Twelve months of adventure and exploration by superyacht
Captain Scott on his highlights so far on Gayle Force’s epic voyage
Whoever came up with the old adage that ‘size matters’ was clearly unfamiliar with the relatively compact explorer yacht, Gayle Force. Despite being built in 2003, the voyager had failed for many years to venture far from her home on the west coast of North America. But that all changed at the end of last year when her owners – Wayne and Gayle Laufer – embarked on a year-long voyage under the stewardship of Captain Scott Whittaker, and Gayle Force became one of the smallest private boats to venture to the Southern Peninsula.
On 20 November 2018, Captain Scott and his crew left Panama City, Panama and made the non-stop 3,000Nm journey straight to Valparaíso, Chile. The 14-day maiden voyage remains the longest single journey they have undertaken so far, confirming the yacht’s solid 5,500Nm range. “It was one of those things that I wanted to do for the boat, and for our ownership, and for the crew,” explains Captain Scott. “I wanted to know what the boat could do.”
With only two days in Valparaíso, they moved on to Puerto Montt in Chile and cruised the “inside” of Patagonia. “It’s a difficult place to cruise,” says Captain Scott. “It isn’t difficult in nature, it’s difficult in its vastness. It’s so big that it’s one of the few places I really wished we had a helicopter, as that would have enabled us to access so much, so quickly.”
What they lacked in terms of toys, however, was made up for by their ability to tuck into small nooks and crannies, something which came in handy along the Patagonian coastline. When not wrestling with challenging sea conditions, considerable distances, and difficulty with provisioning in the area, Wayne, a keen fly fisherman, and his guests indulged in some of the best trout fishing the oceans have to offer.
With Captain Scott relying on his 30 years of marine industry experience to see them right, the voyage took on an air of discovery. “We picked up an ice pilot and naturalist on board in Punta Arenas, Chile, but I didn’t know where we were ultimately heading for – whether it would be Punta Arenas, Ushuaia or Puerto Williams,” says Captain Scott. “I knew I would just figure it out.” Punta Arenas became the base for stepping off and returning from Antarctica, where they were permitted to arrive on 18 January, but required to leave by 2 February. Time was of the essence.
The plan developed by weather; the Weddell Sea proved to be too “iced up”, so the route took them through the Brown Bluff, Deception Island, Penguin Island and Port Lockroy. “Relentless winds and high seas” made crossing the Southern Peninsula hard, and Captain Scott tolerated his own share of adversity having elected to bunk down on the bridge for the Antarctic leg in a bivy sack and -20 sleeping bag. “It wasn’t that cold,” he says bravely. “The coldest we saw was around -6, although with wind it was probably chillier!”
Wildlife abounded, with humpback, fin and blue whales aplenty. Penguins were in their thousands, and every type of seal was sighted. The wilds of Antarctica itself proved to be breath-taking. “It’s the colours, the air quality – everything is so crisp, and so bright.” A key highlight was the two nights spent drifting with the ice in the Gerlache Straits. “We had amazing evenings there, it was truly beautiful. It felt like something out of Space Odyssey, semi-light out, just watching the ice, silently drifting together.”
It takes a certain type of owner to want to embark on a year-long voyage of this nature, but despite being in their 60s the Laufers have not lost their sense of adventure, says Captain Scott. “It takes dedication, trust and depth of spirit as an owner. It’s not a game for the faint of heart, but Wayne is a rolling stone that gathers no moss.”
April this year took in Robinson Crusoe Island, a tropical land with a 3000ft peak for hiking and an almost “Jurassic Park” feel to it. Gayle Force is one of only two yachts to have visited the far-flung location this year, a land of both beauty and unpredictability. “You have to be lucky with the weather. The exposure is pretty bad,” explains Captain Scott. “But there’s a lushness to it – steep green hillsides with a rocky, volcanic landscape. The sea is abundant, the fish are gigantic, the lobsters are everywhere.” Stumbling upon fantastic food and a one-man brewery, the island will go down as being “more memorable than Antarctica” for the Laufers.
Dining together each night, the Laufers and crew experience both life on board and shore excursions side by side. It’s a family affair, with friends and guests joining for most trips. As well as a diving instructor and a naturalist, the Laufers’ children and grandchildren will be on board for the Galapagos leg. “That’s part of why we’re delaying our departure, so that school is out,” explains Captain Scott.
Following the Galapagos, Cocos Islands, and finally the Caribbean the relentless pace of the voyage will continue, with talk of perhaps taking in the Norwegian Fjords, dropping down the Baltic, into Turkey, and the rest of Europe. “Wayne is the sort of character that if you put it out there, he’s interested,” says Captain Scott. “I really appreciate his stubborn willingness to go long, and to go deep. It’s a never-ending adventure with this guy.”