Shuttle 31 - Maiden Voyage to the Med and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

Mark and Suze Hicks report on their first major voyage in August 2011, aboard their home built Shuttle 31


We got here in two stages. After launching the boat in May of last year (2011) we spent the summer on sea-trails and the endless list of remaining jobs. We planned to leave the UK in July but persistent bad weather held us back until late August when a big crowd finally waved us off from Tenby harbour.

Watch the launch on Youtube of tractor towing boat over fields to river

The run-up to departure was somewhat hectic (and thanks to too many farewell drinks, pretty hazy) so when we actually left in mid-afternoon the boat and her crew were a bit of a mess and rather than attempt our first overnight passage in such a state we waited til our escort boat had left before stealthfully anchoring just round the corner and getting a good nights sleep.

A smooth and easy passage to Padstow followed, then a more lively leg to the Scilly Isles. Passing the Seven Stones we had a F7 Easterly and steep, confused seas but the boat was fine even if nerves were slightly frayed

Three weeks in Falmouth followed the amazing Scillys whilst a succession of lows passed through. Suze and I lost our two crew to work commitments and given the lateness in the season we started to wonder about the wisdom of tackling Biscay (first offshore passage for either of us). A window opened though and we made a dash over to Brittany (enjoying some interesting pilotage during the biggest tides of the year) before continuing over to NW Spain. For all the doom, gloom and worry we crossed Biscay (340 nm in 50 hours) with no problems.

The boat's ability to make progress in very light winds meant no motoring during the first half of the crossing and broad-reaching in a F5/6 meant we covered a huge distance in the second half with sustained speeds in excess of ten knots.

Galicia followed and very unusually for October there was zero swell and little wind so we enjoyed a few weeks exploring the nooks and crannies of the Rias. We approached the Portuguese west coast with some trepidation - having got used to having shelter nearby - but aside from fog and some lively late afternoon blows we arrived at Cape St Vincent in one piece and finally entered Alvor lagoon on the Algarve coast on the 22nd of October. Alvor had been our provisional goal for some time as we planned to haul-out for the winter nearby and with it's good holding and all-round protection we at last relaxed.

Two days later a low pressure system that'd been lingering off to the west swept through southern Portugal. The wind blew the roof off Faro airport and at Nazare round on the west coast the 'largest wave ever ridden' was tackled by an unhinged fellow surfer. We enjoyed 60+knot winds in the lagoon where several boats dragged anchors and moorings and two were wrecked. Having a sleek, low windage boat no doubt helped us - we didn't move an inch.

We returned to the boat this April, relaunched and made our way East. We managed to navigate the Rio Guadiana up to Mertola without running aground and negotiated the Straights of Gibraltar in a F7 with very steep seas. The latter passage - a 40 miles day hop from Barbate to La Linea - really cemented our confidence in the seaworthiness of the design. Aware of the reputation for strong winds and tidal eddies in that area we waited for a good forecast and tried to work the tides. On the day though, the forecast fifteen knot winds were in excess of thirty. For a good ten miles approaching Tarifa we experienced really horrible wind against tide conditions - and with my home waters the Bristol Channel, I'm a wind-against-tide connoisseur! Carrying just the third reef in the main the boat was fantastic. These were the worst conditions we'd experienced and I couldn't believe how comfortable we felt. Despite frequent breaking seas and the odd interesting surf into deep watery holes we actually shipped hardly any water. The 40 miles to Gibraltar took three and a half hours.

Since Gibraltar we've made our way uneventfully to the Balearics where we're currently enjoying a relaxed regime of swimming and reading with occasional ten mile hops to another cove. It's ok.

As far as the boat goes there is actually nothing negative I can think of to say. We've had some problems with engine cavitation but the engine mount is my design and I wish I'd stuck to the plans as I can see the problem would be mitigated with your sled-type mount. If I can ever face laminating again I'll probably build your engine mount. I'm also planning to install a couple of hard-points to more effectively trim the jib off the wind as the track only really works close hauled.

On a positive note it's hard to know where to start. The boat handles well under power - against my expectations with a light cat and a single centrally mounted outboard - and we're yet to crash into anything, even in tight marinas. Under sail we seem to out-perform a surprising range of multi-hulls and mono's. Just last week we had an informal race with a 45 foot racy monohull. Off the wind there was no contest but I was surprised to also outpace them close-hauled - especially as during the upwind leg I was reeling in a tuna and Suze was reading a book on the nets whilst the crew of the other yacht trimmed sails and rail-dangled fruitlessly...

In heavier weather the boat rewards early reefing with a huge benefit to handling and a negligable speed penalty. The rule: 'as soon as you think about reefing - reef' is our golden rule.

We expected a wet boat - having watched the Fossailing video of the Heineken regatta! - but have found the contrary. The reserve bouyancy afforded by the flared hulls obviously does it's job. I've only managed to stuff the forward beam a handfull of times and green water has reached the cockpit only once at the end of a surf into the back of a Gib Straight breaker, just before we reduced to 3rd reef only...

Living aboard is great for two and perfectly doable with four or more aboard - even if they are are our messy friends. Visitors are always amazed by the space we have (a fellow sailor assumed we slept one-per-hull in coffin berths and was shocked by our queen-sized bed). In contrast to most other yachts - monohulls or multis - our boat is light and airy down in the hulls.

Here in warm climes the open bridgedeck is fantastic, we tend to rig up a tarp for shade on hot days and the lack of the 'wall' that other cats have forward of the cockpit means we enjoy a cooling breeze, several bridgedeck cabin cat owners have commented on this. Obviously there are lonely night watches and rainy days when a bridgedeck saloon would be a bonus but on balance, with a cat of this size, we think open bridgedecks edge it.

I'm glad we built the aft beam rectangular in section (similar to the Shuttlecat 32, Skye) and included an aft-deck. This has been great for easy storage of the deflated dinghy and the outboard, amongst other things - and for cleaning fish, somewhere else to sit etc.

It's interesting given your function-led design principles how much attention we get. Whenever we arrive at a new anchorage we have a stream of dinghies, kayaks and swimmers doing circuits of the boat, we've had other vessels apparently come well out of their way to check us out and the other day here in Ibiza a very shiny superyacht approached us so the skipper could shout down "Nice boat!" We're generally pretty bemused by all this but sometimes when we've been ashore and are heading back aboard we realise that amongst an anchorage full of all kinds of craft from little yachts to multi-million pound designer giants our Shuttleworth stands out as the prettiest by far.

Mark and Suze Hicks report after their transatlantic voyage on their Shuttle 31 in January 2014.

I thought I'd let you know that Suze and I (with a friend crewing) have made it across the Atlantic in Aleph. We had a pretty gruelling crossing... After a perfect 'trade-wind' day at the start where we covered over 190 miles in 24 hours we rarely saw less than 25 knots of wind and for several days had 30+ with squalls in the 40s. We also enjoyed large confused seas as the easterly windswell from the strong trades mixed unpredictably with a pretty hefty swell from the north generated by the huge lows that pounded the UK over Christmas and NY. On occasion the cross swells were very large and we had to keep the speed down to stay safe which was frustrating. The asymmetric spinnaker I bought for the trip stayed in it's bag and instead a tiny storm jib I hoped to never deploy stayed up for almost half of the passage. I didn't even do any fishing!

The boat performed brilliantly as always, refusing to bury the bows even during some .. steep .. surfs and shipping very little water.

Incidentally we also encountered an unforecast F9 gale off the coast of Morocco in November where I towed warps and chain to slow us down. We'd found ourselves surfing under bare poles but after deploying the warps the boat sat quietly, making 4-5 knots for the most part and happy under the tiller pilot.

Anyway we're very, very much enjoying the Caribbean now and don't plan any long passages any time soon! We plan to stay here until April and then return to the UK by air, leaving the boat in Antigua.

Shuttle 31 sailing video

Video of Shuttle 31 Planado sailing fast offshore in the Heieken Regatta off St. Barts, Caribbean.

31 video