The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)


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Surviving 4000 miles

Webb Chiles attempted a few years earlier to sail around in an open boat, a Drascombe Lugger. He did not complete the trip, finally stopping at Gibralta, if I recall correctly. He was quoted at the time as saying that only the easy part was left so it was no longer a challenge. Whatever his reasons, he left the challenge open for others such as Ant. Also in the original design concept was a one-off version of the boat which was to be used by another single hander, Paul Rogers, in another open boat attempt on Webb Chiles' records.

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A bit of history on Paul's boat is of interest because the boats are rather different despite having identical hulls. In contrast to Ant's sole aim of circum-navigating, Paul was to attempt the longest non-stop passage in an open boat while also going for some speed records. He found that, with Cape Town as his start point, the only passages which qualified on distance were to Australia or Europe. He decided to head for UK as being more sensible than tempting the Southern Ocean. Lengthy correspondence with "Nobby" Clarke who was custodian of the records at the time produced some surprise requirements.

Nobby felt that the achievements of Webb Chiles must be protected by ensuring that it did not become easy to better them, a sentiment with which I agree although some of the resulting rules seemed a bit at odds. To this end we were not permitted to place Paul's deck at gunwhale level but had to have a bulwark of mm 6" height around the deck.

This had the effect of considerably reducing the range of stability available and making the boat rather less safe if taking a wave on board. My argument against this ruling was that a boat such as a Laser dinghy did not qualify as an open boat by the definition which was being applied.

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However, it would if we added some protection in the form of a bulwark all round. However, Webb's boat had a bulwark so we had to have one too. What we were permitted that Webb did not have were a wet deck self-draining cockpit and fixed ballast keel. Those two features went a long way to giving the seworthiness necessary to take on such a voyage from our notorious waters.

The resulting boat had a single spreader masthead rig for simplicity and to keep the centre of effort low. A high aspect bulb keel of 1,5m 5'0" draft and twin transom hung rudders gave excellent performance and control. Unfortunately, Paul's departure was very late in the year, after the normal safe cut-off time for cruising boats. He was clobbered by a front passing through four days after he left. Seasick and having left it too late to reef in deteriorating weather, he was at the mast fighting a jammed mainsail when hit by a breaking wave and capsized, the boat going upside down and staying that way.

With a self-righting range of about degrees similar to an IOR racer his 50kg body weight was insufficient to right her and the bulwarks sucked her down so that the waves could not do the job. After 10 hours with Paul sitting on her bottom, she righted herself minus rig. Left only with a mast stump, oars and storm canvas, he continued to St Helena in mid-Atlantic under jury rig and with broken ribs.

Paul's experience gave some pointers to Ant who made some changes. Unfettered by the limitations imposed on Paul's boat, the result was a safer concept. Ant's attitude was that he was doing the trip for the challenge of it, not to break any records which Webb may have set up.

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In any event, he was going to set a new record, not try to break an existing one so there were no previous boats to worry about. Ant also researched Webb Chiles' voyage carefully and found that the only really bad weather which he experienced was near Vanuatu, when he capsized and drifted for two weeks, unable to bail his flooded boat. This, backed up by Paul Rogers' experience, convinced Ant that bulwarks were dangerous.

He had initially considered making his voyage in a Drascombe such as Webb's but decided that the southern route which he was to take was too dangerous for such a boat, having a far larger percentage of bad weather. With the hindsight given by his voyage, he now also feels that Webb, in saying that only the easy part remained, was forgetting the Caribbean Sea and is convinced that he would not have survived that area in a Drascombe.

Ant's boat has a heavily cambered foredeck and side decks at gunwhale level, giving a far greater range of stability. Draft was increased to 2m 6'6" and bullhorns were added to the bow to help keep the bow up when it tries to bury.

The rig is a high aspect double spreader fractional arrangement with double non-overlapping roller furlers and a track for asymetrical spinnakers on the bullhorns. These mods were all of Ant's own design and show his strong racing background and the influence of the BOC boats. In fact his boat, with its plumb bow, flush deck and raked transom looks like a mini BOC boat.

Ant sold everything that he owned to build his boat and budget limitations meant that he cut corners and scrounged wherever he could. This started right at the outset with the hull purchase.

Cruising on small craft

He bought the plug used to build the mould for the TLC 19 trailer sailer. I was horrified when I heard what he planned to do with it because it was not built for such a voyage. The plug was very lightly built because Gerfried Nebe, the builder, intended to complete it as a very light planing dinghy with hiking bars and 3 or 4 trapeze wires for some exciting sailing on protected waters. That plan had not come to fruition and the plug lay around until Ant spotted it and snapped it up. He had nowhere to build his boat and talked a friend into letting him do it inside his apartment. Getting it into and out of the apartment must have been an interesting exercise.

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Resin smells and woodwork noises in the early hours eventually led to an enforced removal to Royal Cape Yacht Club, where she spent the last couple of months before launching. Ant put in watertight bulkheads to break the hull into small compartments, some of which were foam filled.

He also built watertight storage lockers all round the cockpit for his food, clothing and VHF radio the radio was the only electronic item on board and was powered by small solar panels at the stern. The result was a boat which was about as unsinkable as he could make it. Also on board was an Air Force type one-man liferaft given to him by a friend. He left Cape Town amid warm farewells from hundreds of people. Many expected to never see him again and talked of his foolishness.

He said that if we thought that he was mad we should get to know his mother, then we would know where he got it from. He had decided that he was sane and the rest of us were crazy for staying behind. It would have been a crowded boat if we had not. Almost the last thing that he told the wellwishers before setting off was that he has an hereditary disease.

It is a blood deficiency called Angio-neurotic Oedema and is controlled by steroids. It can incapacitate him very quickly and can kill him if left untreated. However, he was then at the age at which his father had outgrown it and was hopeful of doing the same. That did not make us think him any less crazy. He left Cape Town in very light conditions and at a very much better time of year than did Paul Rogers, not that it made much difference. He was also clobbered, this time five days out of Cape Town and capsized not much further out than Paul was.

With a better range of stability, NCS Challenger righted herself immediately and took off at speed with Ant in the water, luckily attached by a harness line the only time that he was wearing one when capsized. That was to be the first of many capsizes, so many that Ant has no idea of the number for the whole voyage. Between capsizes he did excellent passage times, often doing or more miles a day. He reports that she will beat at 5 knots into a 35 knot wind and, reaching under spinnaker, regularly recorded speeds of 12 knots, phenomenal for such a small boat loaded with stores. Between Cape Town and St Helena he lost his navigation tables in the capsize and lost 2 days while drifting uncontrolled after being incapacitated by food poisoning through eating raw fish.

The next leg he damaged his sextant and, as a result, sailed 50 miles past Ascension before seeing gannets flying across his route and followed them in. Between Fernando and Barbados he was nearly run down by a ship while becalmed and unable to manoeuvre, seeing the ship passing only 50m away. At Barbados, he was initially unwelcome because of his South African origins and the sanctions against the country at the time. He had stopped there because he had run out of food and water. The authorities made him wait aboard at anchor for 2 days before allowing him to replenish.


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While there, the manufacturers of the Magellan heard what he was doing and gave him a GPS which made navigation rather easier than using sextant, soggy tables and a school atlas. The leg from the Caribbean to Panama he found to be particularly tough. Whatever his reasons, he left the challenge open for others such as Ant. Also in the original design concept was a one-off version of the boat which was to be used by another single hander, Paul Rogers, in another open boat attempt on Webb Chiles' records. A bit of history on Paul's boat is of interest because the boats are rather different despite having identical hulls.

In contrast to Ant's sole aim of circum-navigating, Paul was to attempt the longest non-stop passage in an open boat while also going for some speed records. He found that, with Cape Town as his start point, the only passages which qualified on distance were to Australia or Europe.

He decided to head for UK as being more sensible than tempting the Southern Ocean. Lengthy correspondence with "Nobby" Clarke who was custodian of the records at the time produced some surprise requirements. Nobby felt that the achievements of Webb Chiles must be protected by ensuring that it did not become easy to better them, a sentiment with which I agree although some of the resulting rules seemed a bit at odds.

To this end we were not permitted to place Paul's deck at gunwhale level but had to have a bulwark of mm 6" height around the deck. This had the effect of considerably reducing the range of stability available and making the boat rather less safe if taking a wave on board. My argument against this ruling was that a boat such as a Laser dinghy did not qualify as an open boat by the definition which was being applied.

The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)
The Open Boat:  Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage) The Open Boat: Across the Pacific (The Open Boat Voyage)

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