Classic Gaff Schooner – The Great Comeback

May 10, 2024
Team Coboaters

Classic Gaff Schooner and Captain Bernard- The Great Comeback

The Schooner past and future adventures

Do you like great stories about classic boats, sailing vessels and schooners in particular? This article tells the amazing story of a Classic Gaff Schooner Calisto V and Captain Bernard. It is an incredible project that should bring the schooner from the State of Washington, USA to a Maritime museum in in Brittany, France. It is an adventure, a conservatory project to allow future generations to enjoy this great classic sailboat.

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Classic sailboat Calisto and Captain Bernard need crew for their journey back to Europe. If you are interested to join or communicate with the skipper, please check this Crew Request.



Why the Great Comeback?

It is said that a man who does not return to his roots is a lost home. Beyond the adage, the Great Return of a classic sailboat responds to an essential need: to return home. This 10,000-mile solo voyage will end an itinerary begun on the distant day of the captain’s departure for the Pacific along time ago, on August 18, 1969.

At 78 years old, what’s possible today may not be possible tomorrow. It’s now or never. For a classic boat like Calisto, the weather window in the North Pacific opens roughly from June to September. Not a moment to lose. Much remains to be done to prepare the schooner and the voyage itself.

The departure of the Great Comeback is scheduled for October 2024 at the latest, with an arrival in Douarnenez, France around July-August 2025. The 10-month crossing is due, in large part, to at-tents during the cyclone season in the Pacific, hurricanes in Eastern America, and winter storms in the North Atlantic.

The Great Comeback could therefore be less risky than its destination. Aware of this, I’ll set sail with full knowledge of the facts. It’s worth the risk. Quite a challenge, all the same…

Sailing vessel Calisto, a Classic Gaff Shooner

Designed by American architect John G. Hanna, the first Tahiti Ketch was launched in Florida in 1923. At the time, she was one of the few, if not the only, yachts in this category designed for ocean sailing. Easy to maneuver, with her ketch rig and multiple trimming options, and with her Norwegian stern, suitable for escape gaits. True seaworthy qualities, safe and comfortable even in rough weather: a true ocean-going boat.

The Tahiti Ketch is one of the most recognizable classic sailboats in the world, with a strong following in Europe and the United States. In France alone, around a hundred ketch of this type were built between 1959 and 1983. Some have even gone down in history, such as the Atom, built by navigator Jean Gau, who circumnavigated the globe twice and crossed the Atlantic eleven times. The result is an enduring reputation.

In 1931, Weston Farmer perfected the plans for the Tahiti Ketch with a double-chine steel version that streamlined the somewhat heavy appearance of the wooden version. This version’s more finish water inlets improve both aesthetics and close-up.

View of the Sailing vessel Ketch

Calisto was built in 1989

In 1989, Charles Wilton built Calisto from W. Farmer’s plans at his workshop in Victoria B.C. (West Canada). However, he modifies the longitudinal section, accentuating the sheer and bougee. These modifications changed the classic sailboat a little bit. It increases the height of the cockpit and the height of the bow, giving the boat a sleeker, more elegant line, further accentuated by a slightly lengthened bowsprit. Everything else – sails, rigging, etc. – scrupulously respects the original design of J. G. Hanna’s Tahiti Ketch.

A 15 years sailing voyage

Calisto was launched in 1990. A unique example, the ketch quickly earned a solid reputation between Alaska and Oregon, as much for her character as for her sailing.

In 1993, Calisto set sail for the South Pacific. A journey lasting several years, between California, Mexico, Polynesia, Hawaii… Return to Anacortes in 2007 (Fidalgo Island WA, USA). Equipped with a new engine, she will be offered for sale.


The Sailing vessel and Captain Bernard

2008, First renovation of the classic sailboat

April 2008. Captain Bernard purchased Calisto V.  She seems well-suited to the voyages he was planning. The vessel bears a striking resemblance to the boat he imagined during his previous voyages in the South Pacific, aboard Kleiner Bär.

Bernard sold his company in Fremantle, Western Australia, where he has been based, and moved to his new boatyard in Anacortes, Fidalgo Island, Washington State USA, 15,000 km away.


More work to do!

Much more than a simple paint job, the renovation work is far more extensive than anticipated. The engine had to be taken out and inspected, the hull sandblasted, the spars rebuilt, the ballasts and bottoms repainted and treated. All solid teak and cedar, the interior fittings are repainted and varnished.

