Viktor Is Back

A sailing legend appears in Newport. From the Editor's Log in our July 2009 issue

"I¿m learning more and more about this boat. It is real freedom." ¿ Viktor Yazykov

"I¿m learning more and more about this boat. It is real freedom." ¿ Viktor Yazykov

The second I picked up my ringing phone and heard the Russian-accented voice say "Hello, this is Viktor Yazykov," my mind flashed back to a moment at work in Boston when I, like most sailors following the Around Alone race, sat riveted to a computer screen and read about the unfolding drama of a solo sailor, deep at sea, carving into his own arm in an emergency procedure to treat his abscessed elbow.

When it comes to winning a spot on the Now There's a Tough Bastard list of salty stories, Viktor's ordeal in the 1999 Around Alone would be tough to trump. (See "From Russia with Luff," May 1999.) But this isn't about that race. This is about Viktor 10 years on and why he was calling Cruising World from a dock down the street to talk with somebody about his new boat, which had just sailed itself, with Viktor aboard, to Newport from Charleston, South Carolina. Like his Around Alone entry, Wind of Change, his new 34-foot sloop, Daughter of the Wind, was purpose-built in Russia to his own design. But while the former was intended to race swiftly around the globe, Daughter was built to take Viktor in another direction, one where he could explore his theories of design and its effect on shorthanded sailing and steering.

Daughter's engineless hull is carbon-fiber and epoxy over chestnut planking, and the deck is a carbon-fiber, chestnut, and balsa sandwich; it's strong and light. Chestnut, Viktor says, abounds around his home port in Sochi, Russia, and he used materials close at hand to keep the cost down. Still, as he worked, he kept thinking of ways to make the boat "better and better," so in the end, the project took 30,000 man-hours and turned out to be not such a bargain, even after friends at his former employer, Hall Spars, sold him prepreg carbon-fiber at cost for the second mast he built. Oh, did I mention that he carried all 140 kilos of it from Amsterdam to Sochi in a suitcase?

Viktor launched Daughter of the Wind in May 2007 and sailed her to the Med to shake things down. In August, he and a crewmember set off for the Canary Islands before crossing to Barbados. There, Viktor was able to obtain a U.S. visa so he could visit friends in Charleston and Newport.

It was while Viktor lay in the cabin, well out of it for the 24 hours following his Around Alone surgery, that his old boat had had its best day's run. Wind of Change, he said, was exceptionally fast and could steer herself quite well. Daughter of the Wind, drawn with a deep foil and bulb aft of the mast and a daggerboard in front of it, has been designed to mind herself even better. And during her six-day solo sail from Charleston, Viktor found that he needed to make only minor adjustments to the lines he's set up to lock the tiller in place. He even devised a way to tweak them from his bunk by leading them into the cabin and tying them around the mast.

"I am learning more and more about this boat. It is real exciting. It is real freedom," he says. And later, standing on the dock and looking at the boat, he stops talking about construction and theory and speaks instead about a growing understanding of how design, wind, and sails all work with each other: "The biggest thing is what it gives you when you are sailing far away. You have much clearer vision. The relationship with the boat gives you an ability to see much clearer."

Mark Pillsbury