Making a solo sailing voyage around the world has always been the childhood dream of Édouard De Keyser, a dream that took shape when he was seven years old, spending his holidays in Brittany and sailing for two months. “My parents were separated, but both came to France. I spent all my holidays there. Sailing for me was an unparalleled freedom: having your feet in the water, being pushed by the wind, meeting other sailors, for two months a year. Back then, there were the Whitbread, Tabarly, and many great navigators. I was fascinated by this world. When I started university, I had a bit of freedom and I threw myself into offshore racing, participating for example in the Mini Transat, Fastnet, and others. I immersed myself completely.”
When Édouard learned of the launch of the Global Solo Challenge (GSC), he began searching for a boat to enter with. He discovered the 34-foot boat, made of wood and epoxy resin, which had been built by Jacques Riguidel. Riguidel, after making a solo trip around the world, had the ambition to repeat the feat, but in the opposite direction to the prevailing winds. Unfortunately, he was unable to realize this dream due to severe back problems. In 2022, the boat was in Nieuport, Belgium, in the hands of a Belgian named André Robberecht who had re-acquired it with the intention of making a solo trip around the world. But, at 77, he felt he was too old for such an enterprise. “In a week, I saw the boat, I met André, and I bought it…”, De Keyser recounts.
SolarWind 34′, a prototype designed by French naval architect David Reard, known for designing a series of cruising boats called Bepox and a fan of kitesurfing, won Édouard’s heart at first sight. Riguidel had commissioned Reard to design this boat, which for Édouard “is perfect to participate in the Global Solo Challenge.”
The naval architect chose wood and epoxy resin as construction materials, developing a technique where pieces of wood are joined using an epoxy glue, adjusted in consistency according to the desired resistance, to join the various parts of the hull. Wood, a material that has fascinated Édouard since the early ’90s, evokes the time when he built a Pram’ using the same technique. The Pram’ is a type of boat designed by naval architect Youri Guedj (BOW studio) to sail small seas and inland waterways, dedicated to nautical hiking and single-handed one-design racing. “I’ve always dreamed of a wooden boat. When I saw this boat, I was struck by the solidity and reliability of its construction. Its shapes remind me of the Minis from the late ’90s – early 2000s, characterized by ingenious and marine solutions. With a deep draft, a heavy bulb, a bowsprit, and a hull not excessively wide that, however, widens harmoniously towards the stern, I immediately thought that with SolarWind I could fulfill my dream of going around the world.”
The 14-meter-long aluminum mast, with integrated steps in case it becomes necessary to climb to the top of the mast to solve a problem, is an additional element, designed to face complex seas. The boat has incredible rigidity and stiffness when sailing, in addition to very good course stability. The wood treated with epoxy resin makes the hull solid, easy to repair, and light enough. It is very resistant, even if it has little flexibility. The 1.20-meter bowsprit is neither too long nor too massive, allowing for forward sails suitable to best tackle a route of this kind. “These boats remind me of violins: when they are well-tuned, they sing,” Édouard comments.
In choosing the sails, the Belgian skipper decided to keep some of the original ones, which had not been used much. “When I bought the boat, it was almost ready to leave for the GSC. The 35 square meter mainsail was in perfect condition. For the sails I replaced, I avoided exotic fibers, aiming for as sustainable materials as possible.” Every detail traces a technical picture of the SolarWind 34′ and reveals the meticulous attention and deep passion that link Édouard to his boat.
The boat is equipped with a dacron mainsail, appropriately reinforced at the most stressed points, accompanied by a staysail and a furling genoa. The staysail, particularly useful in conditions of sustained wind and rough seas, has proven to be essential during Édouard’s sailing, who reported excellent performance during his qualification, with interesting performances also downwind. The rigging also includes two symmetrical spinnakers and one asymmetrical, in three sizes: a small one, ideal for sailing with sustained winds using the autopilot, a medium one, and a large one. The Code Zero, which can be used in up to 20 knots of wind, will greatly increase the boat’s speed on beam reaches. To complete the sail plan, the GoodPlanet association has donated a gennaker with a furler to De Keyser.
The Belgian skipper did not need a big refit or make structural changes to his boat, which was essentially already ready for a round-the-world trip. However, he focused on important details to make his journey more reliable and safe. When he acquired the boat, the crash boxes and watertight bulkheads were already compliant with GSC requirements. Everything seemed in order, but closer observation and various sea trials led him to identify the need for a significant modification, particularly regarding the rudders.
