Round the world sailor and all-round adventurer, Alex Alley has returned to the UK having cut short his round the world record attempt to be the fastest around the world in a 40ft boat.
We caught up with Alex to find out more about his world record attempt, how he got on with our sails and what’s next.
What was this record attempt about?
This attempt was not about racing around the world, it was about setting a record. I have raced around the world and I hold the record time for Solo Round the Isle of Wight and the length of Britain. I love the Class 40 and I wanted an excuse to take one into the Southern Ocean, that’s when I found a record to be the fastest boat 40ft or under.
What made you choose Ultimate Sails?
Sails are important after all this is a sailing record. I looked around at the options available at that level, there are certain brands which would immediately spring to mind, but I have other factors to consider, and I couldn’t afford the sails to fail. I know Paul [Ultimate Sails] and I have worked with him on previous projects. I liked his offering; the quality was there, and the price was right.
You chose an Ultimate Sails mainsail, Solent jib, staysail and Hybrid Code Zero, what happened next?
The process couldn’t have been easier. Paul turned up at Pixel Flyer [the Class 40] with his tape measure we went through the specifics of the sails, what was required for single-handed sailing and discussed any concerns I had about sails for my attempt in general. I needed the sails to be just right.
Once the sails arrived Paul brought them down to the boat and we went through the process of fitting them on the boat. The weight (or lack of) caught my attention. How could sails so light get me through the Southern Ocean?. Paul assured me that this was the right product, from their Platinum range, designed for offshore performance with carbon.
Paul explained that each sail was specifically built for Pixel Flyer and for the challenge. My record attempt had no IRC or ORC rules so Ultimate Sails we were able to build the sails with durability in mind. The sails had to be easy to handle which meant getting the sail plan and sail sizes right for visibility and the wind conditions we thought he would have for the majority of the time.
I would later discover I was right to put my faith in Paul and Ultimate Sails.
After the sails had been branded, I went for my first sail and simply WOW! They looked phenomenal and created the perfect aerofoil shape, I just hoped that it would stay for the next 50,000 miles. They were easy to handle and whilst I had to abandon the record attempt after 75 days at sea due to a problem with the mast track, after a blast through the Southern Ocean the sails looked like new on arrival in Adelaide.
Talk us through the sails during your trip, the time you spent on deck and how safe you felt on board.
I used the staysail most of the time as I was three sail reaching a lot and it acted as a blade sail between the code sails and the main, so this was up most of the time, except in light winds around the equator. My fastest sail combination was code 5, staysail and main (with various combinations of reefs).
I ended up using the Code Zero quite a lot, especially in heavy downwind conditions in the Southern Ocean. It was much easier to control than the spinnakers plus I could quickly furl it away if things got too much.
I would say I was below deck at least 75% of the time, sat in the nav station looking at the weather and planning my route. It can be pretty uncomfortable down there [below deck], it was also shelter from the sun and these are wet boats, so it helped protect me from the elements and the potential of being swept overboard.
I spent a great deal of time preparing for this challenge, making sure Pixel Flyer and I were both ready and that every aspect had been covered. For that reason, I felt safe and confident pretty much all the time, especially with the furling sails. I knew that if things got too much, I could quickly furl one away without having to leave the cockpit.
Looking back now how do you feel?
I feel very positive looking back. I successfully dealt with a lot of issues along the way. I would have one half-hour call back home to Paula [Alex’s Fiancé] each week to connect to the world outside of my bubble. I was living in harmony, there was just me and Pixel Flyer. Nothing else mattered, there was no time to feel lonely, there was always something going on. Pixel Flyer developed a personality and became my friend – or maybe I was lonely or slightly losing my mind?.
What does the future hold for Alex Alley?
Pixel Flyer is up for sale and will remain in Adelaide for now. My next project still involves boats and an Atlantic crossing however it will be in a bit more comfort and style with a chef so no freeze-dried food [says hoping!]. I am currently project managing a rebuild of an Oyster 825, which is due to hit the water in September/October ready for the ARC 2019.
Have you got anything else to add?
Thanks to Paul and Ultimate Sails for supplying such a great custom product for my challenge which did exactly what he said it would do and came with great knowledge and service.
Learn more about Alex Alley at alexalley.com