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‘When you are at the helm of your boat in the middle of the Atlantic staring at the sea 16 to 18 hours a day, you really notice what is going on,” says yacht designer Dan Lenard. “The situation is really bad. You see trash everywhere—barrels, cans, bottles, plastic—and then when I got to the Caribbean, it was like a brown explosion, tons of sargassum, which was catching even more plastic.”

Fifty-one-year-old Lenard, founding partner of the Venice, Italy-based yacht design studio Nuvolari Lenard, completed a solo transatlantic journey aboard his 33-foot (10-meter) sloop Scia, whose name means “wake” in Italian. The intent of his voyage was to celebrate the purity of true sailing and to “raise an alarm about ocean pollution.”

He calls his self-funded nonprofit expedition Vela-Code, a “declaration of international emergency and preservation, intended to enhance awareness and propagate ocean conservation.” Scia, a sailboat of Lenard’s design, comprises recycled parts of five boats, with a 10-year-old carbon fiber hull, deck and mast. He was resolute about having no engine or electronics of any sort, including GPS and autopilot. He did have a mobile phone intended for use once he drew close the United States, however, he lost it overboard as he passed through the Bahamas in high winds. In the end, he relied entirely on the sunrise, sunset and stars, the same way sailors did in the 1800s.

“Like Joshua Slocum, who sailed solo around the world, I relied on dead reckoning,” he said. “If you have an autopilot, you can stay belowdecks and watch Netflix. I wanted to be aware of every possible moment at sea. I never slept for more than a few hours at a time. I was totally engaged with sailing and survival. … I was kind of in Rambo mode.”

He says there was always plenty to keep him occupied on deck.

“You cannot underestimate the energy required to sail alone,” he says. “It was not easy to hold the tiller with my legs while winching a 60-kilo main.”

Lenard felt it important for his psyche to follow the same rhythm daily. Every morning, he went through his regular routine, as if going to work, and then would place everything he needed for his daily watch—food, water, foul-weather gear and tools—in the cockpit.

“It was as if I was in a full-on sailing regatta mode, at the ready all the time, tweaking the boat to get the max out of her,” he says.

Sometimes, the waves were as big as a house, and sometimes, the water was flat calm.

“I had five sails, which I was constantly playing with, switching out the code, the drifter, the gennaker,” he says.

Once, his gennaker got caught under the keel, and he had to tie himself to the boat and go overboard to untangle it. He considered the experience to be just another part of the adventure.

“I sucked as much pleasure out of sailing as possible,” he says. “Seeing a squall ahead, I was almost daring it to get me before I tried to skirt around it. All day it was perpetual mind games. I was never, never bored.”

Lenard left Cadiz, Spain, on January 20, and ended up facing 12 days of negligible wind at sea. His goal was to arrive on the other side of the Atlantic in time to attend the Miami International Boat Show in mid-February, but he only arrived in Antigua, in the Caribbean, on February 22 with miles to go to get to Florida. Scia had four 25-gallon tanks of water aboard, and there was still one full tank left when he completed his trip. He says he mostly survived on cereals, grains and canned fish. He also had dry bread, salami and a lot of Spanish ham.

Lenard says that every day of his 43-day sail he saw plastic and junk floating, barrels bobbing and random flotsam in the ocean. 

Lenard says that every day of his 43-day sail he saw plastic and junk floating, barrels bobbing and random flotsam in the ocean. 

“I did not have cravings,” he says. “Honestly, if I could have taken a pill for nourishment, I would have been happy. During my trip, food was merely fuel to give me energy.”

He did admit to one guilty pleasure: “At the end of the day, I treated myself to a double malt beer as my reward for getting through another day.”

Lenard says that out of his 43 days at sea, he probably had only seven that were dry. Between the stressful conditions and his diet, he lost weight, but upon arrival he said, “I feel good—you know, the kind of tired one feels after a marathon or some other big sport event.”

For him, completing the crossing was all about gaining the experience and authority to speak about ocean pollution.

“I want to capture the superyacht industry’s imagination,” he says. “Get people who design, build and own superyachts to take responsibility.”

Lenard says people in the yachting industry need to develop a code of honor. If you are cruising around the world, then you can report on what you see. Yachtsmen can be on the front lines of change, not just a silent witness to destruction. They can be eco-conscious not only about yacht design, but also about everything that goes in and on a yacht.

“You don’t see people littering out of their car windows anymore, so no one should throw garbage into the ocean,” he says. “The water is dirty, and if we kill the oceans, we kill the yachting industry.” 

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue.