There are many different ways to sail around the world. Toby Hodges talks to World ARC crews in Colombia to find out how they prepared for the adventure.
It’s really comforting having a family of boats around us – a community.” Paul Frew was echoing the words of many participants in the World ARC, when I met them at their first stopover in Santa Marta, Colombia.
The World ARC is a 25,000nm whistlestop tour of the globe, equivalent to cramming a lifetime of cruising into a year, and the organisers smooth the way with paperwork and guidelines and a planned itinerary. But it’s still a circumnavigation and each boat is on its own out at sea.
It was an ideal opportunity to find out how skippers prepare for such intense liveaboard cruising on a sail around the world. What extra equipment did they need? What spares did they carry? And what made them decide to go in the first place?
Here are six very different case studies, from the thoroughly prepared to the last-minute entry. Skippers offer their advice to those who might aspire to do the same.
1. 25 years in the planning
Oyster 575, Juno
In the chart table of the Oyster 575 Juno there is a faded brochure of a 1986 Holman & Pye Oyster 55. Since Paul Frew picked it at the Southampton Boat Show he has dreamt of sailing an Oyster round the world. “So you could say I was planning this for 25 years,” he declares.
“It helps to have a boat in mind as it becomes something you imagine and focus on,” Paul’s wife, Caroline, adds. “It makes it more tangible.”
The Frews have owned a series of cruising yachts, from a 22ft monohull to a 52ft Catana catamaran, but Paul Frew insists these were just a “dress rehearsal” for his Oyster. They purchased Juno a year after her launch in 2011.
Frew is one of the most meticulous and well-prepared owners you could hope to meet. He has a spare for almost everything on board, “to the Dyson and Nespresso machine,” he says. He mentions an entire auxiliary autopilot, for example, including course computer and pilot drive, ready to “bring on at the flick of a switch”.
His advice for those preparing to go long-distance cruising is to spend as much prep time as possible. “I wrote everything down: lists and lists, so that I knew I had done as much as I could,” he explains.
Frew’s meticulous preparation of Juno can be linked to his career; he was a venture capitalist and ran a software business. “I have applied myself to this as I have to my job in the past,” he says. “I do all the jobs I can on board myself so I know if something goes wrong I can fix it.” I heard similar advice from several owners. “I worked my way through all the main systems and carry spares for everything – really because I’m not an engineer so I want to be prepared.”
These words will resonate with many. As yachts and their systems get larger and more complex they may actually put people off going long-distance sailing. But Frew gets a kick out of fixing things, proudly explaining how he changed the top swivel and bearings on his inmast furling.
He cites crew as the most complicated logistic to arrange. Juno will be crewed by five most of the time, all good friends. “We know them and know we won’t fall out,” says Frew. “It’s not all about sailing experience, you must be able to get on with your crew.”
Frew says he wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Juno is the right size and I know her inside-out. There is masses of space, but we can handle her with two. I worked my way through all the systems so I’m as prepared as I can be without being complacent.”
2. Loaded with technology
Amel 54, A Plus 2
A Plus 2 had to be one of the most lavishly equipped of the World ARC yachts I saw. Owner Jean Metz had loaded his Amel 54 with equipment. His navstation is like a meteorology centre; there are eight different independent chart systems, with eight GPS receivers, plus paper charts and a sextant. “I think I have every one on the market,” laughs Metz. He carries three computers, two spare laptops, three iPads, three routers, a wi-fi booster, and three different satphones including Fleet Broadband and an Iridium handheld.
His reasoning is intriguing. “I don’t want to be bored by electronics,” he says. “When something goes wrong I get out another one and come back to fix the broken one another time.” Fair enough!
Jean and Christiane Metz are French nationals who live in the Swiss mountains. Semi-retired from the pharmaceutical industry, they are keen skiers. Jean also races prototype cars in endurance events around Europe. They are sailing the World ARC by themselves. “Endurance car racing and off-piste skiing helped me prepare for it,” says Metz. “I like so-called risky things, but if you are really prepared for that then you know more or less where the main risks are.”
“We worked on safety a lot,” he adds, showing me how he made up a series of short inboard jackstays for safety on deck. “I’m critical of normal-length jackstays, because they extend enough to allow you to hang overboard. So like in the mountains we use two lines on short inboard wires, so that you are always clipped on by one.”
Before the ARC in Las Palmas, Metz was surprised how unprepared some yacht crews were. “You don’t take your car and go and do Le Mans straight away.” For his preparation, Metz spent six hours a day for a year.
The principal things he added were twin poles and a hydrogenerator. “Now we can pole out the genoa and gennaker and do up to 15 knots downwind – and comfortably go 15° each side of 180°.” As well as the Watt & Sea generator Metz also added six 100W solar panels which, when combined, supplies half the energy they need.
“But with three computers and three satphones, the genset still runs six hours a day!”
3. The traditional ocean cruiser
Rival 38, Luna Quest
It was the eve of Eric Faber’s 72nd birthday when I spoke to him and he told me he had always dreamt of doing a circumnavigation. When his wife died two years ago he decided it was time to set sail.
He planned to sail across the Atlantic and back solo, but on meeting Yorkshire-born Julia Horner in the Caribbean, Faber found a partner who wanted to continue west with him.
“I wanted an ocean-going boat that was not too large to prevent me from doing it alone,” he says. An encapsulated keel and tiller steering topped his list and he found Luna Quest in Turkey ten years ago. The running rigging was replaced, new sails added, the engine fully serviced and the boat rewired, so she now looks in mint condition.
Faber carries a Hydrovane, a wind generator, solar panels and two towed generators so he need never run the engine for power.
