Ian Herbert-Jones circumnavigated the world as part of the Clipper Race, and is now doing it again, but this time solo in a 35ft yacht without the benefit of modern equipment like chartplotters and GPS
Circumnavigating the world during the Clipper Round the World Race in 2007-08 left Ian Herbert-Jones with a desire to repeat the experience – but this time solo.
The 52-year-old sailor from Shropshire, England, initially wanted to take part in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, but could not spare the time from his family and his work.
In April 2019, he bought Puffin, a Tradewind 35 cutter, which belonged to the fourth winner of the 2018 race, Istvan Kopar, and moved the boat from France to Pwllheli in North Wales to prepare for the 2022 race.
Kopar had well documented problems with both his windvane steering system and Puffin‘s wheel steering during the 2018 race; the cogs within the gearbox linking rudder and wheel pedestal disintegrated and jumped whenever there was any load on them.
He also suffered several knockdowns, which flooded the interior of the boat and damaged his HAM radio. Unable to ventilate the boat in the Southern Ocean, the inside of the vessel became covered in black mould; he also developed a fungal infection under his nails. Kopar’s water was also contaminated.
Learning from this, Ian Herbert-Jones, who learnt to sail while in the Army, has sealed his electronics behind the boat’s bulkhead with watertight boxes and installed a water tight hatch in the companionway. He has also fitted purpose-made covers which can be unrolled to protect the boat’s instruments.
He has replaced the GRP moulded tanks with new stainless steel water tanks.
The table in the saloon has been replaced with a large box, which stores his emergency equipment and divides the cabin, allowing him to install a ‘business class compartment’, made from newly installed stainless steel grab poles and acrylic canvas to try and keep one area of the boat dry.
Ian Herbert-Jones has also installed a Solent stay on Puffin, which he has been sailing solo since May 2021.
Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Like a lot of the skippers taking part, sailing solo around the world is one of these long held ambitions and dreams which has been in the back of my mind for a long time, and the Golden Globe Race has given it shape and made it a reality.
So for me, it’s not so much the race, as an opportunity to fulfil that ambition of sailing solo, long distance around the world following that classic clipper route.
It is a combination of the romance of the opportunity and the Golden Globe Race giving shape and reality [to sailing solo around the world], as well as all that history associated with the race.
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Many other people may have said this, but the timing of the race was a bit early. I think a lot of boats were put in a pretty harsh part of the world just a little bit too early in the season, so I think that was interesting for us all to watch that unfold.
This race is a test of mental toughness as well as your sailing ability, and we saw a lot of boats drop out early in the race.
I learned from that that you’ve got to be super ready. If you’re not super ready, it’s going to be very easy to drop out in that first Atlantic passage, because that’s hard enough; you only need a small breakage to drop out.
But, I also saw people like Istvan Kopar, who was sailing on Puffin, the boat I now own, who had everything break, but still continued.
It comes down to be truly prepared, preparing the boat and preparing yourself mentally. Istvan was a great example of that. He was so determined and he just kept at it.
He had problems which would have left others dropping out of the race.
That resilience is so important on the days you need it and will make the difference between stopping at the Canaries, and finishing the race.
I’ve stayed in contact with Istvan; he has been a great help.
Why did you decide to buy Puffin and how are you preparing her for the race?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I am not a professional skipper, I have a full time job and I have a family, so I hoped to find a boat that was as close to race ready as possible.
My thought process was that was going to save me a bunch of time, and allow me to constraint the sailing. It has not quite worked out that way!
But, she has done the race once and made it back, and she is a Tradewind 35, and I like Tradewinds. I have a soft spot for this flush decked, ‘go anywhere’ Land Rover of the sea type boat. They might not be as glamorous as a Rustler but she is my kind of thing.
Buying Puffin was a combination of the boat being available and the fact Istvan had done an enormous amount of work on the structure of the boat when he refitted her, which gave me a foundation to hopefully improve on.
So I’ve taken what Istvan worked on and have made improvements that maybe he didn’t get time and money to do.
The self steering is a Hydrovane as it is the only self steering that I’ve had any experience with. So we’ve rebuilt the steering and we’ve replaced all the electronics, so she’s been completely rewired.
