Katy Stickland meets the skippers turning their backs on modern technology to take part in the slowest yacht race around the world - the Golden Globe Race 2022
Golden Globe Race 2022: The Long Way
Just one man – Robin Knox-Johnston – finished the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.
His triumph led to the beginnings of the round the world yacht races we see today, and now fast foiling boats, specced to the max, circumnavigate in a mere 41 days.
Many raised doubts (as they did with the original event) when Australian sailor Don McIntyre announced he would be running a 2018 Golden Globe Race – 50 years after the original – with skippers having to sail nonstop around the world using only the technology available to Knox-Johnston.
This meant no GPS, satellite phones, weather routing, chartplotters or autopilots.
Instead, the skippers would navigate their pre-1988 production long-keeled 32-36ft boats using a sextant and rely on HAM radio for weather information as well as a barometer.
In the end, 18 skippers started the 2018 Golden Globe Race; five made it to the finish. Five boats were dismasted, with three sailors needing rescue from the Southern Ocean.
Others endured multiple knockdowns, were pitchpoled in heavy weather or suffered equipment failure. All of them survived.
Next year, the Golden Globe Race will return, but with some changes.
The ‘retro’ element of the event will remain but the fleet will start two months later – 4 September 2022 – in an effort to avoid entering the Southern Ocean too early.
McIntyre admits the speed of the 2018 fleet took him by surprise after he ‘didn’t believe’ the modelling which showed a circumnavigation of 210-220 days.
Race winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede finished in 211 days, 101 days faster than Knox-Johnston.
Rules on rigging sizes have been dropped and there will be no spar size restrictions, except for length.
HAM radio transmissions will also be banned, replaced with a 100% waterproof HF SSB radio and weather fax for receiving weather charts. In 2018, there was controversy when it was revealed some of the skippers didn’t have HAM radio licences.
This change has caused concerns, with some of the 2018 entrants highlighting difficulties in picking up Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) frequencies in the Southern Ocean due to the shrinking of the broadcasting network as more mariners rely on satellite communication.
The route is also different in the Golden Globe Race 2022, ‘to make it less demanding on the boats,’ according to McIntyre.
The 2022 skippers will have to keep the South Atlantic island Trindade to port and make a photo gate stop at Cape Town. This follows the Clipper route, which was taken by Bernard Moitessier in the 1968 race.
Golden Globe Race 2022: Colourful characters
Some entrants in 2018 had never sailed using their windvane steering; McIntyre has now introduced an extra 2,000 mile nonstop and tracked qualifying passage.
Skippers must use their race boat and sail using windvane steering and celestial navigation.
Like 2018, the Golden Globe Race 2022 has attracted an interesting mix of colourful characters, with some of the 2018 skippers returning including Ertan Beskardes, Mark Sinclair and fifth placed Tapio Lehtinen.
For Australian Sinclair, racing around the world in his bright orange Lello 34 masthead cutter, Coconut is as much about the race’s nautical history as it is about the competition.
He has truly embraced the retro aspect of the event, using car tyres instead of a drogue, and fitting a Second World War US Navy Chelsea engine-room clock to the main bulkhead.
Last time, Sinclair, 62, retired at his home port of Adelaide after 157 days of sailing, having ‘gone rogue’, effectively abandoning the race in favour of cruising the coast of South Africa. Barnacles on the hull and a diminishing water supply meant it was unwise to push on into the Southern Ocean.
He has now fitted a 200 litre bladder water tank.
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‘I got a lot of criticism for having my holiday around the bottom of South Africa in the last race, but I’ve still got my boat. There is a fine balance between risk and reward. Five boats were dismasted in 2018 of which four were abandoned and even Jean-Luc [Van Den Heede] had a badly damaged rig from a violent knock down. There is something to be said for sailing at a moderate pace and preserving the integrity of the boat and the skipper,’ noted Sinclair, who prefers heaving-to in heavy weather.
He has also tweaked Coconut’s rig for the Golden Globe Race 2022, fashioning two 2.6m jockey poles to boom out twin staysails, as well as carrying the two standard spinnaker poles for a better downwind performance.
He plans to push further south sooner than he did in 2018.
Old and new
The 2022 race has attracted skippers with varying degrees of experience: from American Elliott Smith, who at 26 is the youngest to enter and has only sailed for the last three years, to heavyweights like Britain’s David Scott Cowper, who has finished six solo circumnavigations around the world and six Northwest Passage transits; Damien Guillou from France who has raced seven solo La Solitaire du Figaro, and has hefty sponsorship from PRB; Kiwi Graham Dalton, Velux 5 Oceans skipper and older brother of Whitbread winner and CEO of New Zealand’s America’s Cup team, Grant Dalton, and BOC Challenge veteran Robin Davie.
For Cornishman Davie, the 2022 race is unfinished business, having run out of time preparing his Rustler 36, C’est La Vie for 2018.
The former British Merchant Navy radio officer is all too aware of the dangers of the Southern Ocean, having been dismasted in the 1994 BOC Challenge Around Alone Race thousands of miles from Cape Horn; he sailed under jury rig round the cape to the Falkland Islands.
