Thursday, December 17, 2009

‘Father’s Day’

In 2006 I visited the Falmouth Maritime Museum, and among other interesting boats, I saw ‘Father’s Day’, the 5’ 4” record-breaking, minuscule ‘capsule’ sailed by Hugo Vihlen across the Atlantic from Florida to Cornwall, England, arriving there on 26th September, 1993. I think I’m right in saying his micro-yacht was the smallest vessel to have crossed the North Atlantic from west to east. Indeed, she must be the smallest ‘yacht’ to have sailed from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Vihlen had taken rations for 85 days, but eventually he had to eke out his supplies of 65 ready meals, 2 gallons of M&Ms, a gallon of dry fruit, 100 cans of Hawaiian Punch and 34 gallons of water to keep him alive for 105 days. I believe ‘Father’s Day’ was mainly constructed from Airex foam that had been sandwiched between layers of fibreglass. She was equipped with twin running sails, each with a separate boom, which when joined to the other made a single sail for reaching. I doubt she could have sailed to windward, on account of her smallness and unsatisfactory underwater profile. Tiny, as she was, Vihlen found room for a water-purifying system, a VHF radio and a SSB radio. He told of his experiences in his book ‘The Stormy Voyage of Father’s Day’.

To successfully do this sort of extreme ‘sport’, individuals like Hugo must be highly motivated, well prepared, and absolutely determined to succeed. They must have a belief in themselves that they can, and will overcome all obstacles. They must go into it knowing there will be moments of fear and times of physical hardship and perhaps there will be occasions when their mental faculties are tested to the full. Usually, when working to the limit under extreme conditions, technology can make the difference between success and failure. Strong, lightweight equipment, long-lasting, easily prepared nutritious foods, suitable clothing and bedding for maintaining body heat, all contribute to success. In such a small boat, good ventilation and the maintenance of dry conditions for her solo crew are essential for their physical health and mental wellbeing. Conversely, prolonged exposure to a damp, humid atmosphere, especially when the skin comes into contact with clothing soaked in seawater, will bring about painful skin rashes, even sores resembling oozing boils, open to infection, possibly leading to blood poisoning.

Ocean crossing, record-breaking attempts in small vessels are not for the faint-hearted. Vihlen knew what he was letting himself in for because he had previously crossed the Atlantic in 1968 from Casablanca, Morocco to Miami aboard the 5’ 11” ‘April Fool’ to successfully take the record from the Englishman Tom McNally for the smallest vessel to cross the Atlantic. Only the fittest, most dedicated, and extraordinary people will succeed.

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