Alex Dreyfoos is an owner who knew exactly what he wanted: a unique yacht to take him on a unique voyage. Read his diary and enjoy his remarkable photographs from his 19-month, 48,000-mile adventure aboard Silver Cloud.
So why choose a one-of-a-kind SWATH yacht? My main motivation has been to defeat the boating evil of seasickness, which can lay low guests on even the most sophisticated superyacht – any guests in general, and wife Renate in particular. When I began to research a suitable hull form, the Small Waterplane Area, Twin Hull (SWATH) concept was recommended to me. The leading purveyors of this technology are Abeking & Rasmussen, but almost entirely in a commercial context. And yet here, I thought, was the basis of a yacht that could take me around the world in as comfortable a fashion as possible. After nailing down a design and specification, we went to contract in 2006 for a yacht that would have an LOA of 41 metres with a near 18-metre beam. Silver Cloud was about to be born.
Palm Beach, Florida
It’s a few months since we took delivery of Silver Cloud and we are now happily berthed in Palm Beach. There has been so much talk about our unconventional-looking boat among the local yachting community that I’ve already hosted three cocktail parties on board for friends and organisations we’ve been involved with over the years. We erected a large tent on the helideck and found that we can comfortably accommodate 125 guests aboard at a time. As well as stability, this is a yacht that is all about usable space.
What a great few months it has been! Our departure from the Abeking & Rasmussen yard in Germany was our shakedown cruise. We needed to learn how to trim her and how best to utilise her very sophisticated stabilisation system. We used that trip to find out what speeds gave us the best efficiency, what each of various alarms meant, and so on.
We left the Weser river and headed east through the Baltic Sea, down the English Channel, south along the west coast of Spain and Portugal and onto Gibraltar. One thing we learned very quickly was that no matter where in the world Silver Cloud is cruising, porpoises love playing in our bow wave, and when they do they are always entertaining.
We had stopped at Gibraltar to take on fuel and drop off two engineers the shipyard had sent with us in case we had problems on the way there – fortunately, they had nothing to do.
And so began our transatlantic adventure. The next call was the Canary Islands. I had invited some close friends with time to spare to join me as guests across the Atlantic. This turned out to be a pleasingly uneventful passage with not a single episode of seasickness, and we arrived in the US Virgin Islands pleased with the SWATH’s performance.
I’d opted to make landfall in St Thomas instead of heading straight to our home in Palm Beach so that more friends could fly in and occupy all four guest staterooms during the four-day passage to Palm Beach. I was please I did as we all had a great time and during that shakedown guest cruise we could make sure everything worked by testing it fully.
Now in Palm Beach, after showing off the yacht for a while longer, we are truly ready to depart on our almost-round-the-world adventure.
Once again the yacht is surpassing all expectations. We are berthed in Seattle where my son is an engineering manager at Microsoft, so Silver Cloud played host to our family reunion.
How did we get here? We spent the winter cruising as a family, stopping in the Bahamas for a diving trip so my newly PADI-certified grandkids could take in some marine life (Silver Cloud’s stability on the hook makes her a great diving platform). We then headed to the Panama Canal, an engineering marvel that is fascinating to cruise through, even for me who had made the passage twice before.
We had hoped to make several stops at the resort communities on Mexico’s west coast, but with a swine flu epidemic sweeping through the area we were advised not to. Cabo San Lucas, however, is on the southern tip of an isolated peninsula, where the risk of infection was considered small, so we stopped for whale-watching and pelican- spotting, which we found incredibly exciting, and fished for white marlin – an activity that proved very rewarding.
The next highlight was San Diego with its large, wonderfully protected harbour, home to the US Navy’s Pacific fleet (I never tire of looking at navy warships). I am on the board of the Scripps Research Institute in this city, so I discovered another great excuse for a party on board!
Continuing north, we enjoyed an interesting and memorable day anchored off the picturesque Catalina Island, home to the century-old Tuna Club. I made sure we spent some quality time at the luxury Pebble Beach resort and scheduled a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium before we headed up to San Francisco. No matter how many times I have done it, I never fail to find sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge truly exciting.
My sister lives in the Bay area, as do many of our friends, so we didn’t have to try very hard to find yet another excuse for two more parties on board Silver Cloud!
After Seattle, our plan is to anchor off Vancouver Island, where I want to visit Butchart Gardens in Victoria. It is one of the world’s most beautiful gardens, developed by the Butchart family in an old quarry, and it is a photographer’s paradise. And Vancouver itself, with its interesting architecture and extensive water tributaries, is always a great city to arrive at under your own steam.
Since Seattle and Vancouver, our trip has given us so many unbeatable photographic opportunities. Indeed, I have just had one of the most incredible I ever remember experiencing. We had stopped here in Dutch Harbor, in north Alaska, for fuel. Our journey is taking the great circle route to Japan, and has led us north of the Aleutian Islands in a north-westerly direction, close enough to Dutch Harbor for it to be worth a visit. Here, the marina attendants took great pleasure in throwing little pieces of raw salmon onto Silver Cloud’s helideck – it elicits a raucous display from the American bald eagles as they fight for scraps of food. I am particularly proud of the photographs of the tussling eagles I’ve taken from the helideck. It was a great fourth of July show by the eagles.
I had been looking forward to our cruise to Sitka in Alaska, and as we sailed along Canada’s inland waterway I took in the area’s plentiful and fascinating marine and birdlife. I love photographing aquatic mammals and we had plenty of opportunity to do so here. One of my favourites is the male orca: identified by a large dorsal fin, he is always accompanied by his harem, which have noticeably smaller dorsal fins.
