It's official - 59 North Sailing is now a two-boat operation! Starting in February, 2019, ICE BEAR (ex THINDRA), a German Frers-designed Swan 59, will be making offshore passages with Mia & I on the helm! Yep, you heard right - a 59-footer for 59 North ;)
I’m hoping that this news is received with both surprise and support - adding a second boat to our passage program is a huge leap of faith, but something that we feel is almost inevitable as we build upon the success of our first four years with ISBJORN, our beloved Swan 48. As I like to do, I’ll explain the whole story honestly and openly, sharing both what we’re excited about, and our fears and anxieties. I hope you’ll read on.
In short, we’ll be sailing the same published passage routes in 2019 as we would have on ISBJORN, but adding 2 bunks on each passage since ICE BEAR can comfortably accommodate 6 (more about the new boat here). In addition, ISBJORN, the 48, will be run on a partial schedule with another skipper on the helm to ‘test the concept’.
- ICE BEAR, as the 59 will be christened, will sail the exact same calendar in 2019 as is published online now, starting with the Havana trip in April. Mia & I will skipper the 59.
- All 2019 crew already signed up with us were notified of the new boat first - they've effectively been 'upgraded'!
- We have added 2 crew spaces on each of those legs - some have already been taken by friends of crew already signed up for those legs. You can find the updated bunk availability here.
- We have ADDED a Caribbean passage from Grenada-San Juan on the 59, and will have 6 crew bunks open for that. This will cost $3,000 and sail March 27-April 3.
Of course there is a bit of a story behind the acquisition of the 59, so if you’re interested, please read on. If you’re as excited as we are and already want to sign on to sail the new boat with us in 2019, click here, as there are suddenly lots of spaces available on ALL 2019 passages (including to Cuba)!
Here we go.
I love a good story, and we had a really cool one when we bought ISBJORN. I used to sail by the boat, then called PATRIOT, when I worked on the schooner Woodwind in Annapolis starting back in 2006. When we got the idea to start the business and I saw PATRIOT up for sale, I knew it was a foregone conclusion - it was my dream boat back in 2006, and now I’d have the chance to own her and cross oceans with her. Since 2015, Mia & I have sailed 25,000 miles on ISBJORN and love her more now than ever.
There’s a similar story with ICE BEAR. Mia & I first met the boat, then called THINDRA, and her crew way back in 2008, a full eight years before the idea for this business even started. She had sailed in the ARC Rally, where Mia & I were working for the event staff as ‘yellow shirts,’ in what would be the first of many years with World Cruising Club, who manage that rally and others. It was awesome watching all the boats come in to St. Lucia - I LOVE looking at boats of all shapes and sizes.
But we paid special attention to the Swedish and American flagged boats, and of course the ones that caught our eye. Fans of 59 North will know that I’m a sucker for a Swan, and THINDRA, a gorgeous Frers-designed 59, stood out amongst the fleet. And she flew the Swedish flag.
We became quick friends with her crew and shortly after her arrival in the Caribbean, were onboard having drinks in her cockpit at the dock in Rodney Bay Marina. At the time, 59-feet felt HUGE - here was an unattainable boat, but one that I could certainly appreciate gawking at. Little did I know then…
Delos in Svalbard
Mia & I had spent the winter of 2017/2018 preparing for the Arctic passages to Svalbard at our home in Sweden while ISBJORN got her major refit at Vindo Marin on the west coast. In December of 2017, we actually seriously considered getting a second boat. Our friend (and ISBJORN’s future skipper, which I’ll get to…) Simon Borjeson approached me about him getting a boat suitable for ski & sail expeditions in Arctic Norway, and running it under the 59 North flag, so to speak. We bounced around a few ideas and even put together a business plan, and had conversations with a Challenge 67 owner, who was looking to sell. To make a long story short, Simon, who is an engineer and works building boats in Sweden, wanted to stick to his day job for a while longer, and we were too focused on the Arctic stuff on ISBJORN to think about another boat, so we scrapped it. But the seed was planted.
Fast forward to Svalbard this summer. Our expeditions in the Arctic were killing it! we were having a blast, and building confidence every day as we sailed north. Then Delos joined us in Longyearbyen. There will be a lot more to say about this in future, but in short, sailing with the Delos gang reignited my passion in a way that’s hard to explain. It felt like anything was possible, and it was so refreshing to spend so much time with young, like-minded and driven people.
Inevitably we spent time talking about their ideas for Delos 2.0, the bigger boat they want to build. Brian even had several design plans from different naval architects that we went over. That was exciting! All of sudden, the second/bigger boat idea came flooding back into my brain and actually seemed possible. Brian and the Delos guys encouraged it.
We have the fortunate problem of being sold out through the middle of 2020. We knew we’d be generating a lot of excitement once Delos publishes there videos, but we have nowhere to put new, interested crew. So at the pub in Barentsburg, the Arctic Russian mining town one evening, Mia, James Austrums (ISBJORN’s ship’s photographer) and I toasted on the idea of a new boat.
By the time we left Longyearbyen for Iceland a week later, I had an agreement in principle with THINDRA’s owner…
THINDRA For Sale
When Delos left, I almost immediately started pouring over the listings on Yachtworld for a bigger boat. We knew we wanted another Swan, so it was easy to limit the results. They’re such amazing boats to sail, they have a first-class reputation that’s known worldwide, and they’re perfectly setup for the kind of sailing we’re doing - lots of lines and winches on deck, single bunks down below, tall rigs and DEEP keels.
THINDRA turned up in the initial search at the local cafe in Longyearbyen. Holy smokes, the same THINDRA we had gotten to know so long ago in St. Lucia! And she was listed as being in Antigua, where we’d be sailing ISBJORN in January, AND she’s already coded for commercial offshore charter under the MCA, Britain’s coast guard agency. This looked very interesting indeed.
