Matt Kent, age 33, turned back just 24 hours into his first attempt to sail across the Atlantic aboard the "stern-faced" tub Undaunted. Ryan Langley takes a close-up look at this tiny little ocean-crossing capsule.

Just 24 hours into his first attempt to sail solo across the Atlantic in Undaunted, his 42-inch yacht, Matt Kent had to turn back.

He set off from La Gomera in the Canary Islands on 6 April, but returned after concerns about his boat’s seaworthiness.

He explains: “I wasn’t really in too much danger, [but] there was a weak point in the boat that was concerning me. The emergency floatation system component that was on the rudder assembly was getting hammered so hard in these really close together waves. The float was getting jammed upwards so fast and so often the boat’s movement couldn’t keep up.

“It was the worst, most unpredictable and erratic conditions I have ever sailed in with that boat. When it started gusting 45 knots I decided that I shouldn’t keep going with such an obvious weak link.”

Kent estimated his crossing time at some three months, so Undaunted cannot be fixed in time to avoid the hurricane season this year. He therefore plans to postpone his next attempt until the autumn.

He still hopes to set a record for the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic. “Both of the guys that held this record had to wait months or even years as setbacks took their toll.”

Where it all began for Undaunted

Skipper Matt Kent was working on a 200ft tall ship when he pondered what the smallest boat ever to sail around the world had been. On discovering that a 5ft 4in yacht had crossed the Atlantic, a seed was sown which resulted in the custom-designed Undaunted.

In 1965 Robert Manry sailed his 13ft 6in Tinkerbelle from Massachusetts to England (see video clip below), and the modern ‘microyacht’ trend was born. Tinkerbelle was followed by the 12ft Nonoalca and 8ft Bathtub across the Atlantic.

By 1968 Hugo Vilhen had made the smallest ocean crossing yet, sailing his 6ft April Fool from Casablanca to Miami. Vilhen went on to cross the Atlantic in his 5ft 4in Father’s Day, while in 2002, Tom McNally attempted, but failed, to cross the Atlantic in the absurdly tiny 3ft 11in Vera Hugh II.

Now Matt Kent, a 33-year-old professional tall ship sailor originally from Oregon, is preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean aboard his three-and-a-half foot aluminium microyacht Undaunted. He expects the 4,700 nautical mile voyage to Florida, to take four months.

Undaunted is 42in long and 42in wide with a 5ft draught, 700lb lead ballast and a 40-gallon emergency water tank slung off the bottom of the keel,” explains Kent.

“Undaunted is designed to pitch rather than roll. That is counter to most boat designs. With better roll stability it will slip off the wind less as it leans forward. If it was more inclined to roll it would move forward and spill the wind from side to side, and be less efficient with more movement.

“Large twin rudders for low-speed efficiency and redundancy also help straighten the boat’s movement, along with a full keel.”

A test sail on Lake Erie demonstrated the unique handling of the boat Kent calls ‘a grumpy little man’.

“He sails downwind like a champ, self-tending downwind by sail angle alone due to the high mast being all the way forward. With a hull speed of just 2.5 knots he is not quick but he is stable and his square dimensions means he is affected by waves from any angle the same.

“He just bobs up and down. With a balance point about 16in above the keel and a 5ft draught he has a stability profile most designers would kill for.

Undaunted is a terrible boat, but he is a great storm shelter. A sailing capsule ready for the worst and also able to do the easy part, sailing in a straight line.

“We couldn’t make it go any faster, we couldn’t make it longer for the record. So we focused on safety and stability and through that our stern-faced grumpy little man was born.”

The emergency flotation system can be inflated three times using onboard CO2 canisters, or hand-inflated. Kent has calculated that one tube can support the entire boat, while three can lift the hatch out of the sea even with the boat full of water.

Capsule living

“Sailing it is quite simple, living on it is harder,” Kent comments. He cannot lie fully flat on board. “The boat is designed around my dimensions.

“We have enough space for me to sit upright, and lay my neck and spine out to decompress on the diagonal. The hatch I stand up in is just above my hip bones to prevent me from getting flipped out of the boat, though I will have a harness and tether on all the time.”

The boat is painted white to reflect heat and fully insulated above the waterline, Kent explains. “Below the waterline was left bare so the conductive nature of the aluminium hull will create a cold pocket for me to be in. For ventilation my dorade is at the top of the mast along with my running lights, AIS antenna, and radar reflector.

“However, if I have to keep the hatch shut, I have a neoprene mask with two one-way valves in it. One breathes in from the cabin down the mast and the other breathes out into a flexible hose attached to the inner tube going back out of the mast.”

