The only Irish entrant in the Golden Globe Race 2022, Pat Lawless reveals his motivations for taking part in the longest and loneliest round the world yacht race
The 65-year-old was born and bred in Limerick, where he was ‘reared in boats’, learning to sail on the river Shannon.
‘My father trusted us. He bought us lifejackets and let us loose on the river,’ he told Yachting Monthly.
Pat Lawless has sailed yachts, Lasers and 420s, taking part in club racing and participating in Round Ireland Races, and the Plymouth to Tenerife race. He has also sailed through the Arctic Circle.
He has owned several long keel boats including a Yachting Monthly half tonner, as well as a 23ft Maurice Griffiths.
Originally a cabinet market, Pat Lawless was a deep sea fisherman for over a decade, sailing in all conditions, including a hurricane, in the North Atlantic.
Sailing around the world is something of a Lawless family tradition.
His father, also called Pat Lawless, sailed singlehanded around the world in his 30ft Seadog ketch, finishing in 1996 at the age of 70.
He had hoped to sail via Cape Horn, but rigging damage forced him to stop in Chile. His three year voyage was via Portugal, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, the Cayman Islands and Florida.
Pat Lawless junior is hoping that by finishing the 2022 Golden Globe Race, he will become the first Irishman to complete a non-stop, unassisted solo circumnavigation of the world.
But he might be beaten in his endeavour by his younger brother, Peter Lawless, who set off in August 2021 on his Rival 41, Waxwing to sail solo, non-stop, unassisted around the world from Ireland back to Ireland via the 5 Great Capes.
Why do the 2022 Golden Globe Race?
Pat Lawless: It’s a hard one to answer. When I was young, OSTARS inspired me, then [Sir Francis] Chichester. Also, Conor O’Brien, the first Irishman to sail around the world [via the three Great Capes].
That sowed the seed but to be honest I can’t answer the question of why I would spend all this time getting ready, which has been a great part of the journey, and then why I would leave my family and grandchildren [to do the race]; it doesn’t make sense, but I am delighted I’m doing it.
I have tried and tried to figure out [why I am doing the race], but I can’t come up with a logical answer. It’s just a need I have to fulfil; it is a beautiful need, more romantic than dramatic.
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Pat Lawless: So much, as I was very green when it came to ocean racing. I did ocean racing when I was young, I did the Round Ireland Races, I did Plymouth to Tenerife once and I did other things like that but I hadn’t raced in so long.
I learned about the 2018 Golden Globe Race about two months before it started and it re-awoke a dream really.
I learned so much from it; I didn’t know the different types of boats. I didn’t know the Rustler and it was interesting looking at all the different types of boats, and straightaway I thought God, I would love to do that, but I didn’t think I would.
But then I started to look into boats and which ones I’d like and which ones I wouldn’t. So I learned a lot just from studying them.
I knew I wouldn’t go with a hardtop shelter because of wind pollution; I spent years fishing over winters in the North Atlantic and I have seen the power of the wind, and when the tops of the waves are being blown over it is like a power washer.
It is not just wind at that level. Each time the top of the wave is blown off, it will hit the boat with a fierce force, it would nearly cut your skin in a serious storm, and none of those boats [with a hardtop shelter] finished [in the last race]. It doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t have finished, but I think it’s a mistake to put a hard top on the boat; that is a personal thing.
The other think I learned was that you need a good mast. If your boat is going to go 360, and there is a good chance it will, then your mast is everything.
You need a good rudder and good sitting skin fittings. They are kind of obvious but the mast is the elephant in the room. It is something that I’m going to concentrate on, making it as strong as I possibly can.
The whole of the 2018 race was very interesting, just like reading a book. Every day I followed it, it was like a new page, a new chapter and I really enjoyed the experience; I was very disappointed when it was over.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Pat Lawless: Hopefully, the storms will be behind me, and then I plan to go as fast as the boat can [under control with bare poles].
I have been out in 55 knots in the boat reaching and running and it’s no problem, but the boat will only go a maximum of 11 knots when surfing.
The max I have done is 11 knots which wasn’t out of control.
