Mark Sinclair, who is the sixth finisher in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, shares the highs and lows of the voyage aboard his Lello 34, Coconut

Today is Friday, 13 May, Coconut’s 160th day at sea. We are in the North Atlantic, south-west of the Bay of Biscay, about 850 nautical miles from Les Sable d’ Olonne, writes Mark Sinclair during his Golden Globe Race.

There is a gentile breeze from the east; Coconut is headed NNE under full mainsail and two staysails.

The forestay is broken and inner forestay repaired, which restricts the amount of sail that I can carry up forward and reduces our speed of advance.

Blocks, a nylon anchor rode, halyards and D shackles are helping to keep the mast in place. A temporary forestay has also been rigged using a spinnaker halyard to which a
headsail can be laced though eyelets in the luff which were sewn in by Bravo Sails.

This voyage is a continuation of Coconut’s participation in the 2018 GGR (Golden Globe Race), a recreation of the original around-the-world race in 1968/9, which was won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in Suhaili.

A man wearing a jumper and a hat making repairs to a furler on his boat while out in the middle of the ocean

Like other Golden Globe Race skippers, Mark Sinclair had to make repairs, including on his furler. Credit: Mark Sinclair

The re-enacted race commenced in Les Sable d-Olonne in France on 1 July 2018 in which Coconut sailed non-stop to Adelaide in 157 days; by coming into port we were moved into the Chichester Class.

As the Golden Globe Race has no time limit, the voyage from Adelaide back to France is a continuation of Coconut’s participation in the 2018 GGR.

Settling into the Golden Globe Race

Coconut and I had a fantastic send off on 5 December 2021 and we were farewelled by a flotilla of Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron (RSAYS) members.

The cadet, Subin Wright-Simon, helped with setting sails and disembarked over the stern and was picked up, just prior to crossing the starting line.

Coconut was accompanied part way down Gulf St Vincent, before sailing out through Backstairs Passage the following morning, farewelled by VMR American River on VHF Channel 21.

A number of ships were around and good situational awareness was provided by the Echomax radar transponder, AIS alarm and Nomad portable AIS.

On the passage to Tasmania, headwinds were experienced for the first week. I enjoyed listening to the first cricket test at the Gabba on the ABC. A daily radio schedule was also run through vessels Sylph (RSAYS) and Ambler (based in Tasmania).

Mark is hoping to race in the 2022 Golden Globe Race, but this will depend on the repairs to his Lello 34. Credit: Mark Sinclair

Mark is hoping to race in the 2022 Golden Globe Race, but this will depend on the repairs to his Lello 34. Credit: Mark Sinclair

On approaching Tasmania, communications were established with TasMaritime on VHF Channel 68. Coconut passed between Maatsuyker Island and Mewstone off the south coast of Tasmania, then ran up Storm Bay to the Derwent to pass though a ‘race gate’ off Kingston Beach.

Coconut was warmly welcomed by a small contingent, who noted we were the 7th Golden Globe Race boat to pass through the gate, the previous being DHL Starlight, sailed by Susie Goodall, more than 3 years previously.

The course was then set to the south of New Zealand which took nine days.

On 20 December the first gale of the voyage was experienced, a Force 8 westerly. Coconut ran before it under reefed staysail and towing a tyre as a drogue to keep down sea alignment.

On this passage I listened to the second cricket test.

At this point my mate shouted that the depth was down to 7m and he simultaneously initiated a 90° turn to starboard, pushing the throttle forward to full chat.

Continues below…

New Zealand was approached in poor visibility on 24 December, and I altered course to the north-east to make a landfall on Stewart Island; I had a magnificent sail along the south coast leaving North Trap to starboard.

The course was then set for Cape Horn while enjoying the third cricket test. Coconut passed 80 miles south of Chatham Islands and crossed the International Dateline at midnight on 31 December.

I then heard on Radio New Zealand of the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga.

The passage across the Pacific was made by sailing at a latitude of approximately 47° south to avoid calms and easterly winds, although I was becalmed on a number of occasions.

Blue containers with fresh lemons, squash and white cabbage in a boat

The fresh food dwindled as the passage progressed, with Mark supplementing his diet with dehydrated packets of food bought in 2018 for the race. Credit: Mark Sinclair

On 23 January 2022, I started heading south to avoid the north-east quadrant of a vigorous low pressure system and to commence the approach to Cape Horn.

Sylph passed Coconut on 28 January in our informal race.

A procession of south-east heading low pressure systems overran our course and there was nowhere to hide on the approach to Cape Horn.

On 9 February, the barometric pressure dropped to 962 HPa and a deep low passed close south.

The following day, Coconut passed between the islands of Diego Ramirez and Idelfonso without sighting either, and then picked up the 100-metre charted depth
contour on the echo sounder, which provided a line of position.

Storm after storm

In the early morning of 11 February, Coconut passed close south of Cape Horn in poor visibility and the arrival of a Force 10 gale.

Coconut was heavily knocked down and boarding seas broke off the plywood Aries self-steering windvane and flooded into the main saloon ankle deep.

