Yachting news

It is pleasing to see a man travelling in style. Erkan Gürsoy, age sixty-eight, took the northern route for his latest visit to his native Turkey, which is usual when flying to the Old World from British Columbia. But he gave this a twist by avoiding the airlines. Instead he negotiated the Northwest Passage, then crossed the rough Atlantic (weathering a hurricane), in a 36-foot aluminum yacht of his own construction. The Altan Girl, and her master, arrived safely at Çanakkale (near Troy in the Dardanelles), somewhat dimpled by the ice. Polar bears were also among Mr Gürsoy’s perils, as I gather from reports.

Most solo sailors come from inland locations, I have noticed, and this one from the Turkish interior. My theory is that people raised along the coast would know better. My own frankly escapist sailing fantasies owe much to a childhood spent mostly well inland, so that I was fully four years before I’d even seen an ocean. I remember that first encounter vividly. It turned out to be larger than I had expected.

Mr Gürsoy makes his living in Nanaimo manufacturing aluminum boats, mostly as tenders for larger vessels. He calls his stock-in-trade the “non-deflatable” — the hulls ringed around with fat aluminum irrigation tubing. He has a patent on that, and while admitting that his craft are rather ugly, notes that they are hard to sink. (From photographs I see that he is not much into concealing welds, either.) They are also rather noisy, for those riding inside, and they do bounce about on the waves. But on few other ships can one drum so impressively, to discourage those pesky bears, when trapped in ice that is crushing you like a pop can.

Clearly, from the accounts I have read, and by the full Aristotelian definition, a magnificent man.

I have designed many yachts myself, most of them for solo voyaging in the High Arctic, or the Southern Ocean. I have not, however, sailed one around the world, as Mr Gürsoy did with another vessel of his own design, twenty years ago. Typical inlander, he waited until he was actually at sea to learn the art of navigation. Not knowing any better is an important component of heroism, I believe. (It could be why men are more heroic than women.)

Nor have any of my designs been built, truth to tell. I just doodle them on the page, while reading the memoirs of sea voyagers; my knowledge of naval architecture having come almost entirely from the same source.

My favourite model is a development of the inshore Dutch fishing botter: absurdly wide of beam in relation to length, and very shallow of draught, but with a deep leeboard to hold a course when it matters. Too, a hinging mast, to avoid the bridges over canals, which I would also tie down for the duration of big blows on the open water — so to still have a mast when the blow were over, and a solid breakwater in the meanwhile. The interior would be adapted for arctic survival, and to accommodate doodling. I dislike aluminum, with a fixed passion, and have selected wood. This hard-fastened coracle (the old Dutch mariners could not abide a straight line) would pop like a cherry pit out of squeezing Arctic ice. Or else it would crush like a box of matches, but there you go. You cannot know what will work until you try it.

I have various other models, including a ketch adaptation for an old American fishing pinky; but with two masts I’m afraid that would require more crew. Yet ah, to exaggerate the rising tail, to a high seat projecting behind the tiller, on which to recline like a sleepy gondolier.

Among my more ambitious designs is to modify an icebreaker-class research vessel, with a few dozen berths. My thought was to found a little shipping company, to restore passenger service along traditional ocean routes, for people refusing to be pressed for time, or through airports. Not bourgeois vacation cruising, mind — God never wants that — but a civilized passage from A to B, with ports of call, and perhaps a little oceanographical dipping along the way, for those who’d appreciate some fresh air, decent food, and intelligent conversation. Crew would include musicians, and a reactionary chaplain; and on the boat deck, instead of a pool, a fine usus antiquior chapel.

Whereas, I should think, solo sailing is for the more contemplative types. Since Joshua Slocum’s first circumnavigation in the Spray, the idea of a floating hermitage has been widely disseminated. (His Sailing Alone Around the World was among the formative books of my childhood.) But Captain Slocum remains almost alone in understanding how such a passage should be conducted: in no particular hurry, and with an ingeniously designed self-steering mechanism that leaves one turning pages in a cabin full of books.

One could have as much in a log cabin, I suppose, with fewer distractions and less risk of drowning, but that might be too easy. For as Prince Hal says, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.”