Article published in Cruising World Magazine
and in La Revue maritime L'Escale  (in French)

Re-powering Jean-du-Sud


Before he set out around the world, Yves Gélinas took the engine out of his Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud. When time came to re-power his boat after coming back home, the designer of the Cape Horn Integrated Self-Steering System adopted an original solution.


In order to sail a four-ton boat non-stop through the Roaring Forties, I had to make its structure and rig capsize-proof. I also had to take off any useless weight : with the needed provisioning and spare parts, my little boat was loaded to its maximum and any excess weight increased its vulnerability. The first item that went was the Universal Atomic Four engine : with its ten gallons of gas, it would be of little use in a non-stop 28,000 miles voyage.

The other item I got off the boat was the steering wheel : I had just designed a self-steering system that could steer through any weather, and the wheel became useless, a tiller being enough if I ever had to steer by hand.

I did not succeed in sailing non-stop : I was capsized and dismasted in the Pacific Ocean and I had to stop at the Chatham Islands to repair the mast. I did reach Gaspé (Québec) however, after 282 sailing days, without steering .

The engine had been left behind in Brittany and after I came back I could not afford to have it shipped home. In any event I did not want to put a gasoline engine back into my boat. So I sailed without an engine for a while. I used a long oar instead, not so much for propulsion, but rather to make sure the boat took the wind on the offshore tack when I pulled up the anchor. It also helped in maintaining way as far as a dock by sculling after dropping sail. In a calm, if a harbor was at any distance, I rather used my old Seagull on the Zodiac, lashed to the quarter, which gave the boat a speed of three knots.

Sailing like that without an engine, I found that I did not go so far in any given time, but I enjoyed it as much. Yet, after ten years of coastal cruising, I had visited every destination I could reach without an engine between Gaspé and Ottawa many times and I decided to re-power my boat. However, having a certain tendency to question generally accepted ideas, I did not think an inboard diesel would be the best solution. Bob Townsend, a member of the Great Lakes Alberg 30 Association, told me he had a trailer built for his boat and he hauled it without problem from Toronto to Newport RI to enter the Bermuda One-Two Race. That made me think : maybe the best solution would not be to put an engine back into the boat, but to have the engine in front of the boat, in a vehicle, with the boat on a trailer. This would yield a speed of forty knots on the road, versus the six knots on the water with an inboard engine, accessing a much greater number of cruising grounds.

However this did not address the problem of entering harbors or moving the boat through calm weather. The solution to this was inspired by an other friend who replaced the Atomic Four of his Grampian 29 with a 9.9 hp outboard engine with no appreciable drop in speed.

But I did not want the usual spring-loaded outboard bracket bolted to the transom, as the stern of my boat is reserved to the Cape Horn self-steering. I could have retained the solution used on my previous boat, a 24 ft Olympic Star, and mount the outboard in a well in the lazarette. After thinking a while about it, I rejected this solution for two reasons : first the lazarette on my boat is one of the four watertight compartments that could keep my boat afloat in the event of a major leak and I did not want to lose this feature; second, the drag of the shaft and propeller while under sail is not negligible and I would have to pull the engine completely out each time I sailed to avoid it. While acceptable for a long passage, this solution is not in coastal sailing, the engine being used too often.

After some experimenting, taking advantage of the tools and materials I currently use in building my Cape Horn vanes, I was able to make an engine bracket placed on the port quarter, that pivots at deck level and allows a 9.9 hp long-shaft outboard motor to move up or down. In its up position, the engine blends with the weather-cloth and (almost) looks like any dinghy motor stowed on the rail. In its down position, it pushes my boat at 6 knots, enough to move it in calm weather and even against a moderate head wind. The only drawback is the prop sometimes coming out of the water in a heavy chop and I must reduce speed to keep it from racing.

One end of this crank-shaped support pivots inside a foot-long tube placed over the rail forward of the stern pulpit and is bolted at each end through the deck (see photo). The engine is clamped on a plate pivoting around the other end of the crank, to which I welded a heavy diagonal tube that absorbs the thrust of the engine and keeps it vertical. When the crank pivots up or down, the forward end of this diagonal tube slides fore and aft, guided by a small horizontal tube placed on the rail, its forward end being held by a stanchion, and its aft end bolted to the deck (the whole engine bracket assembly being held to the boat by three bolts only). A small four-part tackle pulls the engine up with minimum effort.

