Matthew Wright has always wanted to sail solo, non stop around the world. The Golden Globe Race 2022 is finally giving him the chance to fulfil his dream
Matthew Wright has more challenges than most of the other Golden Globe Race skippers.
Not only is he trying to prepare his boat in Europe, while living in Australia, but he is also battling with auto immune arthritis.
Despite this, he is still determined to make the start line.
The 52-year-old emergency physician learnt to sail in dinghies as a teenager before sailing in South Australian waters in the family’s Duncanson 37, which his father renovated himself.
‘I have sailed around different parts of Australia which has exposed me to a range of different conditions, boats and sailors,’ the Adelaide skipper told Yachting Monthly.
The yacht was based in La Trinité until 2021 when the boat was moved to Galicia in Spain; Varadoiro do Xufre is continuing with the refit work.
Since buying Agitator, Matthew has sailed her 4,000 miles singlehanded, and has completed the race’s 2,000 miles non-stop solo qualifying voyage, sailing from Vannes in France down to the Canary Islands across to Madeira and back to Portugal, some 2,700 miles over 25 days.
‘I think the things I learnt from that trip were my ability to be able to navigate using celestial navigation and the challenge of being alone on the boat 24/7 for several weeks. That is an important step towards getting to the start line of the Golden Globe Race 2022,’ explained Matthew.
‘I still regard my sailing background as modest with a lot left to learn; I would have done over 5,000 miles singlehanded by the time I reach the start line.’
Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Matthew Wright: I really enjoyed the 2018 Golden Globe Race as a spectator. It seemed to offer a human experience and a camaraderie that the high tech sailing races were missing.
I think the pure nature of the challenge – to sail nonstop, singlehanded, around the world using a sextant – is what makes the Golden Globe Race irresistible to me.
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Matthew Wright: I think the key learnings from the 2018 Golden Globe Race are that it is difficult to finish the race; if your boat loses the ability to steer itself then that is a disaster and simple things like antifouling can become major problems if not enough attention is paid to detail.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Matthew Wright: I am reluctant to use a drogue in the race and think my strategy is probably to use warps; I think the biggest issue with drogues is their retrieval, that just seems a whole world of pain.
But I am nervous about relying solely on warps in case they don’t slow the boat down enough.
I plan on running with the weather rather than heaving-to.
I have an equivalent og a 4th reef in my main sail and think I will stick with this rather than adding a stormsail.
I have had limited opportunity to trial my storm tactics as I had mostly good weather whilst sailing in Europe in 2021, so I have limited heavy weather experience on the boat.
But, there were a few days of 35-knot breeze and 4-5 metre seas which gave me a feel of the boat, especially in terms of her stability.
In all honesty, I am a bit underdone when it comes to heavy weather sailing on her; it is one of the challenges of having the boat on the other side of the world.
What did you learn from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s win in the last race?
Matthew Wright: I’m not sure what I learnt from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s Golden Globe Race win in 2018; he is clearly a wily French fox who is an excellent and very experienced sailor.
I think his time of 210 days is going to be hard to beat this time around but it will be interesting to see.
Why did you choose a Rustler 36 for the 2022 Golden Globe Race?
Matthew Wright: Doing the Golden Globe Race from Australia comes with a lot of challenges as there are very limited opportunities to buy the approved Golden Globe Race designed boats, and if you do find one it is on the wrong side of the world.
My strategy as an Australian entrant was to find a boat in Europe and do the refit there.
I spent 10 days in the UK and France in late 2019 and looked at multiple boats and of the designs I looked at I was most convinced by the Rustler 36, ultimately buying Agitator in Falmouth and then sailing her across to Brittany in France where my brother lives.
The boat was based in La Trinité in France until last year and now she lives in Galicia in Spain at Varadoiro do Xufre with work ongoing.
How are you preparing the boat for the 2022 race?
Matthew Wright: I would love to go down to the boat every weekend, but that isn’t my situation.
While the boat was in France she had a new mast, new sails and standing rigging. The deck was stripped and painted with anti-skid paint.
My brother was able to keep an eye on the boat for me and do some jobs too.
Now she is in Spain it is getting a little bit tricky as I am relying on photos of work done before paying.
A lot of the compliance jobs are now being done, like the watertight forward bulkhead.
What is Agitator’s sail plan?
Matthew Wright: She will have a main sail with three reefs, an inner forestay and a Gale Sail (storm jib) over the stay sail.
The boat is still set up to reef at the mast and I think I am OK with that.
Originally I wanted four reefs in the main, but the French sailmaker really pushed back on that.
