Cruising boats from all over the world anchor in this idyllic location, but there’s something about Seamaster that set her apart from the fleet. It wasn’t so much her gargantuan size. There was a tall ship and two or three mega yachts that measured longer on the water than Sir Peter’s craft. But Seamaster appeared to be all business. Her rounded stern, blunt bow, and almost submarine-like utilitarian lines suggest a capability beyond the ordinary realm of cruising vessels. All together she has an aspect of being capable of doing what very few vessels can, namely call any latitude on the planet home. From the searing tropics in the depths of the Amazon jungle, to the loneliest regions of the polar ice caps, she’s been there and back, sharing her tales with her followers along the way (see www.blakexpeditions.com).
Built in 1989 for Frenchman Jean Louis Etieanne, Seamaster traveled to the arctic where she wintered among the drifting snowfields, frozen in solid ice. For these kinds of extreme conditions, Seamaster can retract both her two centerboards and her rudders to protect them from the crush of the pack ice. Her two props are also encased in cages to ensure that they too suffer no damage from the immense pressures. The hull is 50 millimeters thick on the bottom, and 25 mm thick on the sides and the top. Seamaster, say members of her crew, can break up to a yard and a half of ice, and if it gets thicker than that the saucer shape hull also allows the vessel to be pushed up and over the ice as it forms, rather than be crushed by it. In short, Seamaster could be just the vessel that noted arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton might have wish he had.
After the Antarctic expedition, the original itinerary for Seamaster and its crew was to call on the Amazon, and then head north to summer in the Arctic before backtracking to the South Pacific for coral reef observation. But then the well publicized tragedy struck. Now the team is looking to get its mission back on track.
|"Seamaster, says her skipper, is a 'special boat, a yachtsman's yacht. She likes anything over 20 knots and she'll comfortably sail at 10 or 11 knots upwind.'"|
Warring says that the scenery and the sailing are part and parcel, and the trip from one locale to the next is likely to be spirited if there’s any breeze about. "She’s a special boat, a yachtsman’s yacht," explains the skipper, who has been involved with yachting since he was six years old, spending the last 12 years involved in dive tourism and environmental education in Northern Australia. "We’ve all come from competitive racing backgrounds, so we’re always trying to tweak her as best we can. She likes anything over 20 knots. She’ll do 10 or 11 knots, but we average about eight or nine knots. After we drop down to about five knots, we’ll fire up the engine."
The two 89-foot masts are nearly identical, although she is technically a schooner. Seamaster is capable of spreading some 478 square yards of canvas. The crow’s nest on the mainsail is good for finding leads through ice, but also proved useful negotiating the twists and turns of the Amazon, allowing a vantage point above the trees to negotiate around the numerous shoals the team found there.
In polar latitudes, with the sun shining for almost 24 hours, the huge Lexan windows on the cabin top help to keep the boat light and warm, although the brunt of the heating is done by a diesel heater. The boat is heavily insulated, both hull, deck, and under the floorboards have a thick layer of insulation to keep the interior warm and keep condensation at a minimum. Taking a tour of the boat is like taking a tour of a floating labyrinth. It seems to go on and on. The pilothouse is home to the electronics, autopilot, twin radars, GPS, wind, depth, and speed instruments. Following a short set of stairs down, the main salon area is huge beyond description. Inside a beam that measures over 30 feet there’s a galley on the port side that is more of a kitchen, and a settee on the starboard side that mimics a furniture store. In the middle are the boat’s diesel heaters, and the interior is decorated with photos from Seamaster’s past adventures in the Arctic, frozen among the ice with penguins in the foreground, or silhouetted behind large translucent icebergs. There are several hundred books in a bookshelf, which would doubtlessly prove useful in the case of being stuck in the ice.
Some time after I scripted this, Seamaster arrived in Newport and is now undergoing a major refit—the first the boat has had in some 18 months. The itinerary thereafter has yet to evolve. Warring says that the crew is doing all of the work themselves, fixing generators, overhauling the twin engines, updating the electronics; in short, doing everything they can to make their next expedition as free from breakdowns as possible. There’s not likely to be too many equipment specialists among the bergy bits in Baffin Bay, if they indeed make it up there this summer.
The Work Goes OnAs part of the United Nations Environmental Program, Sir Peter Blake's organization, blakexpeditions belongs to a worldwide consortium designed to heighten the awareness of the environment on a global scale. In the wake of his death, the organization has indicated that it plans to continue its vital work, with Seamaster sailing the globe for the benefit of all.
After heading north to Arctic waters, the crew will take the boat across the South Pacific to study coral reefs. It's certain that there will always be further discoveries ahead for this novel vessel. For more information see www.blakexpeditions.com.
How We Define Seaworthy by Don Casey
Boats for the Long Haul by John Kretschmer
The Environmentally Aware Sailor by Micca Hutchins
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