The 65-foot trawler San Gottardo was born a half-century ago in the Dutch fishing village of Harlingen, where five brothers built her and named her, well, Vijf Gebroeders (“the five brothers”). They planned to make their fortunes fishing the North Sea.
Dutch fishermen are a hardy breed, often facing challenging conditions in their grueling line of work. It took just two years before larger ships, with more sophisticated gear, made smaller ships like the San Gottardo obsolete. Unable to keep up with the competition, the five brothers could no longer pay the mortgage on the boat and the bank auctioned her off. A few people tried to revive her, but by 1994, she was taken out of service altogether. She was laid up until 2006, when Dutch Capt. Gerrit de Jong bought her and stripped her to bare metal.
Working at several Dutch shipyards, he gave her new life as a long-distance cruiser. He installed a steel superstructure and aluminum pilothouse, an overhauled 430-hp Caterpillar D343 diesel, two generators plus solar panels, and commercial-scale ovens, freezers, a walk-in fridge along with the usual one, and a washer and dryer. Joystick steering, twin radars, an Iridium satellite phone system, and three independent GPS receivers were placed in the pilothouse, and a hydraulic system with its own battery was added for redundancy. With a watermaker and three independent heating systems—one dedicated to under-floor heating for added comfort—along with air conditioning, she would be comfortable in just about any climate.
Communication is composed of three systems: a VHF for short range, shortwave for longer distances over conventional radio and a satellite phone based on the Iridium system.
Accommodations include a large social salon and galley in the main superstructure, a solid-fuel stove for good marine tradition, an electric piano, a satellite TV and staterooms for 10 guests with three heads. The staterooms, situated down below, were fitted out to a high standard with traditional warm woods and white paneling.
The captain visited the shipyard almost every day, checking every detail and, no doubt, envisioning the good times he’d have on board. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. He had to sell her before she was ready, with new owners from Switzerland deciding to base her on the archipelago of Svalbard in Norway, about level with the top end of Greenland—as close to the Arctic as many cruisers are likely to get.
These owners, Charles Michel and Doris Codiga-Michel, plan to use the San Gottardo for The Swiss Arctic Project, a charitable effort to show youngsters the effects of climate change through real-life glaciers, wildlife and more. For going ashore to conduct exploration work—or even just for fun—there are canoes and RIBs, while special onboard facilities allow for photography and filming from the vessel, and for handling samples and measurements.
The climate in Svalbard is pretty brutal. In the winter, low temperatures just below zero degrees Fahrenheit are normal; in the summer months, the thermometer rarely rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We have equipped San Gottardo with at least two of everything so that there is a backup if anything should fail,” says Charles Michel, adding that the hull and superstructure have thick insulation to keep out the cold. “You cannot take chances in these remote waters.”
With her striking bright red hull, the San Gottardo looks and acts the part of an Arctic explorer. She reportedly has a range of more than 5,000 miles at 6 knots; at her usual 7-knot cruise speed, range drops to 4,300 miles with fuel consumption around 3 gallons per hour. Her top end is 10 knots, and she has (in addition to her four fuel tanks) a tank for engine lubricating oil—an often overlooked item on long-range cruisers, but vital when cruising in areas that offer little support from the shore.
“We aim to be fully self-sufficient when we are cruising in these remote waters,” Charles Michel says. “That way, we can be as sure as possible that we will not need any of the emergency equipment that we have on board. There are even two life jackets for each member of the crew: one to meet the regulations, and one of the self-inflating type that we use when operating the small boats.”
The Michels brought the San Gottardo to the area last summer for sea trials in the Arctic waters.
“We had to know that she could cope with the tough conditions of these Arctic waters, and to ensure that we had everything necessary in terms of equipment and stores,” Michel says.
“So far, she has lived up to all our hopes and performed as we expected,” he says. “San Gottardo is a very special ship with an exciting history, and now she can continue her journey with this exciting project.”