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Pacific cruising without an engine

‘The winds and sea were too strong to
 set up the storm jib steering so I hand-steered for close to 18 hours before 
the conditions settled enough. This was the start of a 1,300-mile run to Tonga and the forecast was not looking good. I thought I had finally been pushed
 too far and figured I just needed to 
get to a port and walk away from the boat for good.’

His well-battered palm frond hat, burnt brown
 by the sun, casts a shadow over his tanned face as
 Josh Ghyselincks recalls his trip from Bora Bora,
 one of the more difficult moments during his voyage from Mexico to New Zealand.

‘After another day, the wind died out and 
I flopped around, drifting for a day trying to rest. Finally a breeze filled in and I changed course for Aitutaki. Two days of glorious conditions made 
me reconsider my decision days before as I arrived 
in the Cook Islands, an unintended destination.’

The fact that Maistral, Ghyselincks’ Arpege 29, didn’t have an inboard engine, only a 9.9hp Yamaha outboard, makes this tale of South Pacific cruising 
all the more fascinating, and earned him an accolade from the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).

The OCC presented him with the Jester Award for 2017 in recognition of his solo 2,900-mile trip from 
Mexico to the Marquesas Islands in 24 days.

The award is given to skippers who complete noteworthy singlehanded voyages or series of voyages made 
in a vessel of 30ft or less overall, and pays tribute 
to the spirit and ideals of legendary sailors Blondie Hasler and Mike Richey.

Ghyselincks bought his 29ft yacht three years
 ago. Maistral had been on a swinging mooring for several years and it was her ‘simplicity and interior layout’ that attracted the 32 year old to the seasoned
 offshore yacht, which had no wind vane and very little navigation or communication equipment.

‘I knew she had a history of offshore sailing
 so I felt she would 
be a good sailing 
boat without knowing why at the time. 
Lots of reading agreed with my gut feeling 
and so I became a boat owner the week before my 30th birthday,’
 he recalls. ‘She was
a proven passagemaker so I wasn’t concerned,
 I knew she that could
do it again.’

Built in 1967 by Michel Dufour in La Rochelle, France, close to where Ghyselincks was born into 
an army family, Maistral was considered ‘unique
at the time because of her modern design’ – a fin keel with a bulb and a skeg-hung rudder.

She belonged for many years to the OCC vice commodore Tony Gooch and his wife, Coryn, who sailed her 65,000 miles throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, most notably round Cape Horn via the Straits of Magellan.

‘I think what sets her apart nowadays in the cruising world are elements that may have been common in the past. At 29ft, she is often the smallest boat in an anchorage. She has no inboard engine.
 The electronics aboard amount to a cell phone, handheld VHF, portable SSB radio receiver, personal locator beacon, depth sounder, Bluetooth stereo and various LED lights,’ he explains.

Alternative living

For the first few months aboard Maistral, Ghyselincks had to use oil lamps as there was no way to charge the batteries.

He installed an 80W solar system and some LED lights, but thankfully found most of the yacht’s gear well maintained.

Concerned about large forces from waves using 
the outboard engine as leverage in the open ocean,
 he reinforced the transom where the outboard 
was attached.

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Ghyselincks later found that while 
the outboard was easy to use (‘I could turn the 
boat on a dime), it showed its weakness offshore
 with the prop regularly flying out of the water.

Initial modifications made to Maistral, he then focused his attention on improving his sailing skills by taking to the waters around Victoria, British Columbia whenever he could.

Having banded together some crew, his first 
major trip was skippering Maistral down the west coast from Canada to Huatulco in Mexico and back up the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California). By then, reflects Ghyselincks, ‘most of the kinks were out.’

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A solo voyage from Mexico to the Marquesas Islands seemed to be a natural progression in his sailing education. The route is not an uncommon
one for those who intend to follow the trade winds and keeps most of the sailing downwind.

‘I just wanted to see if I could do it. It was a personal challenge, just the sea and me,’ he says. ‘I was
 already in Mexico and knew that running further south along the coast meant very light wind conditions, so why not jump off from the continent?’

There was still one kink to shake out though 
before setting sail. ‘My main dilemma was regarding the steering. I had an ST2000 tiller pilot but it was only able to push, not pull, after half a year of use, 
so I decided to look for alternatives.’

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He found the answer in a book, Singlehanded Sailing: Thoughts, Tips, Techniques Tactics by Andrew Evans (McGraw-Hill Education Europe, £18.99), who describes using a storm jib to steer a boat as an alternative if a wind vane or autopilot should fail.

With this new knowledge, Ghyselincks set about using the poled-out storm jib method of self-steering, along with bits of rope and shock cord.

He tried 
it out for the first time while sailing in the Bahía de Banderas, Mexico. ‘It took only a half hour to dial it in the first time and Maistral was cutting a straight line on a beam reach. I chuckled thinking of having hand-steered, with crew, from Canada when I had everything I needed aboard to make a self-steering system.’

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I ask Ghyselincks whether he had to learn new skills or adapt in any other ways to compensate
 for the lack of an inboard engine.

He thinks for 
a while and then replies, ‘I would practice anchoring and manoeuvring to docks under sail anyway, just
for a bit of fun.’

The practice under sail would later pay off when the outboard developed a large oil leak in the Marquesas Islands.

The engine could only be run for half an hour before a low oil alarm. After several unsuccessful attempts to repair it, Ghyselincks eventually gave 
up on the outboard, sailing from the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia to New Zealand without it.

‘Having no engine meant that timings and route became much more critical. There were a few hair-raising moments, but it’s been an easy transition and I never have to ask myself the question, “Do I motor or keep trying to sail?” When the wind really drops,
 I usually take all of the sails down and go below to make a coffee,’ he notes.

He believes that not having any engine certainly keeps cruising costs low. ‘From what I can tell, many cruisers spend a large amount of time and money maintaining their boats, and it’s often largely the motor,’ reflects Ghyselincks.

A touch of TLC

Once Ghyselincks had made port in Opua, a town located in the North Island, New Zealand, he decided to lavish some ‘well-deserved attention’ on to Maistral.

She has just gone back into the water after an extensive refit. The yacht now has a new mainsail, Pelagic tiller pilot and new standing rigging.

Any trace of the outboard has now been removed. Half
 the deck has been replaced due to a saturated core, and the rudder has been overhauled.

The 2017 recipient of the Ocean Cruising Club’s Jester Award doesn’t believe he can live up to the tales of Blondie Hasler and his modified Nordic Folkboat, Jester.

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But, he does think there may
be ‘some value’ in his solo voyage for the current generation of adventure sailors.

‘I was both surprised and delighted at the acknowledgement by the Ocean Cruising Club.
I know there are other cruising sailors out there
 with even smaller, simpler boats but it is becoming exceedingly rare from what I can gather. I think it’s great to bring some attention to the small-budget sailboat out there.’

Ghyselincks hopes his Pacific exploits will 
dispel any myths that one ne ‘large sums 
of money and lifelong sailing experience’ to go cruising.

‘The reality is that there are 
very affordable boats out there and there are places for anyone 
to get a start on the experience. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never been handed a sailing challenge that was impossible. 
As a friend of mine had told
 me, we are only given challenges in life which we can achieve.

‘Financially, living at anchor has been the most economical living I’ve done, although there is the price of discomfort. Not being able to stand straight up has its downsides,’ he quips, the smile lighting 
up his face.

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Ghyselincks is now planning to continue sailing ‘back up to the tropics and in the direction of the trades,’ although he is going to try taking on crew 
‘to make the nights more restful.’

He says that
 some of his cruising experiences so far have been 
life changing.

‘The highest point of the trip so far has to be Palmerston Island in the Cook Islands, hands
down. I was welcomed 
warmly and treated like
family. It would be impossible 
to describe the generosity 
that I experienced but suffice
to say, it changed my life.’

Ghyselincks hopes to have many more of these pivotal 
‘life changing’ experiences 
as he continues his passage, 
totally engineless, across the Pacific Ocean.

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