Mark Sinclair made it half way around the world in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. He tells Katy Stickland how he plans to finish the 2022 event

Mark Sinclair was almost the first sailor to sign up for the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) and was one of 18 skippers to cross the start line.

But his race ended up being a bit of cruise, with Capt Coconut, as he become affectionately known, sailing the coast of South Africa, hugging the coast, making nine roundings of the Cape of  Good Hope and even having an impromptu stop in Table Bay, the birthplace of his long-keeled 1980 Lello 34, Coconut.

Plagued by barnacles and a diminishing water supply, Mark headed to his home port of Adelaide before retiring from the 2018 GGR.

For the 2022 race, Mark, 62, plans to sail slightly less conservatively and will be sailing Coconut to the start, completing his 2018 GGR track.

The Australian skipper started sailing when he was 10. In 1984, he completed two solo crossings of the Tasman Sea and is an RYA Yachtmaster Ocean.

The former Royal Australian Navy commander has also cruised solo the remote areas of Australia on board his S&S 41 Starwave, which was sold to buy Coconut.

He now works as a hydrographic consultant, surveying remote areas in ships, small boats and aircraft.

Mark Sinclair made it as far as Australia in the last race, arriving after 157 days at sea. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

Mark Sinclair made it as far as Australia in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, arriving after 157 days at sea. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?

Mark Sinclair: It’s not a matter of doing it again as I actually haven’t finished the 2018 race.

When I pulled into Adelaide on 5 December 2018 after 157 days at sea I had two issues – I was running out of water and I had problems with barnacles on the hull. Although those issues could have been sorted the lure of my homeport and spending Christmas with the family and returning to work to earn money was too much so I decided to retire from the race,

But, I always had in the back of my mind that I would finish it.

Now the next race has come along and I am four years older, closer to retirement and I thought that I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

It is very expensive to ship the boat so I plan to sail Coconut to the start.

The Lello 34 Coconut was built in Durban, South Africa

The Lello 34, Coconut was built in Durban, South Africa in 1980. Originally a masthead sloop, she has been concerted to a cutter. Credit: Barry Pickthall/PPL/GGR

I always saw the Golden Globe Race not just as a single race but as a programme of races.

I remember reading about how the OSTAR wouldn’t be the same without Jester and I thought Coconut could be the Jester of the GGR.

I don’t see retiring from the 2018 GGR as a failure, and I think sailing back to France in GGR conditions, with just a break of three years, is sort of neat.

I will be leaving Adelaide on 5 December as that was the date I arrived and then I will sail to France.

Once I’ve finished in Les Sables d’Olonne I plan to go to Falmouth and then Plymouth for May, June and July where I will prepare for the 2022 race before sailing back to Les Sables d’Olonne in August for the start.

What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?

Mark Sinclair: Number one, to carry more water and number two, don’t have a barnacle debacle.

I intend to use Coppercoat antifoul on Coconut this time around and I am going hardcore with at least five layers.

I have fitted a 200-litre bladder tank into the boat’s keel so I can carry more water.

I think my sailing was probably a bit conservative last time but I do know that each of the five 2018 race finishers had sailed around the world beforehand, and I think having gone halfway around the world, I’m sort of getting the idea.

I’ve spent 157 days at sea, so I’ve got a good feel for it.

Mark Sinclair plans to use Coppercoat to prevent the barnacle growth which slowed him down in the 2018 Golden Globe Race

Mark Sinclair plans to use Coppercoat to prevent the barnacle growth which slowed him down in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. Credit:  Nick Jaffa /PPL/GGR

I haven’t been around Cape Horn, so that’s obviously, a huge event and that is an experience that I need to do.

I’m only two months away from Cape Horn so let’s go and do it. If I don’t like it, I won’t do it again, and if I find it great, well, I might do it a few more times. We’ll see.

But the plan is this is my warmup for the 2022 GGR.

I think I know what I’m getting into. I think I should be able to do it safely. But with all these things, there’s only so much you can control and you’ve got to manage as best you can.

Are you changing your sailing tactics for the 2022 race?

Mark Sinclair: I’ve got a twin groove forestay and a twin groove inner forestay and I’ve been sailing with two headsails both in each groove and that goes quite neatly.

You can only really carry Number 2 out to weather [windward] as the Number One is too big to carry out to weather [windward], even on the pole. But with Number One to lure [leeward] and Number Two to weather [windward] it is a lot of sail, and I actually prefer it to a kite.

