So you’re looking for adventure. Not of the bareboat party barge variety, but the kind where the weather is sketchy, the wildlife plentiful, the sailing serious and the boats rugged with serious looking reels of anchor rode and line on deck. Whether you’re seeking to cross oceans, sail high latitudes or learn the ropes from experts in anticipation of commanding your own ship someday, there are lots of opportunities to see a bolder side of life on the water via expedition chartering.
Some expedition operators combine sailing with skiing, mountaineering and diving in their passagemaking itineraries, so your wilder side can be appeased and your muscles stretched in new ways. Other opportunities are run on a shared-expenses basis while still others may set you back a fair bit. However, all of them will create memories and allow you to hone skills that will never leave you. Let’s take a look at six options for how to sail off the grid.
Skip Novak’s Pelagic fleet consists of two vessels, the original 54ft steel Pelagic, crewed by two, and her sibling, the 74ft aluminum Pelagic Australis, with a professional crew of three. Together, they ply the waters of Antarctica, Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. During the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll also find them cruising the South Sandwich Islands, Norway, Spitsber gen, Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and Arctic Canada.
If you like a bit of isolation, cold and stormy weather and ice with your cruising, these just might be the trips for you. “Poorly charted areas are also an attraction, which might seem strange, but it is that uncertainty which is the draw,” says Novak. “And of course,” he adds. “The wildlife in these regions is unique.”
These are truly hands-on experiences requiring full participation in just about everything, yet Novak says they accept both old salts and non-sailors, from kids to folks in their 70s. In addition to the sailing, these intense outings may include mountaineering, skiing, cold water diving, trekking and photography. Two weeks is the shortest trip they offer, but most guests come for three to four weeks or longer. You can even join the 42-day delivery from the Falklands to Cape Town, which includes a 12-day cruise of the Falkland Islands and a 4,000-mile ocean passage. With Pelagic, don’t be surprised to find yourself tied to an ice floe or skiing down a remote slope–no ski lift included.
Trips book one to two years in advance, and extra preparation may be added.
“For some of the more ambitious projects like mountaineering or doing the famous Shackleton Traverse on South Georgia, my mountain leader partner and I try to take the group to the Alps for a four to five-day trial to check fitness and equipment,” says Novak. “All this contributes to a sense of anticipation for the big voyage and especially in the case of mixed individuals making up a group, it instills a sense of camaraderie from the outset.” Pelagic Expeditions, pelagic.co.uk
Photos courtesy of Hamish Laird
Kate and Hamish Laird once worked with Skip Novak, and now offer expedition sails with some of the same flavor. After spending 17 years in Antarctica, the Lairds decided that the area was too crowded, and in 2004 they sought out new pristine cruising grounds in Alaska. Their regular cruises typically include Prince William Sound, with some reaching out to the Aleutian Islands. They offer charters for four to six people and often host adventurous couples looking to learn. There is no fixed itinerary; the trips range from a minimum of 10 days to five weeks, and everyone from neophytes to seasoned sailors are welcome.
Their boat Seal, is a 56ft Chuck Paine-designed aluminum cutter with a swing-up keel and rudder for running aground, both accidentally and on purpose. You read that right: photos of Seal show her happily sitting high and dry on a mud flat during Alaska’s wild tidal fluctuations. When was the last time you had to “walk in the anchor?”
Extracurricular activities include fishing, trekking, skiing, bird-watching and diving. The Lairds try to match their various guests based on their personal interests and expectations. They also actively encourage non-sailors to give it a go. The Alaskan cruising season is April through September, and later in the year you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Budget about $500 per person per day for all that takes place on the boat.
Laird delights in how “amusing” Alaska is. “The wilderness experience in this remote region is unmatched,” says Laird. “It’s so vast, it’s sometimes hard to grapple with the size. Mostly, Alaska is for those people looking for something slightly–more,” he adds.
Expedition Sail, expeditionsail.com
Photo courtesy Tor Johnson
Mahina Expeditions is a round-the-world program run by John and Amanda Neal aboard Mahina Tiare, their Hallberg-Rassy 46. The program is billed as “ocean passagemaking with expert instruction” and among the cruising community, the duo has reached rock star status with their seminars, books and educational cruises. Each year they spend seven months at sea , covering 10,000 miles with students who come to learn and dream of heading out on their own boat in the future.
At press time, Mahina Tiare had just arrived in the Canary Islands after a multi-leg tour from Sweden to Morocco. From there, they planned to press on to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and down to the South Pacific, where they hope to do some loops in 2018 between Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. The trips include a hands-on curriculum of storm sailing tactics, boathandling, and coastal, celestial and electronic navigation. Legs last from seven to 21 days, although most excursions are two weeks, and paying guests are limited to six persons. Applicants should have some basics in sail trim, rules of the road and coastal navigation. Pre-study is encouraged, at minimum in the form of online NauticEd courses, as well as by attending some of John and Amanda’s seminars. Women are encouraged to sign up and are equal participants aboard. Crew ages range from 16 to 70.