Materializing a trailer and a towing vehicle took a while longer : I had to wait for the sales of the Cape Horn self-steering to generate enough profit. I started this business without any cash outlay, assembling the first units with the onboard tool kit and for the first five years, all the revenue had to be re-invested in materials, tooling, advertising, etc. Sales taking off, I was finally able purchase a used trailer built for a heavier boat and I modified it so that it would accept my boat. Even though two axles are enough for a four-ton boat, this trailer has three (two with electric brakes), the third axle being an added safety feature. The frame of the trailer is heavier than needed, but I consider that a good trade off for the higher gas mileage.

The boat and trailer weigh approximately 5 tons; although this is above its rated towing capacity of this vehicle, I purchased a used 9 year old GMC Suburban, with low enough mileage, that was already fitted with the towing package : transmission cooler, heavy duty hitch and electric brakes. The only thing I had to add was extra blades on the rear springs, to compensate for the 1000 lb. tongue weight. The total cost of the trailer, vehicle and outboard was probably not much higher than that of a new diesel and its installation.

On the highway, I can maintain a speed of 50 - 55 mph (80-90 km/h). Obviously, I accelerate slowly to avoid straining the towing vehicle as much as possible. I can reach 60 mph on a straight and level road. I favor freeways with as few hills as possible, although I crossed the Appalachian Mountains between Québec and the East Coast without problem, shifting to second gear a few times. All the moveable boat equipment (anchors, lines, sails, outboard, etc.) is taken off the boat and loaded in the truck, to minimize the weight differential between vehicle and trailer. Obviously, one must drive very defensively and maintain a respectable distance from the vehicle ahead, the inertia being considerable.

Even though the Alberg 30 is three inches in beam above the limit allowed on the road without an escort (set at 8 ft 6 in.), I never had a problem on this respect. The trailer itself being 8 ft wide only, the extra three inches do not really show.

The trailer has not been designed for salt water immersion, so I use a travel-lift for launching and loading. I also often use the mast stepping system I have rigged, as in most yards it is often more expensive to step or unstep a mast than to launch a boat.

With this rig, I brought Jean-du-Sud to Newport RI in the summer of 1998 (400 miles), in order to take part in the parade of boats celebrating the Joshua Slocum Centennial. From there, with my wife, I sailed to Nova Scotia and cruised the Southwest Coast to Halifax. I then trailed the boat back to Oka QC, west of Montréal (800 miles). The following summer, I hauled the boat to Fredericton NB and I launched it in the St. John river (using a crane, as no travel-lift was available). I then sailed 60 miles downriver, through the Reversing Falls, and I cruised Southwest along the Eastern US Seaboard as far as Annapolis MD. After the Boat Show, I hauled the boat back to Oka. In the summer of 2000, I went to Georgian Bay, on Lake Huron, and in the summer of 2001, I hauled Jean-du-Sud to Caraquet, N.-B., to bring it closer to the Ocean we wanted to cross.

Summer 2002, we motored up the River Seine, the Yonne  as far as the canal de Bourgogne, then back up the Oise, the canal du Nord, entering the Norgh Sea at Dunkerque.  Motoring through the French canals was no problem, except occasionnally in locks, as with the outboard offset to the side it is impossible to back up.

With this kind of engine power, I consider Jean-du-Sud to be very close to the ideal boat : big enough to sail around Cape Horn, but small enough to access virtually every cruising ground within reasonable time constraints.

Suite: Mast stepping System

CapeHorn Integrated Self-Steering

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Witness how some of our customers have, on their blog or web site,  described their installation and use of the CapeHorn




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Read Andy Schell's article on

Jean-du-Sud and the Magick-Byrd,
the book by Yves Gélinas that narrated his 28 000 mile single-handed circumnavigation through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn aboard Alberg 30 Jean-du-Sud, has been translated in English and published by Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson of 59 North Sailing.

It was first published in French in Canada in 1986, then in France in 1996. 

Available both in print, and as a podcast,
read by the author.

-Order the Book- 

-Download the Podcast-

CapeHorn is the choice of

Andy Shell and Mia Karlsson.

Donna Lange, for

Sail Twice Around
Non-Stop Sail around the World

With Jean-du-Sud Around the World
-watch the trailer and order the video-


Listen to David Anderson's Sailing Podcast featuring Yves Gélinas