- Posted by Andrew Brook
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My day with the DIY ocean racer
Last week I had the opportunity to go sailing with Vendée Globe participant Steve White in Toe in the Water, the Open 60 in which he finished the race in 109 days.
This was a chance to break my previous personal best sailing speed record of 12 knots.
And it was also a chance to sail with probably the best sailor, by most reasonable measures, that I have stepped on board with.
White, 38, shot to fame in the last Vendée, which he finished last February. Fame is no exaggeration - 50,000 people welcomed him back into Les Sables d'Olonne, more than any other competitor in the race except winner Michael Desjoyeaux, despite the fact White finished eighth.
He featured in an article in American magazine Men's Journal, which this year alone has had Lance Armstrong, Bruce Willis and Robert Downey Jnr on the cover. (Not to mention the four-page feature on him in September 2009's YM.)
The reason for the hullabaloo that surrounded White after his circumnavigation was his paltry budget compared to his rivals and the Heath-Robinson haphazardry of his boat.
For example in the 2008 Artemis Transat singlehanded race from Plymouth to Boston, he finished just 85 miles behind Dee Caffari, despite having less than 0.2 per cent of her budget.
He re-mortgaged his Dorchester three-bed semi four times to make it to the Vendee start line.
But now he says he is trying to get away from that image.
'There are two ways of doing the Vendee,' he told me. 'One is scraping around in an old boat and the aim is just to finish.
'The other is having some money, getting a good boat and getting a good result. 'I've done the first one and now I'm aiming to do the second one next time.'
White's aim for the 2010 Vendée Globe is a top-three finish. Ellen Macarthur and Mike Golding are the only non-Frenchmen to achieve this.
Currently he has yet to land a large-scale title sponsor, although he has a big announcement due this week, the details of which he refused to divulge to me.
Therefore at the moment he is still sailing Toe in the Water, which I was fortunate enough to join as part of a corporate day for one of his sponsors bluQube.
Despite its supposed dishevelment, to someone who has not been on an Open 60 before, Toe in the Water is still an impressive sight.
Her five-metre draught meant we had to be shuttled out into the eastern Solent in a RIB, for whom my speed record was no problem. Its 40-knot speed rendered conversation impossible and left my head vibrating.
Toe in the Water was impossible to miss. Her mainsail, that would later require five people to sweat up, towered above every other sail on the water.
I had been promised by two Yachting Monthly staff who had previously sailed with White that speeds of up to 30 knots were possible, but light winds meant those speeds would not be reached.
However under full sail the power of the rig was still evident. To the uninitiated hand on the tiller (pictured) it gave the feeling that the whole boat could explode into life at a moment's notice.
Suddenly with the day drawing to a close that moment happened. From our day long average around six knots (itself impressive in virtual flat calm conditions), the speed indicator rocketed to 17.
Power surged through the boat. She is so wide that to be on the windward rail in a spell of heel is to feel as though you are sitting atop a mountain.
Alas the moment was literally only a moment, but it was indication of just what this boat can do.
White did not need moments to indicate what he is capable of. His tenacity, affability and will to succeed are self-evident both in his achievements and in the way he conducts himself on board.
White's introduction to sailing was a bit of an accident. He first experienced the water aged 24 on a friend's 17-foot Lysander trailer-sailor. The friend only invited White along, because he had a towbar on his car.
But White's success - both past and future - is no accident at all.