Crossing the Atlantic is a serious undertaking. Crossing the Pacific, even more so. Most would choose a steel-hulled vessel for a world cruise, but American owners John and Arlene McPherson never seriously considered anything other than Nomadess, their purpose-built composite Benetti Classic 121.
The couple had previous experience of long-range cruising in a composite boat, having sailed around the world aboard a 78-foot Kevlar cutter, also called Nomadess. By the time the couple set off on their second tour aboard the motoryacht, John McPherson was in his early 80s.
“The owners are yachtsmen and love to travel on their boats,” says Ed Collins, who has captained the McPhersons’ boats for 16 years. “The boss fell in love with the lines of the Benetti Classic in the Med when we went around the world with his previous sailing boat. The big question was, could we take a fiberglass yacht around the world? Was it up to what we wanted to do?”
The standard Benetti Classic ticked a lot of boxes. It had a proven displacement hull form, a range of 3,400 nautical miles at cruising speed, comfortable accommodations, and plenty of stowage for the intended journey. Nevertheless, some people at Benetti were not convinced it was the right choice of boat.
“We showed up at their door and said, ‘Hey, we want to build a Benetti Classic to take around the world,’” Collins says with a chuckle. “And they said, ‘Sure, we can build a boat for you. Although we’re not so sure about the round-the-world part.’ We had a lot of discussions, but in the end we were pretty confident we could do it.”
Collins and his chief engineer, Mary Krieg, requested modifications to the standard specs, such as more anchor chain, bigger stabilizers and water tanks, and extra-tough window glass to reduce the need for storm shutters. They then spent 18 months in Viareggio, Italy, managing the build.
“While we were monitoring the build, we were also planning the trip,” Collins says. “The owners had a rough idea of where they wanted to go, but we also had to take into account the equipment and spares we should carry to be self-sufficient.”
Krieg packed enough spare parts—from bilge pumps to light bulbs—to last two full seasons. She knew that dampness is ever present on long ocean crossings, especially in the bosun’s locker, where most inventory is stowed. Her solution was to install a dehumidifier to keep electrical parts and other sensitive equipment reasonably dry. As it turned out, there were no major technical issues during the 38,000-mile voyage, except for a computer glitch that was revolved within 24 hours.
“The boat isn’t expensive until the boss wants to use it and something’s broken,” Krieg says. “There were spares that we didn’t use, but if we had needed them and they weren’t on board, it would have ruined the program.”
Fuel planning proved key. Nobody is going to give you a tow if you run out of fuel midocean, nor can a yacht arrive in remote locations like the Marquesas and fill up with close to 10,000 gallons. Diesel had to be preordered and shipped out ahead of schedule.
Medical safeguards also were put in place. The first time the owner sailed around the world, he took seriously ill in Vanuatu; Collins, a commercial pilot, organized a speedy air evacuation for surgery in the United States. There were no such emergencies this time around, but the crew was prepared, not least because Krieg is also a registered nurse.
“People ask me how I stay so calm when the engine is spilling oil all over the place,” she says. “‘It’s an engine,’ I tell them. ‘It’s not bleeding. It’s fixable and nothing to get worried about.’”
The Benetti Classic 121 has quarters for seven crew, but because Nomadess was not carrying a full complement of guests, she ran with six crew. They became liveaboards, much like the owners and guests. This involved eating together at mealtimes, and even joining in for an off-duty cocktail.
“It was very much a family boat, which is the only way when you’re on board for such long periods,” Collins says. “You spend a lot of time in each other’s company when you’re burning up the miles at 10.5 knots to save on fuel.”
The itinerary was the stuff many yachtsmen only dream of. After the delivery in November 2013, Nomadess spent her shakedown cruise in the Med before an Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean. She then headed up the Eastern Seaboard in the middle of winter to Virginia for Christmas with friends and family. Connecticut-born Collins was somewhat put off when he had to take on a pilot for the approach into New York City—waters he knows well from his competitive sailing days.
Nomadess then turned back south, went on to transit the Panama Canal and turned north again, hugging the West Coast up to Alaska, where she spent summer 2015 (this time Collins came armed with the required pilot licenses). She then retraced her steps, stopping off in San Diego for yard work, and arrived in the Galapagos Islands in November 2015.
The Galapagos were the staging post for launching deeper into the Pacific: the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. Weather didn’t prove a problem until an eight-day crossing from Papeete to Tonga: the Benetti took the 18-foot (5.5-meter) waves and 58-knot winds in her stride, but the owners and crew were thankful that bigger stabilizers had been fitted during the build.
When Nomadess arrived in Fiji in June 2016, the islands were still recovering from Winston, the worst tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Working with groups like YachtAid Global and Sea Mercy, everyone on board helped to rebuild wrecked infrastructures. At one point, Krieg kept the yacht’s watermaker running 24/7 to provide three months’ worth of fresh water.
“Entire villages had lost their roofs, and hospitals were down,” Collins says. “We helped out as much as we could and bought building materials for communities in the outer islands. There was a lot of giveback, which is another unusual aspect of our owners and a really good experience for the crew.”
From Fiji, Nomadess cruised to Vanuatu, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Australia. In Auckland, John McPherson spent time with Emirates Team New Zealand. The meeting led to a change of plans when he decided to have Nomadess transported back to the United States in time for the 2017 America’s Cup in Bermuda, cruising there from Fort Lauderdale by way of Cuba and the Bahamas.
After the Cup and following a summer cruise in New England, the McPhersons put Nomadess up for sale. Apart from a short spell between Costa Rica and the Galapagos, they and their two seafaring miniature poodles had spent the entire voyage on board. It was time to move ashore. Collins and Krieg are also looking to take a well-earned break before looking for new owners with a similar spirit for adventure.
“It’s not going to be easy to replace John and Arlene,” Collins says. “During my time with them, I don’t think we’ve ever been docked in the same place for more than 10 days. What does it take to take a plastic Benetti around the world? Enthusiastic owners, lots of planning and the right weather. In that order.”
Photos | View exclusive images from the Nomadess adventure in the gallery below:
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