I have made two jockey poles, each 2.6 metres long, to boom out twin staysails on the inner forestay, as well as carrying the two standard spinnaker poles so I’ve really got a very solid downwind rigging in stronger winds.

I’ve also got the self steering rigged to the emergency rudder, not the rudder. It is further aft and gives much more control.

I wonder if I can carry more mainsail and sail the boat harder with the self steering driving the emergency rudder rather than the main rudder.

 A solo skipper on his Lello 34

Mark Sinclair has made alterations to Coconut’s rig ahead of the 2022 race. Credit: Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

I think that it’s a better downwind rig, because in the last race I tended to notice that I would be taking the mainsail off prematurely because I was overpowered, running downwind on a self steerer.

I think I can probably push a bit further south a bit sooner. 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.

I’m a hydrographer and an oceanographer and I really understand the Agulhas Current, and there is no way I’m going to go near that in a big southwesterly swell.

Where I probably got a bit unstuck last time was when I past Amsterdam Island I went to look at Gregor’s boat [Gregor McGuckin] and got the wrong side of the highs; I should have pushed on a bit further south a bit sooner.

Mark Sinclair will prepare for the 2022 race in Plymouth ahead of sailing to Les Sables d'Olonne for the race start in September 2022. Credit: Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

Mark Sinclair will prepare for the 2022 race in Plymouth, UK ahead of sailing to Les Sables d’Olonne for the race start in September 2022. Credit: Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

So I will push further south a bit sooner but I certainly won’t be pushing as far south as some of the other guys, sailing on the hard limit of the latitude.

If you sail really hard and you want to win well that’s one ethos. I want to preserve myself and preserve the boat and get around and do it in a seaman-like manner.

Everyone is keen to keep sailing and keen to keep going in the right direction using the Moitessier method of surfing the waves at a slight angle off, but when it really starts to howl, I like to heave-to. It is a highly underrated part of sailing!

So heaving-to will be your storm tactic?

Mark Sinclair: Yes. I will keep sailing as long as I can but when I can’t be on the upper deck as things are getting a bit hazardous, I will heave-to.

Last time, when I was in the Agulhas Current and it was blowy and I was running under bear poles for a while, I tended to find putting up the storm trysail and whipping it up into the wind made life really good; I could go down below and make a cup of tea.

I think there is more evidence that heaving-too, particularly when you are shorthanded, works better.

Drogue or warps?

Mark Sinclair: I’ve got two car tyres. The benefit of running with tyres is that it slows you down without slowing you down too much.

I think the danger with drogues is that they are all or nothing. If you’re going to keep running, keep running, but have control. Don’t stop.

If you heave-to, I don’t know that you necessarily need a drogue. If you’re running and you just want to keep control over it, have a tyre.

Mark Sinclair on his Lello 34

Mark Sinclair is a big fan of heaving-to in heavy weather. Credit: Tim Bishop/PPL/GGR

I used a tyre in the 2018 race and I’ve used it a couple of times and it was quite good. Jon Sanders drags tyres.

Also if you keep them on the bow you can sit in them, they are very comfortable but don’t wear your white shorts.

After your experiences in the 2018 race do you think you will cope with the isolation again?

Mark Sinclair: Last time my weekly safety calls were the only time I actually had a chat generally for the week.

I could hear other people talking over the radio and I could speak to other competitors for a while but then the race broke up into different fleets which meant the safety call was the only time I really spoke to anyone.

So I don’t mind my own company, but I don’t mind a chat either.

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?

Mark Sinclair: No. Last time I actually used Cape Town Radio, Charleville and Wiluna and even though they don’t do scheds, I got them to do scheds. So I had good weather forecasts all the way around.

I did get some HAM radio support (and I did have a HAM licence) but I couldn’t acknowledge it until I worked out how to re-programme my radio.

But all they were doing was relaying the forecasts from the PEP (Primary Entry Point) stations. I’m quite comfortable with the national broadcasts.

Some places are covered better than others but at the end of the day strategically you should be deciding what latitude you’re going to be under and when and where you plan to be.

You’ve got to just prepare yourself for the worst, and navigate more strategically with respect to ocean passages of the world and the routing charts etc and when it does blow, sail conservatively.

Mark Sinclair navigating by sextant

Mark believes navigating by sextant makes the whole experience of a retro race ‘more real’. Credit:  Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

When you go around Cape Horn there is nowhere to hide; you’ve just got to do it.

