Maitairoa, the boat designed and built for the “day after”

Roberto Barros

It was revealed a few days ago the speech the Queen had ready to be pronounced about the third world war. This speech was written exactly thirty years ago, the time for state documents considered of strategic importance to turn public. The cold war at that moment was attaining its climax and the planet was within the reach of a finger-tip to be inexorably destroyed by human stupidity. This is history, and fortunately there was a light at the end of the tunnel and the catastrophe didn’t materialize.

Of course such sombre state of spirit had some degree of influence in the life of every citizen of that time. Some built nuclear shelters where they planned to spend extra days after the worst had happened, taking to that place the beloved ones and the things they praised most. Others, on the other hand, preferred to spend all their possessions while there was still time.

This photo was taken in the South Atlantic some two thousand miles east of Patagonia, at about the latitude of Mar Del Plata, during a lull preceding a cold front. After deploying the dinghy, our crewmember Roberto Allan Fuchs took some distance from us to obtain a good angle to take the picture. I am steering the boat and Eileen is at my side.

My own story, however, had a different focus. I built an offshore cruising sailboat that could sail for months on end without needing to be supplied with fresh provisions, so my family and I could enjoy a few more weeks doing the thing we liked most, sailing in the immensity of the ocean. We lived at the city of Rio de Janeiro, a place that being distant from the hub of the political dispute would probably have a couple of days more of survival. I kept the boat permanently provisioned for six months at sea, and my plan was to sail bound for the Southern Ocean, keeping contact with the rest of the world by means of a shortwave receiver and the boat’s SSB. What a terrific plan! We would be enjoying life intensely, when perhaps billions would be dying. When our time would come, if it came by then, we had a sneer in our face, being among the last ones who knew how the story of a blue planet plagued by the prevalence of an arrogant species that put selfish interests above anything else did end. Then why not playing according to the book, if those were the rules of the game?

Somehow we were sort of pioneers in world globalization. I am Brazilian, my wife Eileen is British and my daughter Astrid is Tahitian. She was born there when we were crossing the Pacific aboard a twenty-five foot cruising sailboat with no inboard engine (you can read, or download, this story for free entering our front page, left-side lower corner: Rio to Polynesia; an adventure in the South Pacific). We had tasted the society’s forbidden apple, the feeling of freedom proportioned by our life-style. Being a Carioca (as are called the Rio de Janeiro inhabitants) was already a privilege, I believed. Rio is a place where mountain and sea almost touch each other, forming gorgeous beaches in between, among them Copacabana and Ipanema, renowned for being where the “Bossa Nova” was born and the dental floss bikini was introduced. We didn’t really want to leave, but just imagining such beautiful place being charred by radiation would be unbearable to us.

Maitairoa, the boat designed and built to survive come rain or shine as she looks today, thirty years after her launching. Courtesy: Sandra Sautu

In June, 1983, Maitairoa, the cruising boat built for the day after, was launched in Marina da Gloria, the municipal marina close to Rio’s downtown. My dream had become reality. We wished our concerns about the apocalypse were simply a fantasy, and that the nuclear war would never happen, but we felt we were prepared for the worst. Since the worst didn’t happen, the prize for that effort was to own a doomsday-proof sailboat ready to go anywhere. And Maitairoa never disappointed us.

In February, 1985, when the cold war was not that cold anymore, the family decided to take advantage of such effort in building a sailboat above suspicion. We decided to cross the South Atlantic from Rio to Cape Town, where Eileen’s sister lives, now, however, in much lighter spirits. Maitairoa means “things are cool” in Polynesian, a word we learned when we lived there, and she deserved her name.

On this crossing we sailed 360° around Inaccessible Island, passed so close to Tristan Island settlement that we could wave to the folks that watched our progress from shore, not stopping there because the boat was doing seven knots bare pole.
We spent two months at Cape Town. Arriving there, we almost caused a stroke in Eileen’s sister. Since, not to worry her, we didn’t inform about the trip, and she couldn’t believe the phone call wasn’t long distance.

After enjoying the holiday of our lives, it was time for planning the departure. It was the year Astrid had to do the exam for entering university and she was already losing half the school year with the vacation. In the outward trip we had the company of two mates, the brothers Max and Mario Hammers, who for professional reasons had to go back home by plane. Now the crew was the family only, with the company of our cat Mimi, a more adequate crew number for a thirty-foot sailboat. If the outward trip had been tough sailing, sailing back-home was a piece of cake. We called at Santa Helena, a magic place for its beauty, history and relative insulation, since there was no airport at that time to spoil the place with tourists. (Offshore cruisers aren’t tourists, they are sailors!) We spent a whole week there, and then sailed to Martin Vaz, a few rocks in the middle of nowhere, which we pin-pointed with the assistance of our plastic Davis sextant, the only means we had to obtain a fix, since there was no GPS by then. The next stretch was to Trinidad Island, such an exotic place that even though we didn’t stop at the occasion, we promised we would return soon.

Back in Rio, we couldn’t forget the fantastic times we had at sea, and our next vacation was a trip to Trinidad Island, Salvador, in the Northeast of Brazil, and Abrolhos, a marine sanctuary, now a national park. The next adventure was to sail bound for the Southern Ocean, when Maitairoa suffered grounding in a remote corner of the Falkland Islands, surviving unscathed after a salvage operation worth a Jack London novel. (If you would like to know details of this story, you can click in articles in our site, and scrolling the page, you will find at the end: “Maitairoa in the Falklands. An adventure with a happy ending”)

Maitairoa, pushed by a tide current during a fierce storm, went aground in a lonely beach in the archipelago of the Falkland Islands.

The ordeal generated a salvage operation when the British Army, local authorities and kelpers did their best to assist us to put the boat floating again.

Relief after the salvage. With Maitairoa firmly docked in Port Stanley. Fram, the lady in yellow and blue wet suit, who worked as police officer, took us to visit a mined camp in the surroundings of Port Stanley. The penguins are too light to explode the mines stepping on them. Eileen, sitting on the grass, Roberto Fuchs, me and my daughter Astrid were Maitairoa’s crew.

After the mishap the boat accomplished a three thousand miles non-stop journey from Port Stanley to Rio de Janeiro, surviving a frontal collision with a sperm whale during this passage.

Back to routine, I realized that somebody had to work to bring home de bacon, and it was then that our office was founded, at that time Roberto Barros Yacht Design. In 2007, when the firm was transferred to Perth, Western Australia was that the name had been changed to B & G Yacht Design.

Calypso, Sandra’s daughter, was conceived in the Greek Island where Ulysses started the Odyssey. Maitairoa is the place she can call home. Courtesy: Sandra Sautu

The boat with seven lives is home for Sandra’s family in French Riviera

Sandra left Rio De Janeiro with Maitairoa bound for the Mediterranean, and now lives in France in company of her couple of sons, Calypso and Sansom. Courtesy: Sandra Sautu.

The need to be always trying new ideas made me sell Maitairoa to try our luck with a new design, the MC28, which I also intended to build one for the family’s usage, incorporating all the lessons the good old Maitairoa had taught us. Maitairoa was sold to a good friend of ours, the Argentinean physicist Sandra Sautu, who sailed her from Rio de Janeiro to the Caribbean, Azores and the Mediterranean. Sandra lives aboard since the acquisition, now with her couple of sons, lulled to sleep by the rocking of the waves. The new boat, Fiu, was also a great success, but Maitairoa will be engraved forever in our memories as the boat for the day after.