When asked what advice he might have for potential students seeking an appropriate expedition, John says, “It’s important to learn how long the operator has been in business and how serious they are about safety and ethics.” Mahina Tiare III was launched in 2007, but 2017 marks the 28th consecutive year of the Neals’ sail-training expeditions. With a focus on preserving the environment in which they operate, they invite their students to join in at least one beach cleanup per expedition, and they often bring much-needed school supplies to remote island villages.
Planning is key as spots fill quickly. “We tend to have people book as much as one or two years ahead for our South Pacific expedition legs,” says Neal.
Mahina Expeditions, mahina.com
Atlantic Rally for Cruisers
If around-the-world excursion sounds like fun, but the racing sounds a bit too gnarly, consider joining the World Cruising Club’s (WCC) Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC). Each year, approximately 300 boats carrying 1,500 sailors “race” from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Because these are primarily cruisers sailing their own boats, the pace is less hectic. Once in St. Lucia, participants either head home or sail on as part of the World ARC, which continues, in stages, the rest of the way around the globe: sailing as a group down to Colombia, through the Panama Canal to the South Pacific and Australia. A recently introduced “half rally,” also allows boats to leave the group in Australia and take a year off to cruise New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and other idyllic islands on their own. They can then rejoin the following year’s rally to complete the circumnavigation.
The WCC doesn’t sell crewing opportunities, but it does offer a website that puts the prospective crew in contact with boat owners. For a fee of $10 for three months, crew members sign up, create a profile and then receive updates via e-mail on new opportunities. Last year more than 100 crew found a place on the ARC via that site. Expenses and expectations are always an agreement between the crew and the boat owner. Another way to do this on a pay-to-play basis is via charter boats with a professional skipper. Many of these boats are perennial ARC participants, offering opportunities to learn along the way.
The WCC has a dozen rallies all around the world, so you don’t need to drop out of your life for a long time but rather can choose from one of the organization’s various European, Pacific or Caribbean rallies, which are shorter and less of a commitment. World Cruising Club, worldcruising.com
Photos courtesy of Pangaea Exploration
For those who like to add scientific learning, environmental research and marine conservation efforts to their sailing, Pangaea Explorations has much to offer. A 12-member mix of scientists, journalists and sailors will teach you about the health of the world’s oceans as well as hands-on sailing skills. The trips vary from one to three weeks and take place on parts of the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from Ireland to the Azores and Bermuda to Hawaii via the Panama Canal. The scientific curriculum focuses on oceanography, marine ecology, ocean chemistry and marine debris, as well as how they all relate to climate change.
The ship is interesting as well. Sea Dragon is a 72ft steel-hulled cutter built in 2000. Formerly known as CB 37, she is one of 11 second-generation yachts built for the Global Challenge Race, the brainchild of Sir Chay Blyth. A demanding race that went west-about (upwind and arguably the “wrong way”) on a 20,000-mile circumnavigation, the Global Challenge was actively raced in the 1990s and early 2000s. Previously named Barclays Adventurer, Sea Dragon won second place in the 2004/5 race before she was sold and put to work as an exploration and charter vessel.
“Two British RYA Yacht Master-certified crew lead the boat and create a strong learning environment,” says Anita Barr-Watson, program and operations director for the group. “Attitude, team skills and commitment are the important pre-requisites. Prior sailing experience is helpful, but not required.”
Sea Dragon will be sailing through the Caribbean until April 2018 and then heading down to the South Pacific and eventually up to Canada. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance and Pangaea even offers several all-women’s trips a year via a partner organization. Pangaea Exploration, panexplore.com
Clipper Round the World Race
Photos courtesy of Clipper Ventures
In terms of sheer endurance, the Clipper Race may be the choice for those looking to push the envelope, as it’s a speed run around the world aboard a fleet of 70ft ocean racing yachts. Created in 1996 by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (the first competitor to complete a solo non-stop around the world race in 1969) the next edition will be the twelfth in the series.
Divided into eight legs encompassing 13 to 16 races, the event allows you to choose between a full circumnavigation or one or more individual stages. Over 40,000 miles are covered in all, including six visits to continents, doubling three Great Capes and multiple bluewater passages. Scoring is a points-based system from one to 12 points in each leg. At the end of the series, the overall winner is the one with the most points.
Twelve identical racing yachts start from Liverpool, England, and each is led by a professional captain. Typically, 40 percent of the crew are novices, making this the only global yacht race for amateur sailors. Crew must be at least 18, and there is no upper age limit, with the oldest competitor to date checking in at 76. Nearly 5,000 people have been transformed into ocean racers since the concept launched over 20 years ago.
If you’re particularly hardy, you may appreciate that on average, circumnavigating crew will spend over 500 hours at the helm and will burn 5,000 calories per day. (What a great diet!) For thrill seekers, consider that the highest wind speed recorded on a leg was 86 knots in the Southern Ocean, and the largest wave was 90ft high. Each boat carries 16,468ft of sail, so get ready— because that’s what you’ll be raising, lowering and reefing. Applications are taken a year in advance. Clipper Ventures, clipperroundtheworld.com
So Give it a Go!
Ultimately, there’s more than one way to skin a cat when you get the sailing itch, and while cocktails at sunset on the deck of a cat in the tropics is bliss, sometimes, you just have to challenge yourself and go for more. You have lots of options – exercise them.