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An Interview with one of the worlds great voyageurs of today…

Henk de Velde

Although many have, it's still quite possible that you've not personally heard of Explorer/Adventurer Henk de Velde.

If not, then here is an opportunity to read about his amazing voyages that spread over the last 30+ years of extensive solo cruising at sea … something that is still on-going. Henk is clearly a very articulate individual who also lives close to nature while appreciating the beautiful things this world has to offer, and his periodic dispatches that are regularly posted at permit us to share his approach to life, the arts and the world, through his travels and adventures.

In line with the quasi-technical nature of this website, readers should be particularly interested in the fact that he has covered thousands of nautical miles in boats of all 3 basic types, monohull, catamaran and trimaran, so I realized his experience and thoughts on this could make very interesting and informative reading.

So while he was cruising down the Pacific West coast of the United States, I took the opportunity to ask him some questions about this and Henk graciously accepted to answer them. Below, you will find his interesting and generous responses.

But before reading on, I'd suggest you first read a brief about his trips to date …. so check this out and once through, just click on PREVIOUS to return here.

Translated from: "Henk de Velde, solo zeiler en poolreiziger".

Assuming you are now back and with a greater appreciation of just who Henk de Velde is, let's now list the boats in which Henk has repeatedly circumnavigated the globe — their names, size, type and the period during which he sailed in them:

  1. OROWA — homebuilt 46' Wharram catamaran. 1978-1985
  2. ALISUN — J&B 60' (ex BRITISH AIRWAYS) catamaran. 1989
  3. ZEEMAN — 60' catamaran 1992–3
  4. C1000 — 71' catamaran. This was the rebuilt and lengthened ZEEMAN, (by Rhebergen of Amsterdam) Year 1996
  5. CAMPINA — Length 57' — boat type; hard chine steel monohull Year 2001–2004 (Arctic trip)
  6. JUNIPER — Tri 52' purchased 2006, left Holland 2007. Travelled approximately 40,000 miles since 2007 (roughly 1000 miles per month).

Before we get to the interview, here are some pictures of these boats.





…………… and now to JUNIPER and the interview, May 13, 2011

This is one of the original 'Flying Proas' seen here (along with JUNIPER) at the
Puluwat atoll in Micronesia — first reported on by explorer Magellan in the 1500's.
(This particular boat recently sailed 450 miles to Guam !)

See for more info on these intriguing boats.

An Interview with Henk de Velde — May 2011

…………while he was aboard JUNIPER in San Diego.

MW: Greetings Henk. First may I say this is a personal honour, and on behalf of my readers I sincerely thank you for doing this. So how old were you when you bought OROWA and what brought you to first choose a Wharram cat to cruise the globe?
HdeV: It was 1974 and I was 25 years of age. While looking for an ocean cruising sailing vessel I could not find one for the money I had. When I saw an advertisement of an almost finished 46-ft, Polynesian, catamaran, I thought that must be a Wharram and I went to England to have a look. So a lack of money initially made me buy OROWA. When I saw her, I knew it was the right boat. In 1978 we departed for a world cruise.

MW: I see you sailed OROWA for about 7 years. In hindsight, and with your present experience in more hi-tech craft, how would you rate the Wharram for performance and seaworthiness? Could in fact, you still enjoy to cruise that boat again? Perhaps you'd like to touch on what you really liked or disliked?
HdeV: I owned her for 12 years. The circumnavigation took 7 years. She was well built and there is nothing wrong with a well built Wharram. There are too many modifications done by people who did not trust the way they were designed. She is not an performance boat. She goes just 60 degrees to windward. But she took me (us) 50,000 miles around the world by sail. The only engine was a 25 hp outboard with one 5-gallon fuel tank. We visited 65 countries and a 1000 islands. What do I want more?
Sure, I later got used to better performance boats. But I have always said; 'in case I run out of money, I can always go back to a Wharram'. But Wharrams are not so low priced boats anymore. The old cheap ones are gone and any good boat is costly.
I liked my OROWA, we were young and 'sailing the world' together.
OROWA is still afloat and sailing in Aruba after being re-glassed with epoxy.

MW: What do you think was the main reason for your near disaster in that major storm, that ultimately led to you sailing home alone?
HdeV: I would not quite call it a near disaster. Cyclone Oscar had 120 knots of wind and the boat did exactly what Wharram predicted; the bulwarks were washed away, the deck got loose but "the raft" stayed in one piece.
The repair work in Diego Garcia took less than a week. American marines built a new beam (laminated with local wood) and we sailed again.

