Many voyagers are sure that if they’re going to take on the Northwest Passage through Arctic Canada, they want to own a steel or aluminum boat. The malleable nature of metal, bending not shattering on impact, makes these materials appealing (see our article on steel boats in this issue). An aluminum hull was important for voyager and author Jimmy Cornell, for example, who helped design the aluminum-hulled Garcia Exploration 45 for his 2015 NW Passage voyage.
When Australian voyagers Fiona Muir and Adrian Foote were looking for a new boat for voyaging, a major reason they chose a Garcia 45 Exploration, which they named Away, was the damage-absorbing nature of its metal hull. “We bought it for the strong aluminum hull,” Fiona wrote in an email. “We wanted to take on not only ocean passages, but also be safe doing coastal cruising in remote areas. If we were to hit a whale or a container in the ocean, the aluminum will bend and not break, keeping us safe.” She also stressed that Away has watertight bulkheads in the bow and stern.
Fiona and Adrian were previous owners of a Jarkan 925 named Addictive, a 30-foot fiberglass sloop designed more as a racer than a cruising boat. After sailing Addictive around Sydney Harbor for a while, they decided to, as Fiona describes it, “hack” Addictive and make it more appropriate for cruising. “We put on a big solar panel, upgraded the house batteries, added a composting toilet, new mattress, an Autohelm unit for the tiller and of course a BBQ. We spent a year cruising from Sydney, to Bowan on the Queensland coast and back again to Brisbane.”
A little more than two years ago the sailing couple decided to go voyaging full time and began looking for a larger boat. Their search led them to Cherbourg, France and Garcia Yachts, where they became interested in the Exploration 45. In addition to its aluminum hull, the Exploration 45 also has a lifting keel, allowing it to get into shallow anchorages and even be beached. “We also really loved the lifting centreboard and the ability to beach the boat,” Fiona wrote. “The centreboard has enabled us to go places you would not normally see a 45-foot blue water cruising yacht, such as up to Dinan on the River Rance in France, the Standing Mast Route in the Netherlands and various shallow anchorages across the Baltic, Norway etc.”
On at least one occasion another cruising boat saw Away enter a shallow harbor and assuming the Exploration 45 had a keel, followed Away only to run aground. Luckily the crew of the other boat were able to extricate themselves with the rising tide.
The centerboard also provides benefits when sailing Away. “The boat sails very well and is very forgiving. When the centreboard is down, sailing into the wind is fast and comfortable and comparable to a traditional keel boat. When sailing downwind the centreboard is lifted and we get great speed. With the centreboard lifted, the boat will slide sideways in large breaking seas rather than broaching like fixed keel boats.”
The sail inventory includes a main, set up for four reefs, with lazy jacks and an on-boom sail stowage system; a furling solent and staysail; a gennaker; and rigging for further downwind sails.
The layout and feel of the Exploration 45 appealed to the couple as a good fit for their voyaging style. “We also wanted a living space that we could see out of, and the Garcia’s raised saloon means we can see out, both when sailing and when at anchor. It’s light and bright and we can enjoy the views when we are inside.”
Away has a passage berth, for sleeping when not on watch, a guest cabin, a full shower and a large owners’ cabin. “We absolutely love it and it’s a perfect size and layout for us as a cruising couple.”
Fiona and Adrian also like the raised saloon/pilothouse for the way it eases watch standing duties during inclement weather. “When the weather is very cold or rainy outside,” Fiona writes, “we can set the sails, and keep watch from inside with the raised saloon, only having to venture outside to trim the sails and check things regularly.” To aid in keeping comfortable when buttoned up down below, the cockpit doors are fully waterproof, the boat is insulated and has a diesel heater for high latitude cruising.
As for possible upgrades and modifications, Fiona says they are happy with the boat as presently configured, only thinking of possibly adding a bracket for their Starlink satcom setup.
Since taking delivery of Away in 2021, Fiona and Adrian have sailed 6,000 miles, doing mostly coastal work. “[In 2021] we did shake down cruising in northern France and southern England. In 2022 we sailed from the UK to France, into Belgium, through the Standing Mast Route in the Netherlands, through the Kiel Canal and into the Baltic where we explored Denmark, Sweden and the Aland Islands before wintering in Norway. In 2023 we sailed the coast of Norway from Bergen to Tromsø, then across to Scotland for some exploring of the Shetland Islands, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, before settling in for winter.”
On the docket for future passages is more sailing in the Scottish Outer Hebrides before moving on to Ireland then the Mediterranean and then an Atlantic crossing.