RYA Yachtmaster Instructor Ella Hibbert is looking for sponsors for a singlehanded circumnavigation of the Arctic in her 38ft ketch

Most sailors who complete an Arctic circumnavigation do so with crew.

Ella Hibbert is hoping to become the first woman to complete the voyage alone and non-stop.

The 26-year-old RYA Yachtmaster instructor originally planned to sail solo through the Northwest Passage, but decided to extend the voyage to an Arctic circumnavigation ‘to try and bring awareness to people about how the Arctic sea ice is melting and the dangers of oil and gas drilling moving into the Arctic.’

The hull of a steel yacht

The hull of Yeva will need to be sandblasted before the Arctic circumnavigation. Credit: Ella Hibbert

‘Some scientists are estimating we could see an ice-free summer in the Arctic as early as 2035. I believe it is crucial that people across the globe understand that we and the Arctic are intricately linked – the conditions in one location impact the future of the other. Without Arctic sea ice, there will be deep, blue water, absorbing heat from our atmosphere, instead of ice reflecting heat back into space – meaning more intense heat waves worldwide. It also means colder winters, as the polar jet stream has been seen to deviate from its usual course.. On top of this, rising sea levels endanger coastal cities, both for the polar north, and for oceanside communities worldwide,’ said Hibbert.

She has just bought a 38ft Bruce Roberts-designed steel hull ketch called Yeva , and is now preparing the boat for high latitude sailing.

Ella Hibbert worked in the superyacht industry before training as an RYA Yachtmaster instructor. Credit: Ella Hibbert

Ella Hibbert worked in the superyacht industry before training as an RYA Yachtmaster instructor. Credit: Ella Hibbert

The yacht was built in 1978.

‘The superstructure is really well welded and sound, but the interior does need some work. It was home finished so at the moment we are sorting out the insulation. The plan is to rip the bow cabin bed out and turn the entire bow cabin into storage units. We’re going to take the fake teak decking off and then grind everything back and paint the deck with non-skid deck paint instead of the fake teak. The hull needs sandblasting, then it needs a new engine as well. I would like a hydro-electric diesel,’ she explained.

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Hibbert wanted to buy a ketch, as the smaller sail plan will be easier to manage when sailing solo.

Yeva also has a cutter stay, as well as a forestay, providing plenty of sail plan options for an Arctic circumnavigation.

‘I am expecting a wide range of weather. The Northwest Passage is renowned for being foggy, but then the north coast of Alaska is known for storms, up to 40-50 knots of wind. One thing that will be quite unusual for me to experience will be the constant daylight during the Arctic summer. But that should make it easer to keep to a sleep schedule,’ she said.

Inside of a boat

Proper insulation will be added to the interior before the boat is taken into high latitudes. Credit: Ella Hibbert

Hibbert hopes to secure financial sponsorship for the boat’s refit by the summer, allowing her to continue working full time as an instructor in the sailing season while the work is being carried out. 

She has already secured in-kind sponsorship. Charts are being supplied by DSNM Ltd, MSOS is providing medical kit, telemedical support during the voyage, and medical training prior to departure, Jeckells is making new sails, YB Tracking is providing satellite tracking and two-way communication and boatfolk has given a marina berth for Yeva at Haslar Marina in Gosport.

Hibbert, who learnt to sail a dinghy as a child before progressing onto keel boats, has sailed the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic, and plans to sail into high latitudes throughout the next year.

‘I am going to sail solo around the Isle of Wight in January to get really comfortable with the boat. Once she has had work done on her, I will spent time next autumn and winter storm chasing; going offshore and getting into that bad weather and putting myself in those positions alone. Although I know I’m capable of handling the boat, it’s about me being out there alone and getting used to that mindset.’

The hull of a yacht with a fake teak deck

Yeva is a 38ft yacht designed by Bruce Roberts

Hibbert expects the Arctic circumnavigation to take four to five months, depending on ice movements and weather routing, although she will be taking provisions for up to eight months on the water. She is planning to leave the Hamble in March 2024 for Nuuk, Greenland. She will start her circumnavigation from Nuuk in April 2024.

‘Getting trapped in the ice is a risk factor. I’m looking at the satellite data which shows where the ice has been this year and last year, and will monitor it for the rest of the year. By the end of 2023, I will decide whether I’m going to go clockwise or anti clockwise around the Arctic.’

Hibbert has sought advice from Australian solo sailor Lisa Blair, who currently holds the record for the fastest circumnavigation of Antarctica – sailing the circuit in 92 days.

At the end of the Arctic circumnavigation, Hibbert plans to sell the boat and divide the money between two charities – Polar Bears International and Ocean Conservancy.

A link to her Crowdfunding page can be found here.

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