Sue Pelling meets up with Susie Goodall to find out what possessed her to sign up for a nine-month, non-stop solo round-the-world race without modern-day technology in an ageing Rustler 36
As we sat face to face in an office in Rustler’s HQ overlooking the Fal Estuary with the wind howling and the rain pelleting on the window panes, the natural first question was: why?
Why would anyone in their right mind contemplate signing up for a race that offers no modern technology or the benefit of satellite based navigation aids?
At face-value Susie Goodall appears to be a ‘normal’ looking, petite, elegant young lady, but just minutes into the interview it became clear that Goodall is far from what is rightly or wrongly perceived as ‘normal’.
As well as being clever and capable, she has the requisite determined personality for anyone contemplating the aforementioned challenge.
Don’t for one moment, though, believe that Goodall signed up for this race on a whim. Ffar from it. She has spent much of her life contemplating her solo sailing trip round the world: ‘I knew from a very early age I wanted to sail around the world, by myself, but didn’t know how to do it. Being around in the 1960s for the original Golden Globe race would have been great.’
Sheer determination, allied with professionalism and passion have helped Goodall to realise her dream.
Her biggest success to date was the announcement over the summer that DHL was to be her title sponsor for the 50th anniversary 2018 Golden Globe Race, which starts from Les Sables d’Olonne in France on 1 July.
‘Having bought my boat through successful crowdfunding I realised how much more money I needed to get this campaign off the ground, but trying to attract a sponsor to a race that has no communications or any form of branding on the boat, is tough,’ she explained.
‘One company told me I had no chance. The good thing is I didn’t believe them. What I needed was a company with vision and thankfully through word of mouth – essentially Adrian Jones at Rustlers – I was put in touch with the top man at DHL and the rest, as they say, is history.’
Ellen MacArthur was a huge inspiration to the teenage Goodall, but it was during a working trip to Iceland on an expedition yacht – ex-Clipper 60 – Rubicon 3 – where the idea grew.
‘I heard about the re-creation of the Golden Globe Race 2018 just before they opened the entries. For me it was kind of a no brainer because I had always been obsessed with the idea of the 1968 Golden Globe Race.’
‘I had no internet up there [in Iceland] on the yacht so, without telling a soul I found a little restaurant in the middle of nowhere to send off my application form. I had no boat or anything. I basically hadn’t thought it through at all. To enter I had to give them a plan, which I confess I did make up a little.’
‘When I got the reply to say I’d been accepted, I sent off the deposit entry fee of about £1,500, which was stupid but I was so determined to do it. This coincided with the end of the expedition and I couldn’t contain my excitement so I told the crew. Not surprisingly they thought I was totally mental.’
So where did Goodall’s ‘call of the wild’ stem from? Her parents (Danish mother and father from Yorkshire) are sailors but certainly not at this extreme level.
‘I have always had this pull to the Arctic to cold climates, not sure why apart from possibly a bit of a Scandinavian Viking thing going on. As weird as it sounds, I don’t like sailing in warm places. I like remote, cold places.’
Goodall began her sailing career when she was three with her family, including her two brothers Tim and Nick on chartered yachts, mainly in Norfolk and on the south coast.
When the family moved from Gloucester to the Midlands they, or rather her eldest brother Tim, joined Himley Hall Sailing Club.
‘I used to copy everything he did so I joined the club too and ended up with his hand-me-down boat. I was just nine at the time but was determined to learn how to sail this glassfibre Bonito.’
‘By the time I was 12 I’d saved up £200 pocket money to buy a Laser just like my brother’s. It was such a crappy boat; it leaked with holes everywhere and the deck was coming away from the hull. I kept having it repaired but it never stopped leaking.’
‘Dad and I, who knew nothing about glassfibre work, put 72 bolts in the side and filled it with resin and it never leaked again, although it was heavy. I think that experience taught me a lot about appreciating what you have. I had no money, my family had no money so it was a case of thinking how we could solve the problem without spending much. It worked and enable me to get on the water.’
For someone who, in her own admission was ‘painfully shy’, it was a brave decision to leave home at 17 and set up a new life on the Isle of Wight, but her desire for a sailing career trumped her timid side.
‘My mum was terrified but she knew she couldn’t stop me. I just wanted to sail so I thought that heading off to where sailing happened would be the answer because I had no interest in anything else. Going to uni was not an option for me. It would have been a total waste of time and money. I remember when I was 15 a teacher pushed me for ideas on “what sort of career I wanted” so I wrote down I wanted to teach windsurfing and my teacher just laughed at me. It was so cruel.’