Apart from an out-of-date VHF and an old-fashioned echo-sounder, Calisto has no modern navigation system or communication equipment: an expense that is as important as it is unexpected. Calisto is finally ready to set sail, but 2 months later than initially planned.

Just enough time to rearm, take on board supplies and firewood, Calisto, now a superb Schooner, refurbished and perfectly equipped, set sails in October 2008. Heading north through the Strait of Georgia. But the season is already well advanced. A mistake for which winter will soon take its toll.

2020, a full refit in 2020 but unfortunatley Covid hit

After 15 years of sailing in the harsh conditions of the North Pacific, repairs were needed. Barely begun, the Covid pandemic immobilized Calisto in a shipyard in Bellingham WA. This provided the opportunity for a 3-year restoration.

All linings, bulkheads and fittings were removed. The exposed hull shows some corrosion but the worst is to be found at the bottom of the chain hoist way: along the Bryon, the sheet metal is corroded. Unhealthy parts must be cut out, replaced with new ones and reinforced.

The interior of the hull and the bottoms were stripped, treated against corrosion, and repainted from bow to stern.

The interior is refurbished and equipped with the comfort and commodities so often desired. A new galley, a head and a shower, a box for an additional fuel tank, a new companionway, an engine compartment and storage space were integrated and fitted. The intensive work involved modifying partitions and layouts. Piece by piece, everything will be prefabricated. The new electrical circuits and piping will then be designed and installed. As much work and time, if not more, than for a new boat.

Now it’s time for reassembly. The prefabricated elements are assembled and installed one by one: a demanding task. Doors, moldings, paraments, drawers and other fixtures take longer than expected. The timing is off.

The arrival of the off-season complicates matters. Cold and damp extend drying times. 10° C below zero outside. We had to stick to the woodwork. But condensation on the hull interrupted the installation of insulation.

Auxiliary heaters and a dehumidifier are installed. Without them, no further progress could be made. The delay worsens. The time lost during the winter will have to be made up in the spring. Part of the circuitry remains to be installed, as do the electronics and rigging parts, not to mention paint and varnish. A good varnish requires 5 to 6 coats and as many sanding operations. Varnish is everywhere.

Summer 2023: Schooner Calisto is almost ready

Summer 2023. The closing weather window postpones launching, refitting and testing until the spring of 2024, and the departure to France at the end of September. A year ahead of us to fine-tune the fittings and design a console for the instrumentation (radar, plotter, pilot, anemometer, etc.). The doghouse so often dreamed of is finally built. It will protect the companionway and cockpit from heavy seas and considerably improve life on board.

Who is Captain Bernard Baclet?

Captain Bernard is an amazing fellow and a great sailor. He started at the age of 15 and never stopped crossing oceans on so many different vessels. he loves classic Schooner and classic vessels.

Captain Bernard Sailing resume:

  • Christmas 1961 – Maritime college. Boulogne, France . 1st embarkation, ship’s boy aboard the trawler Mont des Cats, one of the last steamers in the world.
  • April 1962 – Embarkation aboard the Notre Dame de France
  • July 62 – CAM and seaman’s book in pocket. Foam on board the trawler Skagerrak. Boulogne.
  • October 62 – Novice aboard the Alain LD, Cie Dreyfus bulk carrier. Departure for South America
  • June 63 – Return on board N. D. de France.
  • September 63 – Maval Academy – Nantes, France
  • 1966 – 67 – French Navy aboard the D.O. Mytho. Brest
  • 1968 – Gérard LD. Cie Dreyfus
  • 1969 – Chief engineer Dzumac. Cie du Chalandage. Nouméa.
  • 1971 – Preparation and became Captain Merchant Marine
  • 1972 – Sd du Mérou. Nouméa, New Caledonia
  • 1973 – 1982 Nouméa, New Caledonia- Captain – Deep-sea fishing & International coastal shipping
  • 1984 – Tahiti. Company Director. Skipper/Owner Ketch Kleiner Bär. Cruises Polynesia, South Pacific
  • 1990 – Marine consultant for the European Union (EU)
  • 1999 – Return to the Great Fishing boats. Grande Hermine. St Malo
  • Since 2008 – Skipper owner Calisto V – USA – North Pacific Cruises.




May 10, 2024
Team Coboaters

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