MW: After moving on from the comparatively primitive Wharram to a modern catamaran with the reputation and racing performance of BRITISH AIRWAYS, what were the aspects of design and performance that contrasted most and were there any negative issues that offset the positive ones?
HdeV: I liked BRITISH AIRWAYS. Robin Knox-Johnston had owned her. She was called "the truck of the ocean" compared with the French (lighter) cats. She was built to go around Cape Horn … but in 1988 we capsized her in windy but not really stormy conditions in the English Channel. Sadly though, one of my crew drowned.
The boat was recovered and repaired and I set off for a nonstop.
In the Indian Ocean the bridge deck was blown out by waves. Temporarily (well for 3500 nm !) I had to stand on a few lashed pipes in cockpit area! (see photo above for ALISUN). Repaired in Bluff, New Zealand—the Wharram way—with slats instead of a closed deck. So the main negative was the vulnerable bridgedeck surface … with speeds of 20–25 knots, the sea struck underneath this deck with great force.

MW: It appears that you changed to another catamaran (ALISUN) and then went on to have that boat lengthened, all in a relatively short period of time. What drove your desire to change boats and why the lengthening when you already had 60 ft of catamaran to manage single-handed?
HdeV: ALISUN was my own choice. Although sponsored, it was a low budget plan compared with the French. We had to build a 60 ft performance racer for a certain amount. I chose that design (by Köhler) after I saw the preliminary drawings.
But there was not enough buoyancy in the bows. She dug her bows in and I had to reduce sail; otherwise the short rudders came above the water.
So I spoke with Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston after their circumnavigating with Enza and they had done the same … lengthened with lots of buoyancy forward. For C1000, that extra buoyancy, deeper rudders and a 90 ft carbon fibre mast made all the difference.
I am the only one in Holland who always finds sponsors. But the budget was much smaller than is typical in France, and every time I had only one chance. You win or you lose. Not like in France where they often get 3 chances even after a breakage or loss. So there's always 'the next time', again and again.
If I had had the chance to go with C1000 again I felt confident I could have taken the record. After such a long voyage, you know when you have the right boat. My best day was 420 miles in 24 hours (17.5 kn average). I only lost time once, back in the Northern hemisphere passing through a very wide doldrum area.

MW: Based on your enviable experience of having cruised extensively in all 3 basic boat types, what would you say are the basic advantages of each type for your particular use?
HdeV: The catamaran with her diagonal stability has the easiest ride. Although my C1000 was exceptional, the trimaran is better to windward. In those days, the big cats had more diagonal stability than anything else on the ocean, but nowadays looking at the French 50 and 60 ft tris and the very big 135 ft round-the-world tris; I note they are very wide and—with over 200% buoyancy in their amas—must be very stable.
The monohull is 1) a slow, heeling lead (ballast) carrier or, 2) a heeling, nervous racer. But I must admit that the monohull is cheapest in marinas.

MW: While I can understand the choice of a steel-hulled monohull to take on Arctic ice etc, my readers will be interested to hear of what brought you to purchase a trimaran after already cruising on-and-off for 18 years in 4 large catamarans, and what was your initial reaction to its change in handling (if any) compared to the cats?
HdeV: As you said, the steel monohull CAMPINA was purchased only for the ice navigation.
My heart was always with multis. So after the Siberia voyage I searched for another catamaran but could not find what I wanted. Most catamarans nowadays are just 'roommarans' and quite unsuitable for around-the-globe cruising. So I then went looking for a suitable tri. I found three:

  1. 46-ft Newick designed Fleury Michon IV, but I found rot in the main beams
  2. The famous Moxy (Phil Weld's boat) was still in perfect condition but she was a bit too racy for what I wanted.
  3. Then JUNIPER … and I bought her right away.

MW: Based on your experience, would you consider there's an ideal size and layout for a multihull for world cruising and if so, what would that be and why your choice?
HdeV: Ideal size or ideal boat, finally depends on the money you can spend.
A nice size is 40 ft but I know many who are happy with their 35-footers.
The older one gets, the smaller the boat needs to be. As you get older, you loose strength to handle the craft … unless of course you have money. Then you buy a big boat with power and buttons to do the work, and/or take a crew to do it.

MW: Can you get internet on board by satellite, or do you typically have to go ashore to some internet café? How does this work for you and what about navigation charts?
HdeV: Internet on board via Inmarsat is too expensive. I could use Iridium but it's still too expensive for my budget. But I have a system called that can give me weather forecasts and any emergency mail from family. Although I have quite a few paper charts accumulated over the years, I now mostly use digital charts.

[Ed. Note … info about IRIDIUM
"A space-based satellite communications system that was conceived and built by Motorola. Provides wireless, mobile communications through a network of 66 satellites in polar, low-Earth orbits since 1998. Permits callers using hand-held mobile phones and pagers to communicate anywhere in the world … a first in the history of telephony"]

MW: How does money stretch out on such an extended cruise with all the essentials?
HdeV: By being careful, about $12,000 a year covers everything I need including food, maintenance, harbour dues, clearing fees and repairs. This year, it will also have to include $2000 to transit the Panama Canal. Typically, I've earned this from my books, plus articles for sailing magazines and selling my art work (watercolours).
A tight budget has meant that the only insurance I have is a liability insurance plus a very basic health/accidents insurance that is required to be legal in some ports.
But in 2008/9, two publishing companies went broke and I lost US$8000, so without solid sponsors, one never knows when things will turn difficult.

MW: With all the stories of pirates and thieves on the high seas, what provision have you taken if any to protect your boat and yourself?
HdeV: Well, I carry no firearms because this would become a major nuisance when clearing customs and also when you need to make an emergency anchorage without official clearance … where you can then get boarded by coast guards or customs !!
As far as dealing with serious pirates, there's really nothing one person could do against heavily armed gang. But in case of some petty thief, I always have a baseball bat handy ;-)

MW: In all your experiences with catamarans and now a trimaran, have you ever had a moment when you thought you were going to capsize? Please share the moment if so. And were all your boats provided with an emergency hatch for access if this were to happen? And have you ever used a sea anchor with any effect?
HdeV: BRITISH AIRWAYS capsized. We still don't know why. But here are some thoughts:

  1. she had a closed bridgedeck
  2. a very heavy 80-ft mast (2000 lbs)
  3. perhaps a wrong manoeuvre of the helmsman, though I cannot prove this (he luffed up and I think this stalled the boat)
  4. an extra strong gust with an extra steep wave, at just the same moment.

So when I sailed her in the Southern Ocean with very strong winds (50+ kn) and very high seas, I sometimes thought—"if she's going to go, she'll go now"—but she did not!

ALISUN and C1000 were much wider and C1000 had that light, carbon mast.

JUNIPER is very stable. She has a lot of buoyancy in the amas, plus a low, two-mast rig.

All the cats had escape hatches. When BA capsized, we used them to get back into the hull. JUNIPER had no escape hatch but I built one. I call it my 'INSCAPE hatch'—to get back in. It also provides much appreciated extra light and fresh air in the hull while at a tropical anchorage.

About sea-anchors…

On OROWA I once slowed her down in the Strait of Mozambique to give a hurricane time to cross ahead of me. I used 3 car tires on a long rope and a piece of chain.

On ALISUN J&B, I had a aluminium Australian-style 'Seabrake' and I started to use it in the Indian ocean after cracks appeared in the bridgedeck. But finally cut it loose because I (and the boat) felt better without it … roaming free.

On JUNIPER I have a canvas Seabrake on board. I used it once in good conditions to stop the boat, to wait for daylight to go through a pass in a reef. But JUNIPER is exceptional in bad conditions (as long as there's sea-room). Because of her 2 wing-masts, she keeps sailing very slowly to windward (45–60 degrees on her own without even using the rudder). So what happens with a sea-anchor is that she keeps moving so the Seabrake lines become spring lines and turn the boat sideways to the sea. So JUNIPER is actually better off without any device but she's the only boat I've owned that reacts as she does.

I must say when racing with ALISUN J&B, ALISUN and C1000, I never stopped … always keep on going, even in very bad 60–70 knots circumstances. Those boats were built to do so and those voyages were all serious record attempts.

MW: What do you think continues to drive you to want to continue exploring the globe—particularly on your own as you do?
HdeV: It started as a boy's dream and it's still a boy's dream. I did it … I saw the world and the sea … and rounded Cape Horn 3 times!! But the time comes to slow down.

