One of the first questions everyone asks me is how safe it is to sail on a boat without a keel.

Having sailed twice across the Drake Passage to Antarctica and back, both times on a centreboard boat, and having experienced on two occasions winds between 50 and 60 knots, this was a perfect opportunity to test the boat’s stability under such conditions. On both occasions the boats performed perfectly well and took the high cross-swell in their stride. Both Aventura III and IV have an integral centreboard, which means that when the board is raised, it is fully retracted into the hull. The ballast is also internal. The ballast to displacement ratio of both was 32, which is similar to that of most modern cruising yachts.

One of the main reasons for choosing a centreboarder is to increase my cruising options, and having a boat whose draft can be reduced instantly is an important advantage.

But shallow draft is not only ideal for exploring places that other boats cannot reach, but also a safety factor, because it allows you to access a protected shallow spot if needing shelter in an emergency.

Also, as most integral centreboard boats have a flat bottom, it means that with the board fully up, the boat can dry out on any beach, tidal bay or estuary. When the tide runs out, the boat settles down comfortably. We dried out Aventura III on many occasions, whether to put on a quick coat of antifouling between tides while cruising in Southern Chile, or to access a shallow bay in Alaska so we could watch grizzly bears fishing for salmon.

One other advantage of a centreboard is that it can be used as a sounding board when entering an unfamiliar shallow anchorage. It is a technique I learned from Erick Bouteleux and taught me a new meaning for the term ‘sounding board’.

To my shame, I did not put that unique feature to good use when we entered an anchorage in the Northwest Passage and hit an uncharted rock in an area that showed a minimum depth of four metres. Although we hit the rock quite hard, the centreboard did its job and swung up, it scraped along the top of the rock, then dropped back into its lowered position. The only damage was to my ego, but any other boat would have been in serious trouble.

Shallow draft is a major attraction of centreboard yachts, but there are also some considerable performance advantages. The main role of the board is to provide lift when sailing closehauled, and to reduce leeway when reaching. With the board fully down Aventura III drew 2.4 metres and, when sailed properly, it could point as high, or almost as high, as most keeled cruising boats.

Sailed properly means that when sailing on the wind sail trim is critical and the sails must be perfectly set to achieve the desired performance. It also means that a good speed must be kept up, and heeling too much must be avoided, or you end up making too much leeway. With a draft of 2.8 metres with the board down, Aventura IV performs even better than her predecessor.

There is a certain technique in sailing a centreboarder efficiently, not just on the wind but off the wind as well. This is when the centreboard becomes a true asset as it allows you to reduce the wetted surface.

Also, the ability to lift the board gradually as the apparent wind goes past 135°, and then continue lifting it up to the point where the board is fully retracted, is a great advantage as the risk of broaching is virtually eliminated. The absence of a keel to act as a pivot in a potential broaching situation means that the boat does not tend to round up when, in a similar situation, a keeled boat would do just that. It is a feature that I have blessed on many occasions, and that has allowed me to continue keeping the spinnaker up longer than I would have done otherwise.

The board is normally retracted when motoring in calm waters and the reduction in wetted surface provides an extra 0.3 to 0.5 knots of speed.

Preparing for Antarctica


From your perspective, having sailed a Garcia Exploration in ice condition, would you have any recommendation for us, in particular with regards to the boat equipment or preparation

Jimmy Cornell

I have sailed to Antarctica on two occasions; first on the Skip Novak’s original Pelagic, which we chartered with some friends, and later on my own Aventura III. Both were centreboarders, the former steel, the latter aluminium. As far your choice of boat is concerned I must say that you could not have picked a better boat to sail to Antarctica than the Exploration 45.

The risk of collision with loose ice is very low compared to the Northwest Passage so it shouldn’t be a major concern in an aluminium boat.

We did encounter icebergs, especially south of the Antarctic Circle, but they were all large icebergs that could be easily seen, or they showed up on radar. There are bergy bits and growlers floating about in the vicinity of the Antarctic Peninsula, but they don’t poise a major risk and are clearly visible bearing in mind that the days are very long and visibility is usually good.

We did encounter large concentrations of ice and had to push our way through when we decided to sail Aventura III as far south as possible when we went to the Pitt Islands, a small archipelago off the Antarctic Peninsula.

As we were quite late in the season we were actually frozen in one night but managed to break our way out the following morning.

Concerning equipment, besides the standard equipment that probably you already have, forward looking sonar can be a great help when sailing in poorly charted waters or when choosing an anchorage.

What is also important is to have long mooring lines stowed on reels.

The lines should be floating lines (polypropylene) and fitted at the end with stainless steel cable strops so they can be placed over rocks, etc. A good anchor with all chain is very important. On Aventura III I used a tandem arrangement with a 10 kg grapnel anchor connected by 5 m of chain to the main anchor. This arrangement worked very well.

Mast steps are also good to have, as they help in spotting your way through the ice (or to avoid coral heads in a tropical lagoon).


Concerning the special permission to visit Antarctica that you need to obtain from your national authorities I know that this is no longer as easy as it was in the past.

Whether in Antarctica, Chagos or other such places where an official permit is required, it is always a good idea to have a purpose for your visit. Just stating that you intend to cruise in such an area may not be good enough. So it may help to be able to state that you are involved in some scientific research project and that your visit has a serious purpose.

Several features of the Exploration concept were inspired by my high latitude experiences… and my greatest regret is that I cannot sail to Antarctica on my own Exploration. After more than forty years of cruising, it is still my favourite destination!

Safely anchored with a storm coming