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Owen Clarke Design have a long history and experience associated with sailing, exploration and adventure in high latitudes. This includes our designers having rounded Cape Horn several times, as well as undertaken expedition sailing in West and East Greenland under both sail and motor. This background helps us to understand and relate to the requirements of our clients as we work with them to design their ultimate custom motor or sailing explorer yacht. Whether you are experienced professionals with a large cruising yacht project or corinthian sailors dipping your toe into blue water and/or polar sailing for the first time you will find the same welcome and enthusiasm for yachts designed to explore the oceans and/or those special places that lie above 60 North and South.

This is Qilak, a 20m lifting keel explorer yacht by Owen Clarke Design. She was created for cruising from the Arctic to the Antarctic in one season to take part in high latitude expedition sailing in places like the Svalbard.

Not every yacht can operate safely in challenging environments, be it heavy weather sailing in mid-ocean, or among ice and the poorly charted shores of the polar regions. OC understand the limitations and capabilities of vessels we design because we are experienced sailors and naval architects; practice combined with theory. Naval Architecture is the science behind the art of yacht design. It underpins the vessel’s safety and performance. It informs all the primary design and engineering conditions but it also has to be steered by practical experience and judgement. While to a certain extent some of this experience is underwritten in the regulations and rules we are required to follow, a good deal and everything that isn’t written comes from time on the water, not from a desk or computer.

This design is the sailing explorer yacht Qilak at anchor in the Svalbard Archipelago. Svalbard and the Arctic is the coming destination for superyacht owners who want a remote challenging cruising ground to themselves, a place where they can take part in a private expedition that is not on the other side of the world.

Creating a custom explorer or if you prefer the term, expedition yacht, for operation in high latitudes is a complex process. With one hand we must fully satisfy the client’s goals for the vessel whilst with the other use naval architecture to deliver the right results in terms of intact and damage stability, performance, sailplan and/or powering, fuel capacity, electrical power requirements, manoeuvrability and of course statutory requirements. The list of bodies and rules that have to be considered is long and usually includes; MARPOL, Flag State, Certifying Authority, ISO and CE. For commercial yachts often MGN 280, with additional stability allowing for ice accretion for high latitude operation and other specialist requirements laid down in the IMO’s Polar Code.

This graphic shows the results of a stability analysis for a 25m sailing expedition yacht that complies with MGN 280 requirements for ice accretion to standards laid out in the Polar Code. Owen Clarke design are consultant naval architects with experience of designing and advising on sailing expedition and motor explorer yachts going to the Arctic and the Antarctic.

As experienced Naval Architects, our background is in developing all types of craft from first principles. In this we are experts. However, we rarely design and engineer without some form of oversight or review. For explorer and expedition new designs and refit OC consult with as well as bringing our own team’s and that of the client’s experience to bare. While this combination of naval architects, ice piloting, superyacht captain, living and operating vessels in polar waters isn’t necessarily unique it probably is in a small motivated team, such as we are. For more information contact: OC CRUISING.

To access the sub-menu of yacht designs in this category: From the main menu above select; Custom Yachts and then; Explorer Yacht Design.

Photograph of Ashley Perrin, founder of Antarctic Ice Pilot, a yacht and superyacht services company that provides support for private and science expedition, adventure and sailing in the Antarctic and South Georgia.

A brief introduction to high latitude cruising grounds and sources of information.

by OC naval architect and former professional skipper, Merfyn Owen. Recipient of the Cruising Club of America's 2024 Royal Cruising Club Trophy.

There must be only a handful of yacht designers with experience of both high latitude cruising and heavy weather sailing in the Southern Ocean. Merfyn Owen of Owen Clarke Design has done both, rounding Cape Horn twice and sailed above both 60 North and 60 South.

