Pat Lawless is determined to finish the 2022 Golden Globe Race and become the first Irish skipper to sail around the world, solo and non-stop
Pat Lawless grew up around boats, and has sailed over 68,000 miles, but finishing the 2022 Golden Globe Race will be his crowning achievement.
The 66-year-old is hoping to cross the finish line and become the first Irish skipper to have sailed around the world, solo and non-stop, via Cape Horn.
His father, also called Pat, attempted it in 1993 in a 30ft Seadog but damage to the ketch’s rigging meant he had to stop in Chile. He went on to continue his circumnavigation, arriving back in Limerick in July 1996, at the age of 70.
Pat Lawless junior learnt to sail as a child on the river Shannon in Limerick and went on to take part in dinghy and cruiser racing, Round Ireland Races and the Plymouth to Tenerife race.
He originally worked as a cabinet maker before becoming a deep sea fisherman, and has witnessed first hand the power of the North Atlantic. He has also sailed through the Arctic Circle.
Pat Lawless spent 6 months deciding on the right yacht for the Golden Globe Race and eventually chose his Saltram Saga 36, Green Rebel, which he believes the boat will perform well downwind, beating the Rustler 36s in the fleet.
‘I picked the boat for her canoe stern, as the wind won’t be catching on the transom and pushing it, and she also has a smaller cockpit, small portholes and a very heavy displacement and low centre of gravity. This boat is 2 tonnes heavier than the Rustler 36 but with a much shorter mast; I picked it for safety,’ he explained.
‘She is faster than I was expecting. It is not very fast upwind; the Rustlers are faster as they have a sharper bow and cut through the waves while I am inclined to pitch and the waves slow me down, but it is a trade off and I am faster downwind.’
Pat Lawless has installed the mandatory bulkhead in the bow and has put in more handgrips down below and installed a Perspex partition between the galley and saloon for strengthening and to offer protection from water ingress. He has also added a Solent stay to the boat.
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.
How are you preparing Green Rebel 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?
My staysail is a standard staysail and a storm sail can go under.
I have three jibs: a 140% genoa and and number 2, it is a yankee cut, which will be about 110%, and then I have one other yankee. If I take off the genoa and put it on, it is a number 3.
Then I have four spinnakers – two symmetrical and two asymmetrical. In total, I have 10 sails, the maximum allowed in the Golden Globe Race for his type of boat
With the twin jibs running downwind with 140% genoa and the number two, I can pole them out and sail downwind as easily as with a small asymmetrical spinnaker, so she has power and she is good to go far.
He has also added a Solent stay to the boat, on top of his fore and stay sail stays; all of them are furling.
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 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?
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.