I won’t use a drogue unless I am on a lee shore or something like that. If the wind is against me, I’ll hove-to unless it gets too bad; I wouldn’t hove-to in a serious storm, but you will be going backwards then of course.
The race is both survival and arrival; it is about finishing.
I will bring a drogue in case I am off the African Continental Shelf and I need to slow down. That is the only time I think I would use the drogue, but you never know.
Will you be practising storm tactics over the winter?
Pat Lawless: I have sailed 10,000 solo miles already [on the boat] so I am actually quite confident about what I need to do to the boat.
When I went to Iceland this year, I had 86 jobs to do on the list. Some were small. When I got back to Ireland I had 122.
When I did the trip to The Azores, I thought that I had figured everything out, but the more trips I do, the more jobs there are, although they are very small things not major safety items, just tweaks to make the boat more comfortable.
The mast will be off the boat around Christmas and then the boat will be lifted out and the bottom blasted. I have one side of the hull faired.
15 years ago the gel coat was replaced with epoxy and it just wasn’t as smooth. I have had one side done and I will now fair the other side.
It will make her go a bit faster, as it will stop growth. The boat will be out of action by the spring.
When the spring comes, hopefully I can attract a main sponsor. It is more about public relations and sponsorship from now on.
I am quite confident in the boat and I will have it well prepared. Next is to enjoy the rest of the journey. I have enjoyed the journey so far, so much, and if the race is as good as the journey so far, it will be great.
What did you learn from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s win in the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Pat Lawless: Go as straight as you can, and don’t deviate off course.
He prepared; he brought enough water (some of the others didn’t) and he had good food. He spared on weight but he didn’t spare on what he considered important, even though some might consider [the food] luxuries, but you need the comfort of that.
He shortened his mast but I won’t be doing that. My mast is shorter than the Rustler 36 mast anyway; my mast will be standard.
He is such an inspirational man. To aim to reach that level of seamanship would be nice.
Why did you choose a Saltram Saga 36 for the 2022 Golden Globe Race?
Pat Lawless: I had a lot of sleepless nights looking at boats.
The one that most attracted me was a Lello 34 because it was so cheap. The person who offered it to me wanted it in the race, and he gave me such a good price but then I decided it wasn’t right.
I looked at Rustlers, Biscay 36s and there were two Saltram Saga 36’s for sale. They attracted me the most because they are so safe.
I think the Saga will be a lot safer than most of the other boats in the race with the double ender, with the deeper keel and heavier displacement.
It has a big cargo carrying capacity because she’s a bigger boat, so when you put in two tonnes, with your food and your safety equipment, it won’t make much difference to the waterline, compared to the Lello 34. Also if you put two tonnes into [the Lello 34] it will seriously change the performance and safety of the boat.
So, I picked a Saga for safety, and, as a bonus, I think she is way faster downwind than the Rustler.
My target, which may be a bit high, is to do 200 mile days in the race; 170 miles was as good as the Rustler did.
But upwind, she will definitely by slower as the Rustler has a finer bow which cuts through the water.
The boat hasn’t been officially named, but I will probably stay with Fulmar as I have got to register her soon in Ireland.
How are you preparing the boat for the 2022 race?
Pat Lawless: The boat was in very, very good condition when I got it; it was really well minded. Inside, I took out the heating system and fitted a wood burning stove, which I love.
It’s a comfort thing to sit down beside the fire and have a meal, and I’m able to burn my Tetra packs and my rubbish on the way around.
I went to Iceland this year and in a cold climate, if you only light it once a week, it does air the boat.
I’ll be doing all the standard safety modifications like bulkheads. The main saloon is bigger than most of the boats in the race because my cockpit is smaller. It is a beamier boat.
The main saloon I will divide in two, with acrylic across [the boat] as I want to keep the open feel of the boat. I will put in a zip translucent door as I want to keep the stove and the accommodation dry.
Behind the heads, galley and the chart table will be a wetter area, and I will put a stopper underneath the translucent door to stop water reaching the dry area.
On deck, I will do a lot to the mast, as the mast is everything.
I have led the lines aft to the cockpit, so I do all the reefing from the cockpit, except the fourth reef in the main when I have to go to the mast.
