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Baltimore Provides Atlantic Landfall Port for the "Mountain Bike of the Sea"

23rd August 2021
Sven Lundin – better known as Yrvind or Whirlwind – with his self-created 18-footer ExLex in Dingle, May 2018
Sven Lundin – better known as Yrvind or Whirlwind – with his self-created 18-footer ExLex in Dingle, May 2018

Swedish solo sailor Yrvind's most recent appearance in Irish sailing awareness was back in May 2018, when he turned up in Dingle with his decidedly different 18ft ocean cruiser ExLex on a trailer. After the boat was launched, a local fishing boat towed his engine-less craft out to a clear departure point west of the Blaskets, and away he went, destination New Zealand.

Various circumstances prevented ExLex – in which he is quite happy to achieve a sailing speed of two or three knots – getting to New Zealand, but he had put in an impressive amount of sea time (plus port-time in Madeira and other ventures) when ExLex was towed into Baltimore recently by an obliging whale-watching enthusiast.

Since last being in Ireland, Yrvind had actually decided that ExLex wasn't really the ideal boat for the job. So having left her securely-berthed at Porto Santo in Madeira, back home in Sweden, he built the even smaller Exlex II and took a fresh departure direct from Alesund. But then he concluded the new boat was incapable of carrying sufficient stores, so it was back to base in Sweden, and in June 2021 he re-joined the first ExLex in Madeira, bound for the Azores and a circuit of the Sargasso Sea.

The voyage from Dingle was put on hold with ExLex hibernating for a while in Porto SantoThe voyage from Dingle was put on hold with ExLex hibernating for a while in Porto Santo

The whale-watcher had been out in his RIB scanning the ocean beyond Sherkin, but instead of sighting the mighty humpback whale of his dreams breaching in its impressively slow style, he spotted the Day-Glo yellow ExLex, newly arrived in Irish waters from the Azores with any further thoughts of the Sargasso Sea – which the skipper had sailed many years ago anyway – now on the back burner.

ExLex and her very bearded captain were bouncing about in lumpy seas and little wind, making only negligible progress towards port. So The Whale-Watcher towed her into Baltimore, and he and his family gave the lone skipper a slap-up meal.

The word is that ExLex (it means Out-Law) has now been reunited with her road trailer, and hopefully is out of the jurisdiction. For it so happens that solo sailing in Irish territorial waters is a decidedly grey area, so much so that those who see things in black-and-white would say that it actually contravenes our maritime regulations.

Thus some of m'learned friends might even argue that directly assisting a solo sailor to get started on his lone project amounts to aiding and abetting, whereas the Good Samaritan act of The Whalewatcher of Baltimore in bringing ExLex in out of the cold was of course a very seamanlike and praiseworthy gesture of assistance.

A further factor is added to the equation when we learn that Yrvind is now 82, and indeed will soon be 83. There are many very able sailors of four score years who are much more capable than some of half their age. But in an era when the absurdly simplistic chronological age is often still the definition of abilities, 80-year-plus skippers are also a matter of nervousness for the Nanny State.

Sven Lundin on one of his many unusual self-designed and self-built small boatsSven Lundin on one of his many unusual self-designed and self-built small boats

Beyond that, there's the reality that for motive power in calms, he relies on a sort of yuloh, a single semi-sculling oar. Such a means of propulsion was all very well when every vessel was sail-powered, and everything came to a stop in calms. But in this era when ships see calms as an opportunity for economically increasing speed, an 18ft day-glo blob which can be moved at only a barely perceptible speed in a calm is inevitably at extra risk

And then there's the fact that his boat is own-designed and home made, so much so that she defies description with a rig which draws on both schooner and ketch to such an extent that it will inevitably be called a sketch.

Thus we have Outlaw (described by himself as "The Mountain Bike of the Oceans") and her owner-skipper Sven Lundin, aka ExLex and Yrvind. Yrvind means "whirlwind" in Swedish, and he cheerfully admits that he chose his new name because if somebody is looking at an AIS screen and sees a whirlwind looming up, they'll investigate further and maybe become followers of his website and blog.

ExLex, aka Outlaw – is she a schooner, is she a ketch….?ExLex, aka Outlaw – is she a schooner, is she a ketch….?

If you do, you'll find yourself in a parallel universe in which time either acquires a new meaning, or becomes meaningless altogether, while traditional sailorly concepts of extreme performance efficiency become largely irrelevant. But as he has been happily sailing in his own eccentric way for decades now without – so far as is known – causing undue trouble or frightening the horses, he surely deserves proper respect for achievement and survival.

That said, it's even more complicated than our bare outline above might suggest. More than a few noted figures in sailing have built a boat in the parental garage or hayshed. But Sven in 1971-72 built his first self-created boat in the basement of his mother's apartment. We are not told if the apartment building had to be demolished in order to get the boat launched. But as the little craft's dimensions utilized the basement's space to the last millimetre, we cannot see how it could gave been extracted in any other way.

Deciding to go small in boats at the age of 32 was part of a fascinating progress through voyaging. In 1968 he sailed on a 12-metre boat to Rio de Janeiro, and on arrival said: "A big ship has big problems, that's why I will return to the small boats, they only give small problems."

That's the way it has been ever since, his boats built and sailed long distances including Bris II, 5.9 metres long and built in aluminium, in which in 1980 he rounded Cape Horn. In winter.

While Yrvind's more recent boats have increasingly used carbon in their construction, Bris II in which he rounded Cape Horn in 1980 (in winter) was built in aluminium.While Yrvind's more recent boats have increasingly used carbon in their construction, Bris II in which he rounded Cape Horn in 1980 (in winter) was built in aluminium.

Ultimately his ambition had been to sail non-stop round the world in something even smaller, in what he called the "definitive journey" sailing a three-metre boat. But in recent years that voyaging ambition seems to have been modified downwards to become extensive Atlantic cruising in a variety of unusual small craft. Despite that, his free-ranging style has been cramped by the pandemic, and he has had frustrating journeys through airports like everyone else. 

While Yrvind may have experienced a very special freedom-filled relationship with the sea, like everyone else the pandemic has clipped his wings and brought back the joy of airports……While Yrvind may have experienced a very special freedom-filled relationship with the sea, like everyone else the pandemic has clipped his wings and brought back the joy of airports……

Thus the ExLex, slumbering in Porto Santo, was re-awakened, and in due course a whale-watcher off Baltimore in August 2021 found himself looking at something very unusual indeed. That said, they're accustomed to unusual ships and crews arriving into Baltimore from the Atlantic. But even so, an 82-year-old Whirlwind sailing an 18ft Outlaw which looks like no other boat on earth or sea is something to chew on. 

Special catch for a whale-watcher – ExLex is towed into Baltimore.Special catch for a whale-watcher – ExLex is towed into Baltimore.

Published in Solo Sailing
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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