You haven´t heard of the Sailing Conductors yet? In short: Two guys without sailing experience spent four and a half years on their SY MARIANNE circumnavigating the world. So far so good. Having completed their studies in music they recorded various musicians during their stopovers in all the ports from New Zealand to Australia, from India to Madagascar and Africa, from South America up to the north of the American Continent. Returning from their adventurous voyage, they publish a stunning musical compilation of “true world music” since every recorded musician was adding spontaneously a new aspect of music to the existing parts. You love music? You should definitely buy this CD.
One month after making landfall in Germany again I was lucky to meet the two one hour prior to one of their first concerts back home to talk to them. Not so much about their music and future plans (you may browse to YouTube to watch all of the 4 parts of their TV-series “Soundwave2Berlin”) since I was so much more interested in the stories behind their sailing skills, their yacht SY MARIANNE and how the two lubbers without any sailing experience managed to go around the globe on a 30 feet 40 year old nutshell.
“If she wasn´t on James Baldwin´s list I wouldn´t buy her.”
Benjamin Schaschek still wears his onboard-full beard, making his appearance very “ship like” and provoking me to take his skipper-experience for granted. Some 25.000 miles of sailing during the last 4 years let his laughing wrinkles around the striking blue eyes look like I was talking to the “Alte” from “Das Boot.” Benjamin, or Ben, was the one who originally initiated the project.
Lars Reisberg | NO FRILLS SAILING.com: Ben, Hannes. Good to have you two here in the spacious saloon of this Hallberg-Rassy 43 …
Hannes | Sailing Conductors: … at last a ship that does not smell moldly! (laughs)
NFS.com: That´s a good one. Speaking of ships, as you know, I am particularly interested in SY MARIANNE and her story this time. Would you please tell me, how did you search for the right sailing yacht down there in Australia?
Ben | Sailing Conductors: Well I guess I did it the normal way, just like anyone else would do nowadays: I was searching eBay, all the common websites for used boats, like tradingpost.com.au for example, and bought some printed magazines. It took some time but over 2 or 3 weeks I felt to gain more and more oversight.
NFS.com: Which criteria where most important in your search for a suitable yacht?
Ben: That´s a longer story. Do you know James Baldwin? He is a sailing legend, just like Bobby Schenk in the States or Wilfried Erdmann here in Germany. He is maintaining a website called atomvoyages.com from which I was virtually soaking up all information available on sailing, Blue Water sailing especially. One topic – and that made it so interesting for us – was like “sailing around the world without a budget”. I found a list there he compiled: 30 seaworthy used boats under 30 feet. He was describing every type of boat, it´s strengths and weaknesses and gave hints and comments on looking for the right one to buy. If the offered boat in the internet wasn´t on this list, I wouldn´t go for it.
NFS.com: Any other criteria?
Ben: Yes of course – budget was always first point to look at. As you may know, we only had a maximum of 16.000 Euros to spend and I definitely did not want to take money from our other purses meant for the voyage. That was limiting the available boats very much down to only a handful promising ships. Actually there were only two, a ferrocement yacht construction and a yacht made from steel. I´ve had no idea what ferrocement meant but as I was reading into the topic it seamed that this type of construction is a pretty heavy one. Albeit this yacht being of 38 feet – way too big for us. The steel-ship was promising and it would have definitely been the better choice in terms of sailing abilities, agility and speed, but I´ve decided in favor of SY MARIANNE in the end. We´ve had an alternative: Compass 28 is a type very common down under, a well known and proven ship you can easily buy virtually at every corner in every marina.
NFS.com: Why MARIANNE then?
Ben: I wouldn´t call it love at first sight, but she was on James Baldwin´s list of trustworthy Blue Water-ships for the low budget circumnavigator. She was right inside the budget-limits and – considering this low price – very well equipped. In the end, I trusted MARIANNEs pre-owner more than the selling agents all around who were telling me all the time that it was really no problem to sail the world in a 24 feet-nutshell …
“From 30 square meters to just 7. What a shock.”
NFS.com: So, MARIANNE is a year 1976 built Rawson 30-2 by William Gardner from Seattle …
Ben: A Cutter-rigged yacht made for cruising, some 10 meters length over all, offering 1.90 meters standing height. She was powered by a 12 hp Yanmar Diesel engine, had some 150 liters of fresh water and 50 liters of Diesel fuel. We´ve had solar panels, a Raymarine Autopilot ST6001 and LED-lighting all around. Quite a nice ship …
NFS.com: And you, Hannes, what were your thoughts when you saw the boat for the first time?
Hannes: What a shock! I was sitting in her cramped saloon right after arriving in Australia and thought to myself: From my Berlin flat 30 square meters own room to sharing this tiny 7 square meters cave … how the hell can we survive this trip: This is definitely not going to be a holiday-cruise!
Ben: You know, Hannes has booked his flight-ticket well in advance. At a time when I didn´t even had a yacht. Until two weeks before he was arriving in Australia we still hadn´t had a yacht.