We’ve also replaced the water tanks, as one of the issues Istvan had [during the 2018 race] was polluted water tanks. The water tanks were GRP moulded and were in the hull, so we cut all those out, which was an absolute nightmare, and now we’ve got stainless steel tanks now.
I’ve added a second stay, so Puffin has a Solent rig. She was a bowsprit rigged cutter, but now I’ve added a third stay. I hope the Solent rig will give me some more gears on the boat.
Between now and the race I want to keep playing with my sail plan as it’s not set yet. If get some more support, I am going to rearrange my sail plan; it will be different to the way Istvan had it.
I will bring some of the lines back to the cockpit to try and make myself a little bit safer.
I will have a watertight companionway, and watertight lockers.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I haven’t worked them out yet, and I am about to go into that phase.
Between now at the end of the year I want to work on heavy weather sailing, which I’ve only got experience of on crewed boats.
All my sailing experiences have been with crew, so for me sailing solo is a massive shift, but that is why I am doing the Golden Globe Race.
I’ve just got back form a trip to The Azores for my 2,000 mile qualifying solo passage [using wind vane only and evidence of celestial navigation logs]. I did about 2,800 miles and it was great. It didn’t faze me.
The big thing for me was not being able to discuss something with someone else, and having to make the decision on my own. I am quite team orientated, I like debating solutions with others, even if I know the answer, so for me, that’s a big change.
Many of the skippers taking part in the race have got such vast experience, so their knowledge bank has got more credits in it than my knowledge bank has, and therefore they can be more sure of each decision they’re making.
Drogue or warps?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I am going to take a drogue, so we’re just putting chainplates on Puffin to fit a Jordan Series Drogue.
I am quite cautious of it, but I’d rather have the option, so over the next six months I will train with it and make sure I’ve got it in my armoury.
I’m seriously considering either a really super deep third reef or even a fourth reef. I’ve had really conflicting advice.
I don’t like the trysail arrangement I have now so I am working on finding something that will work for me.
What did you learn from Jean Luc Van Den Heede’s win in the 2018 race?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Experience will win out and he proved that in spades.
Jean Luc was also optimised in terms of routing, and how to think about the weather. He is at a level that I am not going to be able to get to.
Even though he had good HAM radio and a good network set up, Jean Luc still had to make those decisions and he had the experience to make them. You could give me the same weather report and I would make a lot of shit decisions.
Looking at Jean Luc’s win it came down to experience and preparedness.
I’d love to have a guru who could help me be more prepared for the race in terms of routing, to explain how to think about the various options as they unfold.
I do have a plan, to go the shortest route on every occasion.
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede consulted meteorologists and studied the weather to choose the best route which helped him make early gains in the 2018 race. Do you plan to do this or accept that you won’t be able to outrun bad weather?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I think it’s more the latter. I think my choices are limited. It’s more about being prepared for the worst and expecting the worst
I am very dubious about whether the weather fax will help us once we get into the Southern Ocean.
We all know what sort of weather we are going to be getting in the Southern Ocean to some degree, so it’s about being prepared and comfortable in that situation with a few strategies up your sleeve, although I think strategies will be really limited because of the speed of the boat.
We’re not going to be out running any of these systems, and equally we’re not going to be keeping up with those systems.
For this race there will be no HAM radio transmissions 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?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I do, and the concern is getting as much forewarning as you can, to be able to see roughly five days ahead that something’s coming, and being able to prepare for it.
Ideally, I would like all the competitors to get the same weather information from Race Control, so it is a level playing field and everyone gets the same GRIB file. It is almost like a piece of safety equipment.
But part of the race is about coping with limited information and making decisions.
How will you cope with isolation during the race?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I find I’m pretty busy on the boat, but there will obviously going to be times when you’ve got time on your hand.
I’m a massive fan of podcasts and audiobooks and how the hell I’m going to get them onto tape, I don’t know, but I would like an absolute enormous library of podcasts and audiobooks because I do like spoken voice in the background.
Maybe because I am not very good, but everything takes me a long time so I think I will be kept pretty busy!
I think I need develop a structured day, which will help.
