In 2004 the Danish singlehand sailor Jan Moeller succeeded in being the first Scandinavian to circumnavigate the globe without stopping underway – a tough challenge for the man his equipment.
Elvstrom Sails built a complete set of sails for the ultra light canting keel Open 40. The brief was complex: "I wanted sails that could last the full distance and I also wanted to be fast, the sails would take punishment that equals more than 20 years of mileage and see higher windspeeds than most" said Jan.
Planning for a voyage like this is a really big task – a small item forgotten can turn into a big problem later. One of the early conclusions was the there was no space for an extra mainsail. "I could only bring replacement battens and cloth for repairs".
Finding good storage for several 7 meter long battens was a challenge, It was thought that storing them inside the boom was a very clever idea. "It was good that I had several long training trips planned and my second training trip which took up and around the Faroe Islands I found out that placing the spares where it is difficult and dangerous to access was a very bad idea – so the spare battens were afterwards lashed to the stanchions."
Before the start Jan had sailed more than 11.000 nautical miles alone in the boat. "When reading the stories from other singlehand sailors I had always thought it was a bit odd when they started being personal with their vessel and using terms like 'we' about sailor and boat – today I am happy to say that I was already at that point before the start, I had really great confidence in that boat – 'we' had a great trip".
The Open 40 is a smaller sister to the well known Open 60s, sharing the same technology – built in carbon and with moveable ballast in the form a canting keel and water ballast. One thing completely absent was comfort in the classic sense – no soft bunks or cosy interiors.
32.400 nautical miles in one go
The circumnavigation started in Copenhagen on September 28th 2003 and was successfully concluded when Jan entered the small harbour inside the greater Copenhagen Port next to the little Mermaid 168 and a half days later – having travelled 32400 nautical miles non-stop.
The route was the classical old square rigger route: North around Skagen, South through the North Sea and through the English Channel and out into the Bay of Biscay. Due to a large area of high pressure there was very little wind around Denmark at starting day – so it took 9 days to cover the relatively short distance between Copenhagen and Brest. "It was very stressful due to the vicinity of the shore and the great number of other vessels – so I could only sleep for 30 minutes at a time, then I had to go up and have a look around. I was exhausted when we finally could venture out into the Atlantic Ocean – away from shore and ships."
From there on the route was due South until 35°South, strangely both the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands were in the way for the optimal route. Once at 35°South (that is around the latitude of Buenos Aires) a soft swing to port brought the Open 40 down into the roaring forties.
Routeing was primarily done with the help of MaxSea where weather information in the form of GRIB files was downloaded several times daily. "But I wanted a second opinion and had made arrangements with Commanders Weather to provide me with a weather forecast every 3rd day. This was especially important in the Southern Ocean as there is not much current weather data available, so I needed someone who had experience with routeing other sailors in this area".
The rig was a fractional cutter rig, with a mainsail of 80m2, a small staysail of 20 m2 on the inner forestay and high-cut genoa on the forestay. Inn addition to this there was three sails for the bowsprit – a 'Code 0' on a furler and two asymmetrical spinnakers in socks – the large spinnaker was 170m2.
"Spinnakers were not used much in the big South! Instead I found great convenience in the split sailplan. When the wind would come up it was easy for me to put in a reef (the mainsail had 3 very deep reefs) and furl the genoa in a matter of minutes. Down there it can go from a tranquil 20 knots to 45-50 knots in a few minutes – and you need to respond quickly otherwise the boat will suffer."
Close cooperation on the design work
The construction of the sails was done in close cooperation between the Elvstrom design team and Jan. "I was surprised and impressed that all the sails fitted straight on the boat – no modifications were necessary. I also really liked the details like the pockets for the leechlines and the soft hanks in the staysail".
A combination of racing design and cruising sailcloth was used. The woven spectra sailcloth proved to be a very solid solution. "I had absolutely no damage to the sails, even when the full length battens on the staysail disintegrated due to an operator error – I could pull them straight out of the pockets and replace without damaging the sail."
In the Indian Ocean Jan suffered a severe knockdown where the boat was nearly inverted for several minutes. "I knew it was going to get tough so I had handed in the mainsail and furled the genoa. Everything was lashed down and secured. The only sail up was the bullet-proof staysail.
We were in steady 55 knots of wind from the Southwest and the boat trucking along averaging 14 knots – I had actually less sail up than normal due to severe cross-sea from the Northwest. After 6 hours in these very messy conditions with wave heights up to 14 meters (actual satellite data...) I was lying in my bunk – fully dressed and fully asleep the boat was hit square on and knocked down. I woke up when I found myself launched in mid-air, was knocked unconscious when I hit the ceiling and woke up again when I landed on the floor. I was only later that I saw from the damage sustained that the boat had been inverted 150 degrees."
"The boat sustained some damage, the satellite dome was crushed and the solar panels destroyed. What surprised me most apart from the rig still standing was this Elvstrom staysail – it was totally unaffected by the thrashing it had received."
Shortly after returning home there was journalist from one of the big sailing magazines on-board, he was to travel with Jan from Copenhagen to the west of Denmark. "There was 25 know out of the West, so we were hard on the wind. I remember him looking very closely at the sails and then he would claim "Pretty efficient people those Elvstrom guys". I did not understand what he meant, but he kept on: "that they have given you a new mainsail here 3 weeks after your homecoming". He was looking at the sail that just had travelled 37.000 nautical miles – I guess that is all you need for a testimonial.
Thank you Elvstrøm Sails.