Hannes: I remember that the boat was so full of stuff. Our pre-owners had even stuffed the lavatory – a tradition we adopted and never used the onboard toilet – and left a load of equipment, even food and all kind of stuff for us. But it made the small 30 feet vessel appear even tinier. But most of the time was spent in the cockpit and on deck anyway so we didn´t bother too much here.
Ben: Equipment-wise buying MARIANNE was a lucky find indeed: We´ve had two plotters and one third GPS-unit at our disposal, an auto-piloting system – something of a must have when sailing long distances – and a complete stack of safety-equipment like vests, signals and a raft. The stowage was full of oilskin and sailing-clothing, even a load of food still onboard. So yeah, MARIANNE was a lucky grab.
“Experience? Well, I booked an online-class in sailing.”
NFS.com: Watching the TV-series I´ve learned that you both hadn´t had any experience with sailing or yachting when you were casting off. Is that just a marketing-joke and part of the Sailing Conductor´s legend or for real?
Hannes: Concerning myself, it´s definitely real. I´ve never set foot on a sailing boat before …
Ben: Yes, Hannes was a bit reluctant at first, big respect for the sea, the waves and all the ropes, but he caught up and learned fast. For myself, I would say that I was a lubber as well though I was sailing yawls with my dad back in my kid´s years. My brother and father both own yachtmaster´s degrees and went to sail when I was a little child – so I´m quite familiar with sailing in theory, how sails work and so on. I know all the names like what is a close hauled course, what is a downwind and so on. But I didn´t had any experience on “big” boats or offshore sailing.
Hannes: … but what about your online class?
Ben: Oh yeah, my online class. Nobody failed. We even had two day with practical sailing: One day in a calm with engine, the second day we went fishing. Australia … (laughs)
NFS.com: Honestly, I find it remarkable – to choose a rather neutral word – to set off for a voyage that long over Blue Waters, whole oceans without any experience at all …
Ben: It is indeed. But to state it more blatant: In the end I must say sailing wasn´t that demanding. Due to the fact that we used to sail with auto-pilot we couldn´t set all the canvas we could have. The auto-pilot wouldn´t work under much canvas so most of the time we made barely 5 knots. The fastest over ground speed I do remember was 6 or 7 knots in a gale without any sails set. If you catch the trade-winds you set jib and mainsail as butterfly and that´s pretty much it. MARIANNE is a very forgiving ship. I think that´s because she is a long keel boat.
Hannes: … you could characterize her sailing abilities as sedated …
“What we feared most was … landing at pierside.”
NFS.com: So, if sailing wasn´t that hard, what was?
Ben: Landing! Landing was the hardest part of it all. You see, when we bought MARIANNE and outfitted her for the voyage, we never landed before. We never practiced it. And after 5 or 6 weeks of constant sailing, no stress, no schedules, no hustle, you come near a marina or harbor, that´s exciting! Seeing all the other yachts, the people staring at you. It was always a pretty nappy situation to hit the quayside in the right angle at the right speed.
Ben: I´ve had these pictures in my head of what it would be like to sail around the world. Pictures you mentioned: Gales, monstrous waves and this never ending vastness of deep deep hostile water beneath our keel. It can be frightening sometimes. But in the end after some days onboard and after making the first dozen of miles under sail I gained a lot of confidence in MARIANNE. We´ve never had a feeling of something bad might happen or bad luck would strike. Really, never.
“Jimmy Cornell was our Bible.”
NFS.com: What about the weather. Did you use any forecasting-software or internet or -connection?
Ben: Oh no, nothing like that. I did it the classic way I would say: Jimmy Cornell´s “Sailing Routes” and his advice on when to cast off and where better not to sail have been our Bible. You quickly learn to “read” waves and clouds as well, you feel bad weather coming when temperatures drop or certain pattern begin to change. But following Cornell´s advice and of course asking people in the harbors and checking forecasts there before casting off was really a no-brainer since we didn´t had to fight our way through too many gales or low-pressure systems. We´ve had good weather pretty much all the way down to America. We rarely used SSB and Navtex but we regularly received weather-updates from a friend of us back here in Germany via satellite phone.
Ben: Well, it wasn´t like sunny and warm all the time I must I add. There were some pretty uncomfortable situations regarding waves and swell. Sometimes I was thanking James Baldwin and his recommendations on offshore yachts – Thanks for advising us to choose at least 28 feet. I guess with a smaller boat the whole trip would have been a lot more thrilling.
“That’s why ships have female names. They are not as ordinary as a car.”
NFS.com: What was the most beautiful, the nicest or most elevating moment whilst offshore?
Hannes: I really do not have to think very much about that because there is this one particular moment that burned itself into my mind forever … it´s the very situation some minutes after casting off all lines and leaving port when you set the sails, the boat is slowly laying to it´s leeward side and wind starts propelling the ship, you turn off the engine and the whole thing comes back to live again. The waves, the sound of the windflow … it´s mindblowing for real!
Ben: I am absolutely with Hannes. In port a ship is dead. No movement, tied up to the pier. No freedom. But roaming about on the waves of the oceans it really lives. Then, in these moments, you feel that ships are living things with a soul. You suddenly understand why ships have female names, why seafarers love their vessels and why a ship is different from such an ordinary thing like a profane car.