Cruel it may have been but the effect it had on introverted teenager was staggering. Rather than knocking her confidence it had the opposite effect.
First stop was the UKSA Cowes, where she did a few courses and a bit of work, and learnt a bit about the industry. It wasn’t easy, as Goodall explains: ‘I don’t really know why I did it because being a teacher/instructor is not me at all, it was horrid but it was the only way I could see a career in sailing.’
After a stint teaching at a sailing school in Sydney, Australia when she was 21, she returned to the UKSA and qualified as a Yachtmaster.
‘This enable me to do a bit of delivery work but probably the worse job to date was my time on a superyacht. I hated it so much.’
Breaking the news
Goodall’s biggest Golden Globe fear to date was having to break the news of her entry to her family.
‘It actually went better than I thought. But because I previously taught my mum to read weather GRIBS, which was the dumbest thing to do, she now knows the sort of weather I’ll be getting.’
Goodall is the first to acknowledge just how big a commitment the race is to her and her family. It was interesting to hear her view on why she feels she can deal with what lies ahead, including her strengths and what motivates her.
‘I guess I have always been a bit of a loner. Through choice I prefer to go out and do solo sports. Don’t get me wrong, it is a big deal for me, it is huge. I think my strength is the fact I know I enjoy my own company and I am content when I am alone. I get my strengths from within. I love being with others but I am also completely happy alone, although I do realise that nine months on my own is a bit more extreme.’
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‘I feel if I wasn’t this kind of person, the introvert that I am, with the mechanism of having to deal with things myself, I couldn’t do this race.’
Commenting on the female aspect of sailing alone, Goodall was clear on her views: ‘There is no getting away from the fact that there is a physical disadvantage of being a solo female sailor. Thankfully the Rustler 36 is not a huge boat where everything is super heavy. I am sure there will be times where I will suffer in that respect but so far, it hasn’t affected me.’
Although Goodall is deeply inspired by the likes of Ellen MacArthur, and Sir Robin Knox-Jonhston, she says she has a lot of self-motivation: ‘I love being at sea, in fact whenever I return home it is a bit of a disappointment. The more I do, the more I want to do and feel I never really get enough of it.’
‘For me, I think it is the fact that with solo sailing mother nature puts on a show and it is just for you and that is just really special. Every passage is different so you never get tired of it.’
Pirates, being rolled in the Southern Ocean or having an accident are natural fears of a solo sailor, but Goodall says hitting a floating object is among her greatest concerns.
‘Although rogue waves, for example, are a scary thought, at least I can prepare to a certain extent whereas hitting a submerged object is out of my control.’
Long passage sailing is naturally the best sort of training and a recent 8,000-mile Atlantic trip -Southampton, Plymouth, Lisbon, Lanzarote, Antigua, to the Azores – was good preparation.
‘I had some tough weather so I learnt a lot about the boat. I was fine and I loved it but my only real concern was the rig. Thankfully it stayed up.’
As far as sleep deprivation training goes, Goodall feels confident she’ll be able to deal with it.
‘It takes me a couple of days to get into a passage but after that it is fine.’
Preparing for the down times is probably one of the most difficult aspects of training. ‘I am generally fairly upbeat but I know there will be low times. To prepare for this and work out ways of helping me cope, I am seeing a sports psychologist, which is very interesting.’
‘I think music will be very important, although the rules stipulate the use of cassette tapes only! My uplifting music, which I will save for those real low moments include Shania Twain because I am a real fan, and Passenger.’
A stitch in time
Not the first item you would imagine in a round the world sailor but Goodall says knitting will be her way to relax as and when she has a spare moment.
‘I love it. I go off into my own little world and before I know it I have a four-metre scarf. My plan is to come back with lots of little hats for everyone, all knitted in the Southern Ocean. Like knitting, books and my ukulele are coming with me. Adlard Coles’ Heavy Weather Sailing is a must, as is Nigel Calder’s book Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.’
When asked what she is looking forward to most, Goodall smiles and without hesitation says: ‘The Southern Ocean and rounding Cape Horn because it is such a big deal. Yes, I am a bit nervous, which is natural I suppose. Also, it sounds silly I know but once I round there, I will be on the way home – just another 8,000 miles and three months to go. Bring it on.’