The Arctic is defined as the area within the Arctic Circle, approximately 66 deg. 34’ north of the Equator. While the center is a frozen sea, the Arctic basin’s coastline encompasses the northern parts of Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Scandinavia and includes islands such as Jan Mayen, Bear Is. and the cruising grounds of the Svalbard Archipelago. The last vestiges of the Gulf Stream keep the waters around the West of Svalbard open for cruising for much of the year and the landscape is dominated by fjords, tundra and mountains up to 1700m. For those looking for adventure there is plenty to do using your explorer yacht as a base for expeditions ashore. For photographic expeditions there’s the aurora borealis, stunning vistas, an abundance of wildlife including of course Polar Bears. Visitors must heed advice on local requirements and two good sources for these are the IMO Polar Code and the AECO Yacht Guidelines for the Arctic. For more entertaining and informative introduction to high latitude polar cruising we recommend among others; the writing of the great W H Tilman, who explored Greenland and Svalbard in his Bristol Pilot Cutter, Mischief. Which, sadly he lost to ice in the same waters. Possibly relevant, one of his famous quotes: “any worthwhile expedition can be planned on the back of an envelope.” Not how we suggest to sail, climb and explore the area these days.

Credit: Secret Atlas

This is the Owen Clarke ice strengthened sailing explorer and charter yacht Qilak cruising the Svalbard Archipelago in the Arctic

While Svalbard is readily navigable and a good introduction to high latitude cruising, the east coast of Greenland is another level of challenge. Above the Arctic Circle it is only accessible for a short period of time in the Summer and is not necessarily possible every year. The cold coastal current brings ice down from the Arctic Sea and in late July sea ice often extends more than thirty miles into the Denmark Strait. One of the prime destinations is Kangerlussuaq Fjord , only two days motoring from West Iceland, located halfway between Scoresby Sound and Sermilik Fjord. It is the second largest fjord in East Greenland but remains almost completely uncharted. As one crosses the strait there are almost no charted depths, a few lines on the charts where surveys, some very old have been made. It’s true adventure, you are on your own and a long way from help and civilisation. The scenery is magnificent and while the Lemon Mountains to the east have peaks that have been climbed, the entire range to the west is un-named still! Ashore there are no maps and the best information available were aerial photographs which we overlaid onto charts of the coast. With care one can attempt this with a glass fibre hull, such as Skycatcher, our old race boat. An aluminium hull might make one more daring, but yes, less cautious. South there are a vast number of fjords where there is less ice left to be explored.

This photograph of ice flows off East Greenland above the Arctic Circle, was taken by yacht designer Merfyn Owen during an expedition in 2004. As part of Owen Clarke Design, he now helps design ice strengthened yachts which also allow for ice accretion in high latitudes

While the east could be said to be somewhat challenging for a glass fibre composite boat, the west of Greenland is an entirely different matter. Rounding Southern Greenland or making passage from Newfoundland needs to be done with care as even in Summer this latitude is directly in the path of Atlantic lows. Once above Nunarsuit Is. at 60N for the most part conditions improve although we were caught in a 50kt + storm in the same area last year. A well-found boat is both necessary on this coast and to transit the North Atlantic at any time. Inshore is mostly ice free, except around the exit of fjords fed by glaciers. Unlike the east, this coast is populated with the occasional small permanent or Summer settlement. Yachts with shallow draft or a lifting keel can motor for the 200 miles of predominantly sheltered inshore passage through the outer islands to Nuuk. Seamanship still has to be of a high order, although the Danish Hydrographer’s charts appear modern, GPS co-ordinates are unreliable, reefs are charted out of position or are simply not on the chart. It’s not the comfortable cruising of Maine, Scotland or Norway, but it is rewarding. The scenery and fauna are even more spectacular. We arrived from St Anthony, Newfoundland in our 30’ sloop Santana, confident in our ability to adjust our plan day by day. Use the RCCPF as a source of information for good pre-planning.

A photograph of yacht Santana in a fjord the morning after arriving in a 60 knot storm off south west Greenland in 2019.  The yacht had been sailed double-handed from Newfoundland by Ashley Perrin and Merfyn Owen at the start of a private adventure expedition to Greenland and the Arctic. West Greenland is an amazing cruising destination in its own right, as well as the start or end of yachts making the North West Passage.

