Kiwi Spirit – Is She Bullet Proof?

Not yet on the 1,200 mile delivery from Maine to St. Augustine from where on November 8th (weather permitting) the second and final attempt at a solo circumnavigation will commence, we had a number of failings on the boat. The weather was mild and while not good for sailing it was fine for testing.  Here now is what went wrong:

The motor on one of the three primary winches failed – yet again.  On a second winch, the disc at the top that grabs the rope started to spin – yet again.  The radar guard, a structure meant to protect the mast mounted radar from being struck by a sail came off its mountings and was held by a bungee cord!

- The radar mount itself dropped a screw onto the deck. This we had to fix at sea. You might wonder how we can hear a screw fall onto the deck. Well the deck is fiber glass and the hull is largely carbon fiber and so deck sounds reverberate inside rather like in a base musical instrument.

- Finally two of the hydro generators failed. The first was due to striking some object which stripped the blades off the propeller like generator. This happens and is expected and hence I carry spares. However the second breakage should not have occurred and did so as a direct result of a disconnect switch being mounted in the wrong position such that when the hydro unit swung it crashed into and shattered.

So in just 1,200 miles and with some 29,000 miles to go I have had once again some major problems. Optimistically I assure myself that these breakages are good for we will get them right. I carry spares for almost everything and I added two more manual winches in anticipation of the above problems. But still I have to say that there is a vast difference between a day sailor or an occasional off shore cruiser to what It is I am planning for – a non-stop global circumnavigation during which I cannot put into port, receive any help, spare parts etc. I must be totally independent. Hence I have to say that I don’t think many who manufacture the gear and work in the trade really get it. Just not enough reliability in the system. 

Steve Pettengill, my project manager, may have it right when he says its 60% the boat, 20% the sailor and 20% luck.  I am inclined to agree.





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Kiwi Spirit Leaves for St. Augustine – October 2

A stronger, safer and possibly faster Kiwi Spirit left Lyman Morse yards in Thomaston Maine for the 1,100nm voyage to St. Augustine, Florida for final preparations before a most likely departure on Saturday, November 8th.
It is stronger in that we have further reinforced the end of the boom that broke during an accidental jibe, replaced the fittings of the shrouds, genoa and staysail furlers to the deck with stronger pins complete with a threaded nut and split pin – very impressive. We have also strengthened the stanchions (life line supports) in a number of places. Batten pockets do not open at the aft ends and I won’t suddenly loose a pair of them as I did last time. In the possibly “faster” category we have removed the reaching struts which held the clue of the reaching sails out further, rather like raising the flaps up on aircraft wings to go faster, and replaced them with two spinnaker poles which will also be used on the genoa and staysail. This will aid in going faster downwind and will be easier for me to handle. No one liked the reaching struts. There are also two more winches in the cockpit which will help in sail handling and aid in having some redundancy – winches break at times.
The departure date is “soft” as I wish to make sure I have good winds for the first ten days to get around Bermuda and not get stuck there in a windless hole as happened last time. I suspect I shall be able to give 24 hours notice of departure with earliest date being Saturday, November 8th.
Once again I am getting a little excited but it’s more “unfinished business” this time. However once I get past the mid-south Atlantic where it all ended for me, I am sure the excitement will come roaring back. Last year the record for a solo was 150 days and age 58 and both have now been broken. The new standards set by two different sailors are 137 days and 70 years of age. I will try to beat both those records as well as to be the first to do it green.

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Channel Swimming Relay Aborted Four Miles from France

It was the oldest group to ever attempt to complete a relay swim across the 23 mile-wide, rough and cold English Channel between England and France. All five in our team members were over the age of seventy, with the average age being 74. I was the oldest on the team, at age 77.  A better qualified team of septuagenarians could not have been found. Our team captain was Michael Reid, MBE, who is president of the Channel Swimming Association and holds the record for the most solo swims – 33! The other three swimmers were all British Long Distance Swimming Association champions, two of whom had just returned from Montreal, Canada, having competed in the World’s Masters, where they each won an event. These are truly dedicated swimmers. I have also attempted five solos on the English Channel, and have succeeded twice, as well as two previously successful relay swims, and coached a third from the University of St. Augustine. I am also currently serving as Vice President of the Channel Swimming Association.

