Serge Testa is the man who sailed around the world on the world's smallest yacht. We tell you how he decided to take such a trip and what his microboat was like.
«A little ambition, a little imagination and a lot of patience can go a long way.»
Serge Testa was born in 1950 to an Italian family in France. He spent his childhood in Brazil, but education related to metalworking, he received in the Old World. His life seemed to have been predetermined. But his passion for travel led Testa to the other side of the world - in Australia, where he literally fell in love with the sea and the sail.
The first experience was not very successful: the wooden sloop on which Testa studied at sea was too dilapidated and sunk. Serge did not lose heart and continued to exercise in sailing, while trying his hand at building boats. No wonder that one day the thought of sailing around the world matured in his head, and necessarily on a yacht of his own design.
Testa first built a 33-foot sloop on which to travel around the world in relative comfort. However, after calculating his finances, he found that the remaining money was unlikely to be enough to sail without having to take a forced break to earn daily bread.
It was categorically unsuitable for Serge, so he sold «a yacht too big» to return to a smaller version in a few years. What's more, this boat was to be the smallest boat ever made such a risky venture.
Although Serge later denied his initial plans to set a record for a solo circumnavigation yacht, some evidence to the contrary: before the first sheets of metal appeared on the floor of his study, the future designer had studied the statistics of long-distance voyages on well oh-very small boats in some detail.
The first officially registered attempt to sail the Atlantic on the 3.9m (12ft 9'') Dark Secret boat with Latin sails was made by American William Andrews back in 1888. Alas, on the 62nd day after leaving Boston, he had to give up continuing sailing and part with his baby right in the sea. Later, in 1898 and 1899. Williams returned to the idea twice more: first at the 13-ft Phantom Ship gaffer tender and then at the 12-ft Doree gaffer boat, but failed again - the voyages had to be stopped on day 34 and 21 respectively.
It was not until 1965 that Englishman John Reiding managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a 12-foot boat. His Bermuda sloop Sjo Ag («Sea Egg») covered the distance from Plymouth to Newport in 67 days. And a year later, Irishman Will Verity in 67 days made a successful transatlantic voyage on the 12-foot sloop Nonoalca - now from west to east, from American Lowerdale to the port of Trailly in Ireland.
By the early 1980s, the Atlantic had confidently conquered smaller boats. So, in 1982 the American Wayne Dickenson in 142 days sailed from Point Allerton in Massachusetts to the Irish coast on the 2.7 (8 ft.11") God's Tear. A year later, British Eric Peter sailed from Las Palmas to Guadeloupe in 46 days on the barely 1.8-meter (5 ft.10.5") Toniky-Noo.
As for the Pacific, it was the first time that John Reiding crossed it on a small yacht. His Sjo Ag successfully sailed from San Diego on the west coast of the USA to New Zealand, but moved on to Australia and disappeared into the Tasman Sea without a trace. The American Jerry Spice was more fortunate: in 1981, he travelled 108 days from Long Beach (California) to Sydney, Australia, with short stops in Hawaii, Fanning Atoll, Fiji and New Caledonia. By the way, on this voyage, his 10ft. (3.05m) Yankee Girl showed quite a speed: 70 nautical miles with an individual record of 130 miles in 24 hours!
The grim humor of the famous Guinness Book of Records seems to have transformed the English word tiny into the abbreviation T.I.N.Y. - This Is Not Yachting, has only spurred the interest of marine lovers in ultra-small sailing.
«The kids» already managed to set their first transoceanic records, now they had to master the round-the-world routes. What's more, the first such application had already been made.
By the time Serge Testa was just starting to design his baby, American Bill Dunlop on his 9ft. sloop Wind's Will had successfully crossed the Atlantic in 76 days, after which he announced his desire to go around the world. The voyage was destined to end tragically, with «Wind's Will dying»near the Great Barrier Reef and Dunlop himself doomed to death by thirst and hunger on a desert coral island. In the fall of 1984, his last letter was accidentally found in a bottle thrown by the waves at the Queensland beach, but by then Testa would be out to sea, unaware of the sad fate of his predecessor. And in the meantime...
«I had no blueprints - all the plans existed only in my head.»
So, the general concept is defined: a boat of minimum size, with the highest possible survivability and seaworthiness. The material - aluminum for ship structures, quite strong and not too expensive (anyway, money was enough only for 200 kg).
Serge immersed himself in the work, dozens of times changing various elements from keel to shred. The contours of the yacht were literally on a hunch: every detail had to look right, and together they had to create a harmonious image of the boat, giving it quite good seaworthiness.
The result was a design so original that even the mother of the future traveler refused to recognize her as a real boat.
By the way, it was she who gave it «something» first part of the name - Acrohc (thing, thing) in her native Italian dialect. The second part of the name - Australis - was patriotically added by Sergio himself.
General view, specifications and layout of Acrohc Australis yacht
Max Length (LOA): 3.607 m (11ft. 10")
Max Width: 1.68 m Saddle:
: 3mm AluminiumWeight of the
: 20 lDeposurement:
ca. 850 kgFigures
are indicated by figures
. Lining table6
. Fresh water tank7
. Inner tiller tiller8
. Food locks11-12
. Lockers for food11-12
. Stuffing lockers13.
. Control panel for electrical appliances and lag15
. Satellite navigator (appeared already during the trip)
17. Nasal handcuff18
. Tool Loker19
. A medical supplies box20
. The bilge pump21
. Water pump22
. Echo sounder and lag24
. Lead ballast
The cabin on the boat was so small that it was only possible to lie on a narrow bunk, but it was impossible to straighten a full height under a low ceiling. But everything that was needed was literally at arm's length.
The unsinkability «of the thing was» guaranteed by six whole hermetically sealed lockers, which its creator proudly called «waterproof compartments». Stability was ensured by a weighted 5-foot keel with lead ballast. A special horizontal plate was fixed in the middle part of the keel to reduce drift with a significant slope. Serge paid special attention to the possibility of steering the boat without leaving the cabin. For this purpose, he installed an additional (inner) tiller, as well as a whole system of six winches, thanks to which the sails (genoa and grotto on twists) could also be controlled from the inside.
Once the bunk was disassembled, it was possible to sit down and make a rather tolerable observation right on the course, while tiny side windows (rather than even observation holes) allowed you to look over the horizon from time to time on both sides. To help with his solo voyage, Serge designed an unusual bow thruster, which could also be adjusted directly from the cabin.
The challenge was to ensure that the superstructure was completely watertight, with additional holes for the ends of the running rigging. The test coped with this with the help of special nylon bushings, which later served him faithfully almost to the end of the world.
The Acrohc Australis outfit was completed by a four-horsepower outboard engine, which later almost challenged her title as the world's smallest traveler.
The fact is that according to the hull measurement rules when registering the achievements of microboats, their LOA must take into account the length of all stationary (as well as towed) fences without exception. Thus, with the official record length of 3.6 meters (without retractable bowsprit and removable rudder), the «Australian Stuff» got the undesirable addition of 56.3 cm at the expense of protruding engine mounts and solar panels and «grew» up to 4.17 meters! Who knows, if Guinness inspectors had treated it less condescendingly in due time, Serge Test's record would have been improved already in 2003 - and by our compatriot Evgeny Gvozdev, on 3,7 meter «Saide»...
However, launched on June 9th, 1984, Acrohc Australis immediately demonstrated excellent performance without the help of an engine. Even with a relatively calm sea, it was able to reach speeds of up to 5 knots and could go in a steep base-wind (30° to the wind).
Testa himself was delighted with the success of his offspring, and believed in his abilities. Now they both had to pass the test by the Ocean...
«It was no more dangerous than sailing around the world in a large boat...»
When the «Australian Stuff» came out of Brisbane a few days later and moved slowly north along the coast of Moreton Bay, few people knew that she had begun her famous round-the-world journey. Serge shared his plans only with his family, suggesting that the final decision to continue the journey would be made only upon arrival in Darwin - if he could do so at all.
The first day on the road was marked by a ground landing. Fortunately, neither the keel nor the hull as a whole were damaged, which gave the novice traveler the opportunity to see the successful design of the boat, which turned out to be as «strong as a tank». During the next four months of sailing around the northeastern tip of Australia, Test had to test «»the strength of the boat more than once, and at the same time - to improve their knowledge of navigation, learning how to calculate and determine the place by visual reference points.
Otherwise, the start of the voyage was more like a cruise that took place in fairly favorable weather conditions. The boat behaved well, and its skipper got used to being alone and gaining confidence in the ultimate success of the enterprise he had conceived.