No way do I want a weather fax on my boat. It’s a complicated bit of machinery which inevitably won’t work the day you need it. You just need to give the barometer a tap.

If there is really bad weather forecast then we will receive a message from Race HQ.

To my mind, you shouldn’t be down there unless you’re prepared for it.

If you look at the original race, Bill King and Robin Knox-Johnston all got knocked down [in the Southern Ocean] because they got there too early.

There should really be no surprise that it happened to some of the skippers in the 2018 race.

The route change for the 2022 race will be holding people back further as we will go pass Trindade in the South Atlantic, so it will be less of a problem.

What other modifications have you made to you boat?

I’ve made some minor changes. A Second World War US Navy Chelsea engine room clock has been mounted on Coconut’s main bulkhead.

Seacocks have been fitted on all bilge pump outlets to stop water coming back inboard; it is amazing how often the outboard side of the cockpit coaming spends under water.

Mark Sinclair down below on Coconut

Mark Sinclair is an RYA Yachtmaster Ocean and has extensive experience cruising solo in remote parts. Credit: Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

A new starter motor has been fitted to the Farymann diesel and the water pump has been rebuilt.

A storm board has been made for the companionway and a barrier has been built below decks between the galley and saloon, to stop any water that has made its way down below from sloshing between the two compartments.

What self steering set up are you planning to use?

Mark Sinclair: I will be sticking with the Aries.

I know Jean Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats had the Hydrovane, but to be honest I don’t mind the servo rudder.

I had an Aries on my previous boat, an S&S 41, so I’m sort of familiar with them. I’ve always liked them and the one on Coconut is a really old one and still has the Isle of Wight stamps on it.

It’s a neat bit of farm machinery and it keeps going and it has been refurbished; I don’t like replacing anything that’s working.

What treat will you be taking?

Mark Sinclair: In the 2018 race, I wasn’t gonna take a cassette player. I thought I would just use the radio as it makes you use the radio more, but I did and took great joy in listening to talking books.

You are up and about a lot at night [when solo sailing] so it was good to have a talking book playing, but the problem is you manage to listen to the first bit but you never get to the end, so you never know how the story finishes.

Mark Sinclair dong navigation work

Mark Sinclair hopes to use his skills as a hydrographer and oceangrapher to help him transit the tricky currents during the race. Credit: Mark Sinclair/GGR/PPL

The cassette I had on board for the 2018 race were given to me, I didn’t select them so I had a BBC production of The Hobbit from the 1970s which was very, very quaint.

There was also, and I am embarrassed to say it, these Miss Marple detective stories that initially I thought would be crap but when I listened to them I actually became quite fond of them.

I would normally say I love Riddle of the Sands and Moby Dick but I never had any of that onboard on cassette.

I did have Watership Down. Having listened to it around 10 times I became quite an aficionado, although I never quite worked out how it finished.

What one thing will you miss while racing?

Mark Sinclair: To be honest, I think we already have too much stuff.

We are allowed refrigerators for the 2022 race. Rubbish. Get rid of that for starters, it will make everyone soft! Trackers. Get rid of them, and make it like the 1968 race where everyone was wondering where Robin Knox-Johnston was until he popped up. Make it interesting.

So it is not stuff that I am now allowed, but too much stuff that we have to take.

Look, I am only complaining lightheartedly. I know the race organisers have to run a race in a sensible manner so I get all that.

Mark Sinclair with a sail bag

Mark Sinclair started sailing when he was 10, around the time Robin Knox-Johnston started the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Credit: Mark Sinclair/PPL/GGR

To my mind, the whole essence of the race is good, and navigating by sextant, with a winding watch and plotting by hand makes it more real.

If you see a readout of your latitude and longitude all the time and get your position when you need it, it makes it a bit meaningless.

But when you get a sight, and when you make a landfall, and when you measure the time between successive full moons, it changes your outlook and your pace of life.

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?

Interestingly in Coconut’s old logs and documentation there is a note that Moitessier came on board Coconut in Tahiti. Coconut had been around the world a couple of times before I got her.

I would say get rid of radios and instead make us slingshot messages, and make it a race rule that you have to do it without pranging into the ship.

Moitessier was a dreamer and a poet, and the problem is that if we follow Moitessier we won’t be going back to Les Sables d’Olonne!

If I get disillusioned in the 2022 race I will keep on sailing back to Australia to find my soul.