We called in at native Tlingit, Aleut and Inuit Indian villages in both Canada and southern Alaska, and though it was sad to see these areas blighted by alcoholism, ever-present is the dramatic canvas of nature. The scenic Sawyer glacier in Tracy Arm was another highlight.
Next up is the great circle route across the Pacific. My wife Renate, having enjoyed being on board Silver Cloud almost continuously since we had departed Germany, thought the Juneau-Tokyo passage may be boring, so opted to spend the time in our summer home in the Adirondack mountains, New York State instead. It’s an equally appealing spot, though when she saw the photographs I’d taken of the eagles she realised she had made the wrong call!
Papua New Guinea
They say timing is everything, and that was never more true than when we by chance arrived in Yokohama in time to enjoy an outstanding fireworks display celebrating the harbour’s 400th anniversary. It was the perfect opening to my six weeks spent cruising southern Japan, visiting as many historic sites as I could.
While it would have been possible to see most of what we did as shore-based tourists, it was so much nicer not to have to. Sailing aboard Silver Cloud, we had the pleasure of not having to pack and unpack suitcases each day, sleeping in our own beds every night, and eating Japanese food (enjoyable as it is) only when we wanted to!
As we headed south, we went for immensely enjoyable scuba-diving sessions at Zamami Shima and Okinawa, taking photographs above and below water. The underwater photography in Palau’s extremely clear water with its abundance of fishlife kept us excitedly diving every day for a week. We moved on to Yap, and it was here, while anchored off a native village, that we had a really close-up diving experience with a manta ray.
The three weeks we spent along the north-east coast of Papua New Guinea was the highlight of the cruise. The friendliness and unique lifestyle of the natives ashore was wonderful, and diving on the wrecks of aircraft and ships proved truly memorable.
The sealife, too, was remarkable. I had one experience with an octopus: every time it sensed my presence it moved to a new location, each time stopping and trying to hide from my lens by presenting a different colour scheme. We played that game for 12 photos before it crawled into a hole. Our Australian guide is married to a well-connected native of Papua New Guinea, and had been able to learn the locations of a great many World War II aircraft that made crash-landings near the shore, having run out of fuel. Locals rescued and hid the air crews until after the war had ended. The locations of these crashed planes have never been published, and to see them in good condition after 60 years or more underwater is remarkable.
Having spent most of November around Cairns in Queensland, we cruised down the Great Barrier Reef. Highlights here included diving on the wreck of SS Yongala, a ship that sank in 1911 with the loss of all on board, which offered endless underwater photography possibilities. Our stop in the Whitsunday Islands was equally memorable, and Renate particularly loved the koala bears.
It was Renate’s birthday in December, and I wanted it to be unforgettable (it being one of her rollover decades). After discussing where she might like to be for the celebration, she settled on Sydney – she had always wanted to witness the harbour’s spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display. We took a berth at the marina by Dawes Point, even though it cost a small fortune to rent and was only available in month-long periods. I chose to take it from December 10 and used it as our base of operations while we toured the area.
We managed to see a great deal of the Sydney area, taking in, of course, performances at the Opera House, extensive visits to the city’s attractions and tours of the nearby Outback. It was on one of these hiking adventures that our guide excitedly found a poisonous red-bellied black snake to photograph.
What followed were six weeks circling New Zealand. Starting in the south, we enjoyed a day at Ulva Island, a national park in Southland where animals have no natural predators and birds walk on the ground right at your feet. On the mainland we enjoyed watching penguins, and took in acre upon acre of rolling green fields, stocked with sheep and more sheep.
But for me, the most beautiful part of New Zealand is Milford Sound. We chartered a helicopter and had it land aboard Silver Cloud to pick us up and take us on a scenic tour of the area. It was spectacular, and one of the highlights of our trip. We made several day trips inland, visiting the wine country and enjoying the produce, before heading around the coast to Wellington.
The final part of our New Zealand cruise will be to Kaikoura for more whale-watching, then on to Auckland and the Bay of Plenty.
I had planned to cruise west to Perth and then on to the Seychelles, Madagascar and Cape Town, with the circumnavigation ending in the Canary Islands. But with pirates now routinely raiding ships in the Indian Ocean near the Seychelles, I took advice from experts and steered clear. We had made it two-thirds of the way around the world, and we had been safe throughout. I wanted to keep it that way.
So we set our course towards Fiji, Bora Bora and Tahiti. We took our time and spent several days at each, enjoying good diving and the resort atmospheres they are so good at creating. From there we set sail for the Galapagos Islands. The 3,500-nautical-mile, 14-day passage from Tahiti to the Galapagos certainly stretched Silver Cloud’s legs, and she handled her part of the passage with no problems. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of her passengers! The length of this ocean passage did create some restlessness among our guests, particularly because satellite internet coverage was poor.
I had been to the Galapagos Islands before but this was the first time we had arrived with our own boat. The island wildlife is boundlessly entertaining, and – as you can imagine – presented me with endless photo opportunities. When snorkelling with the Galapagos penguins, I was amazed by the bullet-like speed and agility they have underwater, which is in such sharp contrast to their awkward motion on land.
For our last destination before heading home, we called into Tropic Star Lodge, in Pinas Bay, south-west Panama, known for its great marlin and sailfish fishing. I am pleased to report that it did not disappoint. Our trip through the Panama Canal was uneventful, and the cruise back to Palm Beach passed equally happily.
And so ended my wonderful almost-round-the-world voyage. A circumnavigation of the world at the equator is 21,600 nautical miles; Silver Cloud with her north and south excursions had travelled 48,000nm during these 19 months. And do you know what? I enjoyed every minute of it. SyW
Photographs taken during Alex’s voyage can be viewed at: http://picasaweb.google.com/awdreyfoos
This feature is taken from the November/December 2011 edition of SuperYacht World. Click here to buy the issue for your iPad.