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Brilliantly barmy

by Mark Jardine 16 May 11:30 PDT
The tiny 'Big C' vessel Andrew Bedwell will attempt his Atlantic crossing on © Andrew Bedwell

In the past week we've seen an incredible range of speedy sailboats on or above the water. The launch of FlyingNikka, the 60-foot offshore foiling monohull inspired by the America's Cup AC75, had her first flight, and SailGP Season 3 kicked off with a record nine teams on the water.

Also, we've seen the rise and rise in double-handed yacht racing, with Alex Toomey and crew-mate Andrew Hibbert on Ryujin winning the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria's Apollo Bay Race, and two-handed boats filling seven of the top ten positions in IRC overall in the RORC De Guingand Bowl Race.

We can see the trends at the top end of professional sailing, and those in participation yacht racing, and we've covered them all in detail with our editorials.

But sailing is a broad church, and the news that really caught my eye last week wasn't about the biggest, fastest, or most popular type of yacht. Far from it. In the UK Andrew Bedwell has built a yacht to make a world record attempt for the smallest sailing vessel to cross the Atlantic.

Offshore sailing is something not to be undertaken lightly at any time, and we've seen incredible numbers of Atlantic challenges in an amazing range of craft. One of the most extraordinary feats was back in 1993 when American Hugo Vihlen managed to complete a Transatlantic crossing in a 162cm (5ft 4in) craft.

Andrew Bedwell's 'Big C' vessel is just over a metre long... and he's 6ft tall.

I took the opportunity to chat with Andrew on Friday to find out more...

Mark: Was it Hugo Vihlen's 1993 challenge which inspired you to take on your world record attempt?

Andrew: Yes, that's totally correct. I saw it right from the beginning. I've always had an interest in unusual passages, and unusual challenges in life. I always tend to throw myself at a challenge! I've done a lot of solo offshore stuff: I've taken a 21ft Mini Transat up into the Arctic circle and through the Denmark Strait all solo. Many other passages. As part of a bigger team, I'm part of Team Britannia, trying to break the round the world powerboat record too. It's something that has been in my blood; it has slowly eaten away at my core. Now it's got to the point where I thought, "I'm 50 in two years' time and I've got to break this record. I've got to do it!"

Mark: This boat is basically three and a half foot! Plus you've got to store at least 60 days of food, water maker, ballast, electronics, battery... how?!

Andrew: There's two batteries! So, I'm taking a fixed volume of water with me, down in the keel (obviously that's neutral buoyancy). That's five litres water storage... I can see you smiling! You're thinking, "how can that work?" There's a manual water maker. There are solar panels on the back, and a hand-wound generator inside, to charge the two batteries also in the keel. I've got a team of very clever nutritionists - they are clever in what I need to eat, but currently they are not clever in the way that it tastes. It does the job, but it's vile, in all honesty. It keeps me going and should keep me just about maintaining body weight. But there is no excess in there. There is no room for any little niceties. People who go round the world like to have their cake put in, something like that; I've got no room for any of that.

Mark: The design has a small pod at the top where you can see out during bad weather, but can you actually get out and stretch your legs when it's decent weather?

Andrew: I can't actually get myself completely out of it. When I'm sitting in there, my head is permanently in that pod the whole time. I have a harness in there - we know it's going to roll - so I can be as comfortable as I can. I can just get into the foetal position, squeezing at the bottom, but it's a tight squeeze, it's not comfortable.

Mark: So you cannot get out at all during the entire voyage?!

Andrew: I can stand up. I can flip that hatch up, and there's two bars in front of me I can hold on to. I have a physiotherapist who has given me leg exercises to do. The hand-wound generator and manual water-maker will give my upper body things to do; the lower legs and the back are the biggest problems. In good conditions I will be able to stand up to exercise. I need to do as much exercise as I can.

Mark: It's bad enough on a long-haul flight, but there you can at least get up and go to the loo. How are you going to do that?

Andrew: Right, that's probably the hardest issue. It's going to have to be over the side. It's not going to be pretty. There is a tiny holding tank, basically a bladder, for bad conditions or close into any harbours. It's going to be a challenge.

Mark: The boat is called 'Big C' and you are raising money for Cancer Research, in tribute to your designer Tom McNally, who is apparently also a record holder?

Andrew: Early on in March 1993, Tom broke the record himself, for the smallest vessel to cross. But in September that year Hugo Vihlen, as you mentioned before, took the record. Tom's aim was to bring this record back to Liverpool, but he passed away. I'm in contact with Tom's daughter Lorraine; the whole thing is to bring it back to Liverpool, to the UK. We've lost too many challenges over the years; let's bring one back.

Mark: I understand Tom, in some way, is coming with you.

Andrew: He will. Bear in mind I haven't got much space, but I've got a little pot of his ashes that have been in the work all the way through. I've found myself sitting in the boat, trying to work out the ergonomics, wondering, "Tom, what would you have done here? Where would you have put this?" So, he's coming on the passage, and we will be spreading his ashes in the Atlantic, as per Lorraine's wishes.

Mark: You've only just announced this, but you've had huge interest already. Has the national press picked up on this?

Andrew: Yes, I've had so many requests. The sea trials will be in mid-June, but I've had the boat in build a few years now. It's been the hardest secret to keep, especially as I have a very proud 9-year-old daughter who is excited about her daddy doing this. I've got a strong crew that are helping me out with sponsorship, just a few key people that know. That's the way I've kept it. It's a relief now to get it off my chest. For the last few months, it's been in my sail loft and customers haven't been able to go in there. They wondered, "What on earth's going on in there?".

Andrew is demonstrating that whatever your interests and ambitions in sailing are, with a bit of thought, an incredible amount of determination, and a healthy dose of British eccentricity, it is possible to turn your hand to almost anything.

Andrew's aim is to set off in May 2023 from St Johns, Newfoundland on the 1,900-mile journey, and he should arrive at Lizard Point, Cornwall around two months later. Yes, the voyage will have more than its fair share of risk, but I'm going to be following it every step of the way and aim to have a go aboard 'Big C' when she undergoes sea trials.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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