I have put in a new spray dodger as my boom on the boat is very low. If you stand in the cockpit, it [the boom] wouldn’t hit you in the head, it would hit you on the shoulder, so my spray dodger is low, which is easier to work with.
I have changed all the chainplates.
On the deck I will just tidy it up. Revarnishing will be the last thing I do to make sure the boat looks nice for the race.
What will your sail plan be?
Pat Lawless: I have the original sail plan but I am still in two minds. We are allowed 10 sails for the race. I have a mainsail with four reefs, but I wont bring a leg of mutton sail. I will bring a storm jib.
I have a furling jib and a furling staysail. I have put on a Solent stay at the moment for hanked-on sails.
I am in the process of considering making my Solent stay furling.
Since getting the boat I’ve sailed 10,000 miles in her solo and the wind changes at lot at dawn, often for only 20 minutes.
I have found that if you’re hanked-on, you are lazy to change the sails, whereas if you had the front furling jib and genoa, it is very easy to change them. You will perform better as you will change them quicker.
But of course, if you’re going upwind, then you have two furling sails slowing you down more, so it’s a trade off.
But, I think I will have the two furling jibs in front.
I have to order all my sails when I get home so they can be made during the quieter times.
I am fairly sure I will go with the two furling jibs out front, and a furling staysail, and four spinnakers – two symmetric and two asymmetric; that will be my sail plan.
Are you looking to win or get round?
Pat Lawless: I’m going to try my best to win, but it doesn’t mean I am going to win. That’s the only reason I joined [the Golden Globe Race]. It’s not to get around.
If I was going to go cruising for a year, I wouldn’t go around the world, I’d cruise to the Mediterranean or the Caribbean.
So I am going to try and win. I’d say 99% of the people are [looking to win] although they might not say it.
I’ve looked at the field and there are some really, really good people.
Aleix Selles Vidal from Spain has fantastic credentials. He is a yacht designer and his partner is a naval architect, so there will be some serious competition.
But if you look at the first race [1968-69], nine started one finished; in the second race , 18 started and five finished. So it is about finishing. And if you finish as fast as you can, you have a 50% chance of winning.
It is about going as fast as I can, using spinnakers and hopefully being in with a chance. I am in it to win.
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?
Pat Lawless: I am glad there is no HAM radio. We have a HAM radio receiver but that is a safety thing.
I am happy with weather faxes. I have a JRC one and I have another one lined up. I think I want one which comes through my SSB radio and one with its own tuner.
Whether they work in the Southern Ocean I am not sure.
If you have prepared for the weather properly, you will just have to go through it [bad weather].
Even if we get the best weather advice, we wouldn’t be fast enough to get out of the way of storms anyway. So it doesn’t bother me whatsoever.
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?
Pat Lawless: If I can, although I haven’t actually found anyone or looked for anyone yet.
When I was young. a family friend, Johnny Green studied the weather. He lived down the Shannon and he taught us an awful lot about reading the weather.
I’d love to hear the opinions [of the meteorologists] but I don’t think they will be spot on with long distance forecasts.
I know when my father first sailed to America in a folkboat he got advice to go down the Bay of Biscay and around the Canaries, and he just didn’t because he didn’t want to. But another boat took the advice and got hammered, and only got as far as the Canaries.
So, if you take someone’s advice it is up to you to use it. You have to be comfortable with the decisions you make.
Reading the clouds, reading the [weather] signs and all the signals you can, will tell you an awful lot. Reading the weather is a big thing, but I will listed to the advice [of the experts]. The old sailing routes are there for a reason.
How is your celestial navigation going?
Pat Lawless: I hadn’t picked up a sextant since the 1970s, and actually I was amazed at how accurate it was.
It took me a while to get fully accurate readings because I was leaving out the correction, but I was only out by about 14 miles and once I had put the correction in, I was down to about two miles.
The noon site is very straightforward; plotting the course is slower but we have time.
I haven’t done it enough to be able to do it without looking at the examples, but I took a lot of sights this summer and I intend to practice.
You have done your 2,000 mile qualifying passage. What did you learn from it?
Pat Lawless: I did that last year; I went to The Azores and back. It was headwinds all the way down and when I got to the Azores I turned back. I got half way back and got caught in a 55 knot storm.
