Monday, December 16th, 2019

World Class sailors reach for a Star

Published on May 21, 2015 by   ·   No Comments

Who says climate change is all bad? Certainly not the intrepid sailors who are planning to race across the legendary Northwest Passage.

These adventurous, some may say foolhardy, yachtsmen are planning to take advantage of global warming and the changes in the arctic pack ice to follow in the footsteps, or should that be wake, of Norwegian explorer Amundsen.

Sailing The Arctic Race (STAR) is due to start in the summer of 2017 and will run from New York (USA) to Victoria (Canada), sailing north to Halifax and Greenland, before heading west through the Northwest Passage, rounding Alaska to Dutch Harbour and finally arriving in Victoria for a well-earned cup of tea.


“The loss of sea ice allows a short window of time to cross this Arctic area when it was absolutely impossible a few years ago. In spite of its dramatic consequences for the environment, climate change offers an incredible opportunity to bring world-class skippers to these magical spaces where no one has yet dared to race,” says Guillaume Henry, the race’s Chief Operating Officer.


STAR will see the world’s top sailing teams racing the new one-design volcanic fibre racing yacht, the SYCC46, aka the STAR46, designed by Austrian-based Yacht Construction Consulting and made out of rock. Yes, you read that correctly, the hull and deck of the STAR46 will be a sandwich-laminate construction with the inner and outer layers made from FIPOFIX UD volcanic basalt fibre around a balsa core.

Basalt fibre has a similar chemical composition to glass fibre but has better strength characteristics and, unlike most glass fibres, is highly resistant to salt attack making it a great material for boat building.


Making basalt fibre is easy all you need is basalt and a very hot oven. The quarried rock is washed, heated to 1,400°C, and then extruded through small nozzles to produce continuous filaments. Nothing added and nothing taken away – just hot rock thread.

It’s at this point the FIPOFIX (FIbre – POsitioning – FIXation) magic comes into play. The basalt fibre is positioned and fixed into place creating a strong unidirectional fabric. The patented process ensures the brittle thread is laid without breaking. This is apparently much better than traditional methods of cloth production such as weaving, stapling and sewing, which damage up to 40% of the filaments.


The STAR46 won’t be the first volcanic yacht to hit the water. In 2014, FIPOFIX launched its first yacht, the Proof of Principle Open16. The 16 footer was piloted on her maiden journey by Harald Sedlacek who sailed her singlehandedly across the Atlantic not once, but twice, with no damage to the volcanic basalt hull.

Harald is the son of extreme sailor Norbert Sedlacek who also happens to be a FIPOFIX chief executive. Sedlacek Sr knows a thing or two about sailing in icy conditions having completed a solo Antarctic circumnavigation in year 2000 spending 93 days at sea covering a distance of 14,315 nautical miles.

The STAR46 will differ significantly from its diminutive FIPOFIX predecessor. Not only is it significantly larger but it has many safety features that will make it as “ice safe” as possible. The 46 has dual hulls, a crash box, a hinged canting keel and six watertight compartments.

The STAR46 fleet will be built in Canada by Philbrook’s Boat Yard. Construction will begin in the summer of 2015 with the first hull expected to be launched before the end of the year.


At the moment there are eight STAR46 hulls planned but if enough teams sign up there will be as many as 12 built. Currently only the Spanish have confirmed but the organisers are in negotiation with a further seven countries and there’s still two years to go.

Ironically (comfortingly?) the STAR46 is made out of a 100%-recyclable material so production shouldn’t hasten the melting of those ice caps…

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