A voyage like the Sail Britain Coastline Project places interesting demands on the boat which will make it all possible. My first principle is that SBCP should have a boat of its own, rather than relying on chartering or borrowing boats from other people or organisations. If people are going to sign up for something and pay a trip fee, we need to guarantee that what we have promised is deliverable and suitable for the purpose, safe and that we know it’s limits. You can only guarantee this by the project owning a boat. Moreover, the costs of chartering a suitable boat for the anticipated seven months of the programme make owning a boat a sensible option, even if we could find someone willing to do us a long term charter. And if, as is quite possible, the round Britain voyage ventures further afield in a second or third year of sailing, our own vessel would make even more sense.
But what sort of boat would fit? This is a question I have been thinking about quite a lot. The crew will consist of myself and a first mate, with room for perhaps six participants on any given trip, so 8 berths would seem like a minimum. More than that and you’re looking at very big boats and big money as well. And low budget expeditions are by their very nature more achievable. (Fundraising will be covered in another post!) Fewer than six participants might result in too little revenue from trip fees and reduce the wide scope which makes this project so rich.
As well as enough berths, a good layout with space for artists to work and a decent ‘skipper’s cabin’ for myself to live in for seven months are highly desirable. We shall be sailing from early April to late October so we can expect some pretty challenging weather during that time. The boat will need to be seaworthy and as comfortable as possible – no one will thank me if they are incapacitated by seasickness in a fast but lightweight boat. It also needs to be suitable for complete beginners to sail under the guidance of the crew, robust enough to deal with heavy use, and reliable enough to underpin the whole programme.
Most of my sailing experience has been on the Sigma 38, a David Thomas design jointly sponsored by the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the Royal Thames Yacht Club in the wake of the disastrous 1979 Fastnet Race. She was designed to be competitive but able to take severe offshore conditions if it came to it. She is also very enjoyable to sail and makes an excellent training boat as well as being suitable for relaxed cruising with the peace of mind that she can take a gale if you get caught out, or happen to like that kind of thing. She has 8 good berths and a sensible layout, but if the weather is horrid in port, doesn’t offer the spacious interior of a more modern production cruiser.
Perhaps it was natural then that I should think of her bigger sister, the slightly less racy Sigma 41. While being a bit old now, she is big, tough and has a good reputation for being a fast, seaworthy yacht. Many have done Atlantic circuits. She has more space below than the 38, and 9 berths but without the ungainly hindquarters of most modern production boats. They are also comparatively cheap but being old most will need a fair amount of work to bring up to standard.
My friend Dan pointed out that it might be better simply to go with a modern production cruising yacht of which there are many around, and although perhaps not as seaworthy as more traditional designs like the Sigmas, offer spacious accommodation below and newer, hopefully more reliable equipment. Possibly a bit more expensive at the outset, they might require less updating and maintenance. A big one like the Beneteau Cyclades 50.5 I sailed in Greece once, had 11 berths which, if the programme proves popular, would mean a more comfortable revenue stream for the project. But what most of these modern yachts don’t have, is soul.
So what would I really like to sail? I’d rather like a 1970’s Sparkman & Stevens design, such as a Swan 441. Built in Finland and famous for their quality, they are expensive, the Bentleys of the sea. Or perhaps an IW Vavet 40, another S&S designed, Scandinavian built boat with very pretty lines which would cut through the waves like a fish. Rare, but less expensive than the Swans, sadly it only has 7 berths and a small cockpit less suited to having a full crew.
No doubt these thoughts will continue to develop over the coming months as the project develops and the specification tightens. And if anyone reading this has interesting boat-related thoughts, or even has a boat, we’d like to hear from you!