The starboard rubbing strake was smashed, 8-day chronometer thrown out of its gimbals, Nomad portable AIS antenna broken by a flying tin of baked beans and the cassette player and tapes immersed.

I was restricted in seeking a lee to the north due to uncertainly of my position in the darkness, and so remained in unsheltered waters.

I gradually moved to the north-east and, as another more violent storm was imminent, decided to pass through Le Maire Strait, in lieu of facing the dangerous overfalls off the south coast of Isla De Los Estados which was a lee shore.

A boat in a yacht race with a large wave behind it

Coconut and Mark had to sail through heavy weather in the Southern Ocean. Credit: Mark Sinclair

Waiting until daylight the following day as the passage is unlit and unsuitable for at night visual navigation, and for the flood stream I sailed though the strait the following afternoon.

I was becalmed in the strait and engineless as a washed overboard sheet had fouled the propellor; Coconut was swept out of the strait through dangerous overfalls off Cape San Diego into a Force 10 storm in the South Atlantic.

We clawed offshore to gain sea room off Isla De Los Estados with a three reefed mainsail, which was far too much sail in these atrocious conditions.

By the end, I felt like I’d done a few rounds with Muhammad Ali, and I breathed a sigh of relief the following morning when conditions abated, after a very anxious night.

A course was shaped up the South and North Atlantic Oceans, passing west of the Falkland Islands, west of Trindade Island off Brazil, across the equator and through the doldrums, through the Azores and clockwise around the notional North Atlantic high pressure system.

The voyage is being conducted entirely using celestial navigation.

A staysail being mended on a boat

More repairs! This time to the staysail. Credit: Mark Sinclair

Michael Rossiter’s Carl Zeiss sextant, a 1946 Hamilton deckwatch, NP401 sight reduction tables and the nautical almanac. Daily time checks are received by HF radio and BBC Radio 4. The distance run between fixes is measured by Adrian Donold’s Walker Trailing Log, which has faithfully rotated for 15,000 miles since Adelaide.

Fresh food ran out long ago. I sailed with 100 lemons which were sourced by supporter Beth Koth and they were consumed long ago. Remaining tins of food are being supplemented by dehydrated food left over from the first leg of the voyage in 2018.

The fresh water supply remains healthy, with over 100 litres caught in the doldrums in a specially designed boom bag.

I attempted to grow spring onions but unfortunately the garden was destroyed in a knock down.

Golden Globe Race companions

During the voyage there have been a number of birds that have spent the night onboard for a break, some resting down below.

Earlier this week, a minke whale surface 5 metres ahead of Coconut while we were sailing slowly in very light conditions.

Dolphins are aplenty, even far offshore and they often accompany whales.

These interactions with life on the high seas are stimulating and are fundamental to maintaining my spiritual equilibrium.

A swallow on the seat of a boat

Although a solo race, Mark did have some visitors during his voyage, including this swallow. Credit: Mark Sinclair

Onboard entertainment took a disastrous hit with the loss of music and talking books when the cassette player and tapes were immersed off Cape Horn.

This necessitated more active use of the HF radio receiver. I had great joy in listening to Radio New Zealand, even from the Atlantic Ocean.

Other enjoyable stations include Falkland Islands Radio, Radio Mar Del Plata, the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4.

Interestingly, I picked up an episode of ‘Pigs in Space’ from Hobart International Radio, a quirky station which is irregularly transmitted on HF through a radio station in the USA.

Sadly, Radio Australia no longer transmits on HF which I think is an extremely retrograde step.

Although the voyage is taking longer than planned, my perception is that time has become immaterial.

The Lello 34 Coconut being sailed during the 2018 Golden Globe Race

Coconut is a Lello 34, one of the smaller boats which took part in the race. Credit: Tim Bishop/GGR/PPL

The sun rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes and the sun’s declination has moved from south to north which has changed the seasons.

Far removed from the digisphere, I am immersed in an ever present analogue world.

Coconut will keep sailing and we will reach Les Sable d’Olonne, and cross the race finish line later this month.

Postscript. It is now Wednesday, 18 May and I am approximately 500 nautical miles west of Les Sable d’Olonne.

Over the past days we weathered a severe gale Force 9 with some negative consequences.

The number 4 staysail was washed out of the end of its clipped-on bag and was lost overboard.

I tried to race up forward and grab it but a tangle with my safely line tether slowed me down and I was too late.

Mark Sinclair is a former Royal Australian Navy commander, and now working as a hydrographic consultant. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

The number 3 working jib supporting the forestay and furling foil worked loose half way up and the leech has flogged to ribbons.

A boarding sea bent the transom mounted HF receiver whip 90° aft to the horizontal; the emergency satellite phone SIM card has become unserviceable and charts in use, nautical publications and the ship’s logs books have been immersed and are now drying out.

I am running under staysail and as the wind abates will set the trysail then the mainsail.

There is still some way to go before this race is complete.

Mark Sinclair, 63, finished his 2018 Golden Globe Race on 27 May 2022, having taken 174 days to sail from Australia to Les Sables d’Olonne.

He now needs to make repairs to his boat before deciding if he will go ahead and compete in the Golden Globe Race 2022.

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