MW: Based on your extensive travels, what is your experience and sense of the situation, as far as our obvious pollution of the globe and reports on global warming?
HdeV: The oceans have got cleaner than 20 years ago when we saw big floating pollution such as barrels, refrigerators, and other big junk. People on ships and also on shore now thankfully take more care about what they throw overboard.
I personally believe that global warning is a natural event which happens every 25,000 years or so. Because of popular reports, people think there is almost no ice anymore. That's what they said 10 years ago and that's what they still say. Because of popular reports people think the ocean surface is rising. The fact is it's risen less than 25 mm in the last 10 years—the normal rate.

MW: With over 30 years of such extensive cruising mostly alone, what would you say were your most challenged moments when perhaps you were wondering if you would ever survive the situation?

  1. Cyclone Oscar with OROWA in the Indian Ocean
  2. First time with ALISUN J&B (BRITISH AIRWAYS) in the Southern Ocean and sailing around Cape Horn
  3. With CAMPINA in the heavy ice conditions

MW: And with all the wonderful and relatively unknown places you've visited, what places were the most unforgettable for you and why?

  1. Easter Island because it was a long desire to go there. In 1981 we were the only boat. There were no airplanes to land and only one supply ship per year. My son was born on Easter Island.
  2. Wintering in Tiksi, Siberia with CAMPINA
  3. Ile St Paul — a crater in the Indian Ocean with JUNIPER.
  4. Puluwat the island of the navigators in Micronesia, again with JUNIPER.
  5. The Aleutian Islands, also with JUNIPER

MW: What has been your experience with JUNIPER and how do you compare and rate a trimaran compared to a catamaran for such extensive cruising? Knowing that JUNIPER is getting quite elderly now, how is this wood-epoxy boat standing up to all the mileage and is there anything about the design that you really love or hate?
HdeV: JUNIPER is a tri of the 80s. She is like a double‑ender and with her rocker, tends to hobbyhorse to windward. But JUNIPER is built to grow old. Most people who see her think it's a modern design, with her gull‑wing beams, rotating masts and long amas. When I arrive back in Holland I will have done about 50,000 miles with her and not all to the easiest places. When I give her a new paint job she will be like new again. The perfect greyhound of the oceans for a younger couple.

MW: Finally, for the many who might be tempted to follow in a few of your footsteps, what advice would you give them when making plans and before heading out?

HdeV:   ... always go in your own footsteps…
.... choose a boat you like / love / trust…
..... and follow your heart…

MW: Something most of us would be concerned about. Are you not lonely out there and if so, how do you handle this?
HdeV: There is a difference between 1) being alone, 2) loneliness, and 3) solitude.
Not everybody is able to be alone for a long time. Personally, I like to be alone.
Loneliness is missing someone or something (all my voyages were with a beginning and an end) but when I left with JUNIPER, the plan was not to return and something happened that I had not expected; I started to miss my son—so I am now on my way back home—'home is where the heart is'.
Solitude can create a darkness for those who do not search the solitude for themselves. But if solitude is a way to find something 'higher', in religious terms, then solitude is a blessing.

MW: Well, thanks a million for doing this Henk … I'm sure my readers will be fascinated by your perceptions, and you'll have them dreaming 'big time'. Bon voyage!.
HdeV: You're most welcome … I leave Tuesday, heading home through the Panama Canal.


UPDATE on Henk de Velde  (added 2018)

Six years after this Interview, I had the great pleasure to meet up with Henk in Amsterdam.   He had arrived home but remained close to the water. He had sold Juniper and was choosing to live on a motoryacht on one of Holland’s many inland waterways.   He had his eye on a 50ft+ Tennant catamaran to enter an upcoming Trans-Atlantic race but the sponsorship he was needing never materialized.  (Seems today, you need to be born in France for that to even be considered).   So for now he’s downsized his sailing to a Seawind 24 cat and as of this writing, is enjoying putting that through its paces against a buddy with a 26ft Newick tri.

A few years ago, a fine writer (editor for Fortune Magazine) wrote this about Henk’s search for his place on this planet, and as I’m sure many will enjoy it, I will attach the link.    

[Just a couple of minor errors in this VQR article.   When it mentions that 'while in the Siberian arctic, Henk hit an iceberg in Juniper', that collision was actually while in the steel monohull Campina.  (Juniper was purchased later for his last circumnavigation).  Also, Juniper was christened by the builder and first owner Chris White, not by Henk.   But the article is well worth reading, describing how a remarkable under-reported voyageur came to grips with his place in the world.  To paraphrase Henk's words "To fully discover the grace of God, one needs to be at least 1000 miles offshore"]

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