Arriving in Darwin in early November, Serge spent almost two months in final preparation for his further trip. Acrohc Australis was subjected to the most meticulous inspection, the case was cleaned and repainted, the rigging was tightened and all movements were carefully checked. She now had a long voyage outside the sight of the shore, so Testa acquired a sextan and several books on which he hoped to learn how to work with the tool himself. After sailing for a few days to his family in Brisbane, he returned to Darwin after Christmas and already on the 1st January 1985 raised his sails to the Coconut Islands.
This 58-day crossing was remembered by Serge for a long time.
Meeting storms, in which the wind went on and on in a hurricane (up to 60 knots!), the ruthless sun, burning the skin and killer humidity, from which at constant contact with sea water all body was covered with painful ulcers.
But even in these unbearable conditions he managed to expand his knowledge in navigation, having learned to determine the place by the midday height of the Sun with the accuracy of 5 nautical miles - not bad for a beginner!
It was only by early March «that Shtuchka»finally made it to the cherished Coconut Islands, where she had to stay for two whole weeks: Dough healed his wounds and bruises, resupplied and prepared for a «holiday» (as he thought) 2400-mile passage to the island of Mauritius.
on March 14th, he went back out to sea. The first week the weather really pampered Acrohc Australis, but then the wind got stronger again and turned into a multi-day storm, fortunately along the way. Even on the extremely rugged sails, the little one literally flew on the waves, traveling 100 miles or more in a day, but then... the autorail failed, so Serge had to stay behind the tiller all the time.
Chronic lack of sleep gave rise to hallucinations - in the middle of the ocean, he heard the rooster singing, and the voices of children.
Fortunately, after a few days, the wind dropped to moderate and on the 29th day of swimming Serge saw the mountains of Mauritius rising directly from the ocean. Having gained a little strength in Port Louis and then spent three weeks in the hospitable Saint-Pierre on the Isle of Reunion, he set sail for Madagascar in mid-May.
This section of the road almost turned out to be fatal. The attempt to pour alcohol into the tank of a heated slab at the rocking rink ended with the fact that a real fountain of fire appeared in the cabin.
Fleeing the fire, a hapless cook jumped overboard. Fortunately, there were no sharks nearby, and a few cooled in the waves of Test climbed back after a few minutes and, armed with a fire extinguisher, entered the fight against the ruthless flame. «Stuku» managed to defend, and one beautiful (for winter in the southern hemisphere) in June morning, she still moored in Port Dauphin on the island of Mauritius - with an almost completely burned cabin and a skipper, glancing scorched beard.
This was followed by repairs and a relatively quiet passage to Durban, where Serge waited more than three months for winter storms. Only in «spring» October for these latitudes Acrohc Australis moved around the Cape of Good Hope. Alas, calculations for a long period of favorable weather this time have not been justified. On the very approach to Cape Town, the boat met a series of violent storms. The bow thruster failed again and Serge had to spend several days in a row at the tiller.
Chronic fatigue caused him to simply fall asleep at his post to wake up from oblivion already on the shore: the yacht lay helplessly on board a few tens of meters from the surf line.
Fortunately, the boat did not suffer any injuries or serious damage, and during the tide the boat was brought to the depths. Nevertheless, the rest of November and the whole of December Test had to be held in Cape Town for preventive inspection, cleaning and painting of the hull. The participants of the Whitbread round-the-world race, the next stage of which was just preparing to start from Cape Town, could not believe that little Acrohc is also traveling around the globe. But soon even the most desperate skeptics were convinced of Serge's determination: the new year 1986 marked the beginning of the assault on the Atlantic Ocean.
The voyage took the traditional sailing route through St. Helena (where the traveller had to stay for three weeks waiting for a bank transfer) and Ascension. This was followed by a 52-day rush to the Brazilian coast, at the end of which the accompanying storms were replaced by a calm strip. In low winds, the autoruder was not working well enough, and the single skipper had to keep the tiller almost round the clock, keeping his eyes on the compass.
At night, the need to look in and listen to the darkness was added, so as not to get under the stem of a passing ship. With one of these ocean giants «Stukka» miraculously missed less than 100 meters, and another time, worried about the close noise of the engine, Serge in vain looking for a source of danger - instead of the oncoming ship had to part with a low-flying aircraft ...
After an exhausting transoceanic transition, Brazil's Natalya had only three days to rest: local authorities refused to issue a visa and Testa had to take a course for French Guiana. He spent the next two months sailing through the southern Caribbean islands, trying to stay away from the Colombian coast for fear of pirate drug dealers.
The attack was happily avoided, but the miniature boat was constantly shaking with 20-30 knot winds.
