Risky record attempt

With the Azores anticyclone absent for over a week and little prospect of immediate change, Lex Ruijter waits patiently for a steady blow from the north so that he can start his record-breaking attempt at a single-handed Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean. This currently stands at 14.5 days, but with his stripped down and sparsely furnished 35ft sloop Wild Thing, modified for the voyage, he hopes to cross in just 10 days.

Built with minimum weight in mind, Wild Thing’s hull is moulded from one millimetre epoxy glass fibre, reinforced along the bottom with a mixture of carbon fibre and epoxy resin. The lightweight bulb keel weighs 280kg and is two metres 10cm deep. On deck there is a wing either side, each supporting three large barrels for use as water ballast, to be filled or emptied according to the wind strength and the angle at which the boat is sailing. A small diesel pump fixed to the stern takes just eight seconds to empty one side and fill the other by drawing water from the sea.

At the turn of a tap, it may also be used to pump out the bilges, should the yacht be overwhelmed. With a further six empty barrels below decks as buoyancy, she will float upright even when flooded, but no attempt has been made to provide comfort of any sort for her crew. A bunk either side, without either galley or loo, it will be a very Spartan and damp 10 days. However, a store of freeze dried rations and water, enough for a month, should keep body and soul together and provide a margin of safety in the event of any setbacks. Although Wild Thing carries two anchors, these will remain lashed to the foredeck until the crossing is completed.

There is a generator amidships to power autopilot and electronic systems, lighting and state of the art sailing aids. Below decks is a watertight pack containing a solar powered satellite phone should Ruijter have to abandon ship and take to a life raft. To avoid involuntary ditching when working on deck, he will be clipped to a running line at all times, but wear no lifejacket because, should he fall overboard, there will be no one on hand to rescue him anyway. St Martins of the Caribbean will monitor his progress in the morning. When evening falls, Island 92 will take over – apart from this, he has no back up in the event of trouble.

Wild Thing would be dead in the water without her sails, spars and rigging. Standing rigging for the tall alloy mast is fixed to a carbon fibre bulkhead below decks and also at strengthened points fore and aft. She has a retractable bowsprit for the 110sqm Genniker, a 19sqms Jib and a 25sqms mainsail, plus a spare main halyard, which adds up to an impressive total of 154sqm of sail. In ideal conditions, her sister ships have touched 28 knots, but, during this attempt, the owner hopes to reach a top speed of 30 nautical mph. Of the six identical boats made, only three remain, and I hope that the others did not break up when pushed too hard.

The 14-metre aluminium alloy mast could be the weakest component in storm force winds, but I am told that January and February are good months for this crossing. Aided by the Gulf Stream as it flows past the Azores and Canaries on a southerly half circle into the Caribbean Sea, and with a lot of luck, perhaps a new name will find its place into The Guinness Book of Records.


Lex had a serious setback when Wild Thing was hit by a major storm on Thursday, February 19, southwest of the Canaries. The boat received nine knockdowns in winds gusting over 60 knots and Lex was thrown into the sea among 12metre(40ft) waves. Having regained the boat, he drifted toward the African coast for 36 hours. With damage to both standing and running rigging, to mast spreaders and jib roller reefing, he ‘jury-rigged’ the sails when the worst was over and got under way again. The generator used to power the batteries has died and the autopilot has packed up – this means 24-hour steering by hand or by sail trim without respite.

Lex is now heading for the Cape Verde Islands for repairs before making the crossing to St. Martins in the Caribbean. He is said to be in ‘good spirits’ and at 11.30 SXM time on February 21, his position was 2128north 2241west. No records will be broken and all we ask is a safe landfall for Lex and Wild Thing.

Ruijter’s progress can be followed on the internet at www.kaskazi.nl Margaret Brown