The Legend of Sylfia

‘This is the story of a sailboat named Sylfia and the ragtag crew that call her home.’

That’s what the intro of a video blog called Expedition Drenched sounds like, that was suddenly suggested to Iñaki on Youtube. Hardly by coincidence, but because of a very special sailboat that we came across.

Our trip to inspect 3 sailing ships in Spain was unfortunately not successful, so we had to look elsewhere. Of course, we tried to take advantage of all the impressions and experiences we were able to collect in La Manga and included them in our search. We continued digging through the vastness of the internet and exchanged information about our latest discoveries at regular meetings. It was interesting to see that we encountered many ships multiple times, and that some of the pictures and information on the respective websites differed from each other.

When we identified a potential candidate, many of our inquiries went through brokers first, who had the ships listed in their company’s portfolio. Dealing with them took a little practice. Brokers of course want to sell their ships at the highest possible price, so you had to be tough and read between the lines. For example, we were pretty relentless until we got current pictures of certain parts of a vessel from the brokers and tried to get direct contact with the owners. We had learned this once and for all during the visit to Gran Atalaya.

Read about our sad encounter with Gran Atalaya here

We got really good at getting an overview of which ships were worth shortlisting. Of course, the location where the vessels were moored was also important. Our main focus was on Europe, but when we saw a really great candidate, we also considered trips to more distant areas.

It so happened that Iñaki selected a really special ship, which we crossed paths with a couple of times, but was not considered for various reasons. We’re talking of a 24-meter long steel ketch (a ketch has two masts, a large main mast and a smaller mast behind it) called ‘Sylfia’, which was at anchor in Kerikeri in New Zealand back then.

Sylfia – Photo © Sylvan Kuczera

We had seen Sylfia on the internet a few times, but she only had bunks for up to 16 people in a large cabin in the ship’s hull and had a relatively rudimentary interior, which always deterred us. But Iñaki realized the potential in her. What if we could convert the entire interior? There would be room for several double cabins, bathrooms and a salon, and we would also be completely free in the interior design of the ships huge hull. Where you have to scramble around in the engine room in normal sailboats, Sylfia had an entire workshop. There was a ton of space everywhere on the ship.

Sylfia’s story is well documented and is the stuff of legends. She was planned and built by a polish mechanical engineer named Bernard Kuczera, as the last of several steel vessels. Kuczera, born near Katowice (far from the Polish coast), has sailed all over the world with all these ships and has experienced the craziest stories. He ended up staying in New Zealand with his family and building Sylfia practically on his own. Like most of his ships, she impresses with her sheer size, the large wheelhouse, and her steel lattice masts. Unfortunately, Bernard Kuczera disappeared on an excursion with his dinghy and could not be found despite an intensive search. The whole story can be listened to in a great podcast by Expedition Drenched. It’s worth it!

We got creative, started to gather information and plan the expansion so that we knew roughly what we were looking at in case of a purchase. We were particularly inspired by the traditional Kona shipbuilders from Sulawesi. These seamen and seawomen build up to 30 meters long wooden ships, called ‘Pinisi’ or ‘Palari’ on the beaches of Bina and Tanah Beru without any drawings. The finished barges are used for trade, fishing or as floating hotels for diving tourism. The latter in particular mostly captivate with breathtaking wooden cabins. The knowledge for the construction of the ships is passed on orally, every single plank on the ship has its own name.

In the meantime, we were also in contact with Sylvan, Bernard Kuczera’s son. The ship is named after him and his sister Sophia. He helped his father build Sylfia and was now looking for worthy successors. We had some cool phone calls to the other end of the world with Sylvan and talked to him about our plans. Unfortunately, negotiations ultimately failed due to the price. We just couldn’t come to equal terms, although mentally we were practically on the plane to visit Sylvan and Sylfia. Too bad, because so our search started all over again.

A few months later, a video suddenly appears in Iñaki’s suggestions from Youtube, in which a young couple called Nate and Jordan announce that they have recently become the proud owners of a giant steel sailing ship in New Zealand. The two sail with a young crew from all over the world from New Zealand to the wider world and share their adventures in beautiful video blogs. Expedition Drenched is discovered and Sylfia has found her way back into our lives.

Of course, it was clear that we had to follow the adventures of the two immediately. Pati and I have watched every episode since then and we are glad that Sylfia has found the perfect owners and that we can follow her adventures from afar.

Who knows, maybe one day our paths will cross again.

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