- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

ERIE, Pa. (AP) - Most people opt to make a transatlantic sea voyage on a cruise ship.

Matt Kent, the U.S. Brig Niagara’s fourth mate, plans to sail the Atlantic Ocean in 2017 in a boat measuring just 3 feet 6 inches by 3 feet 6 inches.

If successful, Kent, 33, a native of Portland, Oregon, would set a world record for the smallest sailboat to cross the Atlantic.

He has spent the past five years designing and building his boat, “The Undaunted,” as part of his Little Boat Project. Kent, who has been on the Niagara’s crew for eight years, is attempting to raise money for science-based education programs at The Bioreserve, a nonprofit in Glenmont, New York.

Kent hopes to use his vessel as a science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) educational tool.

“When I first thought of even looking up the record, it seemed like an interesting project and a great adventure,” Kent said. “But the more I work with students, the more I have them despair about learning math and science. This boat is very easy to understand as far as its dimensions and needs.”

Kent plans to begin his 4,700-mile voyage on March 1 from La Gomera Island in the Canary Islands off the African coast. His destination is the U.S. coastline near Miami. He estimates the voyage will take three and a half to four months.

“It’s going to be so dependent on weather,” he said. “But for the last quarter of the trip, I will be skirting up along the eastern Caribbean Islands, at the most dangerous time when I have the least amount of supplies, I’ve been out there the longest, things are starting to break, and I have the most opportunities to stop. … The attempt is to do it all in one shot without a resupply. We want to make the record as hard to beat as possible.”

The world record is held by Hugo Vihlen, a former airline pilot from Florida, who sailed from Canada to England in 1993 in a sailboat that measured 5 feet, 4 inches in length.

“I’ve read all of his log books and the books he’s written about this,” Kent said.

Kent’s vessel is made of aluminum that is 3/16-inch-thick above the waterline and 1/4-inch in thickness below the waterline. His vessel is 42 inches wide and long, and the height of the boat from its keel to the top of its cabin is 7 feet 6 inches.

“It’s light and strong. There’s corrosion issues you can worry about with aluminum, but this boat only has to do this once,” Kent said.

Its interior has plywood with a half-inch of padded, insulated foam anywhere below the waterline.

Floorboards can be opened to access storage. On the top of the cabin is a bulletproof, Lexan polycarbonate bubble window that covers the hatch and through which he can look out.

The boat has a 15-foot-high aluminum mast and weighs just 420 pounds, but Kent will add 720 pounds of lead as a keel shoe, and expects to take 300 pounds of supplies (batteries, food, safety equipment) and a 40-gallon emergency water tank (320 pounds), compartmentalized into 10-gallon sections.

“I will have a hand-and-foot-crank cycle in there to use for my electricity, so I can sit in the hatch and cycle to produce electricity, but it’s also for my circulation and exercise that’s part of my regimen,” Kent said.

Kent will produce his daily water from manual desalinator water makers.

He will take 180 pounds of dehydrated food, which should last him four months, and estimates he will lose about 20 to 25 pounds on the voyage.

“Realistically, I’m looking at 1,300 to 1,500 calories a day,” Kent said. “I’ll have my exercise regimen. We’ve figured out how much exercise I need to do, how much power I need to produce, how much water I will produce, how many calories I’ll need.”

While Kent will be alone on the ocean, he won’t be entirely on his own. His land-based support staff will include Erie native Sydnee Groenendaal, who served this past sailing season as the Niagara’s third mate, and who has been involved in project planning since last year.

“Throughout the project, I’ll be sending him weather reports and other sorts of information. I’ll be the main contact point for him on land,” Groenendaal said.

Kent said he will do daily check-ins on his satellite phone and weekly phone calls.

Kent said he will have plenty of marine safety equipment, including an automatic identification system, a VHF radio for local communications and an emergency radio beacon.

“Probably my biggest safety concern is getting run over by some freighter,” he said. “It’s a sailing capsule more than it is a boat, so I can be pretty protected in there from almost anything.”

Groenendaal said Kent sometimes refers to her as “mission control.”

“Knowing him, I’m very confident in his ability to design this, to do this and to make the decision not to do it if he thinks it’s not a safe thing,” she said.

Kent estimates the project will cost about $20,000. He paid $3,000 for the aluminum used to construct his vessel, and said three Erie-area businesses - Lake City Industries, Lewis Bawol Welding and American Cruising Sails - have donated extensive time and services to build, weld and outfit his boat.

Kent has created a GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/littleboatproject, that has raised $4,500.

“Erie should be proud of this,” Kent said. “The time and the response that I’ve gotten from people donating from their own businesses to make this happen has been huge. I’m the one riding in the thing, but I’m not the one breaking the record. I’m just the one driving it. There’s a lot of people breaking it. Erie is a big part of it.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2d7i9GG

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Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com

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