Building a sailing yacht is a very complicated thing indeed. Not only that I am experiencing the hardship (and the nice moments, of course) of a sailingboat´s refit since one or less one year now with my own SY OLIVIA, a Finnish made Kings Cruiser 33, I recently build a Class 40 racing yacht. Well, to be honest, just a model of it: It´s a Hamburgian tradition that comes with every newborn child. (You may read the first article on that “Navel Ship” here to understand). To be precise: I´ve build the model of the famous YD-41 sailing yacht as featured in the definitive book “Principles of Yacht Design” by Eliasson, Larsson and Orych.
Its´s just a small model of some one foot length overall. I finished fitting of the boat by adding the standing and running rig (made of ordinary yarn), the winches are counter sunk bolts and the massive traveler has been made of a stripe of wood. I also added a mainsail and a jib – cutting up a bag from IKEA provided for just the right material. Of course did I added batten for the main sail. The sheets have been adjusted to hold the boat on course at a beam reach, which I thought should be the best point of sail for her.
All Hands ready for Casting Off!
But what´s that all about? There is a nice ceremony in Hamburg: When the navel falls off the newborn child, one has to let it go downriver Elbe with a small boat. As simple as that. Since the first Navel Ship for my first born son did not so well (read here) I was particularly keen on building the perfect Navel Ship this time. The YD-41 seemed just right.
“Shall we take the German national flag or the Hamburg flag?”, I asked my little boy. He´s a proud Hamburgian, so the decision was clear.
“But who´s going to be at the helm when the boat casts off?”, I asked him further. No idea? Well, let´s take a look at the mountains of toys in the children´s room. I would be damned if we couldn´t recruit a brave little figure amongst the Lego- and other play-men who wouldn´t be afraid of steering the ship, would I? In search for the right skipper my son and me spent some minutes crawling through his various containers until he found him: “This is the man! The Red Man!”, he said proud and presented the new skipper of NABELSCHIFF 2, as we christened the boat.
Last, a typical autumn day in Northern Germany. Fog as thick as a solid wall was hovering over town as we stowed the yacht last weekend in our car and drove some 30 kilometers downriver to Brunsbüttel. This is where the Kiel Canal meets the river Elbe and the Elbe does have just a few more miles to the German Bight. “Time to launch the Navel Ship!”, I said and we were all excited.
Launching the YD-41 in River Elbe
She is a proud little boat, I though upon taking a last look at my creation. She bears the colors of my home town of Hamburg: Blue and Red on White. Her sails shining fluorescent when held against the sunlight and the flag waving proud in the wind. Talking of wind: Near perfect conditions: No swell in the river as we reached the Elbe around high tide. Only a very slack breeze. Nice conditions for the small boat. I thought. Placing the navel of my second born child inside the saloon, we greeted the Red Man and wished a happy journey.
Now it was time to let the boat into its element. I went down along a small barrage reaching into the Elbe. The stones were slippery. I wanted to place the boat as far away from the shoreline as possible: Last time the first NABELSCHIFF was thrown back onto the beach immediately. I looked to my son, he waved. Then I let her off into the cold waters.
A small push and the boat went on. I imagined the Red Man waving Goodbye. Before letting her into the water, I checked the direction of the wind and placed her on such a way that her sails – fixed for a beam reach – would be filled instantly by the winds. And it worked!
YD-41´s Maiden Voyage
She accelerated heading for “open water”, meaning the middle of the river. Nicely heeled to leeward I could spot her windward rudder and even a small wake she was producing. We all yelled and I threw my arms up in the air just as if I was the one who just won the Vendeé Globe.
The boat sailed on, 2 meters now from launching point, as I saw the danger: “Steer clear of the cape, Red Man!”, I shouted to the boat. The ship was directly heading towards one of the bigger stones of the levee and I hoped it would not hit it. My son ashore was yelling “Daaaaaddy!!!!” and it was all big fun.
The Red Man at her helm was evidently a seafarer of the best class as he avoided hitting the rock and dashed past the cape. But a new danger arose: Some 4 meters after launching, a sever gust was hitting the sails and began to increase her heeling. As the rudders of NABELSCHIFF 2 are of course fixed as well and the Red Man is just a wooden toy figure, nobody was there to intervene and the catastrophe unfolded …
Without any correction by the rudders the pressure of the wind did not just cause the boat to heel ever more, it cause her to luff. With high speed the boat turned to hard port and shot into the sun, even more, she didn´t stop but began to tack. Oh my!
As she put her bow through the wind the sails came aback immediately: No (real) crew there to ease the sheets it was bound to happen, that the full force of the wind was catched by the wrong side of the sails. One more blow and before she could complete her full circle maneuver she heeled over alarmingly to her other side …
… and then she capsized. “Oh nooo!!!”, I screamed and threw my hands up in horror as her mast splashed into the water, her sails flat wet. My son was going crazy, even my wife was hollering now. As the boat was lying on her freeboard, she couldn´t sink: I´ve filled her hull with foam that would make her unsinkable. The wind could now blow directly to her hull thus making her drift away from the barrage. Now way to reach her, no way for coming to the rescue. The Red Man was lost. The YD-slowly 41 drifted away.
I grabbed my son right away and brought him away from the shore. Sitting down in a Coffee Shop nearby, we had a hot chocolate and a sweet wafer. “Daddy, where´s the Red Man?”, he asked. We told him, that the Red Man was able to finally erect the boat again and set course for the Atlantic Ocean. Later that evening, I read a maritime bedtime story and we recalled the Red Man … our hero, steering the NABELSCHIFF 2, the proud YD-41 into the open ocean.
In the end, we fulfilled the tradition and set the navel of our son adrift in the River Elbe. Though I admit I would have wished the YD-41 model to sail a bit longer (probably 50% more ballast would have made her more stable), I loved seeing the boat in the water and loved building it. You´ve got a freshly born son or daughter recently? A grandson or granddaughter? Well, that´s your turn now to build a nice Navel Ship, as the Hamburgian tradition tells us to.
Interested in the YD-41? Here´s the book review of “Principles of Yacht Design”
All Articles related to Yacht refit can be browsed here
Really great Yacht Building can be seen here: At Luffe Yachts/Denmark