We started out the swim in fair weather, which promised to be moderate. It was not to happen. As Michael exited the pilot boat and swam to the beach to begin the swim, he raised his arms to signal his re-entry into the water and the start, we were all very optimistic.  At the end of each hour, the next swimmer would drop into the water and pass by the current swimmer who would then exit. No passing a baton in this relay. I was the final swimmer in the set of five, anchoring the group, and then we would cycle through again. We each swam well, and while two of us experienced cramps, they were managed in the water by the swimmer without assistance, as the rules dictate. By mid Channel, the winds were at twenty knots (22 miles per hour) and the waves were building, especially when the tide went against the westerly wind. With three hours to go, the winds had reached a steady 25 knots and were gusting to 30 knots as night was falling, but still we were all swimming well. And then the weather took a turn. I completed my second one-hour swim and Michael followed. On board we were hanging on for life – seriously – the boat was being thrown all over the place. Two decks chairs, where we rested, broke completely. It began to rain and there was no shelter for us swimmers, as the temperature dropped to 45 degrees – we could not stay dry.  I crouched on my hands and knees, bracing myself against the dingy and hanging on. I actually felt better in the water than on deck.

France was only three to four miles off, with a landing on the Cape Gris Nez. The nearest point was out of the question, as it was far too dangerous for a swimmer to attempt a landing on the rocks in such a storm. The distance to the nearest beach was some hours away and the weather still was building. The decision was made, and agreed to by all, that it was unsafe in these conditions to complete the relay. Had it been a solo, and if that swimmer had been in mid-life, then he/she may have pushed on. But discretion became the best part of valor, and we headed for home disappointed at the failure, but enriched by the adventure.

I went to Dover beach Sunday morning to meet with those training for their upcoming swims, surrounded by family and supporters. I found myself greeted by applause for our effort. Small, yes, but significant compensation – the approval of one’s peers.

Now I prepare to come home, hike a little with Catherine on the Appalachian Trail, and be at the boat yard as Kiwi Spirit is re-launched for the upcoming solo – circa November 8th.


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Kiwi Spirit Sails ahead of Hurricane Arthur

We had an uneventful four and half day sail from St. Augustine, Florida to Newport, Rhode Island. There we met with North Sails, Harken and others to help plan repairs, upgrades and alterations to Kiwi. That accomplished, and with an eye of hurricane Arthur moving toward us, we made a fast trip to the Lyman Morse yards in Thomaston, Maine. There the boat was soundly secured for the approaching winds, which she weathered well. Now the work begins.

The sails will all be removed and inspected. I fully expect to acquire a new mainsail as it already has 26,000 miles on it in just the year and half since launching, and that’s more than most boats will do in their lifetime. Should a head sail fail, I have five others but only one mainsail. No risks to be take here. Two spinnaker poles are being added, which will enable easier handling for downwind sailing on genoa and staysail. Adjustable genoa cars, two more winches, more snatch blocks and viewing windows to see if the rudders or keel get fouled with weed or nets are all being added. Most of the work will be accomplished in a month with a few loose ends after that. But once the electronics are sorted out (many failures here), and sails are returned, we will head south to St. Augustine for solo circumnavigation departure on November 8th or soon after – weather dependent.

The date of departure for the solo circumnavigation will this time be according to a ten day weather projection. Last time for family, friends and spectators, the departure was as close to the advertised date as possible. But that left me arriving in Bermuda with little wind. Five days after rounding Bermuda, I was already two days behind the record pace set by Dodge Morgan on American Promise. This time I shall wait for a favorable “weather window.”

But for today, I am off to the “Y” for an hour’s swim, as at the end of next month I, and five others over the age of seventy, will swim the English Channel in a relay.

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Kiwi Spirit June 2014 Update

The blogs will start again in September. For now we can all take a break. Know that much work is being done on the boat, and that both she and I will be in great shape come departure day on November 8, 2014. Note that this blog contains an invitation.


Much was learned on the first attempt. It was an adventure. An exciting, challenging adventure to be all alone at sea for an intended 150 days. But this time its “unfinished business.” I have taken a break from it these past three months, but starting last week, I was back on the boat to haul and clean its bottom for tomorrow we are sailing some 1,300 miles from Florida to Maine, where it’s back to the builders for some big changes.