The Northwest Passage is one of the longest, most challenging and in parts some say the most monotonous of journeys that a smaller yacht can make due to the distances involved. If you manage the passage by small craft you will join what is still a very short list of people to achieved the feat. The passage was first completed by the legendary Roald Amundsen in 1906. Many dozens of navigators and explorers failed before him in their pursuit of a new trade route between the east and west; Cabot, Hudson and of course Franklin’s expedition of 1845, to name a few. Even now, the route cannot be traversed some years, most recently in 2018 a yacht that had been advised by Canadian Coastguard not to persist had to be abandoned. There is not one passage, since the ice conditions around the various islands differ from week to week and weather is of course a dominant factor. For the larger, better equipped vessels there is real time data courtesy of the Canadian Ice Service . Traversing from east to west, Cambridge Bay on Victoria Is. will likely be the last ‘large’ port of call. After this it is remote, often there will not be another Inuit settlement, vessel, or any human beings for hundreds of miles. If you’re looking for beauty, solitude, remoteness and thrive on self-reliance then it will be all of that; a very long passage that truly will take a good deal of planning. The most recent (not a pilot) guide to the history and region is Tony Soper’s 2019 book, North West Passage: Atlantic to Pacific.

There must be only a handful of yacht designers with experience of both high latitude cruising and heavy weather sailing in the Southern Ocean. Merfyn Owen of Owen Clarke Design has done both, rounding Cape Horn twice and sailed above both 60 North and 60 South.

Antarctica is very different from the Arctic, it is land mass, a continent in its own right, surrounded by the Southern Ocean. The vast majority of yachts that visit do so by crossing Drakes Passage from the South American ports of Puerto Williams (Chile) or Ushuia (Argentina) to the South Shetland Islands, a distance of 700 miles. Whatever time of year, weather can delay departure crossing ‘Drakes’ in either direction and that has to be allowed for. Depending on the length of the vessel, from the smallest yacht to the largest superyacht there is always the likelihood that for at least some part of the journey you will encounter a Southern Ocean depression. An understanding of weather systems, good preparation of the vessel and experience of heavy weather sailing is essential. It’s not a place to practice for the first time. My second rounding of Cape Horn was as skipper in the BT Global Challenge sailing from east to west. As we neared the Cape, I recall I said I’d be back to cross Drakes and cruise south but I'll never be as experienced as my wife Ashley, who spent three seasons as the boating officer for the British Antarctic Survey, living in the region. Ash now runs Antarctic Ice Pilot and Arctic Ice Pilot, an invaluable source of information of how and where to go, as well as providing pilotage and expedition support as well as new build and refit consultancy for private and commercial yachts that plan to explore the polar regions. As in the north the Polar Code applies and a sister organisation to AECO, IAATO publishes guidelines for yachts visiting south of 60S.

The Antarctic is the ultimate cruising yacht adventure available to yacht and superyacht owners. To explore and enjoy polar areas, north and south to their greatest extent a motor or sailing explorer expedition yacht design, particularly for smaller sailboats is essential.

Sailing around the 800 islands that make up the Falklands is not dangerous, but it is an adventure, rarely attempted by yachtsmen. Which, is a pity because the wildlife is stunning, more so than Antarctica and the scenery quite different, not dissimilar to the Western Isles of Scotland. Many of the yachts that put into the main harbour, Port Stanley are coming or going from Antarctica or Patagonia and consider it only as a transit point with good air communications to the UK and South America. This makes it even more attractive, at least to me; it is the road less trod with Bays, quiet anchorages, great hiking and diving. While some famous yachtsmen and women have sailed the islands since, the best pilotage guide remains one from 1983 by then Royal Marine Major, Ewen Southby Tailyour. The hand drawn charts and information found in Falkland Island Shores formed the basis of British landing plans during the 82’ Falklands War and can be your inspiration to discover this amazing cruising ground. The islands are home to the Black Browed Albatross, countless sea birds, sea lions, seals and five species of penguin, including the King. Almost all land outside of the well protected harbour at Stanley is privately owned farm or moor land that can be visited by prior arrangement. Locals are friendly and knowledgeable regarding local flora, fauna and history of the islands. Most are descendants of original settlers. It’s not just a stopping off point, it’s a little known or appreciated gem.