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Provisions are stowed under Kent’s feet. “I have enough food – half freeze-dried – for six months at 1,500 calories a day. I have intentionally put on 20 extra pounds for the trip as well.

“My diet consists of nuts, dried fruit, protein powder, nutrition bars, a variety of soups, stews, pasta, peanut butter, Nutella and so on. I have a huge variety as well as 64,000 extra calories in the form of two gallons of olive oil to add to my food.

“None of my food needs cooking but I do have a 12V/120W heat coil wand to heat water for dinner or tea or coffee, if I can afford the power. With a two-minute boil time I should be able to use it often. All of this fits in the bilge and down the keel.”

Rather than carry a liferaft, Undaunted has its own emergency flotation system. “I had a white-water raft company make three inflatable tubes that will be rolled up and attached to the port, starboard, and bow of my boat. If I get swamped, holed or have an emergency I can turn a valve from inside the boat to have CO2 fill the tubes and float the boat until I fix it, or pump out,” explains Kent.

Undaunted has no engine, so the watermaker and battery charger will be operated by hand and foot pumps.

“I have two 1.2-gallon manual reverse-osmosis desalinators. One would be more than enough, but water is nothing to mess with.

“I will also have one month’s worth of water on board and one month of food that doesn’t need to be rehydrated if the watermakers fail or if I am injured and can’t pump. Making water and electricity will be part of my daily exercise.

“Also I will be able to swim behind the boat with a dual tether and harness system.”

The keel fresh water tank is divided into four ten-gallon compartments to avoid loss of stability in the event that Kent uses the water. Each can then be separately refilled with seawater.

Permission to land

When Vilhen crossed the Atlantic in 1993 in his 5ft 4in Father’s Day, his original plans were thwarted by the US Coast Guard and he eventually departed from Canada. Kent says this was one of the drivers in choosing a west-about route.

“Not only is the thought of coming home better than showing up someplace else after a long voyage alone, but it means that by the time I am in US waters I will have just crossed 4,600 miles of open ocean.

“If I can, I will pull into port, raise my Q flag and wait for Customs there. If I am near shore and I become too much of a traffic hazard, we will have a small boat come retrieve me.

“We are trying to make sure we don’t get in the way of other people’s livelihood or put anyone at risk with a needless rescue operation.”

His safety equipment includes AIS and an EPIRB.

“I have a satellite phone and a shore support team watching weather and my progress, giving me daily weather reports and receiving my location and status updates directly. I will also be tracked by my AIS system.

“I have a standalone GPS, GPS on my radio, GPS on my sat phone and on my smartphone and chartplotter, as well as redundant clocks and a sextant, and paper charts of the Caribbean and mid-North Atlantic.”

Kent says he is unconcerned about the psychological challenge of living in such a small space for four months.

“I have spent weeks alone in the Guatemalan Highlands, and lived alone in the woods for years. I have never been so alone or for so long, but few have.

“With plenty of digital media, books, daily check-ins and phone calls on the sat phone I will hardly be alone. Meditation has been a big part of my life, so the loneliness of the trip is not my biggest concern.”

Specifications

Length: 1m (42in)
Draught: 1.5m (60in)
Weight: 544kg unladen (1,200lb), or 816kg laden (1,800lb)
Hull Speed: 2.5 knots
Sail area: 49.5sq ft  (square sail) plus 27sq ft (rafee)

Undaunted has a modified square rig. “I have three identical yards and two sails, one square and one rafee [triangular topsail set above] a lower yard. One will be inside the cabin while the other is set.”

The boat has two watertight hatches: a small one set into the large one. The large hatch opens and locks over the back of the boat to act as a work table and guard against getting pooped. The small hatch has a lookout dome and is just big enough to allow Kent to get in and out.

Two 16-gallon polyethylene tanks or ‘saddle-bags’ are lashed to either side of the boat under a 4in port. They will hold lighter supplies like clothes and extra line, says Kent. “They are also reserve flotation in the event of flooding.”

The rudders are attached to the transom by two 4in piano hinges. Attached to that rack is a third tiller that travels through the transom inside a rubber boot to keep it watertight for steering from inside the vessel. There is no autopilot or wind vane self-steering.

Two roll-up solar panels can be deployed or stored down below.

The keel incorporates a 40-gallon water tank.

A large waterproof case houses all electronics, bolted to the port bulkhead. This includes breakers attached to the 105 amp-hour battery in the bilge.

You can learn more about Undaunted and Matt Kent’s Atlantic crossing on his Facebook page Little Boat Project or the website littleboatproject.org