I would also like to keep a proper log, and I hope that by talking to myself, that will ease any loneliness.
Are you looking to win or just get round?
Ian Herbert-Jones: It is a cliche, but you’ve got to get round to win. I am in to complete the race. This is a race against myself.
I would like to do well, but that’s not the ambition; there’s people in this race now who are doing it as a career step.
For me, it’s about getting round. First or foremost it is a race with myself but it would be nice to be in the running.
My knowledge bank is going to get filled up as I go so, it’s quite an extreme way to learn to sail, but you know that’s that’s kind of the way I’m looking at it.
I feel this race is a stronger crowd than last time. Tapio Lehtinen is going to nail it. Mark Sinclair got halfway around last time. These guys have been preparing for a long time, so the race is really against myself and that is what it is all about for me.
What did you learn from your 2,000 mile qualifying passage?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Everything performed very well. The light airs drove me insane.
So I need to develop patience, I need to get much more Zen about sailing in light airs and it reminded me that I really need to optimize my sailing in light airs, because you can lose a lot [of ground] in that time, or gain a little.
I learned that developing the routine was important to me.
The qualifying passage was still a test to see if I was going to be in a good place mentally offshore by myself. And it wasn’t a problem.
I was solo for a month, so now so the question is can I repeat that six, seven or eight times. The answer is I don’t know until I do the race.
Are you confident you will make the race start?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I am very confident I can make the race start.
I could start now. It wouldn’t be perfect but I would probably be no worse off than when Istvan started.
I have a year spare. I am still trying to raise funding to help finish things off.
I’ve been very, very lucky with equipment sponsors like Imray, Marlow Ropes and Victron Energy, so I’ve obviously fired some imaginations with what I’m trying to do.
But that hasn’t turned into financial sponsors. I am half way through; I have the boat, I have the equipment sponsors so it is now the last hurdle. And it is expensive [to get ready for the race], despite what Don McIntyre [GGR Race organiser] will tell you.
I will make the race start.
Are you confident about using celestial navigation?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Sometimes. I’ve got the basics in place now.
I’m feeling reasonably confident, from a desktop perspective, it’s maintaining it at sea, in all conditions for a long period of time against dead reckoning, it’s going to be quite interesting.
So, in terms of taking sun sites I am happy, but like most people I’ve done it at the desk, as opposed to at sea.
It is going to take some tuning and it is still bit of a dark art as far as I am concerned. I do have a guru in hand who is going to help me.
How do you overcome challenges?
Ian Herbert-Jones: I think I am a reasonable problem solver, and that is from my career background.
I left school and joined the Army with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and that was all about fixing stuff and keeping it moving.
It wasn’t about deep engineering, it was about keeping equipment rolling, and that’s how I approach these sort of problems.
Part of it is also being prepared. I am going to spend some time to make sure I am as well equipped as I can be so when I do have to solve a problem, I have a toolbox I can turn to.
What antifouling will you be using?
Ian Herbert-Jones: The brand Istvan used last time performed pretty well and the manufacturers have offered to support me again, if we can get it into Europe.
Beyond that, I don’t think you can go far wrong copying what Jean Luc did last time: his hull was really well prepared, and then five coats of pretty standard product was put on, with some hard coats and some which could come away.
He also left with a very clean boat; it was immaculate.
What will you miss most while racing?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Apart from technical stuff like GPS, weather routing, a chartplotter and a GRIB file viewer, it will probably be my music, podcasts and audiobooks in digital form, and the chance to call home.
I will probably miss WhatsApp most of all, as I would love to fire off endless messages and get advice.
What treat will you be taking?
Ian Herbert-Jones: Dark chocolate and rice pudding. What I discovered in my qualifying passage is that rice pudding is both a survival food and a treat, so that will be on the menu.
And maybe a few bottles of wine or boxes of wine.
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?
Moitessier is about being comfortable in the ocean.
It is not about racing, it is not about being super optimised, it is not about the latest equipment, it’s not about worrying about whether you got a weather forecast.
It was all about being at one out there, being comfortable in your skin.
So it’s that philosophy that I would like to take from Moitessier. Maybe that’s the hidden element that gets your through the difficult stuff.