Sailing a Legend
by Captain Jim Thom
Jim Thom has been the skipper of the schooner Atlantic for the past 4 years. Asked about his experiences he initially had difficulty finding the right anecdote as there were so many magnificent moments. Here is a short summary of some of his most inspiring days on Atlantic.
An impression that really stands out was one that I and the crew of Atlantic had when sailing back directly from New Zealand to Panama in America. 7.000 miles in 31 days. We left in April and sailed south of Easter Island between 35 and 39 degrees. We sort of piggy backed and skirted the low pressure systems as they swept across the South Pacific. Basically a lot of reaching and broad reaching. We weren't racing by any stretch, we were actually sailing very conservatively. At one stage we even had to heave to for 36 hours because there was no wind. So we just parked the boat, 2.000 miles from New Zealand and 2.000 miles from Easter Island. The albatros that had been following us for the past couple of days also just landed and sat next to us in the water till the breeze came back!
When it did come we really took off, averaging 12 knots for 16 days and that included sailing into the trade winds where they aren´t so strong. What Atlantic showed us was that with her long, narrow, easily driven hull shape she would just hurtle along, there were days when we were doing 14-15 knots all day. I would come up on deck to see if everything was OK, check the weather, the size of the waves and if the crew were alright. They were a pretty young bunch and I would find them simply chatting away as they steered, talking over their shoulders while driving along. I would say "please just look in the right direction". But that was the level of confidence they had in this boat. I told them they didn't know how good this was. "I know you are enjoying yourselves but this is the sail of my life and the sail of your life as well but you just don't know it yet!"
I went down below to see how everyone was getting on. At this point we were hurtling along in fairly good sized waves but the guys in the crew mess were watching TV or reading books as if they were home. The boat felt completely solid. That trip to me epitomised what Atlantic is. She has these incredibly long legs and this very good seakeeping hull shape with a beautiful fine entry. She just ate up the miles relentlessly without straining any muscles. That was our strongest feeling of her.
The other sort of abiding sensation of the yacht was of strength. Strength of the hull and strength of the rig. When we had the rig serviced in New Zealand the riggers were amazed at the strength and the redundancy of the rigging. They said the masts were so strong they didn´t need shrouds! That they would never come down. And that was our feeling as well when we were sailing. It was all so rock solid. She gives this great sensation of strength and ability and mile eating speed and comfort when you are under sail.
In 2015 we came down from Alaska through the inside passage which was glorious sailing. We went from Vancouver Island down to San Diego. The wind comes from the north pretty fast there and kicks up really big seas. Despite a big reef in the mizzen she was still a handful. She was steaming along and she was coping with the conditions amazingly but in situations like this you have to realise that the crew gets worn out, not the boat. We were screeching along sailing deep downwind but every time she got caught by a wave she would come up a little bit, a lot of the weather helm would kick in and she would head off for San Diego at about 17 knots like a horse heading for the stable. You really had to work hard to get her on course and wind her back down again! But never did the sensation give way to a feeling of not being in control.
Another side of Atlantic is her versatile nature. When we did a trip up the fjords in Alaska we had kayaks, 2 big ribs, fishing gear and crab pots all over the place on deck. We did a lot of fishing from the ribs. We took guests ashore to climb up mountains and go watch bears up the rivers from the boats. We didn´t do a lot of sailing up in those fjords as there isn´t a lot of wind and always on the nose. But she is an amazing expedition base because you have the space on deck to do it. She provided a great platform from which to launch our adventures.
Likewise in Fiji. We had a dive outfit that had come out to meet us and give us professional assistance. Again the boat provided a really good platform for setting up all the gear and preparing for dives. We went to Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica that Jacques Cousteau called the most beautiful island in the world. It is a dense rain forest, with very steep mountains and muddy tracks, but the reason for going there is the diving. That is truly incredible. There are hundreds and hundreds of hammerhead sharks, tiger sharks, massive manta rays, scores of turtles. It just goes on and on. We motored out, as it is in the Doldrums, with two ribs, a bunch of divers and two dive guides. Once more the boat worked really well as an expedition boat. She has enough storage so you can take food and everything you need really for a trip like that and excellent deck space.
This past summer we are up in Scotland on the west coast, daysailing her through the narrow passes between islands. We would charge through with everything up giving the locals and other sailing yachts a bit of a thrill. People called us up to say thank you. After that we took her to Cowes to the Royal Yacht Squadron where we moored alongside at Trinity Landing. We had a constant throng of onlookers. She was dressed overall and looked really lovely. One guy, an experienced yachtsman, said she was the most beautiful yacht he had ever seen. That sort of sums it all up. Cowes is the Mecca of yachting, a place where a lot of boats have been over the years but to hear people there say that gives you immense pleasure in the yacht that you are associated with.
They say that 3 masted schooners don´t go upwind and that they do not go downwind either. That is true to a certain extent. You get frustrated on a schooner sailing a short legged course as you cannot sail down wind in the same way as other boats. But if you are on a longer leg you just come up a touch and let her feel the breeze and you simply take off in a great way. Same going upwind if you don´t pinch her but let her go. You think you are doing terrible angles but you are doing those angles at an incredible rate of knots and you find you are actually doing really well.
The other thing that is so noticeable about the boat is not really the lack of sensation of speed but how she slips along so easily. She will be just cruising along and then you look over the side and notice the water slipping by and say "Oh yeah". She just slips along at 10 knots so easily. The same applies to sailing in big waves in heavy weather. Once when we came out of Panama and had to go up to Newport we motored to the east to pick up the breeze and go out into the trades. You get this big bumpy tradewind swell. We were sailing along nicely when I looked down over the side at the size of the waves. I thought that if you were on a 50 footer it would really be hard work and heavy going and you would be looking up at these waves. But on Atlantic she just punched through them. We were getting wet because of the spray but otherwise she just kept her way. She drove the spray back over her full length but it is then you realise that she really is a big boat.
When we left the UK in 2017 it was the day after a really big storm. In the channel there were big seas running with wind over tide. It had been blowing 9 to 10 the day before and was still 7 as we went out. Sailing to windward through these waves at 11.5 knots Atlantic just put her head through of lot of the bigger waves without slowing down. We could really feel the vibrations banging through the boat. Of course there was nobody else out in these nearly gale conditions but she was enjoying it and just bashing her way through. She would put her bow in, throw a couple of tons of water back along the deck but the boat felt so good and balanced that it gave us a lot of confidence. It is difficult to convey the sense of excitement, apprehension and increasing awe we felt as Atlantic proved how strong and capable a yacht she is and how tirelessly she reeled off the miles in a constant, surging, relentless flow of constrained power.
(Ron can be contacted )