At 72, Swede Sven Yrvind could be spending his retirement reading about the great navigators. Instead he’s building a 10-foot centerboard sailboat that he plans to sail around the world so he can join them.
“No one has ever done it on a boat this small before,” says Yrvind, a veteran small-boat designer and sailor who just completed a voyage from Ireland to the Caribbean in a 15-foot sailboat, Yrvind.com — the name of his website. “This is all new territory” — a first, he says.
Yrvind is designing a 10-foot centerboard boat with a carbon-fiber mast and hatches and a prepreg fiberglass and Divinycell-core hull. Marstrom Composite AB, a Swedish company that specializes in building boats and masts in carbon, is a sponsor. “It will have no self-steering,” he says, arguing that the boat will be so well-balanced that he will be able to trim the sails and lock the rudder, and the boat will hold its course. “That makes boating simple. There’s nothing to break.”
Yrvind isn’t ready to sit home all day and watch television. It’s boring. “I’m a problem solver,” he says. “That’s what makes life interesting. For me, sailing around the world in a 10-foot boat is an interesting problem. And I can afford to do it.”
He has the time, and he draws a modest $600-a-month pension to support himself while he pursues his dream. “I’ll do it as fast as I can, but I have small resources,” he says. He is not ready to say when the boat will be finished or when he will start his circumnavigation.
Yrvind says the idea of a small-boat circumnavigation caught his fancy five years ago when a U.K.-based group, the Around in Ten Challenge, called for a band of handy and hardy sailors to design and build 10-foot boats to sail around the world (www.around inten.com). The challenge stirred the blood of a lot of dreamers, but no one has taken it from dream to reality. Yrvind thinks he can. He built his first boat, Bris I, in his mother’s cellar in 1971-72. Its size — 19 feet with a 5-foot, 8-inch beam — was determined by the cellar door it had to fit through when he finished it. He sailed that boat from Tristan da Cunha to St. Helena in June 1974.
Yrvind sailed Bris II, a home-built 19-foot aluminum boat, around Cape Horn in June 1980, earning the Royal Cruising Club medal for seamanship that year. Three times during the four months he cruised the Falkland Islands the wind reached 100 knots, demonstrating, he says, the durability and seaworthiness of his small-boat designs. Yrvind.com, his fourth home-built boat — a third one turned out too small and slow for cold-water sailing — took him from Ireland to Martinique.
Yrvind says he prefers small boats to big ones. “When you make them smaller, they are stronger — and they are simpler to sail,” he says. “I would be scared to go out in a big boat.”
“Big boats are more dangerous than small ones,” he writes on his blog at www.yrvind.com. “The speed is higher. The forces are dangerously big. The machinery is more complex. That makes failure more likely. More and heavier things are thrown around when a big boat is capsizing. The distances you fall on a big boat are longer and a fall hurts you more. A fall overboard may even be fatal. Even the lifelines on a big boat are dangerous. The reason it is so dangerous to fall overboard is [the lifelines] have to be short to keep you inboard, on deck, but when the boat capsizes the short lines trap you under the boat and you drown. On my small boat, I keep my lifeline long. If I should fall overboard, the boat stops because the sail area is so small that the boat cannot drag me through the water. It is also very easy to climb back aboard.”
He also enjoys sailing solo. “In our modern age we are overstimulated,” he says — by loud, thumping music; by 24-hour-a-day TV; and by drugs, coffee and alcohol. “Everything is too much. Out there [in the ocean] is silence. But there also are animals. Bored? I don’t think so. There’s a lot going on at sea.”
He navigates. He observes the wind and waves. He watches birds and marine life. He reads books. He thinks. He solves problems. There are always problems to solve when you’re in a small boat on a big sea. “I never get bored at sea,” he says.
Yrvind says he was born on a small island on the North Sea. His father and grandfather were merchant mariners. Yrvind studied mathematics in college from 1962 to 1966, and it honed his problem-solving skills and helped him in his boat designs. “There is nothing that makes me so happy as to solve problems,” he says.
He’ll have many problems to solve as he plans and then strives to complete a circumnavigation in a sailboat not much bigger than a bathtub.
This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue.