EXTRAORDINARY BOATS
Yachting World|April 2021
HELEN FRETTER ON JZERRO
HELEN FRETTER
Jzerro is a Russell Brown-designed proa, which is being prepared for a 14,000-mile record bid from New York to San Francisco

The great Californian Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s saw over a quarter of a million people follow the sun to the west of the United States, each dreaming of making their fortunes.

The ‘49ers’, as the early migrants in the first wave of 1849 were known, mostly travelled by ship, sailing from New York to San Francisco westabout around Cape Horn. It was an arduous and dangerous journey, but over 500 vessels – from majestic clipper ships to hastily converted whaling boats – made the voyage in 1849 alone.

The route is as much a part of the American maritime heritage as the clipper tea routes are a part of Britain’s. The benchmark fastest sailing between the two cities was set by the 225ft three-masted clipper Flying Cloud, which sailed around in 89 days 8 hours in 1854, a time that was unbeaten for 135 years. Since then over 200 record attempts have been made, in everything from trimarans to maxis, yet it has never been attempted in a single-handed proa. American sailor Ryan Finn is bidding to be the first to do so, solo and non-stop.

PACIFIC PROAS

Proas have been around since curious island dwellers first strung cloth atop a dug-out canoe, with early versions developed by Austronesian sailors for exploring the unknown southern seas of the Indo-Pacific some 7,000 years ago.

Made up of a single hull and second ama, they are light and fast, and simple to construct. Devotees of modern incarnations of the proa praise them for their speed under minimal sail area and their ability to absorb waves with less slamming and uneven loading than a conventional catamaran. On a close reach, Jzerro can easily pass boatspeeds of 17-18 knots.

However, the geometry of a Pacific proa (ie with a small ama to windward) does present its challenges. In order to be able to sail with the ama to windward on both port and starboard tacks, a proa must be symmetrical both fore and aft with two ‘bows’, two lifting rudders, and a rotating mast.

On a boat the size of Jzerro, which is 36ft long, accommodation and stowage is severely limited by the single hull, and cockpit protection almost nonexistent. Attempting to sail a proa around Cape Horn, against the prevailing winds, is an extreme challenge.

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