by Renate Johns
It was an extraordinary family affair. The attempt to cross the Atlantic in almost** the smallest boat ever - at just 4.9m - had to be abandoned by Austrian extreme-adventure sailor Norbert Sedlacek twice because of energy supply and autopilot problems, but third time lucky when, in an amazing turnaround, Norbert's son, Harald, took over the helm of the tiny FIPOFIX for the next attempt, successfully completing the journey in 87 days, arriving in Palm Beach USA this week.
Harald Sedlacek in the 4.0m (16ft) boat that took him across the Atlantic in 87 days
Now he's going to sail her home, departing in May, back to Les Sables d'Olonne, where she started.
Incidentally, it's also the longest single-handed-nonstop sail in any 4.9m (16ft) boat.
Fipofix’s route across the Atlantic - the winds dictate that it will be shorter on the return journey
It was not an easy crossing, even when you consider that a normal slowish crossing takes little over three weeks, instead of almost three months.
Then there was the weather which didn't cooperate and technical problems with the boat. The wintry Bay of Biscay, the winter storms, the bad weather conditions in the trade wind belt, the breakdown of the autopilot and at last the partial breakdown of the rudder system demanded Sedlacek to go to the limits. Harald Sedlacek had to control FIPOFIX manually nearly all the covered distance and to spend almost all time in the unprotected cockpit! As a final challenge the skipper Sedlacek had to sail the Bahamas with an intensive ship traffic and unpredictable stream and 'last but not least' an unsteady weather on the way into Florida.
Fipofix from helicopter - it was a very tough journey - his food provisions had to be eked out to cover the 87 days and he had no autopilot for most of the journey
The skipper Harald Sedlacek has not only conquered the North Atlantic but he won a victory over himself, a win over indescribable stresses and efforts and a victory against the time. Finally he arrived to the coast of Florida with the last food provision after its daily reduction to only 1.100 kcal per day and the completely destroyed emergency rudder.
After arriving successfully, Harald confessed to his many doubts while on the long journey. 'There were many moments where I felt completely at the end and I was in danger of abandonment. In these moments I was afraid. I felt alone and unprotected. In such moments I recalled in memory our team discussions during the project planning and the building of our volcanic prototype. I looked at the boat body, thinking of our material tests etc… During the crossing I couldn’t see any structural weakness or even damages of the boat hull. I said to myself that I am in good hands on my 'sailing volcanic stone' and therefore I felt safe and often instantly felt better. I thought as long as this boat hull despite of its enormous efforts is not resigned, it’s my job to sail it to the west until I reach the American east coast. Only this counts!'
Fipofix - some of the team that got him there
It is planned that Harald Sedlacek will rest for a couple of weeks in Austria before returning to plan for his departure on 18th May 2014 for the next single-handed nonstop Atlantic crossing from west to east. It is not only a success for the skipper but also a success of the newly developed material and technology which have been proved impressively during this crossing.
FIPOFIX ® is constructed by the new technologies of composite materials based on volcanic fibers designed by ASA.TEC. This is a development of new material in sailing construction which corresponds to the challenge of the 'limit of possible'. The know-how of the design and construction of the Open 16 is provided by Yacht Construction Consulting which will launch the smallest class of boats in yacht racing.
Of FIPOFIX, Harald says, 'Its positioning-technology in conjunction with volcanic fibers has an ultimate performance which is proved by our test and will revolutionize boat and yacht construction.'
About other crossings:
**47-year-old newspaperman Robert Manry, a copy editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, single-handedly crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1965 in Tinkerbelle, a 13.5-foot (4.1 m) sailing boat .
** In 1979, Gerry Spiess sailed Yankee Girl solo across the North Atlantic Ocean to set a world's record for the smallest boat crossing, west to east. It took him 54 days to sail 3,800 miles from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Falmouth, England. He did it in a plywood boat he had built in his garage in White Bear Lake, MN.
**A few years later, Hugo Vilhein made the Atlantic crossing in his 5 foot 4 inch Father's Day
Thanks to readers Dave Dussia, Marlin Bree and Brad Hendricks for giving us this information.