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Maximum Exposure



by Guest Columnist Stuart Hill

Because it's there

I've been asked why I should want to attempt to circumnavigate Great Britain non-stop in a 14ft. open boat.

For many years I have wanted to do long distance voyaging by yacht, but have never been able to afford it. I'm now 57 (58 in January) and, although I intend to live to 117, one starts to feel a degree of urgency to accomplish things before it's too late.

I bought the boat as a bare hull and it was only after fitting it out for sailing that I began to appreciate how seaworthy it was. With a flat aft section and no rocker, she was designed as an outboard motor workboat - not the most promising hull shape for sailing, so I had no great expectations. All I wanted to do was spend more time on the water. Imagine my surprise when I clocked 11.2 knots on a broad reach!

I've been sailing small boats, mainly racing dinghies, since the age of 12 and am used to being totally drenched as soon as the wind gets up. With this boat, even going to windward in a short chop in the open sea brings only small amounts of spray aboard - this was a revelation to me. I can set the mainsheet and tiller and she'll sail herself for hours - something else I was not used to. Whereas all the other dinghies I've sailed are pretty tender, I can stand on the gunwale without capsizing this one.

Having fitted a centreboard, rudder and sail, I started to think about using it for camping. I have used a 9m. windsurfer rig for the sail. Taking this down at anchor, I tie the top of the mast to the bow and support the foot about 2m above the transom - half a tent. The other side I had made up in waterproof material and together they give me a very civilised shelter with full standing headroom. Boards fill the space between the centre and aft thwarts to give space for a double bed (although so far nobody has been brave enough to come with me). A gas burner set into the aft thwart is all I need for cooking.

So, here I am snuggled down in a quiet anchorage, looking forward to the smell of bacon and eggs in the morning. The moon is shining through the open end of the tent, water is lapping round the boat and the odd waterfowl cries out. I begin to think how I can do more of this - how far could I go? Maybe across the channel to France or Holland - even Germany or Denmark. How about down the Atlantic into the Mediterranean? Across the Atlantic? I knew all these had been done in small boats, some of them in even smaller than mine, so I was not daunted by the thought.

Back at work the following day I mentioned my musings to my partner and said I'd really fancy a long trip, say round Great Britain. Quick as a flash, he grabbed it saying 'You could do it for charity.' (The company supports a number of charities). 'They'd love it!' After that there was no turning back - not that I wanted to. Making it into an event means that I can set the boat up exactly as I want it - all the modifications, testing, safety equipment etc. Running it with such a high profile is a bit risky for me personally, but necessary to get the maximum benefit for the charities. It was not without embarrassment that I reported my unintentional capsize and subsequent rescue recently! The website is updated almost daily with progress reports and ideas for overcoming the various problems and hopefully others can learn from my mistakes. The next big hurdle is capsize and self righting tests, then the medium distance sea trials.

So, why am I doing it?

I have what I think is a fine combination of hull and rig for the job. I want to prove the viability and safety of the windsurfer rig for long distance work. I want to prove that communication by email and satellite phone are possible in a small open boat, and I want to be the first around alone in a small boat. I only discovered recently that Round Britain alone, non-stop, has only been done twice before - by Peter Kieg and Robin Knox-Johnston. That was in early 2000 and both were using 38ft boats. How can I resist the challenge?

The Boat is called Maximum Exposure, The website is: www.mxexposure.com  Go there with an open wallet and the intention to Sponsor Stuart.


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