I contacted her owner through the broker. Turns out, his longtime skipper, who we’d gotten to know over the years, was a childhood friend, who could vouch for us when I came up with the following…I proposed to the owner that we charter the boat for 2019, with an option to buy her. THINDRA would get used (she’d be hard to sell in the Caribbean anyway), and we’d get a chance to test the concept without making a huge financial commitment. After some back and forth, the owner agreed. By the time we got to Iceland, we had a signed contract. All of a sudden, we had two Swans.
Testing the Concept
We don’t own the 59 - not yet anyway. The deal Mia & I made with the owner is that we get to charter her, starting in February 2019, and that he’d take her off the market in the meantime. We have a clause in the contract that states we have until June 2019 to exercise our ‘buy’ option - meaning, we’ve already agreed on a purchase price, and it’s up to us to decide if we buy her or not. Alternatively, we have the option to simply extend the charter for another year, or return the boat to Antigua at the end of 2019 and leave it at that. The contract also allows us to rename the boat - hence the ICE BEAR part - and puts the onus on the owner to have her seaworthy and ready for us by February 1, to specific standards. To that end, her former skipper is heading to Antigua for a few weeks in November to get her ready.
So come winter 2019, we’ll have both boats in Antigua. Following our trans-Atlantic and then the RORC Caribbean 600, which we’ll race on ISBJORN with Paul Exner as planned, we have about 5 weeks to launch the 59, move aboard the new boat and sail her around the islands to get to know her a bit. At 59-feet and 62,000 pounds displacement, she’s a BEAST! Her keel is a staggering 11 ½-feet deep, her mast almost 80 feet off the water. She’s the racier tall-rig version and I cannot WAIT to get her out on the ocean and put her through her paces!
What About ISBJORN?
My dad will come to Antigua after the race to help us with the transition. He decided to forego taking his own boat, SOJOURNER, south this fall and instead will get to use ISBJORN while we shakedown the 59. Then ISBJORN will stay in Antigua until late March, when my dad and some friends will sail her over to San Juan for us ahead of the Cuba passage. Meanwhile, Mia & I will take the big boat to Grenada with friends and family, shaking her down along the way, and have added a new passage from Grenada-San Juan in the last week in March. That trip is open for booking now, with 6 crew spots.
ISBJORN will run on a partial schedule thereafter, and we’ll have both boats follow the same route from the Caribbean back to Annapolis. That means we now have 10 crew spaces in total for the Cuba trip (!) and have rented two crew houses ashore on the same street in Havana! Then both boats will go Key West-Bermuda, and on to Annapolis. It’ll be really fun meeting up with the two crews together in port before and after the passages, and man am I excited to have both Swans rafted up next to each other for a drone photo!
Simon, whom I mentioned above with the ski & sail idea, will fill in for a month to get the boat to Bermuda in April/May. I’ll have lots more on Simon going forward - in short, he’s a super duper guy, a hell of an athlete and sailor, and had tons of experience leading backcountry skiing trips in Japan. You will want to sail with him, trust me!
Both Mia & I are STOKED about this opportunity, and like I said, it feels kinda inevitable. I’ve been careful not to use the word ‘grow’ when talking about the business here. That’s not the point of this at all. I’ve said before that unlike an Internet-based tech business, there is no way to ‘scale’ what we do - a second boat is only going to add a lot of headaches and a lot of costs to what we do, with not a lot of financial upside. So what’s the point?
Instead, I’m doing it for the challenge. Part of it is ego - I want to be the next Skip Novak. He’s probably the best example of someone who had the same challenge - adding a boat to his business, and then convincing crew that they’d get the same experience, even if he wasn’t on the boat. I’m hoping to talk to him about just this on the podcast soon, so am excited to hear how he managed that challenge. Part of it is the classic ‘big boat’ syndrome - ISBJORN has shrunk over the years as we’ve gotten more comfortable on her, and I simply think it’ll be cool to have a bigger boat! The 59 has perfect accommodation for what we do, with all the crew quarters out of the living area, and a much bigger aft cabin for Mia & I, complete with a double bed ;) We live half our lives on the boat and with strangers, and we’ve been craving a bit more privacy lately.
But the biggest reason we’re doing this, the single ‘pro’ that outweighs all the ‘cons’ put together, is the opportunity to build a community. Both in terms of people who will start working WITH us - like Simon, Paul Exner, and the new mates we’ll have to bring in. And also in the ways we can continue promoting offshore sailing to young people and providing opportunities for them to get involved. Having ten available bunks now between both boats will make it easier for us to get young people aboard. And I’m already in talks with a youth racing team in the UK about letting them use ISBJORN in some of the major ocean races, to campaign as an under-20 entry. I love that kind of stuff. Finally it’ll be a chance for Mia & I to work with other like-minded people and feed off of the creativity that’ll come with that.
I’ll admit this scares me to death! There were several nights when I went to bed on ISBJORN regretting getting this whole ball rolling in the first place. Am I nuts!? We have a successful business on my dream boat, are booked through 2020, and have downtime ahead of us to enjoy! I always woke up rested and excited about the 59, but still, there’s a lot of stresses ahead.
I worry that we won’t be able to sell bunks on ISBJORN with another skipper. I worry that something will happen out of my control, since I can’t be on both boats at the same time. I worry we won’t be able to get financing to actually buy the 59 when the deadline approaches next June.
Possibilities & Excitement!
But all those worries pale in comparison to the excitement I feel at this next stage in our careers. We’ve known this news for a while now, even teased it on Instagram, and I’m pumped to finally release it to the world. There will be lots more to come about this, both on the podcast and the blog, so stay tuned.
So see you onboard ICE BEAR - we hope you’re as excited as us!