Please select your home edition
Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Confessions of a monohull sailor

by Jimmy Cornell 18 Apr 2021 17:44 UTC

In my previous report I dealt with some of the most significant questions that I had been asked about my Elcano project and the latest Aventura.

However, one question that I was asked on several occasions, but had not answered, was: How could you, a committed monohull sailor, decide to get yourself a catamaran?

In fact, I had explained in the past the reasons why I believed, and continue to believe, that a performance catamaran such as the Outremer 45 is better suited for the project of an electric boat with zero carbon emissions, and for two good reasons. Firstly because of a catamaran's better potential for achieving higher speeds essential for the regeneration of electricity, and secondly because of the larger space available to display solar panels. However, I do admit that this pragmatic approach may not have been entirely satisfactory, so let me start from the beginning.

When I started planning my first voyage in the early 1970s, it was a catamaran that I believed would be best suited for a world voyage of a family with two young children. In those days, the UK was at the forefront of multihull development and there were several boatyards producing cruising catamarans. The Prout Snowgoose 35 and Iroquois 40 looked very tempting, but when I approached the builders, and told them that I could only afford their bare hulls and finish the rest myself, they both refused. So I had no choice but to go for a Van de Stadt Trintella III monohull... and the rest is history.

The first Aventura proved to have been a perfect choice for our six-year long voyage between 1975 and 1981. The strong fibreglass hull showed its worth when we ran onto the reef in the Caicos Islands and spent several hours bouncing up and down before the incoming tide lifted us off and saved us from potential disaster. We were extremely fortunate, as our dream would have come to an end, and I certainly learned a lot from that error caused by my lack of experience. During that voyage we spent three years in the South Pacific and witnessed or heard about so many boats being lost in those pre-GPS days, that when I started thinking about the next Aventura, I had already decided that it had to be made of steel.

The new Aventura was 40 foot long and was designed by the British naval architect Bill Dixon. The builder took my safety concerns so seriously that she was built as strong as a tank, with the result that the designed displacement of 12.5 tons ended up close to 17 tons. She served me very well during my second circumnavigation, part of it sailed in the first round the world rally. The high maintenance demands of a steel hull was a serious impediment and, while I was still convinced that the best material for long distance cruising was indeed metal, the next Aventura was an aluminium OVNI 43.

Over the next 13 years Aventura III sailed 70,000 miles including yet another circumnavigation, as well as a voyage to Antarctica. She was sold in 2010 when I decided that at 70 years I had probably reached the end of my sailing days. That feeling didn't last long because three years later, I decided to put retirement on hold and have another boat for an attempt to transit the notorious Northwest Passage. I was very fortunate in being able to persuade the French firm Garcia Yachting to build me a go-anywhere-boat to my own specifications. This is how the Garcia Exploration concept became reality.

My first attempt to transit the Northwest Passage in the summer of 2014 ended in failure, as the ice failed to retreat. Knowing that a transit of this challenging waterway had a better chance of success if done from west to east, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, I changed my plan.

Normally ice conditions can be more favourable in early summer at the western end, so I decided to sail through the Panama Canal to Western Alaska, and have another go. That attempt was successful and in 2017 Aventura IV was sold, as by then I honestly believed that my sailing days had definitely come to an end. Once again, that belief did not last for long. I have always had a fascination for historic events and the approach of the 500th anniversary of the first round the world voyage was too tempting an opportunity for me to miss.

In 1992, for the 500th anniversary of the Columbus voyage, I organised a transatlantic rally, which attracted 146 boats from all over the world. The America 500 fleet sailed the historic route from Palos de la Frontera, in South West Spain, to the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. In 1998, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, I organised a round the world rally to celebrate that milestone in the history of discovery and exploration. By 2019, having stopped organising rallies for others, I felt that on this occasion I should have a project just for myself. The result is Aventura Zero.

The speed potential was certainly there...

.... and so was the space for solar panels. But were these two factors sufficient justification to choose such a boat for the voyage I had in mind? Like many monohull sailors, I had a lingering doubt about the stability of a catamaran in strong winds and high seas. It was a concern that had to wait until I had the opportunity to decide for myself whether it was justified or not. Fortunately, I had three occasions to test Aventura Zero's behaviour in extreme conditions. In every instance we had sustained winds of over 40 knots, the first time on the passage from Seville to Tenerife, and twice in the Mediterranean on the return passage to France.

With winds gusting to 50 knots and sailing much too fast for my taste, we dropped the mainsail and continued sailing with the jib furled to one third its surface. Aventura took it all in her stride, and I was absolutely impressed by her seaworthiness and stability under such conditions. It was at that moment that any doubts or concerns that I might still have harboured, were firmly put to rest.

However, I would still avoid sailing on a catamaran in the Southern Ocean, as at heart I continue to be a cautious and pragmatic monohull sailor.

Related Articles

Cornells' Ocean Atlas 2023 now available
The main focus is on all changes that may affect offshore voyages In the 12 years since the first edition of this atlas was published there has been a marked intensification of the effects of global warming on weather conditions throughout the world. Posted on 21 Jun 2023
Report from Seville: Hello… Goodbye!
The GLY World Odyssey 500 fleet arrived in Seville The GLY World Odyssey 500 fleet arrived in Seville for the start of this round the world rally on Sunday 24 October. Posted on 1 Nov 2021
The long goodbye
We sailed back to the Outremer boatyard in France to carry out some improvements After the decision to postpone my round the world voyage and turn around in Tenerife, we sailed back to the Outremer boatyard in France to carry out some improvements primarily on the regeneration system. Posted on 7 Aug 2021
Aventura Zero update
I was planning to be away for only a few weeks... When I left Aventura in the care of the Outremer boatyard, I was planning to be away for only a few weeks. But soon after I returned home, the British authorities imposed strict travel restrictions forcing me to spend the last few months in lockdown. Posted on 1 Jun 2021
Project Hope
Throughout the history of humanity, the planting of trees has always been an expression of hope The coronavirus pandemic has inspired countless altruistic projects initiated by individual people all over the world. They show that even in the midst of such a global tragedy what human beings need above all is hope. Posted on 25 Apr 2021
What next? Update on Aventura Zero plans
Is the aim of zero emissions achievable? In the three months since I returned with Aventura Zero to the Outremer boatyard at La Grande Motte, in the south of France, I have received many emails expressing interest in the feasibility of achieving zero emissions on a sailing boat. Posted on 6 Apr 2021
Life Afloat - part 3: Q&A with Jimmy Cornell
The final installment of the answers to the questions from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School Here is the final installment of the answers to the questions from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School in Aretxabaleta, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, Spain. Posted on 7 Mar 2021
Life Afloat - part 2: Q&A with Jimmy Cornell
Questions sent from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School in Aretxabaleta Last week I posted a number of questions sent from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School in Aretxabaleta, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. Here are the answers to some more questions. Posted on 3 Mar 2021
Life Afloat: Q&A with Jimmy Cornell
A list of questions from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School Recently I received a list of questions from students at Kurtzebarri Secondary School in Aretxabaleta, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. Posted on 20 Feb 2021
The Elcano Challenge is back on course
I never lose: either I win, or I learn I never lose: either I win, or I learn. Nelson Mandela's words have been haunting me ever since I took the decision to turn around at Tenerife and put my project on hold. Posted on 25 Jan 2021
Stoneways Marine 2021 - FOOTERMarine Products Direct 2023 - Calypso FOOTER2024 fill-in (bottom)