‘Sylfia’ is Bernard Kuczera’s final masterpiece, created after forty years of sailing and boat building experience. Bernard was born in Poland in 1948 in Zory, a small coal mining town near the mountains, 600km from the sea. A mechanical engineer by trade, anything was possible in his books. Bernard had the incredible ability to ‘make something out of nothing.’ At the age of twenty seven, Bernard joined a project with a group of adventurers who were building a yacht in an unused coal mine shed. Their plan was to escape the tight communist regime and go sailing around the world. ‘Czarny Diament’ (Black Diamond) was a solid 53ft steel ketch they transported by train and truck through rivers and eventually out to the Baltic sea. in 1978 she was launched. The seas were a very foreign environment to most of the crew on board, but learning through their experiences they sailed an incredible amount of miles using basic navigation techniques on a very limited budget. Their coal-mining skills only came in handy when they got stuck on a reef in the Red Sea for six months, and had to dig a channel out for the 1.9m keel with a chisel and hammer.
In 1982 Bernard met Nadine in Brisbane. Born in France, Nadine was in love with the sailing lifestyle having spent time on a couple of yachts in the Pacific. Together In 1984 they Built ‘Nanou’, in a friends shipyard in Durban, South Africa with no money to buy anything apart from the steel. ‘Nanou‘ was a 64ft steel sloop built on sheer determination. Accumulated treasures, donations and left over café food made ends meet. After a few run-ins with the authorities about overstaying, the seaworthy but largely unfinished boat was launched and sailed out of Durban in a very full on nine months. Many miles and adventures later, Sofia was born in 1988 in Australia. The adventures were toned down a bit with the new responsibility and a bigger boat was in order.
Now based in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, Bernard started building ‘Nanu’, an 84ft ketch (loosely based on a Bruce Roberts design). She was built off the grid using mainly solar energy and generator power for welding. Bigger and better than the last boat with a lifting centre board, big spaces and capacities, ‘Nanu‘ took 3 years for Bernard to build by himself ‘Nanu‘ was launched in 1996 along with a new addition to the family, Sylvan. The children did their schooling through correspondence school which enabled them to make the most of their sea gypsy lifestyle. Having the larger ‘Nanu’ meant it was possible to raise a family and still have 8 or so crew/passengers aboard to share the unique experience of life at sea. The extra hands helped sail and contribute to the expenses of the boat.
As Sofia and Sylvan became teenagers, the desire to lead a ‘normal’ life in a house and going to school became greater than the pull of life at sea. ‘Nanu’ was sold and Bernard and Nadine went their separate ways. Bernard then took on the project of building a sister ship to ‘Nanu’ for a client, ‘Amondino’, a state-of-the-art vessel with Bernard’s refined design and all the gear.
Following the launch of ‘Amondino‘, Bernard carried on creating, driven by the challenge of evolving his design into a new vessel. This time for himself, he started to build ‘Sylfia’ (a combination of Sylvan and Sofia’s names.) During the build of Sylfia he came across the hull of a steel launch for a ‘good bargain,’ and found himself with 2 projects on his hands, Bernard worked on Sylfia and this new launch simultaneously, having 2 unfinished boats on the mooring was quite an undertaking for someone in his sixties. Both boats were launched a day apart in March 2010. The launch was then sold which gave Bernard more freedom and money to finance the finishing of ‘Sylfia.’
Bernard continued to work on the interior of ‘Sylfia’, but unfortunately he was slowed down by an injury to his achilles tendon. He only managed to go for one test sail in which his children joined him, and they took great joy in seeing how well she performed.
In May 2011 Bernard’s dinghy was found 12miles off the coast off from the Bay of Islands. Hundreds of people from the sailing community took part in an extensive sea search, although Bernard Kuczera, the larger-than-life “master mariner” was never found. He now rests in one of the most beautiful sailing grounds a sailor could ask for.
Sylvan is now a marine engineer by trade and Sofia has spent several years sailing aboard Greenpeace ships. In 2014 they put their skills together to co-captain Sylfia on a six month expedition to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. They shared this experience with over fifty friends and family at different stages of the voyage, and their father’s legacy was truly continued.
Bernard and Nadine’s kids have made the most of ‘Sylfia’, taking her on many adventures and touching many people’s lives with her mission and story. Growing into their young lives they feel they don’t have the capacity to utilise ‘Sylfia‘ to her full potential and have come to realise it is time to move on. Even though it is sad to let her go, Sylvan and Sofia feel they have honoured their father’s legacy. It is important to them that the powerful spirit of this unique vessel continues on in the hands of adventurers who will enjoy her to her full potential.