Steve's just reward for moving mountains to get to the start of his greatest adventure
Britain’s Vendee Globe Corinthian hero Steve White is due in to Les Sables d’Olonne tomorrow (Thursday) morning after a battle with the Bay of Biscay’s contrary easterly winds.
He is more than ready to complete his remarkable race and collect eighth place, outlasting many fancied, more famous skippers, including highly sponsored fellow Brits Mike Golding, Alex Thomson and Jonny Malbon, all forced to retire with gear failure.
Eighth is beyond the wildest dreams of the unpretentious skipper from Dorset, England. His race has drawn widespread praise from fellow skippers and his regular, often humorous communications have made him one of the most popular characters in this race.
On Thursday morning White, a father of four, will have scaled the highest peak in solo ocean racing – just 12 years after he first took up sailing. Unendingly self-deprecating, he may give the impression of being slightly prone to adversity and the odd misadventure but this masks his talent and seamanship as a solo sailor.
He is determined to be back for the 2012 Vendée Globe.
His success is not just a triumph over fiscal adversity, sailing so close to the wind financially that when he arrived in October in Les Sables d’Olonne three weeks before the start not only did he not have the money to race, but he was on the verge of losing the family home and his Open 60.
Indeed it was only during that morning before he arrived at the Vendée port with the then Spirit of Weymouth that he got the news that a promised sponsorship had fallen through. While he was doing the passage to Les Sables d’Olonne his wife Kim had to borrow enough money to get to London to get his children’s passports.
But on the return train journey she was breaking the sad news to the kids that not only was the Vendée Globe project off, but they might end up living somewhere else, when she had the call that a private individual would support them in the name of the Toe in the Water injured service personnel’s charity.
“It was a bit of an incredible day really, but we have always been positive. We have never really known brick walls stop us and just kept going and going. The voice at the end of the phone just told us to just get on and get the boat ready and he would take care of everything.”
“I had tears in my eyes at the start and now I am already in a party mood, I can’t wait to see him back.” Kim recalls
As soon as he had the promise of money he had to squeeze a three month re-fit into three weeks. Even on the morning of the start, as Dee Caffari lead the fleet out on her immaculately prepared Aviva, Toe in the Water looked more like the aftermath of Boy Scouts’ jumble sale – stores and equipment piled improbably high on her decks – and White was almost at his wits’ end with his team stowing materials until the last seconds. Yachting Monthly re-christened his yacht ‘Steptoe in the Water’!
Steve has sailed a prudent, passionate race, along with Sam Davies the race’s most natural communicators, relaying his sheer pleasure to be out there, living the dream he had fought for nearly 10 years to realise.
His father was a Rolls Royce aviation engineer. From a young age, Steve had a predilection for taking things to bits and putting them back together. And as he got older his mechanical and engineering skills graduated through lawn mowers, motor bike and cars. Latterly he was a specialist car restorer, working with pre war, high value vintage Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, accomplished in every area from coachworks to fine tuning engines, before the sea infected his blood.
He transferred his skills to a local boatyard in Weymouth where he learned more about composite boatbuilding and repairs, before working for more than three years with Pete Goss where he worked on the ill fated Team Philips and other projects. From there he went to work with Chay Blyth’s Challenge Business – alma mater for Mike Golding, Dee Caffari, Jonny Malbon – where he worked his way up from being crew to a training skipper.
Eighth place will be a just reward for White who has moved mountains to be in this race. Typical of his determination, he arrived in Paris in the summer for a Meteo France weather briefing for all the Vendée Globe skippers, and had so little money that when he spent his few Euros getting the train in to the wrong part of the City, he had to walk two and a half hours to the other side of Paris to get to the venue. He had already prepared himself to sleep rough in the adjacent park afterwards, before Brian Thompson offered him a floor in his hotel room and gave him a lift back to the airport.
Yachting Monthly salutes this modest Magnificent 8th!