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Visit to Challenge 67 “Xplore”

By Rob Henderson

The team at Harken UK were lucky enough to be invited aboard a fantastic ocean sailing yacht with a rich history when Xplore visited Lymington, skippered by Stephen Wilkins of Xplore Expeditions

After Sir Chay Blythe became the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop against the prevailing winds and currents, he and Andrew Roberts set about establishing quite what to do next. They were sat on the dock at Dartmouth and came to the conclusion that although longer and tougher, sailing upwind around the World was, by and large, safer. The pair came up with the idea of creating a fully amateur race in a one-design format that would be "the world's toughest yacht race!".

David Thomas was tasked with designing a boat with the simple brief that the boat must be "safe, easy to sail, extremely tough and must perform upwind." The one-design rule meant that all the yachts could be built to be safe.

The prototype Challenge 67 was built in 1990, with the race fleet being complete with 10 yachts in 1992, the year of the first race. The class went on to be the choice for the first race, sponsored by British Steel and then the BT Global Challenge in 1996. One of these yachts, now known as Xplore, was purchased by Stephen and modified for Antarctic Exploration (she had to keep a crew warm and safe in -22C®). She is now just under 25 years old and has seen over 280,000 nautical miles including 2 circumnavigations (the wrong way, of course), 14 trips to Antarctica, 4 North to South Atlantics (and vice versa), been mother ship to every Atlantic Rowing Race and, in Stephen's own words, "all the way to Lymington with a couple of beers thrown in!"

Throughout her life, Xplore has used the same 13 Harken winches, ranging from size 32 through to 66 without fault or failure. Stephen puts this extraordinary longevity down to careful selection of materials and engineering at their birth coupled with ongoing use and maintenance throughout their lives. His philosophy towards yacht equipment is one of "buy good equipment once, use it and maintain it well. It will last", while also stating that he likes to keep the boat in a condition whereby at any time and any place, the crew can set sail on a 5-10,000 mile expedition the very next day. When it comes to the winches in particular, Stephen strips, cleans and services them every 6-12 months as well as whenever they sound or feel at all dry. As a man who has lived more years of his life aboard Xplore than anywhere else in the World, one cannot argue with Stephen's tips, nor his faith in the hardware he uses.

For more information on Xplore, please see Stephen's website: http://www.xplore-expeditions.com/


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