DESPERATE VOYAGE: John Caldwell's Catastrophic Introduction to Bluewater Sailing

Desperate Voyage cover

I have met several comically unprepared bluewater sailors over the years, both in person and in the pages of classic cruising accounts like this one, but there are none can top John Caldwell. It is tempting to dismiss the title of this book of his as provocative hyperbole, like some Interweb click-bait headline, but really it is not. If anything it is understatement, and a more accurate title might run something like Insanely Desperate and Foolish Voyage.

Unlike most of us Caldwell did not come to ocean sailing through romantic aspiration, but through rank expediency. Having served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, he found himself stranded in Panama at war’s end with no obvious way to get back to his new wife Mary in Australia, whom he had met and hastily married during his wartime wanderings. And in fact it wasn’t originally his idea to sail across the Pacific in a small boat. He got that from his cell mate after he was arrested for trying to stowaway on a ship bound for Indonesia.

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MARION-BERMUDA RACE: Triumphant Family Crew

I should have mentioned this earlier in the year, but now I have this great recently posted YouTube video to share with you, so I can pretend this was my plan all along. My compadre at SAIL Magazine, Andy Howe (regional sales manager for the Northeast, Upper Midwest & Eastern Canada) scored a major coup back in June while serving as navigator in the Marion-Bermuda Race aboard an antique 36-foot Alden Mistral named Ti that belongs to (and was skippered by) his cousin Gregg Marston. Navigating with a sextant, Andy plotted the course that led the crew of Ti to a veritable quinfecta of victories: first in class, first in the celestial division, first overall, plus they won the Family Trophy and Andy won the Navigator’s Trophy.

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BENETEAU FIRST 38: An Early Modern Euro Cruiser

First 38 under sail

The French firm Beneteau was formed in 1884 as a builder of wooden fishing boats and switched to building fiberglass recreational vessels in 1964. They first started building sailboats in 1972 and today claim to be the largest boatbuilder in the world. Beneteau’s First series of performance cruising sailboats was introduced in 1979 and quickly blossomed to include this boat, which was branded as the First 38 because it measures 38 feet on deck, though in fact it is 40 feet long overall.

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OYSTER TELLS ALL: Statement on Polina Star Keel Failure

Grid damage

Yes, that headline is tongue-in-cheek. But just a little. That Oyster has made a public statement at all is to their credit. I cannot remember any other instance where a production builder has made any sort of substantive statement after a keel failure. This one is not as substantive as it could be, but they at least admit there is (or was) a "possible" production defect.

It is worth remembering that Oyster Marine is no longer owned by its founder Richard Matthews, who sold out to a fledgling private equity company for $50M+ British pounds back in 2008. I personally tend to doubt it is merely a coincidence that the company’s first known major production problem, after many decades of building boats, occurred after vampire capitalists took control. I would be very surprised if a boat built by Matthews ever suffered damage like this. I have sail-tested a few Oysters and sailed on one once from Virginia to Bermuda through the edge of a hurricane, and I remember pre-buyout Oysters as being reassuringly overbuilt.

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CALLING ALL VIKINGS: Volunteer Crew Needed for Transatlantic Voyage on a 115-Foot Longship

Harald under sail

Man, if I were younger (and childless) I’d be all over this opportunity like a fly on excrement. Draken Harald Hårfagre (that’s “Dragon Harald Fairhair” in English) is a modern interpretation (rather than an accurate replica) of an old Viking longship that was built in Haugesund, Norway, and launched in 2012. In May next year she will set out on a voyage from Norway to Newfoundland via Iceland and Greenland, and the project organizers have just announced they are accepting applications for volunteer crew. You need at least two months of free time to do it and presumably should have some sort of useful skill to boost your chances of being selected.

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ANOTHER MAJOR KEEL FAILURE: What Really Happened to Polina Star III?

Polina Star III hauled

The genesis of this story was an incident that occurred back in July of this year in which Polina Star III, an Oyster 825, which reportedly had been extended to 90 feet and was just over a year old, was lost off the coast of Spain. The very first report came from Oyster, but contained no details, stating only that the boat “suffered a serious incident which compromised the integrity of the moulded hull.” A follow-up report by Yachting World, published in August, added little more, noting only that Oyster believed the boat may have run aground and there were rumors it had capsized before foundering.

In the last few days the Italian skipper of the boat has been sharing his account of the event, and photos of the wreck, which was recovered and has been closely examined, have also been circulating online. Though the exact causes are unclear, it is perfectly clear that there was no grounding and that the boat suffered from major hull delamination that led to its keel suddenly falling off.

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SUPER GOOFY SAILBOATS: Foggy, Sailing Yacht A, Surfari 44

Foggy

‘Tis the season to hand out boat awards in the sailing industry. We’ve already seen SAIL’s Best Boats picks and are eagerly awaiting the opinionations of Cruising World and Sailing World re their Boats of the Year. But these competitions are for the most part restricted to common production boats, and the truly interesting (i.e., totally wacky) new sailboats, usually built for over-the-top rich people with more money than sense, never get considered. So I thought we here at WaveTrain should conduct our own survey of the scene.

Our first nominee, Foggy (see photo up top), designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry (the boat’s name derives from his initials) in collaboration with German Frers, is a one-off custom boat that got a lot of attention when it was launched at Brooklin Boatyard earlier this year. Gehry has always been an avid sailor and normally sails a Beneteau First 44.7 out of Marina del Rey, so he does have some idea of how a sailboat is supposed to function.

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THRASH TO WINDWARD: Swan 60 Delivery from Florida to Tortola

Foredeck in art mode

This is called going against the flow: sailing from Florida to the W’Indies against the prevailing easterly tradewinds. I did something similar many years ago, moving a Taswell 56 from Great Exuma in the Bahamas to St. Thomas, and remember it as an exercise in gross masochism. Like banging your head against a wall… for days on end. When you do it in little hops, from one Bahamian island to the next, they call it the Thorny Path. When you do it all in one fell swoop they should maybe call it the Quantum Thorny Leap.

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Subcategories

  • Boats & Gear

    Evaluations of both new and older sailboats (primarily cruising sailboats) and of boat gear.

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    Longer articles by me that treat sailing and the sea in a more literary manner, short reviews of nautical books I think readers might enjoy reading, plus occasional excerpts from nautical books that I’d like to share with readers.

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