Woodside, California
Last summer my boat was nearly rescued by Steve Fossett’s yacht, the Cheyenne. Now the Cheyenne’s crew may be coming to my rescue in a rather different way…

Last year’s Pacific bid ended prematurely due to large waves and the loss of my sea anchor causing my boat to capsize. It seemed to me at the time that the waves were no larger than anything that I had encountered on the Atlantic, so it seemed likely that the cause of my problems was all the extra bits and pieces that had accumulated on the roof of my cabins – aerials, antennae, weather stations, and a considerably heavier pair of spare oars. (After all 4 of my oars broke on the Atlantic, I had opted for solid ash oars rather than hollow tubes of carbon fibre.) None of these items were a major weight in themselves, but the cumulative total was apparently enough to shift the centre of gravity upwards – leading to capsize.

So I’ve been talking with Nancy from the Cheyenne, a dab hand in glass fibre work, who is on standby to do the work as soon as we have finalized the specification.

And I’ve been on the phone to Devon in England talking to Phil Morrison, the original designer of the hull, to ask his advice on how much weight might be needed, and where it should be distributed. It has been invaluable finding out more about the why and the wherefore of the hull design. For example, I learned that the intention is that when a big wave broadsides the boat, rather than the hull ‘digging in’ to the water and the boat tipping over, the hull is designed to skid sideways across the water, while the boat remains upright – provided, of course, that the centre of gravity is in the right place.

At first I thought we were going to have to add a kind of false bottom to the boat – laying a lead pipe (or similar) along the central ridge that runs the length of the hull, and then glassing it in. But then it occurred to me that several of the hatches along the centre line have flat bottoms, so there is presumably an empty air space between the hatch floors and the hull – so now we are exploring the possibility of creating access to these areas via the hatches and inserting ballast from above. This would be much simpler – and hence cheaper.

I have just 3 months now before I go on standby to depart. Rick Shema, my weather guy, tells me that this is an El Nina year. Although the effects of La Nina will be diminishing by summer, it could still cause higher-than-average winds, and hence waves. So if I am to avoid a repeat of last year’s washing machine simulation, a rebalancing of the boat is top priority.

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