SAILING AROUND THE WORLD SINGLE-HANDED IS WIDELY REGARDED AS THE ULTIMATE TEST OF SEAMANSHIP & COURAGE, FOR OBVIOUS REASONS. ENDURING MONTH UPON MONTH IN THEIR OWN COMPANY, SAILORS ARE FORCED TO BATTLE AGAINST TORRENTIAL STORMS, FIERCE OCEANS, LONELINESS AND FRUSTRATION.
"more people have travelled into space than have managed to sail around the world solo"
Both grueling and dangerous, “Around Alone” is a serious test of mind, body and soul. It comes as little surprise then that more people have travelled into space than have managed to sail around the world solo.
And any man or women who chooses to take on such a challenge, not only has to be a highly skilled sailor and an incredibly unique individual, but they must also be a proficient repairman and craftsman (to undertake essential boat maintenance and repairs), cook, weather expert and self-motivator, who is prepared to pit their skills up against a most unforgiving bedfellow – nature. Trading in his cosy job working as a tram driver at the Vienna public transport agency, to sail through the planet's most dangerous and isolated areas, single-handed, Norbert Sedlacek is one of these prodigious talents. A man who turned his hobby into a career, in a quest to live a more adventured life and discover new places, Sedlacek’s sailing career trajectory is nothing short of breathtaking.
Embarking on his first circumnavigation in 1996 (the very same year he ditched his job in Vienna), and completing it in 1998 on a homespun 26-footer, Sedlacek went on to achieve success in solo trips around Artarctica; the Vendee Globe and IMOCA Open 60, cementing his place as a solo, seafaring legend.
"but I knew it offered me the opportunity to live my life with a spirit of adventure"
“Back in the early I was sitting on my tram thinking about what I would do for the next 30 years of my life,” recalls Sedlacek. “I had been enjoying sailing as a weekend activity – sitting on the boat, handling the ropes a bit – but I knew it offered me the opportunity to live my life with a spirit of adventure, to discover the world and live life on my own terms, whilst making films, writing books and giving presentations about something I was passionate about. I gave up my life to become a professional sailor.” For very good reason, it seems.
Never a fan of crew races, Sedlacek suggests that he was always “turned on” by “the ultimate competition challenge with nature” more than anything else. He says: “Competition for me is like tennis. You take your place on centre court. I am on one side and nature is on the other. You have the mirror in front of you, which replies to you all your mistakes but all the good things too. You have to search the failures if you do something wrong, but I want to enjoy the victories when I do something right.” “If you handle yourself well and make the right decisions you can have heaven on earth, but in the same way if you try and stand in the way of nature, you can get hit really hard, but you just have to accept it. This was something I enjoyed form the very first moment.”
“For me the Antarctic was the benchmark of extreme sailing. After my first around the world trip I realized that I am able to stay at sea for a very long time, cope with critical situations. I wanted to go to the Antarctic to see if the icebergs really smell as nice as people say and if it’s as magical as they say in books.”
Well they did. And it was. And it just spurred Sedlacek to achieve even more, which he has always managed to do with an element of personal triumph.
When all is said and done, to ‘enjoy the journey’, “Around Alone” also requires a pretty extraordinary boat – reliable, fast, sea-worthy and stable – and some pretty phenomenal kit.
"It was a case of taking common extreme weather gear and adding my experience as a sailor with KTC’s unrivalled product knowledge"
“When you’re in deep shit, in a really bad situation on the ocean, you need the very best protection,” enthuses Sedlacek. “The product has to be very properly designed on one side and properly finished from a functionality perspective, very precise. With offshore racing you have problem that you stay for days and days in more or less the same suit. You get problems with allergies. You need to make sure the dermatological part is no problem. You can clean your extremes like you wash a baby, but you have to take care that your skin does not get wounded or scratched. Injuries from from fabric rubbing are common. Also, when jackets are overloaded with oversized stitches water can get to the skin. Then the salt dries and gets onto your skin.”
The relationship was truly established with the Open16 FIPOFIX record-breaking crossing of the Atlantic. After abandoning the challenge himself twice (because of energy supply and autopilot issues) Harald Sedlacek (Norbert’s son) successfully completed the longest single-handed-nonstop sail in a 4.9 metre (16ft) journey wearing kit designed in partnership with KTC Lab.
If crossing the Atlantic in one of the smallest boats ever was not enough, Harald experienced extreme weather conditions and technical problems with the boat. The wintry Bay of Biscay, the winter storms, the bad weather conditions in the trade wind belt, the breakdown of the autopilot and at last the partial breakdown of the rudder system pushed Sedlacek and his boat to the limits. Not only did he have to spend almost all time in the unprotected cockpit he also had to control his FIPOFIX boat manually.
“With just enough space in the boat for your body and little else, we worked with KTC Lab to create kit that was warm, tough, comfortable and as tailored as possible,” recalls Sedlacek. “It was a case of taking common extreme weather gear and adding my experience as a sailor with KTC’s unrivalled product knowledge. They wanted to deliver perfection, not just units, which I found refreshing having dealt with other companies and brands previously.”
“KTC Lab is about pushing the boundaries product development. It has the most incredible production and development team. They understand products and the motivations of the people wearing them. Every single detail is considered and you know you are going to get to the right solution, together. Our initial development was with typical extreme weather gear – survival jackets (“to protect you under rough, cold, extreme condition”) and underwear (“which can cope with humidity and keep you warm”). Every idea they bring to the table is about delivering added benefits – updating existing products by packing them full of new thinking and innovation. It might take time, but the results speak for themselves.” KTC Lab is currently developing products together for Sedlacek’s latest project: ANT-ARCTIC-LAB challenge. It will be the first attempt to sail non-stop, single-handed, without assistance from Europe to the Arctic, through the Northwest Passage, down through the Pacific Ocean, passing Cape Hoorn (the most dangerous cape in the world) to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent. After passing Cape Hoorn for a second time, the journey continues through the Atlantic Ocean to the final destination of Les Sables d’Olonne in France. Covering 34,000 nautical miles and taking just over seven months, Sedlacek is offering other companies the opportunity to create, develop and test their products under extreme conditions on the most dangerous waters on our planet.
“Like KTC Lab, ANT-ARCTIC-LAB is about testing stuff to see if certain products can work under extremely testing conditions. Fittingly, I’ll be wearing the fantastic products I have been developing with KTC on the journey.”