How a marine surveyor and world champion powerlifter are refitting their Leisure 17 for a transatlantic voyage
A 17ft trailer-sailer rescued from the nettles is preparing to cross the Atlantic. Poppet, a 50-year-old Leisure 17 is owned by marine surveyor and electrician John-Kenenth (JK) Habbershaw who, together with champion powerlifter Farris Collins, plans to sail her from Tenerife to Antigua.
JK, a health-retired ‘bluelight’ volunteer, started the project as a focus to help his recovery from PTSD, whilst also using the opportunity to raise money for charity.
“We’ve made quite a few modifications to Poppet,” says JK. “She’s designed as a coastal sailor but we’re doing something a little bit more extreme.”
JK and Farris have teamed up with several marine manufacturers to combine new technologies, and ensure the crossing will be safe whilst using only renewable energy; wind for the sails and solar power for the rechargeable electric motor.
Working closely with Z Spars, JK has increased the rig by two sizes, meaning the internal bulkheads and chainplates have had to be redesigned. The 3mm chainplates have been replaced with 6mm stainless steel ones, and the fittings reinforced with Kevlar and carbon.
The stem fitting is a lot larger, and they’ve also glassed in the five portholes with epoxy front and back.
Additional mini bulkheads have been fitted near the keelbolts to strengthen the hull structure and avoid flexing, as well as a collision bulkhead to the forepeak cabin, beneath the companionway and beneath the lazarette.
The companionway has also been fitted with a Lewmar storm hatch, making it completely water-tight.
Whilst JK is an experienced seaman – with 33 years’ North Sea sailing under his belt – Farris is very much a novice.
“He’s a former Commonwealth gold medal powerlifter. He’s got no sailing experience at all so he’s really coming at this much like the Couch to 5k!” says JK.
JK has spent ‘probably thousands of hours’ studying other small vessels, including shantyboats and ocean rowing boats.
“I’ve taken a lot of the modifications from these and put them into Poppet,” he says. “I work with rowers as part of my day job so I’m integrating a lot of those technologies into this build. Basically because of Poppet’s small size, everything has to be miniaturised.”
JK and Farris will be taking a watermaker as they won’t have enough space to carry water for the duration of the trip.
The duo will set sail in December 2024 from the Canaries, following the traditional trade wind route to the Caribbean, a voyage of 2,600 nautical miles.
“With a hull speed of about three and a half knots it’s going to take about 35 to 40 days,” says JK.
During that time they will have to live on ration packs which they’ve been trialling whilst working in the boatyard.
“We’ve slowly been working our way through them, giving them the taste test. Basically we’ve got our favourite and that’s chicken tikka, but it’s not going to be very polite on the boat!”
Used to having someone else cook dinner for him, JK admits that living on rations will be tough. “I think the first thing we’ll do when we arrive is go into the yacht club, find somewhere to sit and enjoy a meal.”
The pair will be raising money for four charities, all of which are close to JK’s heart.
Like many others, JK has lost family members to cancer, so is supporting Macmillan. Mind, the mental health charity, he says is particularly important, especially after Covid, and played a role in his own personal journey. MS UK supported his mother-in-law and St Helena Hospice is a charity based in his home town of Colchester.
JK and Farris hope to raise £100,000. To sponsor them, or find out more, visit www.sofatosailboat.co.uk/donate
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