“So, what is going to be different this time?” Some have asked this question and I shall briefly answer. First, I am different. Yes, I had 60,000 sea miles under my belt prior to attempting to solo circumnavigate. And, yes, I won two of the three ocean races that I had entered in – so I felt ready. But those fifty days alone, and with the experiences of handling the yacht in all conditions, as well as the managing of things that went wrong that should never have gone wrong – well – I learned a great deal and I am anxious to try again. I will be better prepared and so will the boat.


As to the boat, we are making a number of changes as to how the boat will be sailed. Using poles for downwind sailing, changing the sail inventory, making the boat bullet proof in so many ways will all add to my confidence that the boat and I will not only survive, but that we will do well in all conditions. Details will follow in later blogs. I am even considering publishing an article like report in this blog complete with photos showing all of the changes.


Now, here is where you can help. What would you like me to write about in future blogs both before I depart and once underway? I can try writing for my non-sailing friends as well as the sailing community. Just email me at the following address with the subject line stating “QUESTION” to kkuecker@usa.edu.


PS… you will be able to follow our progress to Maine via Yellowbrick, and while you are doing that give some thought as to why the missing Malaysian airliner did not have a similar and very inexpensive technology.

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Air National Guard Rescues One-Year-Old at Sea

I am hesitant to weigh in on the current news item of a one-year-old needing to be “rescued” off a sail boat hundreds of miles at sea when she took ill. “What were the parent thinking of” and “Totally irresponsible” are some of the many comments. One person wrote: “I saw this coming — I saw the potential for every bit of it, I don’t understand what they were thinking to begin with. I’m sorry, I don’t even like to take my kids in a car ride that would be too dangerous, and it’s like taking them out into the big ocean?”

No surprise I have a different take. I grew up with no cycling helmets…it was okay to ride in the back of a pickup truck, and somewhat related, there was no such thing as a Breathalyzer. I have written that “life is not without risk…it’s just a matter of how much are you willing to take and what will you do to prepare for it.”  Are we to become a nation of wimps and those that are faint of heart?  Will we lose our spirit of adventure or challenge, so that no one climbs mountains or even hikes a trail for fear of falling to one’s death or being mauled by a bear?  Certainly I am in favor of using technology to enhance safety, but we have so much of it we have to draw the line somewhere – I am in favor of Breathalyzers. But in my sailing of more than 100,000 miles, I have met many young families with children of all ages being home schooled on yachts. My experience is that they grow up independent, self-reliant, well-educated, very polite and respectful, extremely capable and unafraid of risk – just what I like to see in my children.

However, there are limits, and I support that there should be limits to how old you must be to take part in certain activities, such as flying a plane solo across the country or attempting to swim the English Channel. But let us have as few limits as possible and encourage real life, not “reality TV” adventurism. I say “good luck” to those parents and “don’t give up.” They will have learned and they will prepare even better next time – I know for that’s what I am doing with Kiwi Spirit. And yes, thanks to all the rescue services that were involved – a great piece of training for them.

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Kiwi Spirit Reached Home Port in St. Augustine, FL on Saturday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made great time from Antigua in the Caribbean to St. Augustine, some 1,320 miles. The winds were 14-22 knots and around 100 degrees true most of the time, so boat speed was some 9 and often 12 knots. No squalls-clear sky and fine sunsets.

Along with me was Steve Pettengill, a fellow St. Augustine resident and extremely experienced solo, off-shore racer. His presence and knowledge will contribute greatly to changes planned on the boat and to my ability to sail faster. Steve has done some 315,000 miles at sea, which has included 15 solos across the North Atlantic, one circumnavigation with crew, and three times around Cape Horn.  I am fortunate to have his assistance.

Having two on-board meant that someone was always awake and on watch. Through the night (12 hours) we took three-hour watches, so we could each get an hour or two of sleep. Then, during the day, we each took a 6-hour watch, and thus the other had another chance to nap. It’s when fatigued that jobs are put off and accidents occur.

While in St. Augustine, Kiwi Spirit will be docked at my home, just opposite the City Marina and will be clearly visible from the Bridge of Lions.

The boat will remain in St. Augustine for a month to six weeks, then will have some work done on her at Lyman Morse before heading north to Maine for some of the bigger jobs that need doing. Then to Newport, Rhode Island for sail work and testing, and finally back to St. Augustine in August for a planned circumnavigation departure circa November 8th. Incidentally, had the first attempt not been abandoned, my arrival Saturday was the intended date of arrival and celebration – ah well

(Photo Credit: Jaye Lunsford)

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