The owner of the sailing yacht Firebird decided to make a non-trivial journey. The geography of the route stretched from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
The pandemic has made its own adjustments. This is the story of Andrey Yakunin and his yacht Firebird about how his ice tour turned into a tropical one.
Firebird looks like the most common Oyster sailing yacht. However, its owner Andrey Yakunin never aspired to a traditional sailing program.
Yakunin is a big fan of skiing, so the yacht has spent most of the last five years on the Lyngenfjord peninsula in Norway.
However, in 2019, he decided it was time to expand the capabilities of Firebird. Andrey has a grandiose travel plan.
The route was planned in more than a year, and a lot of work was done on the yacht. Everything to make sure she can handle the task.
“For three years we have worked very hard to adapt Firebird, so that she is ready for the program that we are going to implement, ”explains Yakunin.
"We have Kevlar rudders that are ice resistant, we obviously have heating systems on board, and we also designed a Kevlar nose cone that we can put on the nose to protect it from ice drift and slush."
Unfortunately, none of these preparations have been able to mitigate a global pandemic that would have entailed blocking and closing borders.
The beginning of the way
The first part of the route Firebird went exactly as planned. The boat and the crew passed this part of the way back on their maiden voyage in May 2019. “We left Norway in mid-April and went to Svalbard as early as possible,” says Captain Peter Madey, who was on board to help with this section of the route.
The yacht was mainly based near Longyearbyen. “We had a good chance to go as far north as possible,” says Captain Madei. "We managed to reach almost 81 degrees."
Yakunin was not disappointed by the new area. “When we walked past major cities and trade routes, the vastness was incredible,” he says.
Wildlife was also abundant. “You can watch wildlife for hours,” says Captain Madei. “A family of belugas lives near the town of Pyramiden. We managed to spend a couple of hours in their company. Of course, there were also polar bears. But the most striking event was the sighting of the blue whale! I didn't expect to see this; it was great to see the largest animal on earth. "
Firebird Path South
From Svalbard Firebird returned to the UK and then headed to the Canary Islands and the Caribbean for the winter season. Yakunin was unable to join the ferry, but returned to the yacht to cruise in Saint Lucia and the Grenadines.
In March, when Covid-19 started to make headlines, he joined Firebird., to take part in the Superyacht Challenge Antigua.
“My wife and I flew in for race week, so we had two pairs of shorts and three T-shirts in our wardrobe,” he laughs. “We won in our class and it was very nice. At the time, I didn’t realize that we would remain unbeatable for a whole year, as this was the only event in superyacht racing that could happen. ”
Pandemic and Antigua
Then the pandemic began to take over the world more and more. Yakunin was the first to admit that he underestimated the impact she should have had on his plans for a global trip.
“All travel restrictions started to work, and my wife and I thought, how long will it last? A week? Maybe two? ”Yakunin recalls.
Deciding that they would be better off in Antigua than quarantined in London, they decided to stay on the yacht. “Looking back, I realized that my forecast was somewhat optimistic,” he admits.
“We were stuck there and all the Caribbean islands were in serious isolation. On the other hand, it gave us a good chance to explore the island inside and out. To the point where I think now we could write our own guide! "
On the islands, the team wasted no time - diving and testing became the main activities. The team tested the yacht's equipment with a local expert, Lee Cunningham.
Yakunin and Toteam boats desperately trying to figure out a route to Antarctica. “We actually spent a month in Antigua, making route after route,” Yakunin recalls.
All options were considered, including driving along the Atlantic coast through Brazil and crossing from Antigua directly to Easter Island. However, in the end, the realization began to come that a visit to Antarctica was impossible.
“When [polar explorer] Skip Novak announced that he was giving up the trip, it was a pretty clear signal,” says Yakunin. "If he said it was unreasonable, then who are we to try to prove it?"
However, with hurricane season approaching, Firebird needed to move somewhere. At this stage, Plan C was developed and the yacht was prepared for sailing to French Polynesia.
As part of the preparations, Mate Captain Daniel Hardy flew out with the crew to meet the yacht for the next leg of the voyage. “It was quite difficult to get out of here,” he recalls.
“We were not allowed to transit Miami, so we had to fly to Paris and then to Guadeloupe. Then we took us by private plane from Guadeloupe to Antigua. "
Long Road Firebird
With Hardy and a new crew aboard, Firebird left Antigua, not knowing where and when she would next be allowed to return to shore. “I can show a lot of countries that we sailed past, but where we were not allowed to stop,” says Yakunin.
"Colombia, Panama, USA - and nowhere were we allowed to enter the port." Fortunately, the yacht's agent managed to negotiate that Firebird stopped to refuel and took provisions before crossing the Panama Canal.
“We were placed in a quarantine dock with police tape and guards around us. The food was delivered to the pontoon, and then after 20 minutes we were allowed to go to the pontoon to pick up the food, ”explains Yakunin.
After crossing the canal, the crew had to overcome almost 4,000 nautical miles of the ocean to get to the Marquesas Islands. The journey is almost double that of crossing the Atlantic, but a good wind helped their cause.
“Mostly all the way downwind and conditions were great,” says Captain Hardy. This transition was an ordeal for the owner and the team, and for most of them it was the longest journey.
“Of course, 25.9 meters is a big boat, but still a rather limited space,” says Yakunin. “I think we invested in the team all the time and made sure that everyone had common interests. We also had a dedicated nose room for those who were tired of everyone. You could sit there alone. "
A little rest before the end of the journey
After another crew change, Yakunin and his wife were able to set off to explore French Polynesia. When the restrictions began to ease, some friends and family were also able to fly in.
As autumn approached, hopes of continuing westward began to fade, and the only option available was to cruise directly to Japan.
“We decided that there was a fine line between stupidity and persistence and that our journey was probably over long ago,” says Yakunin. Fortunately, a few weeks later, the transport ship was returning from Tahiti and the Firebird was able to safely return to the UK.
Despite his love for warm tropical water, Yakunin is still a fan of northern latitudes. “You don’t have to fight for a barbecue spot on the beach. You are more worried about whether a polar bear will join you, ”he jokes.
With this in mind, Firebird is currently making further preparations in Southampton before heading north. There Yakunin wants to spend another season of his ski and sailing program in Norway.
She will then travel to Iceland and Greenland. “We are all very happy to set sail again,” says Yakunin. "Hopefully this time we don't make any wrong turns, resulting in a 5,000 mile detour."
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