“The boat’s rudders, fixed to the transom with three fixed pins, showed a worrying sign of wear. Despite the boat having only sailed 15-20,000 miles, the bushings were already noticeably worn, creating obvious play. The issue was far from negligible: over a distance of 27,000 miles, like that of a round-the-world trip, replacing the bushings at sea would have become an unavoidable necessity. Besides normal wear and tear, another concern was the risk of collision with an unidentified floating object (UFO) that could hit the rudder and also damage the transom.
“So, with the support of a Belgian engineer, I conceived a solution. Our synergy led to the creation of tilting rudders. If I wish to raise them, the maneuver is quite simple, thus simplifying the repair and replacement of the bushings. In case of a collision with a UFO, the bolts are designed to break, allowing the rudders to lift, thus reducing damage. I invested a lot of time in this design, considering it vital. I didn’t want to run the risk of losing a rudder when encountering, for example, orcas off the Spanish coasts. This solution is not a mere modification; rather it is the result of careful reflection on the safety and reliability of the boat. A small improvement, thought out in every detail, that could make a huge difference during such a challenging voyage.”
The boat already boasted a particularly protective coachroof and, after sailing for seven months to get to know his boat thoroughly and qualify, Édouard decided that it was not necessary to make changes or add additional cover. “Life on board mainly takes place inside. When the weather turns bad, I close the watertight door and warm up. From the inside, I have a 360° view: I can observe the sails, the water ahead, the autopilot, and the stern. I don’t have a great need to go outside. If I need to adjust a sail, I open the door, turn the winch and close it immediately. I believe that this boat, born from Riguidel’s experience, is excellent in all aspects.”
Regarding the electronics on board, although Riguidel had already installed two autopilots, elements such as a windex, an anemometer, and a centralized navigation system were missing. The GPS, dating back to the early 2000s, did not integrate cartography. Édouard therefore added all the necessary electronics for navigation, in compliance with the GSC rules, using partners like Plaisance Diffusion and SailProof.
In the context of energy management and in line with his goal of not using fossil fuels during his adventure, Édouard found himself having to solve the engine problem. Indeed, the GSC organization requires the presence of an engine on board for safety reasons. Not wanting to install a diesel engine on his boat, Édouard had lengthy discussions with organizer Marco Nannini, ultimately finding an electric solution. “The boat did not have an engine when I bought it. I learned to sail at Glénans using only the sails and I could have done so with SolarWind which is very handy and fairly light. But respecting the requirements of the GSC, I decided to install a small 10 HP electric motor behind the keel, with a group of lithium phosphate batteries, which is better than lithium-ion in terms of duration, of 1000 ampere at 48V.”
Édouard had the opportunity to collaborate with Wattuneed, a Belgian company specialized in the production of solar panels and batteries. Together, they worked extensively on the design of electric propulsion and energy supply. They thought at length about how to ensure sufficient autonomy during navigation and conducted numerous tests to determine the best balance between performance and energy efficiency.
In addition to the electric motor, Édouard opted for a Watt And Sea hydrogenerator, a technology recognized as cutting-edge and also used on Vendée Globe boats. The enthusiasm for this solution and for the collaboration with Wattuneed is evident, as the boat has the ability to quickly produce 200-300 amperes, recharging the 12V & 48V battery group in a short time. This approach, both innovative and ecological, not only showcases Édouard’s environmental sensitivity but also his ingenuity and determination in finding solutions that reflect his principles.
For cooking onboard, Édouard chose to remain faithful to the spirit of his project, in line with his ecological concerns: “I will not use gas to cook. I have a biosourced alcohol-burning stove, made from wood. I tested it and it works great. I have cooked everything, even bread in a cast-iron pan. I did various tests and you can eat really well.”
For the provision, Édouard collaborated with a Belgian nutritionist, who works as a consultant for the European Space Agency, specializing in creating meals for astronauts. Together with him and with the help of Evelyne, his wife who has a degree in hospitality and restaurant management, they experimented with a technology called dehydration, less invasive than freeze-drying, which is often used to preserve food. “Instead of resorting to freeze-drying, which uses very high pressure and high temperatures to dehydrate foods, here we work with much lower temperatures and longer times. We can thus produce foods that are at least as, if not more, nutritious. We are not talking about a brutal industrial process, but something that we can also do at home.”
Evelylyne has tested different formulas. Édouard, although he does not exclude the use of freeze-dried products, which are practical in complex conditions, prefers dehydration. This technique allows you to prepare fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish, as well as pre-cooked dishes. “I cook like at home, but I rehyd