A photograph of a yacht at anchor in the Falkland Islands being piloted by Ashley Perrin of Antarctic Ice Pilot. AIP run cruising yacht adventures and shoreside expeditions to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands.

This is the jewel in the crown of the Antarctic region, partly because of its remoteness as there is only one way to get there, 800 miles by sea. South Georgia is a territory with its own government , but effectively administered by the UK. The permanent population are centred predominantly around the small BAS base in Grytviken, where Ashley lived for a year and we were married. All yachts require a visitor’s permit before setting out and visits by commercial charter yachts must be organised and run by a member of IAATO. Those visiting early and late in the season are required to ‘buddy up’ with another yacht and permits are refused if the vessel is technically deficient or the crew inexperienced. Hiring an experienced professional known to the South Georgia Government is an avenue by which private explorer yachts can get to visit. Once there they’ll find a mountainous island with stunning bays, beaches and glaciers that run to the sea. Incredibly rich in wildlife, more so than anywhere in the south. The surrounding waters are one of the world’s largest protected marine reserves and “in respect to species, marine inhabitant’s endemic to this ecosystem outnumber and (in respect to biodiversity) surpass better known regions such as the Galapagos”. I have not sailed there but spent 10 days on the coast exploring by ship and I will return in a yacht. I love the history, it’s association with Shackleton and the age of exploration. It is rugged, beautiful, very challenging and then after all that one gets to sail back upwind in the Southern Ocean or east to Cape Town, what’s not to like?

South Georgia is the jewel in the crown for a cruising yacht adventure in the polar regions for small yachts and superyachts alike. To explore and enjoy polar areas, north and south to their greatest extent a motor or sailing explorer expedition yacht design.

Some of the most remote yet achievable sailing anywhere can be found in Southern Chile. There are over a thousand miles of epic cruising, as with West Greenland, most of it possible inside the relatively sheltered waters of an offshore chain of islands. There are snow-covered volcanoes in the north and south, tall granite mountains with glaciers that run to the sea in Torres Del Paine National Park Around the corner, deep in the latitudes of the Southern Ocean are the islands and protected waters of Tierra del Fuego, jumping off ground for the Antarctic Peninsula. As with the Falkland Islands, especially for large yachts and superyachts, the Patagonian ‘canals’ are often seen by owners as only a region to transit, rather than a destination in themselves. For the crews of smaller sailboats, they have no choice but to slow down and take in the majesty of the trip, especially if they’re travelling from south to north against the prevailing winds. The Chilean and Argentinean sides of Patagonia are quite different. Argentina, to the east of the Andes is mostly flat and accessible by land. Chile’s side is a maze of fjords, high mountains, lagoons, rivers and hundreds of islands. There are no roads from north to south, the only access is by the sea or air and one result of this is that the locals are very happy to meet the resourceful ‘tourist’ travelling by boat. Yachts preparing to leave will normally start south from the bustling city of Puerto Montt, while the best jumping off place for those intrepid enough to make the journey north will be from anchor off the windiest city in the world, Punta Arenas.

A photograph of a superyacht sailing through the canals being piloted by Ashley Perrin of Antarctic Ice Pilot. AIP run cruising yacht adventure and shoreside expeditions to Patagonia and Chile.

To access the sub-menu of yacht designs in this category: From the main menu above select; Custom Yachts and then; Explorer Yacht Design.

For more information contact: OC CRUISING

For an explanation of the technology behind the design process go to: NAVAL ARCHITECTURE

For an insight into our engineering and detailed design work go to: ENGINEERING

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