Used yachts: Buying a yacht in high latitudes

Sailing in the coldest waters on the planet is becoming more and more popular. But finding a yacht suitable for sailing in high latitudes requires additional – and sometimes very different – ​​considerations. So where do you start when looking for a used yacht capable of sailing to some of the most inhospitable places in the world?

Merf Owen, of Owen Clarke Yacht Design, has designed many high latitude yachts for cruising, while his wife Ashley Perrin is a professional ice pilot, who previously worked for the British Antarctic Survey. He advises: “Choosing a yacht to sail in high latitudes is inherently more complicated.

“The first thing to consider is where you are likely to want to explore in high latitudes, weighing the boat and the experience you will have on board. Many people sail in high latitudes on yachts that some would consider unsuitable, but many of these people are very experienced A well found GRP yacht or even a wooden Bristol Pilot Cutter might be a great contender for cruising Northern Norway and Svalbard – but would not be suitable for the Northern Passage -West It’s all about what you plan to do, your expedition strategy, and your level of experience.

It doesn’t have to be metal: Merf Owen and Ashley Perrin sail a light but fast GRP yacht to high latitudes, but with great care and plenty of experience behind them. Photo: Merf Owen

“Also, would a sturdier boat maybe one day give you a false sense of security that you’re going somewhere you really shouldn’t?” It is also worth considering.

High-latitude cruising grounds have a sort of hierarchy, Perrin explains. “People can put them all in one category, but each area has different characteristics. For example, Norway is a great training ground to see if you like the high latitude style of sailing. Whilst also being a wonderful cruise it is well supported by good search and rescue and is (relatively) easy to get to. Greenland is a step up, then maybe the Patagonian Channels.

“The Antarctic Peninsula is serious high latitude cruising, but by far the most extreme of all is South Georgia. Extremely exposed, far from help and difficult to access! Everyone demands different things from the yacht.

As a yacht designer, Owen’s view of important features goes against certain conventions. “The stability curve is important to look at, but more important than the righting angle of the yacht is how much of the hull is physically in the water, how much mass is going to keep you from tipping over, which of course also has a correlation with hull speed Speed ​​is safety in high latitudes and, as sometimes there can be no wind before a gale, range and speed aren’t big words either!

Ice from the top of a mast on a high latitude yacht

Climbing the rig while searching for ice – the choice of hull material is just one factor when it comes to specifying a yacht for high latitudes. Photo: Sophie O’Neill

“’Expedition yachts’ are also a new trend, and it’s a yacht look that’s becoming increasingly popular, but not all of them really fit well. Lifting keel yachts have many advantages for high latitude sailing, but [if they have] little fuel and water capacity, they are limited. You have to take into account the technical sheets of the yachts, carefully correlating them to the mission you have in mind.

The choice of shell material is a big question, however, opting for the most ice-resistant design may not be advisable: perhaps it shouldn’t be your main concern.

“A daggerboard is useful in high latitude anchorages but being able to sail upwind off a leeward coast is a fundamental feature. Balance everything, rather than taking a sales description at face value. »

A niche market

Jildou Huisman is experienced in selling to the high latitude yacht market, marketing new and pre-owned yachts for KM Yachtbuilders in the Netherlands. Working primarily in aluminum, the yachts they build are often completely custom projects, specified for a specific high latitude mission. Their brokerage service also resells many of the high latitude manned yachts they have built and do refits.

“We’ve seen a big increase in people looking for a yacht that’s happy in high latitudes,” says Huisman.

“The main thing that differentiates an aluminum yacht we build for high latitudes from a yacht for more temperate sailing is the thickness of the hull. For cold weather sailing we would build around 6mm thick, but for high latitudes 10-15mm is needed for strength and stiffness To winter in the ice, as some of our customers have successfully done, requires a very strong hull to withstand the ice pressure.We built up to 25mm thick.

“Redundancy in systems such as heating, autopilot, etc. is also important. As many of our builds are completely custom, they are sometimes aesthetically very specific, largely because owners may live aboard for a very long time.

High Latitude Yacht Tranquillo in Thick Ice

2006 Bestevaer 56ST A custom build for high latitude sailing, Calm is a veteran of extended expeditions. kmy.nl Photo: KM Yachtbuilders

Calm, a Bestevaer 56, for example, has a classic look on the outside but is very modern on the inside, it was the owner’s way of making it his long-term home. He completed the Northwest Passage twice on this yacht, spending 10 icy months in Canada.

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The surveyor’s point of view

Marine expert Ben Sutcliffe-Davies on steel or aluminum yachts:

• Aluminum tends to be a much more consistent and predictable material for a hull than steel and requires very little maintenance. Steel, although strong, is inherently prone to rust which tends to occur in hard to reach places.

• The “quality” of the construction material is fundamental. Yachts are sometimes built with non-marine grade metal, although this compromises the vessel.

• Whether it is steel or aluminium, the welding is likely to be the weak point of the structure. A number of high latitude yachts are “home built”, so the quality of the weld will be an important factor.

• Poor bonding and insulation in metal yachts can be fatal to the hull structure. Even production aluminum yachts roll off the yard with features that will eat away at the hull because the insulation between two incompatible metals has been neglected.

We bought a high latitude yacht

Sophie O’Neill and Chris Kobusch recently purchased a steel-hulled Rekere 36 ocean wanderer. As skippers of Skip Novak’s pelagic expeditions, they have experience in high latitude sailing and plan to sail both the Arctic and Antarctic while making videos for their Seas & Summits YouTube channel.

Sophie O'Neill and Chris Kobusch standing in the mirror

Sophie O’Neill and Chris Kobusch. Photo by: Sophie O’Neill

“The experience of sailing Skip’s carefully designed yachts has taught us that reliability, which could also be called simplicity, should guide the search for our own yacht,” says Chris. “That said, it’s hard to find a high latitude yacht on the used market, so there’s probably a degree of compromise whatever you’re buying. An aluminum hull is ideal if you can afford it because it requires no maintenance, but steel is much cheaper and still extremely strong as long as it is properly maintained.

Sophie and Chris had a list of essentials. “A pilot or niche is important in high latitudes. A constant and reliable source of heat also becomes crucial if you are cruising for a long time, so we were looking for a Refleks stove already on board, or the possibility of fitting one. Originally designed for fishing boats, unlike the fan-forced diesel heater, you tend to turn on the Refleks and leave it running. The diesel consumption is not as high as you might think and we leave a kettle on top so that there is always hot water for drinks.

Due to the small size of the high latitude used yacht market and the fear of losing the boat to another buyer, Sophie and Chris bought ocean wanderer without poll. “In fact, we met her in the Azores. We had been looking online for about two years, but no boat came close to a prospect for us. There was already someone else interested but we got to know the owners, who had walked around on her twice.

Ocean Wanderer high latitude yacht after an Atlantic delivery to the UK.

ocean wanderer after a delivery from the Atlantic to the UK. Photo: Sophie O’Neill

“They could see that we would take her on the adventures she was built for, so we made a deal.
“As they had lived on board, we didn’t have the concerns we might have had about a yacht that was only used part-time. Their life had depended on her. There is also a great advantage in having common ground with the previous owner: they spent a lot of time handing over to us and that was invaluable.


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