It was great training, it built my confidence. I did Iceland this year.
I have done my jury rig test already but will do it again this year because I have a few ideas which might change [how I do it].
Everyone should practice sailing with a jury rig whilst the mast is off because you learn so much by doing it.
My mast is coming down later this year. I am going with my old 16.5m tall mast. It is 9mm thick, the new ones are 5.5mm.
I’ve had my mast checked and I am just going to strengthen it.
I don’t think T-bolts are strong enough for a 360 roll.
If you go 360 and if the T-bolts slip down, they are gone, but if you have a tine going through with a compression bolt it will slip, but it will still stay there.
I will put a sleeve up inside the mast [to strengthen it].
What self-steering set up are you planning on using?
Pat Lawless: The boat came with an Aries which I find works so well, so I wont be changing it.
What antifouling will you be using?
Pat Lawless: I will not go with Coppercoat but I have three others in mind and hopefully I will come back [to Les Sables d’Olonne] like Jean-Luc Van Den Heede – as clean as when I left.
I would love to have done the race without an engine, but we are not allowed to for safety reasons.
How to keep the prop clean is one of the things I will have to work out.
Are you confident you will be on the start line for 2022?
Pat Lawless: I will be at the start. The finances have worked out well and Ireland are great at supporting people. Without looking for sponsors, I have huge amounts of sponsorship.
I was very worried about money; I had enough to buy the boat and pay the entry fee and have a few bob left. I still have no loans and the boat is in good condition.
I have a fair bit of money to spend between now and the start of the race, like the new sails.
Maybe because I am the only Irish entrant I am lucky that all the local people in Dingle came behind me and gave me great support.
I have support from local businesses and a support group. They are doing so much for me.
You have plenty of solo miles. Is coping with isolation an issue?
Pat Lawless: It is a mystery. I’ve only done three weeks on my own, so I don’t know. You just never know how you’re gonna handle that kind of a situation until you’re there.
It’s a long time. You’re going to be lonely; you’re going to be missing your family.
I don’t think I’ll have any problems.
If you did have problems, and started to get depressed then you can pull in; it is not failure, you have tired. I can’t see that happening [to me].
Before you leave, I think it’s very important to prepare to not finish non-stop. I reckon 50% [of the skippers] will finish without a stop, and I hope to be a part of that.
How do you handle challenges while alone at sea?
Pat Lawless: I feel comfortable with challenges.
If something breaks in an emergency, you just have to deal with it.
So it’s just like the loneliness and the isolation, it’s something to deal with as it comes along.
I’ve worked with my hands all my life, and problem solving comes easy.
Problem solving and maths were always good subjects for me in school.
What will you miss while taking part in the race?
Pat Lawless: The company of my family and my friends.
What treat will you be taking?
Pat Lawless: Well I don’t smoke, but I think I’m going to bring five cigars. And I think I’ll bring a bottle of whiskey, just to have a little nip in certain locations, like crossing the Equator.
The fire has already turned out to be a fantastic comfort. So, I will light the fire once a week, sit down and have a nice meal.
It will also heat the whole cabin area.
Also sitting on the deck looking at the wildlife.
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?
Pat Lawless: Moitessier did yoga and although I don’t do yoga, I have started doing transcendental meditation.
I find meditation not easy to do, but transcendental is easier; you just pick a word and repeat the word, but after one minute I am drifting back to thoughts so it doesn’t come naturally to me yet, but I am getting better. I only do it at sea. I like to meditate as it just brings you to a nice, quiet place.
The main thing I have learned from Moitessier is you have to finish. He didn’t finish [the 1968-69 race].
Solo sailing is not a form of escapism, it is escapism. It is running away from the world.
The first time I sailed to The Azores and back, when I returned my family and friends were there to meet me, and it was the last thing I wanted.
I wanted to duck in [to port]. You just become accustomed to your own company.
Every other time I have come in after a trip, it is dark. I came back from Iceland at 0500 which was kind of on purpose as I just wanted to duck in.
So what I have learned from Moitessier is that you have to come back. It is easier to stay out to sea, you would prefer it because you’re escaping, but you have to face up to reality and come back.