4. DIY on a budget
Oyster 41, Pentagram
Andy Middleton and Emma White are proof that you don’t need to be wealthy or retired to set off for the big blue. They sold their homes, including a narrowboat that Emma had lived on for 21 years, a car and motorbike to fund their dream to sail round the world. “It’s about making that decision,” says White, “getting out of the security.”
They bought Pentagram, a 1983 Oyster 41, five years ago. They had no choice but to do most of the work themselves to keep the cost down. They plan to stop halfway round the world to do some work to fund further travels.
Andy Middleton completely renovated Pentagram. His substantial job list included checking the keel bolts, renewing the wiring, fitting a new engine, gearbox and prop, replacing standing rigging, checking the bearings and water seals, stripping and repainting the deck and replacing the stanchions. He also fitted new gas pipes and a new gas locker to accommodate larger propane bottles that they could replace worldwide.
As well as a lifetime of sailing and racing, Middleton is a steel fabricator by trade, which meant he could tackle these tasks. To keep a lid on costs, most of the work was done while the boat was afloat in Dartmouth, including hoisting the old engine out using the boom and lowering it into their small inflatable tender.
Andy Middleton also changed all the lighting to LED, fitted a compressor fridge and doubled the battery bank to 440ah.
He installed a wind generator and two solar panels – “so 90 per cent of the time we’ve got all the power we need,” says Middleton. “We spent two and a half weeks at anchor in Barbados with no engine needed.”
He says the biggest consumer of power, he’s found, is the autopilot, which they chose to upgrade to Raymarine’s latest Evolution 200 model; it has proved “absolutely fantastic”.
Pentagram has only a 60lt diesel tank, so numerous fuel and water containers are carried on deck. Emma White singled out the Instant Trust Marine water in-line filter they fitted, an ingenious device developed with Philips to kill off viruses and bacteria in water using UV radiation.
“There are so many things that could have stopped us from going,” reflects Middleton. “We wanted a watermaker, for example, but you get to a stage where you’ve only got so much money and you need to just go. You’ve got to be reasonably happy with what you’ve got – and then go for it.
“We don’t want to be looking back when we’re older and saying ‘what if’. . .”
5. Second-hand resourcefulness
Beneteau First 47.7, Exocet Strike
On the face of it Exocet Strike looks just like many of the stalwarts of the race charter fleet. But I was taken with how well the owners of this 2002-built First 47.7 had equipped her for long-term passagemaking. John and Stella Dyer point out how many of the parts and spares needed to ready a yacht are available for a keen price on the second-hand market.
The result of their careful shopping is that the Dyers now have a very well-equipped yacht with a vast spares inventory. This includes “virtually a spare autopilot, including a pump and ram – all eBay specials,” declares John Dyer.
Dyer did a lot of the installation work himself, replacing every through-hull fitting and seacock with bronze ones over the last two years before they set off. “If I fit it myself and it goes wrong, I have a better idea of how to fix it,” he reasons.
Dyer had been running Exocet Strike as a skippered charter boat out of Plymouth and had been planning this voyage since 2005. But they had to wait until Stella could retire from her demanding role as a managing partner for a firm of solicitors in Plymouth before they could set sail.
“We have probably spent around £50,000 on preparing the boat – but that’s because we chose to upgrade the sails and rigging,” explains Dyer. “We did have a budget with ‘must haves’ and ‘would likes’.”
“But every time we bought something the budget just kept going up!” puts in Stella.
A new suit of sails was the Dyers’ biggest outlay. “We set up the boat to make it easier to sail, including a No 3 genoa and a fully battened main with stackpack,” Dyer explains. They chose single, high-spec, UV-proof Dacron sails from Sanders so they could be repaired worldwide. A DuoGen, an SSB radio, satphone, davits and a dinghy have all been bought second-hand or on eBay. A Kevlar Code 0 on a Karver furler was a luxury for offwind Pacific sailing.
All the halogen bulbs were replaced with LEDs, including navigation lights, which reduced power consumption on board from 20amps down to under 2amps. And to provide self-sustainability the Dyers also installed a generator and a watermaker.
The watermaker involved copious research, as Dyer had read a lot about the potential electronics problems of automatic types. In the end he fitted an Aquamax with a manual control panel under the saloon berth.
“I’ve tried to go for the simplest things so I can resolve any problems,” explains Dyer.
6. Last-minute decision to go
Lagoon 620, Makena
The owners of the largest boat in this year’s World ARC fleet had the least time to prepare. Luc and Sarah Barthelet bought Makena new in June last year and only entered the World ARC two weeks before the start in December.
“In September 2013 a friend of mine posted a picture of himself in Bora Bora,” explains Luc Barthelet. “This made me question what we were doing.” At the time the couple were living in San Francisco working for large computer software companies, but in that moment they decided to quit their jobs, sell the house and sail round the world. Two months later Barthelet was on a factory visit and sail trial in France, and they took possession of Makena – and baby Kai – the following summer.
Why such a big cat? The Barthelets have a large family, including parents and children in France and Ireland. They wanted to be able to spend quality time with them and include them in their adventure. They decided on a ‘quick world tour’ then a slower circumnavigation. “Racing sailors call these big catamarans condominiums, but that’s what we were looking for,” says Barthelet.
For the voyage, all they added to the Lagoon tickbox of options was an SSB radio and a cot for their baby boy. In the first three months they took on board 60 people, each staying for up to two weeks. “We realised we were not well enough prepared to do a world tour ourselves,” admits Barthelet after crossing the Atlantic with ARC+ in November. He has sailed since he was five and is the son of a sailing teacher in Normandy, but it was the logistical structure they were missing.
Signing up to the World ARC provided that structure. “Plus we’re visiting places we never would have stopped at on our own.”
“We had already extracted ourselves from daily life, so it was easy to join (in two weeks),” puts in Sarah, “which we did.”