no wa­ter in a cap­size.

Yrvind will sus­tain him­self mainly on canned sar­dines and muesli dur­ing his epic voy­age, har­vest­ing wa­ter by cap­tur­ing the con­den­sa­tion that forms on the in­te­rior of his sail­ing “cap­sule.” In calms, he will pro­pel the lit­tle boat with a sculling oar.

It will take him the best part of a year to com­plete the voy­age; a prospect that holds no fears for this sailor-philoso­pher. “Only the true, eter­nal, end­less, blue, wet, deep ocean can cure me from nos­tal­gia, sehn­sucht and saudade and bring me back to the spir­i­tual state of my youth,” he wrote. “That’s why I long to be out sail­ing again… If all goes well the first day I will have the wide open spa­ces in front of me, three- four-hun­dred bliss­ful days at sea.” s

Szy­mon Kuczyn­ski has en­tered the realm of sail­ing record-break­ers

Kuczyn­ski ‘s blue­wa­ter trail­er­sailer han­dled the South­ern Ocean with no prob­lems

Yrvind towed his boat from Swe­den to Ire­land

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