PEI

How a sailor is getting ready to go it alone, around the world, with help from P.E.I.

Kirsten Neuschafer's plan to sail around the world did not include hunkering down this winter on Prince Edward Island. But this Island, its people and their boat-building expertise has turned out to be just what this professional sailor needs.

Hint: she's tapping in to the heavy-duty materials and construction of local lobster boats

South African-born Kirsten Neuschafer has sailed extensively in the southern hemisphere, including trips to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. That high-latitude experience in southern oceans will prove crucial in the Golden Globe Race 2022. (Bertie Gregory)

Kirsten Neuschafer's plan to sail around the world did not include hunkering down this winter on Prince Edward Island.

But the island, its people and their boat-building expertise have turned out to be just what this sailor needs.

Neuschafer has her sights set on next year's Golden Globe Race around the world, and her sailboat is now on P.E.I. for an extensive refit.

"I came as an outsider to Prince Edward Island. From the moment I arrived here, I've been only treated with such kindness and generosity," she said. "People in the community have taken a genuine interest in this project."

The sailtor's 36-foot keel  boat is now up on blocks in a barn in the community of Baltic, P.E.I. Local tradespeople like Eddie Arsenault are preparing it for its odyssey of 30,000 nautical miles. Most of that voyage will be in the southern hemisphere, where conditions are notoriously tough on sailors.
 
"This is kind of an interesting project," said Arsenault. "It's never going to happen again in my lifetime, more than likely. So I jumped on the chance and didn't want to miss out."

Neuschafer has her sights sets on a race around the world, solo and non-stop. Her boat is being readied for the odyssey by tradespeople on P.E.I. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Neuschafer sailed her boat into Summerside Harbour back in January, after purchasing the Cape George 36 in Newfoundland. She'd intended to sail to Maine for its refit, but COVID-19 restrictions made entry to the U.S. impossible. Instead, she self-isolated on the boat for a few days, then at the home of a friend. The South African-born professional sailor then got to work.

With Arsenault's help, she's in the barn at 8 a.m. every day overseeing the refit — new fibreglass on the deck, refurbished teak trim, new rudder made of oak, bowsprit of Douglas fir and a hand-crafted tiller hewn from local ash. The know-how that goes into P.E.I.'s sturdy lobster boats will serve Neuschafer well. 

"Someone like Eddie, he's worked on fishing boats," said Neuschafer. "He knows what a work boat is all about and just how sturdy a boat needs to be out at sea."

Sailors will rely on charts and sextant

One recent work day, Arsenault was on scaffolding beside the boat, installing heavy duty stainless steel plates to the hull. They'll be key to keeping the mast and rigging intact.

"The southern ocean has pretty rough conditions," said Neuschafer. "The rig needs to be absolutely rock solid."

Eddie Arsenault is bringing know-how from heavy-duty lobster boat construction to the job. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

So far, Neuschafer is the only woman competing in the Golden Globe Race 2022. She'll be alone at sea for seven to nine months, never touching land. Adding to the challenge, GPS and cellphones aren't allowed. Sailors will rely on traditional navigational tools — charts and sextant — to find their way.

"It's really about adventure," said Neuschafer. "It's a race of attrition. You've got to outlive the others."

Neuschafer must bring all the food she needs for the seven- to nine-month journey. She'll augment her drinking water supply by collecting rain water. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

In recent years, Neuschafer has been sailing charters to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. Her passion has sparked the flame in others. Long-time sailor and former Summerside mayor Bill Martin has organized a fundraiser, May 29. Tickets for the dinner at Credit Union Place in Summerside are nearly sold out, and the community is poised to raise more than $15,000 for Neuschafer's race.

"Summerside has quite a history of shipbuilding that goes back well over 100 years," said Martin. "It says an awful lot about Prince Edward Island. You know, the people who have stepped up to help her, the people who have volunteered their time."

Neuschafer agrees.

"Just really makes me feel honoured and really, really lucky that I landed up here in the first place."

Neuschafer hopes to have her refurbished boat in the water this summer for sea trials around P.E.I.

The Golden Globe Race 2022 begins next September.

More from CBC P.E.I.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story said the fundraising dinner is at Silver Fox Curling and Yacht Club. It is, in fact, at Credit Union Place.
    May 06, 2021 8:22 AM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Higgins

Videojournalist

Brian Higgins joined CBC Prince Edward Island in 2002, following work in broadcasting, newspaper and magazine writing in central Canada. He follows law courts and justice issues on P.E.I., among other assignments.

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