Solo race veteran Robin Davie is determined to be on the start line of the 2022 Golden Globe Race. He talked to Katy Stickland about his preparations and how he plans to cope with the challenges of the event
The former British Merchant Navy radio officer, who was inspired to go solo sailing by the original 1968-69 Golden Globe Race, was planning to race in the 2018 50th anniversary edition of the Golden Globe Race, but was unable to finish refitting his Rustler 36 in time.
Since March 2020, Robin, 69, has been trapped in the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is planning on returning to his home port of Falmouth in August to finish preparing his boat, and once it is in the water in early autumn, will focus on sailing and storm tactics as well as completing his 2,000 mile nonstop qualifying passage for the race using windvane steering.
He will be racing in the 2022 Golden Globe Race in the Suhaili class onboard his Rustler 36 Masthead sloop, C‘est La Vie.
Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?
Robin Davie: Because I didn’t make it in 2018.
But apart from that, I’ve always wanted to go around with no stops and this is a great opportunity to do that.
It’ll be an interesting proposition. I’ve done races around the world with stops so now I want to go around without stops which will be a totally different ballgame, especially as you can’t stop to make repairs before carrying on.
What did you learn following the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Robin Davie: It’s really all about getting around. The 2018 race possibly started early for sailing in the Southern Ocean but it was based around Sir Robin Knox-Johnston‘s voyage in 1968.
At the end of the day it’s going to be whatever it is, and there’s big storms [in the Southern Ocean] regardless of when you do it.
Are you looking to win in 2022 or do you just want to get around the world and finish the race?
Robin Davie: It is always an interesting question. I will concentrate on getting round first because if you don’t get round, you ain’t gonna win.
What is winning? It’s really more a case of trying to catch the person in front, and trying to leave the person behind you, behind.
You want to try and be a little better than anyone else but the reality is often very different.
Going back to when I was in the Cub Scouts, you were told to do your best, and you can really only do you best.
If your best is good enough, great. If it’s not, then good for those who performed better.
Obviously it would be nice to be at the front, but it is still really nice to just be in the game, whether you’re at the front or the back.
Getting round the race route is all about preparation. How will you prepare for the race?
Robin Davie: You obviously do everything that you think you need to do. At the end of the day, as you come to the start line, you need to be happy with your boat. You need to focus on your boat, your entry and what really matters to you.
I’m not overly looking forward to being rolled over which is why I’ve done a lot of strengthening to my boat and that’s probably added quite a bit of weight, but I know damn well that if the boat does roll, it will probably be as strong as anybody else’s in the fleet.
Nobody wants to be rolled but you’re better off accepting that it is certainly possible during the race, especially when you are in areas of big storms. It can happen to any of us.
Look at how Jean Luc Van den Heede got caught out [Van den Heede’s boat was pitch poled end-over-end in the Southern Ocean in 36ft seas and 65-knot winds, causing the starboard lower shroud’s connecting bolt attachment to slip 5cm down in the mast section, slackening the rigging].
There will certainly come a time when you had better stop racing and take a more cautious approach, rather than just bashing on and getting caught out like Jean Luc did. You know, that’s probably the only mistake he ever made, but it nearly cost him the race.
He did a phenomenal recovery, restructuring and strengthening of his mast to keep it up and keep it going to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne. Most of us probably wouldn’t have been able to do that.
The race is not about who has got the fastest boat. It is very much about who can keep going on a daily basis at a high average speed; that is probably what will win the race.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Robin Davie: I think you just go downwind, and you just go quickly – nether too slow or too fast. If you can get the boat so its happy riding the waves then you’re in a good spot.
If you’re going to windward, then you’re certainly going to try a heave-to rather than run off.
If that’s not working out too well you’ve immediately got to try something else and if that means running off and losing a lot of miles then that’s the way it has got to go.
Drogue or warps?
Robin Davie: I wasn’t thinking of taking car tyres although I can totally understand the wisdom of doing so.
Everybody’s got a different plan, or a different idea or a different thought on how they plan to tackle anything.
I’ve got a lot of warp and I’ve got a small storm drogue.
Over the winter, once the boat is back in the water, we will be going out to try these methods again. Either of them can work, but it will be useful to find some good winds and try them in stronger winds. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to go out and suck it and see.
If you get into one of those big Southern Ocean storms, then you’d better be on your feet, so to speak, to find a calming solution that allows you to handle the sea.
What is your sail plan for the boat?
Robin Davie: I don’t know yet as I don’t know how much money I’m going to have.
I think the rigs are pretty much set – a furling headsail and staysail and mainsail and storm jib. Most boats will be pretty similar.
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?
Robin Davie: These are the race rules and we just have to accept them and go with it. I wouldn’t have any problem if we didn’t have Weather Fax and we didn’t have SSB and just went for it.
I’ve certainly been watching the world weather and the Southern Ocean weather for the last four years. I don’t feel we a lot of options in the Southern Ocean, because we’re pretty hemmed in by the southern limit of the route.
We’ve just going to run the course and whatever comes across us, whether it’s a high or a low, we will have to deal with it.
I think the biggest problem the 2018 race saw was storms coming down from the north. It wasn’t the Southern Ocean storms from the south but the storms coming down from the north [which affected the skippers the most].
I think we’re sat pretty squarely in their path so we’ll just have to deal with them.
How have you prepared your boat for the race?
Robin Davie: As I mentioned earlier I have strengthened her. I went round inside all the way round from bow to stern and did a solid structural glassing of the whole deck join just to make it stronger.
I’ve beefed up all the webs that hold my chainplates and now they are glassed to the hull so all of my chain plates have been strengthened up quite considerably.
The main bulkheads, especially where the mast is, have been strengthened so we’ve done quite a lot of strengthening modifications to hopefully make it bulletproof, although it always depends how big the bullet is!
Inside, she is pretty bog-standard other than removing the table, and that area has now become a big bunk with sides on it so I can’t roll out. It’s probably the most comfortable bunk in the fleet and it’s meant to be. It is sort of u-shaped so whichever angle the boat is heeling, I’m comfortable. The bunk opposite is now purely a storage area for all my grab bags and emergency kit.
I’ve split the water tank in two so I’ve got water separation.
I’ve certainly not got a suit of sails I’d like to take around the world at the moment. I’ve got a couple of decent sails. New sails and a mast are the biggest cost. The mast is out of the boat at the moment so we’ll be finishing it off.
I’ve got Jean Luc’s original mast [Jean Luc used a shorter mast on his Rustler 36 for the 2018 race] and I bought the two sails which he had made up for the original mast which are OK.
The mast and rig all came off Jean Luc’s boat, and because of what happened to Jean Luc’s rig, we’re adding strengthening pads where the the lower shrouds come in to the mast, and we will do some other strengthening.
I plan to do my sailing in the autumn with the sails I’ve got so I can figure out what sails I would like, and what I can afford, as we go into the spring
There’s quite a few electronic bits I still need although I have fished around and found a fax machine and a couple of SSBs.
Are you confident you will make the start?
Robin Davie: I presume I’m going to get there and I’ve never believed I’ll not get there so we’ll see.
But you don’t know what will happened between now and then.
You only have to look at the end of the Vendee Globe when Boris [Herrmann] hit the fishing boat [in his IMOCA 60, forcing him to sail to the finish under jury rig].
The same thing could happened to me in June next year which could mean not making the start line, so who knows.
What self steering set up are you planning to use?
Robin Davie: A Monitor because I’ve always used one and it’s been a great machine for me.
There were self steering problems for some of the skippers last time but I think there will be a lot less problems for this race, as people are having to do some miles with them [all 2022 skippers have to sail 2,000nm solo using wind vane only as part of the qualifying for the race] so will be more familiar with them, although that doesn’t mean that self steering systems won’t end up being a problem area in the race.
Arnaud Gaist [one of the French Golden Globe Race 2022 skippers] has done himself one of the biggest favours by sailing to the Azores and back without self steering gear. He learnt a lot from that.
It is probably one of the things I’ve got to do is go out, switch off the Monitor and start playing around to work out how I keep the boat moving in the right direction without self steering.
What antifouling will you be using?
Robin Davie: I don’t know yet, probably the same brand of antifoul Jean Luc Van den Heede used on his boat or something similar.
What I put on this autumn will be the base for what I put on next spring/summer for the race.
You’ve also got to be on the ball about going over the side, and keeping the boat clean.
You have thousands of solo sailing miles. Will isolation be an issue for you during the race?
Robin Davie: It’s never been a problem before so I’ve got no reason to think it would be a problem.
It’s really about getting into the rhythm, getting going and getting moving.
Isolation is only a problem if you think about it.
How do you get into that rhythm?
Robin Davie: It just comes to you.
Over a period of time, your whole existence becomes nothing to do with your life ashore, it’s totally to do with your life and existence and survival to do whatever your adventure is, whether it is a trek across the Arctic, or the Antarctic, or across an ocean or mountains.
At some point you’ve got to give up all comparisons with how you live normally and just accept your situation, and get on with the life you’ve actually got.
What will you miss most going round?
Robin Davie: I probably won’t miss anything. I’ll just look forward to it at the end. I mean, there’s not a lot of value in missing anything.
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?
Robin Davie: Moitessier certainly waxed and waned quite lyrically about all sorts of things and in a lot of ways.
Just as Robin’s [Sir Robin Knox-Johnston] account was very factual reflecting his great voyage, Moitessier’s was much more mystical.
I come to this race a bit more on the Moitessier side than the Robin side; I certainly thought when doing the BOC 40 years ago that Robin’s was the real account [of an around the world race] and Moitessier’s was pretty much way out there. Well maybe he is not so way out there after all.
Both accounts are phenomenal and both books will be on board.