The third reef is equivalent to a four reef; the real issue is between the first and second reef. It would be nice to have another option when using the windvane to help balance the boat, but honestly, I don’t have the money to go back and revisit this now.
I tried the Gale Sail with mixed experiences, but once it was up I really enjoyed it, so my strategy at the moment is to still use it. I won’t be going with a try-sail.
Are you looking to win or get round?
Matthew Wright: In choosing a Rustler 36 I think it is a boat that can win the race, and I am aiming to be as competitive as possible.
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?
Matthew Wright: I don’t have experience with a weatherfax and GMDSS yet so difficult to comment meaningfully.
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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 the same?
Matthew Wright: I think that Jean-Luc Van Den Heede’s experience in having done multiple circumnavigations would have benefitted him enormously as much as getting advice from meteorologists.
I think there are less decisions to be made in the 2022 Golden Globe Race as the route now includes leaving Trindade to port, so I think most entrants will have a more similar route than in the last race.
The pre-South Africa part of the 2018 race was the most interested part of that race for me.
Mark Slats headed further west on the Clipper route to get the westerlies to take him across to the Cape of Good Hope.
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Philippe Peche stayed in the middle and headed between the Canary Islands and the Cape of Good Hope, and of course Peche had his breakage.
Susie Goodall also followed a similar track but was just unlucky with her timing as she became becalmed.
Personally, I think the race was won or lost by the time they got to the Cape of Good Hope.
You have finished your 2,000 mile qualifying passage for the race. What did you learn?
Matthew Wright: I think the qualifying voyage also made me focus on how important and challenging sleep management is for singlehanded sailing.
It is a big part of it.
It was also an excellent exercise to have to perform celestial navigation during the qualifying, although I was reminded of its limitations when the last three days it was overcast and windy as I was approaching land.
I am happy to have been able to learn how to navigate by celestial navigation as a life skill.
What self-steering set up are you planning on using?
What antifouling will you be using?
Matthew Wright: It was interesting that antifoul played such an important role last time.
I am yet to finalise my strategy but a lot of layers of high quality antifoul and some swims to clean the bottom will be my strategy I think.
Are you confident you will be on the start line for 2022?
Matthew Wright: There are still plenty of challenges between me and the start line in September; self funding an around the world yacht race is not easy and there is still quite a bit of expense left.
How do you feel about the race having looked at the other skippers?
Matthew Wright: It is an exciting and interesting line-up and there are all sorts of dark horses in there.
There are skippers I’ve become friends with who have provided good advice.
Then there are the others that I have not met yet.
I will just be ecstatic to be on the start line, which I still hope I will do.
Mentally, how are you preparing for the race?
Matthew Wright: I am getting concerned as the distraction of my health challenges has already started to do my head in, in my daily life, let alone what it might be like when sailing alone around the world.
I’ve always felt like a resilient person but that has certainly been tested recently.
I plan to be back in Europe by July so that should give me two full months on the ground to prepare.
Is coping with isolation an issue?
Matthew Wright: I think the biggest challenge will be the weather which you can’t control and managing the isolation and loneliness.
I will miss my wife and three daughters enormously and will miss being a part of their daily lives.
I have a lot of reading to catch up on; have often thought a nice long stretch in prison might be necessary to get through my back log of reading but then the Golden Globe Race came along.
How will you motivate yourself on the way round?
Matthew Wright: How well you prepare the boat is important but there is also an element of luck, and the harder you push your boat, the more likely you are to break something.
In the last race, the skippers could broadcast on HAM radio but we are limited to SSB radio, which meant they had a feel of where they all were.
Competing with those in front or behind you will be a motivation, and as you sail more miles, you will be getting closer to the end which will also have an impact.
Keeping up a racing mindset will be challenging. I really hope that a few months into the race and I am still going to be up on deck at 0200 trimming the sails.
What will you miss most during the race?
Matthew Wright: It will be my family; my wife and my children aged 16, 14 and 9.
There is a slight dimension to the race which is cruel; you have a satellite phone but you can’t speak to your family, which I accept as I signed up for the race.
The race is a lot of time on your own.
Missing out on the aspects of life of the people I love is the biggest sacrifice.
What treat will you be taking?
Matthew Wright: I think in terms of morale some sort of treats might be important, probably chocolates and sweets as I have a fairly well developed sweet tooth.
I think it will also be important to carry some bottles of Anis del Mono for the occasional drink.
GGR 2018 was a celebration of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The Golden Globe Race 2022 is a celebration of Bernard Moitessier. What words of wisdom from Moitessier will you be following in the race?
Matthew Wright: Bernard Moitessier famously gybed for Tahiti to save his soul; my participation in the Golden Globe Race carries the same hope for me.
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