Hannes: Best thing about this is that you can experience this deep reaching feeling of joy almost every time you cast off and leave a port.
“Navigating Torre Strait by night? No problem.”
NFS.com: Sailing 25.000 miles requires some navigational skills as well. How did you cope with that?
Ben: That´s an easy one too. As I mentioned before, we´ve had two modern plotters and one handheld GPS, already equipped with most of the electronic charts we needed. We bought the additional charts as well and I must say there was nothing special about it. It´s pretty easy though to navigate and hit the right course anytime and in any situation.
Hannes: Even for me as the more unexperienced, after two days working with the plotters it felt like driving my car GPS assisted through an unknown town.
Ben: We did stay cool. Navigating this … how is it called? Torres Strait? At night, it really was a no-brainer: We just kept a close eye on the plotter and that was pretty much it.
NFS.com: So I assume you never kept a log or dead reckoning, even kept your GPS-positions on printed charts then?
Ben: No, nothing like that. We didn´t even have a full set of charts for our trip. I know that GPS-units can fail, due to breakdown, software-failure or just water or stuff, but to be honest we were a bit lazy on that one and didn´t spent too much time worrying about good seamanship – man, we are musicians …
By the way: You may be interested in an article on good seamanship and the question what makes a good skipper? Click here
“Pirates? We´ve had some Molotov Cocktails ready to fire up.”
NFS.com: Speaking of the Torres Strait as a well known hazard to sailors – what was the most terrifying moment, the most dangerous thing you´ve experienced during your voyage?
Hannes: Wasn´t it right there in the Torres Strait, Ben?
Ben: Oh, yeah I do remember. Well, it was dark, we steered right outside the narrow channel thus trying to prevent too risky maneuvers and situations, when a tanker was up there right in front of us on collision course. I remembered that if you can see both position lights – red and green – that you´d have a problem soon. And indeed, a steady bearing did not change for an hour or so, the ship came up nearer and nearer. It was a pretty close near-miss …
Hannes: … when the tanker passed within 20 or so meters, I had to lay back my head completely to look up. I could see people on the bridge far above us. No sign of them having noticed us. That was a pretty terrifying situation.
NFS.com: Retracing your route I notice you´ve crossed the notorious Strait of Malacca …
Ben: … oh, you are referring to pirates? Well, yes, that was an issue.
Hannes: To be honest, I was afraid of piracy virtually all the time. Not only in the Malacca Strait but mostly in Asia because a lot of people warned us. I was getting nervous seeing various fishing boats or speed-boats whirling around there. Sometimes this indifferent fear grew to sheer panic, we even prepared Molotov-Cocktails ready to be fired and found it not so awakward anymore having found a cosh for self-defense onboard. Well, a rather desperate measure for sure … When we reached South America and found that there was really nothing about this great fuzz, we got rid of the Molotovs. But reaching Venezuela we´ve had our near-robbery: A fishing boat was right on our trail, reducing distance. We started the engine that – thank God! – was working and tried to speed away, but couldn´t. I went under deck to wake up Ben – and remained there while he went into the cockpit. Our luck was old shabby looking MARIANNE: Those people seem to realize that there really wasn´t anything but their own risk in the pot and turned away. Lucky us!
Ben: Sad thing is that we heard that on this very day on our very position an American sailing yacht on its way from Trinidad to Venezuela was robbed, the couple had guns at point blank. Not funny.
“Like a shaggy dog from the animal shelter.”
NFS.com: But as we all can see, MARIANNE brought you two safely to the United States and furthermore back to Germany. So where is MARIANNE now?
Hannes: She´s on dry land in Teltow near Berlin. We will take her to the boot-fair in Dusseldorf in January to add a little spice to our show there.
NFS.com: Will you sail with MARIANNE again and what are the upcoming events, any plans to talk about?
Hannes: Given the fact that we have just returned from our world trip one month ago we actually don´t have any plans for another sailing trip in the near future. To be honest, if there is somebody willing to take care of MARIANNE and bringing her back into the water we would sell her. But not to everyone. She is like a shaggy dog from the animal shelter: A bit greasy, worn out and well beyond her best times but we really love her and want her to spend the rest of her life under the command of a true, warm-hearted sailor.
Ben: Speaking of plans: We bought an old American school bus that is on its way over here to Germany right now. We want to stage our Tour Bus with it, equip it and go on tour with our music. We even have plans to unite – hopefully – as much of the musicians as we can motivate we recorded over the years. Seeing them playing together in real life will be mind-blowing for sure! But sailing, well, no plans yet.
Ben, Hannes – thank you for your time answering all my questions. I hope that the Sailing Conductors-Project will grow and your second Album (you may browse to their first album here) will hit the charts. All the best for you guys – I am sure we´re going to have much more fun with you in the future.
You are interested in another story of sailing newbies? Here´s an article of three friends trying to half circumnavigate the earth with a King´s Cruiser 33.
Pictures with kind permission of the SAILING CONDUCTORS and Interview-Pictures Copyright 2015 by Lars Reisberg