American skipper Elliott Smith started sailing three years ago and is the youngest sailor to sign up for the Golden Globe Race 2022. He shares how he is preparing for the biggest challenge of his life
Elliott Smith, 26, started sailing three years ago and is the youngest skipper to enter the Golden Globe Race 2022.
He is no stranger to adventure. He hitchhiked through Europe before he quit school at the age of 21 and started exploring the Californian coast in a converted pick-up truck.
At 23, he secured a job as bar tender/first mate at the San Francisco Sailing Company, where he was taught to sail by the charter captains in San Francisco Bay.
He worked there for two years before buying his 1963 Pearson Triton, Norteña, which he cruised extensively through the Caribbean and around the East Coast of the USA.
Elliott will be racing in the 2022 Golden Globe Race in the Suhaili class onboard the Gale Force 34, Second Wind.
Elliott’s Go Fund Me page to pay for his race expenses can be found here.
Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Elliott Smith: I think because I’m just supposed to. I think the universe has kept pushing me towards this race, in ways that I didn’t really realise at first.
It started with wanting to sail around the world, and then I was working as a first mate at a charter sailing company in San Francisco Bay and I learnt to sail from the legendary boat captains there. I then got my 28ft Pearson Triton, Norteña and just learnt the process.
I sailed all over the Caribbean and the East Coast of the US for 2-3 years, picking up odd jobs along the way, and I started to sail solo when crew had to leave and I thought: Man, this is a beautiful thing.
I’ve learned so much about myself, about life and about sailing by going solo.
I then read Bernard Moitessier’s book, The Long Way and just fell in love with the idea of sailing and going around the world without stopping.
I just felt like something really stirred in me to enter the race. And so I did. And then I got in. I didn’t expect that.
How confident do you feel about sailing the Southern Ocean?
Elliott Smith: It’s pretty terrifying to be honest, but I will prepare; just doing it is the main thing.
You can read about storm tactics all you want and I have done that, so in theory I know how to handle a storm but in practice it’s obviously very different.
I haven’t yet sailed Second Wind as I bought her down from Virginia by truck so I am planning on doing some trial runs in the Gulf Stream so I can get out into some pretty gnarly weather to practice storm tactics so I know what works for my boat.
The boat is out of the water right now so I hope to have her in the water in the next few months and I will liveaboard her then, so hopefully we will get pretty comfy very quickly.
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Elliott Smith: My ultimate goal is to finish the race and being prepared is a huge part of that.
The skippers that finished the 2018 race had already sailed around the world so that kind of worries me a bit, and also makes me realise that they knew the limits and how hard to push things, whereas I don’t.
But everyone has different ideas about things so I realised that there’s no better way to learn then doing it myself, trial and error, and as soon as I am on the boat I will start pushing her and learning her limits and my limits.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Elliott Smith: I haven’t really found out what would be best for my boat yet. I know every boat is different and reacts differently and on my old boat I would heave-to in bad weather.
Drogue or warps?
Elliott Smith: I don’t really like the idea of drogues.
I would use wraps over drogues because it is hard to get drogues onboard and it [using them] is such an extreme amount of force on your boat.
How did you find your boat Second Wind?
Elliott Smith: I looked at the different designs we were allowed for the race and I just took a liking to the Gale Force 34.
They don’t come up on the market often and then one popped up and I just thought that was the one, but at that time I had just a few hundred dollars saved. I was broke. Then someone volunteered to buy the boat for me, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.
Then another Gale Force came on the market, right in my price range, and I got Second Wind and bought her down from Virginia to Saint Augustine, Florida.
Her name is one of the magical moments that led me to believe that this was the right boat for the race.
In high school my Mum passed away, and when she was sick we would wear these bracelets with ‘Wind for Twin’ on them, as she had a lung problem and her twin made the bracelets. We would wear them all the time.
When I was 18 I decided to get a tattoo, but didn’t want Wind for Twin. When we were kids, Mum always mentioned the idea of second wind and the fact that you don’t get it until you’ve given everything; she really pushed that idea on us as kids so I got ‘second wind’ tattooed onto my arm.
When I heard the boat’s name was Second Wind I almost choked right there. So, I thought that was a pretty big sign and I went for it.
How are you preparing the boat for the race?
Elliott Smith: I am trying to make Second Wind as safe as possible in a simple way.
I’ve pulled out the old water heater and the refrigerator, which was connected to the engine, so I’ve been ripping out stuff over the last month. I am broke so I can’t buy new stuff right now; I can’t get the chain plates inspected or x-rayed.
I need to do the watertight bulkhead forward as that is required [part of the race rules]. The bulkhead next to the mast, forward of the cabin top also needs to be reinforced.
I am just working on getting sponsors so I can pay for these things and move on with the refit.
I also need lots of safety equipment for the race and that is more expensive than the cost of refitting the boat.
How confident are you that you will be on the start line in 2022?
