Andrew Bedwell is planning to smash the record for sailing the smallest boat to cross the Atlantic. His vessel, Big C is just over 1m/3.2ft long

The smallest boat to cross the Atlantic was 5ft 4inches, sailed by American sailor, Hugo Vihlen in 1993.

Many have tried but failed to break this record. But sailor Andrew Bedwell believes he can regain this most unusual of crowns for Britain.

The 48-year-old solo skipper is no stranger to sailing in small craft or pushing the limits.

In 2015, he finished the Jester Baltimore Challenge aboard his 23ft Hunter 707, Outlaw.

The following year, Andrew sailed around Britain singlehanded in his 6.5m (21.3ft) Mini Transat 241 Blue One.

Big C will have be sailed using dual furling headsails, outriggers and an A frame mast. Credit: Andrew Bedwell

Big C will be sailed using dual furling headsails, outriggers and an A frame mast. Credit: Andrew Bedwell

This was eclipsed by his most extreme challenge to date – sailing 241 Blue One from Whitehaven in Cumbria to Iceland and into the Arctic Circle and back in 2019.

The yacht has no creature comforts – which Andrew actually prefers, being of the Roger Taylor school of ‘back to basics’ sailing.

He slept no more than 20 minutes at a time on a beanbag (the boat had no bunk) and had a bucket as a toilet.

In May 2023 he plans to push himself further and attempt the record for the smallest boat to cross the Atlantic.

The 1,900 mile voyage will start in St Johns, Newfoundland and finish off Lizard Point in Cornwall.

He expects it to take 60 days (that is what he has told his wife) but admits it might take longer, as he will be at the ‘mercy of the weather‘.

‘There will be days when the winds are not favourable and I just have to chuck out a sea anchor which is mounted on the bow and just furl everything in and sit there. These will not be the pleasant days,’ he noted.

For now, Andrew is concentrating on finalising his vessel – Big C, which was designed and built by Liverpudlian sailor Tom McNally, a legend in micro-yachting who died in 2017 from cancer.

Tom McNally with Big C which he planned to sail across the Atlantic and back. Credit: Lorraine McNally

Tom McNally with his boat Big C which he planned to sail across the Atlantic and back. Andrew Bedwell has now modified the boat to make his own record attempt. Credit: Lorraine McNally

Tom set the smallest boat to cross the Atlantic record in 1993 in his 5ft 4.5 inch boat, Vera Hugh. It was broken by Hugo Vihlen.

Andrew, who has run a boat repair business, has modified Big C himself. The boat is built out of GRP with a foam core. He has modified McNally’s plans, making the boat smaller and essentially custom building the vessel for his height.

Even so, at 6ft tall, he still can’t stand up in the craft when the dome is down and will have to follow exercises provided by a physiotherapist to keep his legs functioning.

‘When my backside is sitting on the floor, my head is literally an inch away from the dome at the top and being just over a 1m long, I can only stretch my legs out about two-thirds of the way,’ explained Andrew.

‘I do appreciate the nice things in life but I prefer to rough it and making my life harder for myself; this seemed the ultimate challenge, especially as it is my 50th birthday next year. There is no toilet on board so in fact my only comfort on board Big C will be a flannel, which will be heavily tied on to the outside and hanging overboard.’

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The boat has 12 watertight compartments – eight internally and four externally – as well as open and closable vents. Once fully sealed, Big C only has 40 minutes of air inside before Andrew would pass out.

Food has been worked out by a nutritionist and will be made by Andrew’s wife, before being packed into the craft.

‘I don’t want to say vile, but the food is not the most flavoursome. We will pack it outside of Big C in the external tanks to increase stability and internally, using the external food first.’

Big C‘s keel will hold 5 litres of drinking water and there is a manual watermaker to top up the tank which will be operated by Andrew’s right hand.

Power will be provided by solar panels on the back of the craft, and there will be a hand-cranked generator which will be operated by both Andrew’s left and right hand.

The main compartment will have AIS, VHF radio and a small chartplotter to keep power consumption down.

Big C will begin sea trials in mid June ahead of the challenge in May 2023. Credit: Andrew Bedwell

Big C will begin sea trials in mid-June ahead of the challenge in May 2023. Credit: Andrew Bedwell

Big C is a ‘downwind, tradewind vessel’. She has twin rudders (in case one breaks) dual furling headsails, outriggers and an A frame mast.

‘We have twin furling headsails, you can furl them or unfurl them. I can unfurl them from inside, I can sheet them from inside. We will be relying on the tradewinds,’ said Andrew, who is from Scarisbrick, Lancashire.

In heavy weather, Andrew will use a full harness to strap himself to Big C. He will also have a full support crew to track and guide his passage.

The smallest boat to cross the Atlantic, Father's Day

Andrew Bedwell will be trying to break the record set by American sailor Hugo Vihlen in 1993 in his 5ft 4in boat, Father’s Day. Credit: Tom Meaker/Alamy Stock Photo

Big C will start sea trials in mid-June, and Andrew has several longer passages planned before the record attempt.

He is also looking for sponsors. He had hoped the drinks firm, Red Bull would back him but the firm declined saying of the challenge it was ‘inspirational, but mad’.

‘My 9 year old daughter thinks it is incredible. I hope she is proud. My wife thinks I am absolutely crackers,’ said Andrew. ‘But you have to push yourself. Life is about challenges and there are an awful lot of people going through life thinking ‘I wish I had done…’ I’ve gone the other way and say I will do it.’

The Big C Atlantic Challenge will be raising money for Cancer Research in tribute to Tom McNally.

Who was Tom McNally?

Liverpudlian Tom McNally was intent on setting records for the smallest boat to cross the Atlantic.

He achieved his goal in July 1993 when he sailed the 5ft 4.5 inch boat, Vera Hugh, from Lisbon, Portugal to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida via Puerto Rico, despite a cracked hull and having run out of water and food.

The boat was partly built out of an old discarded wardrobe and the hatch was made out of an old washing machine door.

Tom beat the world record set by American sailor Hugo Vilhen in 1968 after he crossed in April Fool, which was 5ft 11in.

But Tom’s glory was was short lived when Vilhen sailed the 5ft 4in Father’s Day from Newfoundland to Cornwall in 105 days, reclaiming the crown in September 1993.

Tom McNally in Big C

Tom McNally designed Big C himself. Credit: Ajax News & Feature Service / Alamy Stock Photo

Undeterred, Tom tried to take it back.

In 2002 he attempted, but failed, to cross the Atlantic in the tiny 3ft 10.5in Vera Hugh – Cancer Research. Having sailed 800 miles from Gibraltar to Gran Canaria, the boat and all his equipment was stolen from the harbour at Mogan.

In 2009, he planned a double Atlantic crossing in his purpose-built 3ft 10inch boat, The Big C, to raise money for Sail 4 Cancer.

His route would have seen him sail from Cadiz to the Canary Islands, and on to Puerto Rico. Tom was then planning on sailing north along the eastern seaboard of the USA before heading back to him home port of Liverpool.

Sadly, illness thwarted his plans.

After battling cancer for more than eight years, Tom McNally died on 12 June 2017 at the age of 77.

Enjoyed reading Crazy or sane? Record attempt for the smallest boat to cross the Atlantic?

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