One of the most sensitive blows this time was the loss «of the toilet» bucket, which turned the sending of natural needs at the rally into a real acrobatic trick.
Radiating the gap between the waves, it was necessary to remove the hatch, jump out on deck, lightning to do the job and dive back. For lack of skill, one had to pay each time to take an unscheduled shower from sea water.
In May, Acrohc Australis was moored in Puerto Azul, where Serge decided to wait for the satellite navigator. This predecessor GPS was later very useful for sailing across the Pacific, although due to limited solar panel power it could hardly be activated for half an hour a day.
It wasn't until late August «that the boat» passed the Panama Canal and headed for the Galapagos. This stage was so painful that Testa was on the verge of interrupting his journey around the world. With mostly weak and unpretentious winds, his boat was held hostage by the opposite Peruvian (Humboltov) current. His attempt to cross a difficult section under the engine was unsuccessful - he simply refused to work.
In addition, as we moved south, the hull became more and more algae and (especially!) clams. This significantly reduced the already slow speed of the turtle, so that Serj had to spend a few hours a day overboard, scraping in vain in an attempt to get rid of unwanted «passengers». He was exhausted so much that he did not even pamper himself with the holiday at the crossroads of the equator, but still did not give up. On the 34th day of swimming in the shroud of rain seemed vague outlines of the close land, and the next day on a suddenly revived engine «Shtuchka» entered the harbor of San Cristobal, one of the most eastern Galapagos Islands.
Test spent most of the three days here in search of methyl alcohol for the stove (only one liter of it was thinned). After resupply of water and food, he moved further south. Acrohc Australis' path lay through the Marquesas and the Tuamotu archipelago to the pearl of French Polynesia, the fabulous Tahiti.
A month and a half voyage in the South Ocean literally enchanted Serge, allowing him to truly experience the beauty of solitary wandering. And no wonder: these waters have long been a special attraction for sailors. It is no coincidence that this is where Bernard Moiseyesse sought his Joshua, refusing to win the Golden Globe race in exchange for the opportunity to continue his unity with the Ocean.
«The thing» reached Tahiti in December and Testa was able to enjoy a long deserved vacation, combining it with leisurely sightseeing on the magical island. Here he also met the new year 1987, which was destined to be the final year of his journey around the world.
The final phase took more than four months. Acrohc Australis returned to its home coasts through the scatterings of islands in the South Seas. The satellite navigator made life much easier, allowing, in Serge«'s own words, sleep by closing both eyes», but the swimming was not absolutely serene.
On the approaches to the Cook Islands there were numerous micro gaps on the back of the mainsail, so the sail had to be careful, taking the reefs or lowering even in moderate winds.
As he passed through the Tonga archipelago, «Shtutka» was stranded at the tide of Atat's atoll, and also in a real coral reef trap. Her captain had to manually carry the anchor through the shallow waters to pull the boat step by step into the clear water.
The planned landing on Norfolk Testa had to be abandoned: the wind increased sharply and the main anchor had to be parted to get away from the rocks of the leeward shore in time. On top of that, Serge managed to pick up a staphylococcal infection, the treatment of which took a lot of time and the rest of the already few forces.
However, in early May, the little Acrohc Australis passed the traverse of Moreton Island, officially closed the world, and May 16, 1987 arrived in his native Brisbane.
A journey of nearly three years was successfully completed. However, directly at sea for this long period of time Shtuchka «»spent «only 500» unforgettable days.
That's the number Serge Testa immortalised in the title of a book about his voyage that made him famous.
«I'm surprised my record still hasn't been broken...
Serge hasn't tired of wondering about it for over 30 years. However, he himself also did not want to repeat the circumnavigation on a smaller boat. A few years after his legendary voyage, he and his brother built a Polynesian boat and sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Thus (obviously, following the example of Tura Heyerdahl) the Test brothers were going to prove that America was open long before Columbus and not from the East but from the West.
However, the expedition failed and the boat had to leave off the coast of Japan. This did not discourage Serge - in subsequent years he still sailed a lot, and in the early 1990s (already with his wife Robin) built a 60-ft. steel sloop Encanto. On this yacht, Testa's couple sailed around the world in 1993-97 with far more comfort than a bachelor at Acrohc Australis could ever afford.
In 2016 Serge Testa laid down a new aluminium yacht for long-distance cruising, the 49ft catamaran Luar. Who knows which coasts it will take its creator to?