In 2011 Matt Kent, bosun of the tall ship Niagara, was picking old oakum out of the deck in Erie, Pennsylvania, when he had an epiphany. “I wonder, he ruminated, what the smallest sailboat ever to cross the Atlantic was”? Just like that, The Little Boat Project became his new mission in life.
He did some research and discovered that in 1993 American Hugo Vihlen, a retired airline pilot achieved the small boat crossing record in a table-sized craft he christened Father’s Day. At 5ft 4in (1.62m) the steel and fiberglass boat was so small that he could only sleep in the fetal position.
Repeatedly rebuffed by the USCG who deemed his attempt ‘manifestly unsafe’, Hugo shipped Father’s Day to Canada who did not interfere with his plans. Once underway he was becalmed, delayed and depressed by bad weather, and impelled to live on half rations. Finally, 105-days after leaving Newfoundland he crawled off his boat in Falmouth, England, 34-pounds lighter—owner of the new record.
“Records are made to be broken,” said a relieved Hugo. “I hope I’m alive to shake the hand of the man who breaks this one.”
Fast forward five-years
Matt, 33, is in the final stages of preparing for an Atlantic crossing from the Canaries to Florida in his self-designed aluminum micro-yacht Undaunted which, if successful, will not just beat the record, but destroy it forever. You see, Undaunted has an LOA of just 3ft 6in (1.06m). No, that’s not a typo; this boat is smaller than a kayak—smaller than the desk I’m writing on.
Why so small? I asked. “Hugo beat the record by a half-inch,” responded Matt. “I don’t want someone to say, ‘I could just make mine a half-inch shorter than (Undaunted),’ and then go out and do something stupid and not do the amount of work we did or make a boat that is as hardy as ours.”
Matt is set to begin his two- to three-month voyage in his little boat March 2017 and anticipates an average of 2.5kts. Though he’ll carry a full complement of navigational electronics, power generation, and emergency gear, he will eschew a support boat, as did all the previous record holders. For sustenance he will bring dehydrated meal packs, fishing gear, and a pair of desalinators.
Actually, the small boat record isn’t the primary purpose of the voyage. Through his Gofundme page Matt is raising money to support the science-based education programs of the Bioreserve, a non-profit in Glenmont, NY, that focuses on creating outdoor curriculum for kids and teens.
As Matt makes his way west he’ll be doing what they used to call “the ladies passage,” named for the Caribbean trade wind route that was considered gentle enough to bring ladies along. That’s what he’s hoping for, nice and steady, all the way to Florida. “I’m really happy with the design,” he reflected, “and really happy with the stability.”