He has spent a lot of time strengthening his Rustler 36 in case of a knockdown, beefing up the main bulkheads, glassing the deck and glassing the chainplates to the hull.
‘Nobody wants to be rolled but you’re better off accepting that it is certainly possible during the race, especially when you are in areas of big storms. It can happen to any of us,’ states Davie, who has solo circumnavigated three times but never nonstop.
Work was put on hold from March 2020 until September 2021, when Davie, 69, was trapped in the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He still has to fit the mast, which is the original from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s Rustler 36, who decided to sail in 2018 with a shorter mast.
Davie will be adding strengthening pads where the lower shrouds connect to the mast, following Van Den Heede’s pitchpole in 11m (36ft) Southern Ocean seas, which caused the starboard lower shroud’s connecting bolt attachment to slip 5cm down in the mast section, slackening the rigging and almost costing the Frenchman the race.
Davie is not the only one looking at lessons learned from 2018, and the preparations by the five finishers.
Like Van Den Heede, who spent the winter honing his storm tactics in Biscay before the start of the 2018 race, South African skipper Kirsten Neuschafer is planning to sail throughout the Northern Hemisphere winter.
The 39-year-old, who has spent five years sailing for Skip Novak aboard his Pelagic Australis in South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands and Patagonia, has been preparing her Cape George Cutter CG36, Minnehaha in Prince Edward Island.
Although she has plenty of experience sailing the 74ft Pelagic Australis in big seas and heavy weather, Neuschäfer knows racing a 36ft cruising boat successfully through the Southern Ocean will depend on the vessel’s strength as well as storm tactics.
Minnehaha’s bulwarks have been rebuilt and she has a new deck, chainplates, hull fittings and a new aluminium mast.
‘We had naval architects calculate the righting moment for the boat to determine what spar the boat could take. It is bigger than the original wooden mast as, being aluminium it isn’t as heavy, but it is still in the range of what the boat was designed to take.’
Reinforcement plates will also be fitted around the spreaders and cap shrouds.
Neuschäfer learned to sail off South Africa’s Eastern Cape, giving her valuable experience of the Agulhas Current and heavy weather sailing.
She will be practising heaving-to techniques, including with a mainsail or storm jib hanked onto the backstay, to find the best technique for the boat.
Cape Town questions
Neuschäfer is unashamedly ambitious and is ‘looking to win [the 2022 Golden Globe Race] through and through’.
Like Van Den Heede, she will be seeking professional routing advice ahead of the start, although admits ‘luck is a really big factor’, especially for the Cape Town photo gate.
‘I know Cape Town like the back of my hand and at that time of year, you can have three to four weeks of solid 30-40 knot southeasters, which will be totally against you. There are also currents off the continental shelf around Cape Town. If it wasn’t for the photo drop, I would have avoided that coastline like the plague unless I intended to make landfall.’
Both Graham Dalton and David Scott Cowper have also raised questions about the wisdom of the Cape Town gate; race chairman Don McIntyre admits it’s ‘incredibly demanding’ but insists it is safe, and will add to the challenge.
‘The GGR is a tough race,’ he said.
Cowper would prefer a time penalty for those who fail to make the gate.
‘If you have a Cape Doctor blowing, you might not be able to enter Cape Town for two or three days. On the other hand, you might have no wind at all, and take days to get in and out of Cape Town. It doesn’t add an extra challenge as it’s just about luck,’ he said.
Cowper is the most experienced skipper in the race.
Finishing the event would bring his tally of circumnavigations around the world to seven.
He is already planning another Northwest Passage transit via the Prince of Wales Strait, after the race.
He will be 80 when he crosses the start line, and will be racing with cataracts.
‘Unfortunately, one does slow up and your strength levels are not quite the same as before, but on the other hand, one knows what to anticipate so I’m hoping that stands me in good stead,’ said Cowper, who is provisioning his Tradewind 35 cutter, currently named Tim Pippin, for a 250-day circumnavigation.
Attention to detail
Is he looking to beat Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s 211 days and claim the record as the oldest person to complete a solo round the world yacht race?
‘It would be nice to do that, but I don’t want to be that optimistic and become conceited. I will take each day as it comes and hope to sail the boat reasonably quickly,’ he said from his home port of Newcastle, where he is working on refitting and strengthening the boat with his typical forensic attention to detail.
Cowper believes at ‘scenic speeds of 3-5 knots’, it will be impossible for the 2022 fleet to outrun heavy weather in the Southern Ocean and is unconcerned about the ability to get weather data.
‘You have to take the weather as it comes. You just have to try and read the signs and watch your barometer,’ he advised.
Whilst few of the 2022 skippers will have the seamanship of Cowper, all of them have the same passion that this ‘longest, loneliest and slowest’ race seems to inspire.
It is turning this passion into successful practical preparation to make the Les Sables d’Olonne start line on 4 September 2022 which is one of the biggest tests.
Of the 31 sailors who made the provisional list of 2022 entrants, just 27 – including six Brits and six Australians – remain a year before the start.
Only time will tell if they will be truly ready to follow in Moitessier’s wake and be thrown at the mercy of the ocean.
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