U.S. Sailor Sets Record for Atlantic Sailboat Crossing

From Reuters

A 61-year-old American claimed a world record Monday after crossing the North Atlantic in the smallest sailboat ever used for the feat--a boat just 5 feet, 4 inches long.

Hugo Vihlen of Homestead, Fla., said he felt great after arriving in Falmouth on the southwestern tip of England after 106 days at sea in his boat, named Father's Day.

He left St. Johns, Newfoundland, on June 14, six days before Father's Day.

"I'm a little on the weak side physically and emotionally, everything's wobbling about still. But I'll be all right in a couple of days, and I'm looking forward to the rest," Vihlen said in a telephone interview.

He lost 34 pounds on the trip, which he had expected to take no more than 75 days. The 5-foot-8 tall Vihlen said the only way he could stretch out was by standing up when the weather was good.

"It is great to be back on dry land, and I am not going to try anything like this again. In fact, I am flying back first class all the way," he said after landing at Falmouth, where he was greeted by his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

For 25 years, Vihlen, a former airline pilot, held the record for crossing the ocean in the smallest boat, which was six feet long. That record was broken in May by Tom McNally of Liverpool, England, who sailed from the Portuguese island of Madeira to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a boat a half-inch longer than Father's Day.

Vihlen said that an urge to conquer the more unpredictable North Atlantic was fired by the frequent flights he made to London before his retirement last year.

Last year, Vihlen made two failed attempts, and earlier this year he was stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard a few miles off Cape Cod for sailing in a "manifestly unsafe" boat, he said.

Canadian authorities, however, turned a blind eye and Vihlen set off once again.

He said the lack of wind during the journey, rather than storms, caused him his biggest problem.

"I did not have the winds that the charts showed and I only had one bad storm," he said by telephone from Falmouth. "I began rationing food early on and lost 34 pounds in weight."

Vihlen took enough food with him to last 85 days and was given more supplies by a passing French ship.

"But I have still lost a lot of weight after being on half rations for long periods and I am looking forward to having some fish and chips," he said.

Father's Day, made almost entirely from stainless steel, is built like a submarine for protection from the elements and has two sails from the mast.

One boom was ripped from its mountings shortly before his arrival in Falmouth, but otherwise the boat appeared remarkably untouched, witnesses said.

During the storm, Vihlen stayed inside the hull for three days, sleeping on his back with his knees tucked under his chin.

He twice had to avoid hitting whales.

He said he had finished with sailing and planned to get his kicks on wheels from now on.

"I want to tour France and England on a motorcycle with my wife next year but I don't know whether she'll allow me," he said.

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