The sea can drive you mad – endless calm, constant headwinds, leaky boats – you name it. Yet the open ocean sometimes appears to offer encouragement to those who think a little bit differently – and some 'mad mariners' even seem to thrive. Here's four of the finest examples.
(1) The transatlantic baking tray
A boat trip from Tampa to London across 7,000 miles of open ocean seems like a hell of an undertaking, but in 2009, when the Brown brothers stepped off their tiny fishing boat at Limehouse Marina in London, they seemed disarmingly unsurprised by their success.
Thousands of experts had said it was impossible and yet in making the trip, via Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland, they had also made history by setting several world records, including the smallest powerboat to cross the Atlantic, the first flats boat to cross the Atlantic and the longest ocean voyage in a flats boat.
In case you don’t know, a flats boat is designed to run with the engine down in less than a foot of water. This particular craft, built by Ralph (an ex-Marine) and Robert Brown in Hudson, Florida, was a tunnel-hulled catamaran filled with closed cell foam, designed to run in just four to six inches of water. Called the ‘Intruder’, it was just 21 feet in length and powered by a single Suzuki 115hp outboard, with a 9.9hp auxiliary engine as an emergency backup. But what really separated this boat from other craft to attempt the trip is the fact that it had no cabin for shelter, no keel for stability, no sail for extra propulsion and no escort or support boat to carry fuel and supplies or to help out in an emergency. It was essentially a lake boat and yet it took on an ocean.
The two men were completely exposed to the elements for the entire voyage. During that time, they survived massive waves from the remnants of two hurricanes, as well as being slammed into rocks by gale force winds. They came close to running out of fuel and they narrowly avoided being ‘run over’ by an iceberg. Despite all the tribulations, they refused to be rescued and, although the boat retained its seaworthiness, the attached equipment fell apart from the incessant impacts of the 7,000-mile crossing. It’s a hell of an achievement and one that may never be equalled.
(2) The ill-fated Ice Boat
Back in the austere and desperate times of World War II, Project Habakkuk was an attempt by ingenious British Naval thinkers to create a ship from ice.
Built from Pykecrete (a mixture of ice and wood pulp), it was designed to overcome the huge shipping losses caused by German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. The idea was that a ship made of ice would be extremely cheap to build. It would make far less dramatic demands on dwindling metal supplies and it could easily be repaired at sea. More to the point, Pykecrete construction was as strong as concrete and would be remarkably resistant to torpedo attack. It was of such interest to Churchill and his staff that they actually began building the prototype. The end of the war in 1945 meant that the finished article never came to fruition but that didn’t stop the presenters of BBC1’s science show ‘Bang Goes the Theory’ attempting a small version of the same feat in 2010.
They attempted to sail an iceboat from Premier’s Gosport Marina across the Solent to Cowes, as a tribute to the original WWII idea. At 16 feet in length and six feet in the beam, the BBC boat was the brainchild of presenter, Jem Stansfield. Constructed from four tonnes of water and one tonne of hemp, it was stored in a freezer for three weeks before being taken to the venue in a lorry. Sadly, in the event, it didn’t really work. Steering issues meant it had to be guided out of the harbour by a workboat - and once underway under its own steam, things got even worse. The boat began to rock uncontrollably, eventually tipping upside down and throwing the presenters into the water. Cue a premature end in Portsmouth Harbour and an early shower for all concerned.
(3) The pioneering pensioner
Swedish pensioner, Sven Yrvind, is a true legend. In addition to designing and building boats, he is also a renowned sailor and writer.
However, his greatest claim to fame is the fact that he sails his own designs across oceans - and not as a foolish young buck full of vim and stupidity but as a 74-year-old man. In 1980, he rounded Cape Horn in the middle of winter in a 20-footer, winning himself recognition from the UK’s Royal Cruising Club. In 2011, he upped the ante by crossing the Atlantic in a 16-footer. And his latest and most astonishing project is to circumnavigate the entire globe in a ten-footer. Yes, you read that correctly, a ten-footer. Apparently, he is content that, although it will pitch and roll and frequently capsize, its hull shape and low centre of gravity will always see it right itself. Meanwhile, he will be contentedly strapped to his bed, engrossed in one of the many books he intends to take with him. By this means he plans to endure the most painful periods of this implausibly ambitious 30,000-mile epic. If it were left to me, every boat builder would be legally required to prove the calibre of his boat by a similar means. Oh just imagine the boats we would see…
(4) The clueless liability
The world is full of cash-strapped and resourceful men who build themselves boats out of everyday household items but few of them ever have the audacity to set sail.
However, one ‘Skipper’ named Stuart Hill (and deservedly nicknamed ‘Captain Calamity’) seems to be leading the way in the maritime annals of wilful incompetence.
This former blacksmith built himself an outboard-powered boat that bore a striking resemblance to a wardrobe. It never looked promising but he set off on a bid to circumnavigate Britain regardless. During this failed attempt, he was responsible for no fewer than seven emergency callouts, before he was finally shipwrecked in the Shetlands. And what did he do next? Raise the alarm? No. Go home and get a proper job? No. Admit embarrassing defeat and lie low for a few years? No. Instead, he attempted to lay claim to the island upon which he had landed by pronouncing himself Head of State. Yes, 'Forvik', an island officially known as Forewick Holm, had apparently broken away from the UK, quit the EU and become a Crown Dependency. It would seem that Captain Calamity’s crew of none is unlikely to expand any time soon…
Everyone likes a bit of 'crazy' in their life, so for starters, here's 6 Crazy Ways to Have Fun on a Boat. Living on the edge can also be fun – probably more so for the spectators than the participants – so don't try this at home: Powerboat Crashes: 10 of the Craziest Boat Moves on Camera. But it's hard to beat the epic fail, so here's one of the harshest we've seen on video: Container Ship Destroys a Marina.