Circumnavigating in a Tin Can
February 8, 2008
– San Francisco Bay
After a test sail on San Francisco Bay on Saturday, 39-year-old David Vann of Tallahassee, Florida, hopes to leave Sunday on a four-month non-stop singlehanded circumnavigation via the Southern Ocean aboard his trimaran Tin Can. Given that Frenchman Francis Joyon recently did the same thing in just 57 days with his 97-ft trimaran IDEC, it sounds like an exciting possibility . . . until you hear the details.
Unlike Joyon, whose IDEC is as modern as she is basic, Vann intends to do his 26,000-mile voyage in the 50-ft aluminum trimaran that he built in a matter of months with a total budget of $25,000. To say that Tin Can is crude in design and
construction would be generous, as she's what a kid's homemade go-kart is to a Mercedes-Benz. But she's not as ill-conceived as she could have been. After Vann's first naval architect quit as a result of having nightmares about the project, his new naval architect, Yves-Marie Tanton, was at least successful in convincing him to heighten the house from two feet to four feet, and then widen it from 18 inches to 30 inches. Yeah, she's one of those dream boats.
Having had his first boat sink — and written the book A Mile Down about the experience — Vann is championing his tri's positive flotation as being the magic characteristic. He says that his inspiration for this voyage is Ken Barnes of Southern California, whose attempt at a singlehanded circumnavgation with the Gulfstream 44 Privateer ended when he was dismasted after just 6,500 miles. Vann claims his tri is superior because she can't sink. We can understand Vann's desire to never have a boat sink from beneath him again, but positive flotation is not the be all and end all for sailing vessels. Peter Hogg of the Corinthian YC can confirm that. After all, Hogg's trimaran flipped just outside the Gate during a race many years ago, and was next seen — big parts of her still floating and intact, mind you — on the other side of the Pacific. And Lord knows the Atlantic is littered with the still happily floating debris of many ORMA 60 trimarans.
Several readers have asked us what we think of Vann's project. We're mostly indifferent, as we sense too much form and too little content. Vann likens himself to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest — seemingly forgetting that Hillary made use of the best climbing gear at the time. To continue with that analogy, it's as though Vann wants to join the club of those who have made it to the top of Everest, but wants to be the first to make it having sewn his own shirt, pants, socks, and having cobbled his own boots — and not having spent more than $25 in the process. The greater wonder is not whether he could do it, but why he would try.
One reason Vann might is money. He's only had to ante up $25,000, so if he makes it long enough for things to be interesting — and they can't help but be — there will certainly be fodder for another book. As it is, the blog of his adventure appears "exclusively" on that well-known journal of serious adventurers, Esquire Magazine. Check it out at www.esquire.com/the-side/blog/tincan.
Could Vann make it around the world in four months? No. For one thing, by the time he gets down to the Southern Ocean, the relatively good weather of summer will be over, and the nights will be longer and colder. Vann hedges his bets a little by saying that he doesn't have a death wish — even while dropping the fact that his father and another extended family member committed suicide — and that he'll feel free to stop whenever and for however long he feels it necessary for safety.
Given an unlimited amount of time, could Vann make it around the world with Tin Can? It's certainly possible — assuming that the Coast Guard doesn't declare it a 'manifestly unsafe voyage' and prevent him from leaving. Remember that Glen Tieman of Southern California sailed all the way across the Pacific over a 10-year period in the 26-ft catamaran Peregrine that he built for 1/8th of what Vann has spent on his tri.
The main determinant for Vann will be the weather. If he gets lucky, we think he could make it — but it's going to take an awful lot of luck given the amount of time he's going to have to spend in the Southern Ocean. We certainly hope this doesn't happen, but we suspect there's a greater chance of Tin Can flipping before getting to Pt. Conception — rendering all the positive flotation in the world meaningless — than getting enough good weather to survive the Southern Ocean. But only time will tell.
Two other critical factors involve strength. Are Tin Can and her gear tough enough, and does Vann have the mental fortitude? Again, only time will tell.
If nothing else, Vann's project has got us thinking about all the various sailing stunts there have been over the years. We've been able to come up with about 20 so far, our favorite being the French guy who, in the early '90s, cut a wine cask in half, put a keel on the bottom and a mast on the top, and sailed it across the Atlantic. Can you add to our list?
- latitude / rs