An American Adventure

Bluewater sailor Ryan Finn is chasing a record of his own.

In 1853, the 235-foot clipper ship, Flying Cloud, sailed from New York to San Francisco, around Cape Horn in 89 days and 13 hours—a record for a sailing vessel that held until 1989. In 2008, the 110-foot French racing catamaran Gitana 13, with a crew of 10 traversed the 13,000-mile-plus journey in 43 days and 38 minutes. It’s a record that stands today. There is no record for sailing non-stop on the old American clipper ship trade route singlehanded, but Ryan Finn wants to set one with his throwback 32-foot Polynesian style proa.

“It’s not a very yachty type of thing that I’m doing here,” says Finn. “This is more of an American adventure. An American exploration of what is possible. This is an adventure, first and foremost.

Finn first became intrigued by offshore solo sailing as a nineteen year old undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and now, at 36, Finn has accrued more than 20,000 miles of solo offshore experience, as well as three transatlantic and three transpacific passages on boats ranging from an IMOCA 60s to 21-foot Mini Transat designs.


Finn has partnered with Paul Bieker, one of the top minds in naval architecture and part of the design team for Oracle Team USA, which overcame an 8-to-1 deficit in the 35th America’s Cup. He also has wizard Russell Brown, who has more miles on these unique Polynesian proa designs than any known western man. In coordination with the World Sailing Speed Record Council, Finn and his team are raising money through a Kickstarter campaign, as well as corporate sponsorships for the build, launch and attempt at this record.

“I wanted to do something outside of a race committee—something bigger,” says Finn. Inspired by Tom Follett, who was initially rejected from competing on his proa, Cheers, in the 1968 OSTAR until he proved the concept by sailing from St. Thomas to Plymouth and was only then allowed to compete, Finn also sees his attempt as a proof of concept. Wanting a design that could go upwind quicker than a monohull, but with fewer structural demands than a tri or a cat, Finn first contacted Russell Brown and then Bieker came onboard.

Billy Black

With the project getting closer to reality, Finn explains, “I’ve never really been afraid of anything offshore, but this is intimidating to me—and that alone interests me. This will be the longest non-stop passage ever sailed by proa, that I’m aware of.”


Aiming to complete the journey in 80 days or less, and well aware of the obstacles of mental and physical exhaustion, navigating in remote parts of the globe, two equator crossings, extreme weather events and the legendary hazards of a Cape Horn transit, Finn says, “It will truly be a battle against the elements and against myself.”

Sailing under the banner, Finn kicked off his funding campaign in May 2015. Sea trials with the boat are expected to get underway in the fall.