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Braving the Oceans
The Ukrainian yacht Kupava, captained by Yury Bondar, braved the storms and currents and adverse winds of the oceans for more than two years. Yevhen Budko talked Mr Bondar into sharing his reminiscences about his and his crew experiences. Courtesy of Kupava’s crew
It was in May 2011 that the Kupava returned back to Ukraine. The captain Yury Bondar kept refusing to give interviews, saying that the successful circumnavigation of the earth was the achievement of his crew rather than of his, but at last we met at Kyiv’s Yacht Club, the birthplace of yacht Kupava.
— Mr Bondar, was it the Kupava that was the first Ukrainian yacht to circumnavigate the earth?
— No, it was not. The Ikar from the Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv was the first one. It happened back in the soviet times. The yachts Odesa-200 and Hetman Sahaydachny took part in the round-the-world race in 1993–1994, and the yacht Lelitka circumnavigated the earth in 1994–1998. Some other Ukrainian yachts also took long sea voyages. But we were the first to travel around the world moving from east to west rather than west to east, as it is done traditionally.
— Any special reason for that?
— Not really. We thought it would be more fun to break the tradition. Traveling from west to east is sort of assisted by the prevailing winds.
— Did the reversal of the traditional west-east direction cause any problems?
— Well, yes, it did. At some parts of call, we were referred to as “those crazy Ukrainians.”
— Were you actually the first to circumnavigate the world on a yacht moving east rather than west?
— No, we were not. I know of about half a dozen yachts that had done the same. And I can tell you this from-east-to-west sailing did cause us certain problems. It took a lot of maneuvering to avoid fierce storms and use favorable winds.
— How and when did you come up with the idea of circumnavigating the earth on a yacht?
— We sailed in 2009, but we had been toying with the idea for quite some time. Initially, Andriy Zubenko, a good friend of mine, and me, we thought of paying a visit to a friend of ours, Ihor Myronenko, who lives in Australia. It was with him that we had built our yacht Kupava. Then we thought we would go to Antarctica, to the Ukrainian polar station there, called Akademik Vernadsky.
One should sail to Antarctica from the Northern Hemisphere in late fall to get there in summer — you remember that when we have winter they, in the Southern Hemisphere, have summer?
We began doing repairs at the yacht. We put in a new mast, new engine, and formed a crew. It included Valery Deymontovych, a scientist, Mykhaylo Illenko, a film director, Andriy Zubenko, a specialist in navigation and logistics, and me, a designer of yachts.
Incidentally, Mykhaylo Illenko could join us because the filming of his FireCrosser had gotten stalled — the economic crisis robbed the state-run film studio for which he worked, of funds.
— Were there any changes in the crew during the voyage?
— There were. In fact, we had planned the replacements beforehand. When we got to Argentina, the oldest members of the crew, Illenko and Deymontovych, were replaced by Hennadiy Starykov and Viktor Kopayhorodsky.
Illenko was then 62 and Deymontovych 73. Well, I was not too far behind — I was 59. But some time later Hennadiy and Viktor got off the yacht too, and it was only Andriy and I who were left to proceed on our journey. Still later, when we got to the Mediterranean, we picked still another member of the crew, Oleh Panchuk. He is the head of a Kyiv yacht club. We stayed in Israel for some time doing some repairs — the storms had taken their toll. So we returned to Ukraine with a crew of three.
— As far as I know, Mykhaylo Illenko, a director, filmed the opening shots for his movie FireCrosser in Argentina.
— Yes, he did! And I attended the premiere. I knew, of course, what the film was about — during the journey we had discussed the plot with Mykhaylo. I did like the film. It’s about a Ukrainian pilot whose plane gets shot down by the Germans during the Second World War. He survives the crash, German captivity and the Soviet concentration camp and makes his way to Canada where he becomes the chief of an Indian tribe. Quite a story! And based on the real facts too!
— I know that Cape Horn is considered to be a tough place to go round in a yacht. Did you encounter any problems doing that?
— Well, yes. The first time we tried to do that, we failed because of a ferocious storm. The dominant winds blow from west to east and we were sailing from east to west and that did make the sailing a pretty tough business sometimes. And Cape Horn did claim quite a few human lives. We sailed past it at night when the storm had abated a little. And once we got into the Pacific Ocean, we did our best to avoid being hit by cyclones which are a frequent occurrence there. We kept monitoring the weather situation thanks to the Internet and a cell phone with the satellite connection.
— Those sailors who braved the oceans in earlier times did not have any such aids.
— Yes, I never stop wondering how they managed to sail across the oceans without GPS, computers on board, detailed maps and cell phones!
— Did you ever sail long distances without all those things?
— Yes, I did. To mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America, we sailed to Puerto Rico following the route that had been taken by Columbus. We used the sextant and oriented ourselves by the stars and the sun.
— Which was the worst storm you survived?
— In the Black Sea! During that storm two big ships sank. In the oceans, the waves may get to be enormous, but our yacht rode them almost with ease. The sudden gusts of wind were probably the worst things we experienced. The yacht was equipped with a device that kept us on course and we could spend a lot of time in the deckhouse in order to avoid getting too wet in storms. Once your clothes get soaked in salt water, no matter how thoroughly you dry them, they absorb dampness real fast.
— Did you sail upstream along the Dnipro River to get to Kyiv after you had come to the Black sea?
— We did. But it took us quite a long time — we stopped much too often on the way to meet friends. And everywhere we stopped, we were given a sort of a hero welcome — at one place even with a brass orchestra.
— Who sponsored the voyage?
— We put in a lot of our own money and we borrowed money too — and there were quite a few free donations. We are grateful to all those who donated money for our voyage.
Also, we received donations in the form of canned food — the crew of the yacht Myr in the city of Zaporizhzhya, for example, gave us a hundred cans of meat. A businessman from the city of St Petersburg not only treated us to an excellent dinner at a restaurant but also gave us a large sum of money.
— Was it before you sailed?
— No! When we stopped at Easter Island we met this Russian businessman there! Of course it would be very helpful if we had had a big sponsor who would finance the whole trip, but on the other hand we were not obliged to anyone for anything — except ourselves.
— Are you married? And if you are — how did your wife take your two-year absence from home?
— Yes, I’m married, and my wife is a great person. Her support, in many senses of the word, was one of the ingredients of our success. I’m very grateful to her.
— Did you have a chance to do some sightseeing at the places where you stopped for some time?
— We did. At some places we had to stay for rather long stretches of time doing repairs. After Cape Horn, we stopped at an Argentinean port to get a new screw and it took over a month to get through all the red-tape to come into possession of that screw which we had ordered from Canada.
When you are at sea, all you get to see is water — and we wanted to see the world and the people too. Incidentally, we never got to Antarctica as we had planned — it was already too cold and too dark to go there.
— Are there particular experiences that you had during the voyage that you might want to tell about?
— Oh, there are so many things that I could tell you about — but OK, there is one that seems to be particularly memorable. Not far from Tahiti, which is visited by many tourists, we stopped at an atoll. It was a small island in the middle of nowhere. The locals collect pearls from their pearl plantations, sell them and earn a lot of money. We got acquainted with one of the locals, a German who had served in the French Foreign Legion, retired and now is into growing shells that have pearls in them. He proved to be a very interesting person. We helped him to repair his house and stayed with him for quite a while.
— You mentioned that a part of the journey you sailed with only one other crew member on board — was it very difficult to manage the sails of a modern yacht with only four hands?
— It was not easy but we managed somehow. You see, our yacht was originally designed for racing, and not for long journeys across the oceans. We had to install a lot of additional equipment to make it sailable for circumnavigating the earth, and with all that equipment there was very little room for four people to feel anywhere near comfortable. So, when we were four of us, the conditions were cramped, and when we were only two of us, it felt much more comfortable. Of course, we had many things to do between us two. But we had a lot of devices that made it easier to handle the sails.
— How much time each of you had to be on duty, so to say?
— We had three-hour shifts, alternating between “work” and “rest”. We did not get enough sleep at night, and we could sleep during the day, but there was too much light to sleep in the daytime. We cooked, fished, took photographs.
— You did not run into pirates, did you?
— We almost ran into Somali pirates but the weather helped — when we were in the most dangerous waters, the weather was so bad that the pirates did not prowl too far from the coast. It was the only storm that we were glad to experience.
But we did get a lot of warnings that pirates operated in many other places along the coasts of Africa. We saw a catamaran riddled with bullet holes. We learnt that a similar vessel had been attacked by pirates and its captain killed. So we tried to keep a very low profile.
We got arrested several times, by different local and international authorities who were suspicious and wanted to check who we really were, but we were soon released when those who arrested us ascertained the nature of our mission, our peaceful and so to say legal status.
— Is there any place that you would like to visit as a tourist?
— Yes. I want to take a good look at the great American lakes that are located between the USA and Canada. A friend in Canada has invited me to come over for a visit.
— Do you happen to know what the former crew members are doing now?
— As far as I know, Mykhaylo Illenko is working on a documentary film about our expedition. Andriy Zubenko is writing a book about it. Hennadiy Starykov has been invited to captain a chartered vessel. I am planning to design and build a new yacht to sail to Canada.
The autopilot of the yacht was of great help.
Captain Yury Bondar on board Kupava.
This crab was presented to the crew by Chilean fishermen.
Yury Illenko and Yury Bondar at the moment of crossing the equator.
Kupava at the port of Ushuaia, which happens to be the southernmost town in the world.
Bondar, Kopayhorodsky and Starykov at the island which could have been the place where Robinson Crusoe spent so much of lonely time at.
Andriy Zubenko with a tuna fish.
Valery Deymontovych in Rio de Janeiro.