Elliott Smith: I’m feeling good about it. The world just keeps providing. At times I’ve had nothing, like, I didn’t have a boat, or $1 to my name and I was totally freaking out.
But I just kept doing what I could do and God’s just been providing. I now have a boat and I have so many amazing friends and family who are helping and encouraging me.
Now I have boat, it is a lot more real. I feel good that it will work out.
How is your celestial navigation going?
Elliott Smith: Pretty good. I have not done much of it but I’ve been studying.
It is the one thing I can do without money and I’ve been studying and putting in the practice, especially as I’ve been sick [with COVID-19] the last few weeks.
I was given a new sextant which has been pretty awesome, so I’ve been practicing with that.
Where are you planning to do your 2,000 mile qualifying passage?
Elliott Smith: That will be a big adventure in itself. I plan on cruising up to Cape Cod and then sailing back down to the Caribbean and Panama.
I plan on doing some other sailing before, going to the Bahamas and sailing up the coast. Once the boat is in the water I plan on sailing a lot so I get familiar with her.
I’m maybe over confident about things and I’m sure that I am being a little bit naive. But I think that’s what has gotten me to where I am.
I think that’s why I’m going to be the youngest person ever do the race because I am naive.
How will you cope with isolation during the race?
Elliott Smith: That’s something I will find out as well, but I hope pretty well.
It is starting to become a little bit more worrisome as it gets closer, just because I’ve grown so close to this community in Jacksonville.
It makes me sad to even think about leaving my friends, but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.
I am looking forward to the isolation, to dive into myself, tap into the world away from distractions. This is something that is extreme and I am looking forward to the way it changes and humbles me.
How will you deal with challenges during the race?
Elliott Smith: Hopefully I will maintain calm.
I might freak out for a second but at some point you just have to be calm and collected. I will be telling myself not to flail around trying to fix things willy nilly.
I will try and remain clam, make a good decision and stick with it.
For this race there will be no HAM radio allowed only registered, licensed maritime-approved HF Single Side Band (SSB) Radio, with discussions limited to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) weather. Weather Fax will be allowed for the race. Some of the 2018 Golden Globe Race skippers raised concerns about picking up GMDSS in the Southern Ocean. Do you share these concerns?
I thought it would be fun to use it to talk to other people still using it.
I’ve never really used weather fax before but as soon as I get it on the boat I will be using it.
What self steering set up are you planning to use?
Elliott Smith: I plan to go with a Monitor as it has been around so long.
I would use a Hydrovane but it is so expensive, and there are a lot of used Monitors in the US so I can pick one up pretty cheaply.
I plan on practicing the sheet to tiller method first, just so I can have a back up way to self steer. That is what I did on my old boat, I set up a few sheets to tiller methods. I couldn’t sail as well as I did when I got the windvane working but it was OK.
With the sheet to tiller method I basically just ran the sheet through the blocks with bungee cord of different variances of strength on either side of the tiller.
I would tweak this depending on the conditions. If I was downwind sailing, I would run the sheets through the boom, which would help steer, rather than just with the jib.
I plan to use the Monitor a lot before the race so I can feel confident using it.
What antifouling will you be using?
Elliott Smith: I have not decided what antifoul I will use yet, but I definitely won’t be using what Tapio used in the last race! [5th placed Tapio Lehtinen‘s voyage was slow due to excessive barnacle growth]
Are you looking to win or get round?
Elliott Smith: I would love to win. The competitiveness alone is what’s going to keep me accountable and finishing.
The race helps push me and keep me honest on sailing solo around the world. I definitely plan on pushing myself and the boat, but maybe not as hard as some of the others.
I think it helps that I am young and pretty fit.
Some of other skippers are much older but then the oldest skipper [Jean Luc Van Den Heede] in the race won it last time although he was an amazingly good sailor.
What will you miss most while racing?
Elliott Smith: My Kindle. All my books got so ruined on my last boat due to leaks and damp.
What treat will you be taking?
Elliott Smith: You have to have high-low snacks. I’ve not decided what to take yet but in the past it would be Twinkies or Zebra Cake.
I get so hangry. The idea is that you have the food when you are really stoked, like you’ve made 160 miles in one day, so you associate good things with that snack. And then when it hits the fan and everything has gone wrong, you have your Zebra Cake and snack on it and everything will be OK.
GGR 2018 was a celebration of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The GGR 2022 is a celebration of Bernard Moitessier. What words of wisdom from Moitessier will you be following in the race?
Elliott Smith: Probably his quote: ‘There are two terrible things for a man: not to have fulfilled his dream, and to have fulfilled it.’ That will be going through my head a lot.
I hope it will help me to focus on being present during the race, to stick with the good and bad, and be aware that everything is always moving and changing.
This race is not about winning; it is so much more than that, and I think Moitessier discovered so much more than that [in the 1968 Golden Globe Race].