Dafydd Hughes was the second sailor to sign up for the Global Solo Challenge. He shares how he is preparing to race his S&S 34 around the world

The Global Solo Challenge is billed as a race like no other: a chance for small 34ft boats to fairly race against 55ft yachts.

Vessels will be grouped by performance characteristics before setting off in staggered departures over an 11 week period, with the fastest boats trying to catch the slower boats; the first yacht to cross the finish line wins.

Dafydd Hughes was the second skipper to pay the €7,500 entrance fee for the solo, unassisted, round the world yacht race, which starts from A Coruña in Spain in September 2023.

a man wearing a white tshirt with leaning on a ladder against a boat

Dafydd Hughes learnt to sail at the age of 45, buying his first boat less than a week later. Credit: Leia Morrison

The 62-year-old has previously sailed as crew in the 2007-08 Clipper Round the World Race aboard Glasgow, skippered by Hannah Jenner.

He bought his Sparkman and Stephens 34, Bendigedig 18 months ago; it had been on the hard in a shed for a decade.

‘I basically just bought a hull and a deck. I have done the work myself so I know every inch of that boat. I’ve installed two watertight bulkheads. I moved the diesel tanks forward so they are above the keel.

A shell of a S&S 34 yacht

The S&S 34 had been in a barn for 10 years before Dafydd started working on her. Credit: Dafydd Hughes

‘I did quite a bit of work on Class 40s, so I’ve applied some of the principles of that design to the S&S 34. So the galley is in the middle, and the nav desk is to one side. All the teak and brass has gone. Every pipe and wire is new. I have new sails, a new mast. All the deck fittings are new. I have sealed off the windows by taking the windows out and putting marine ply backed with GRP and epoxy. I also built a solid spray hood from GRP as well,’ explained Hughes, who is a Yachtmaster.

Finding the right boat for the Global Solo Challenge

Originally, he had planned to buy a Sigma 36 for the race, but a friend persuaded him to commit to the S&S 34.

There was a catch though. The smallest boat allowed in the Global Solo Challenge was 35ft. Organisers agreed to make an exception for Hughes due to the S&S 34’s offshore credentials.

The boat has certainly proved itself to be race ready. At Cork Week recently, Hughes and his crew won the Prince of Wales Cup in the Classics Class.

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Hughes admits he has little experience sailing singlehanded, especially in heavy weather, but is building up slowly. He is currently completing his 2,000 mile qualifier for the race (BENDIGEDIG 232037050, for those who want to track him).

‘I will be taking the boat out in a controlled manner to build up confidence in the boat and in myself. During those times, you have just got to sail conservatively. I am not concerned about solo sailing around the world; I’m quite happy in my own company, although I may have a different answer after I’ve done my qualifier, ‘ he said.

A man standing on the deck of a boat with his hands outstretched

Celebrating after finishing the work on the hull and the inside of the boat. Credit: Dafydd Hughes

Hughes aims to complete the Global Solo Challenge in 200 days, and aims to sail an average speed of 5 knots, covering around 120 miles a day.

In the 2018 Golden Globe Race, winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede finished the race in 211 days aboard his Rustler 36; Sir Robin Knox-Johnston finished the original 1968-69 Sunday Time Golden Globe Race in 313 days aboard his 32ft Bermudan ketch, Suhaili.

In search of speed

Hughes has added a bowsprit to Bendigedig and has a code zero and an A2 to race as fast as possible. He will also have weather routing, and has fitted a Simrad DD15 autopilot to the yacht.

He believes he is in with a chance of winning.

‘I will be leaving 11 weeks before the super zero class, so we’re going to be sailing in entirely different weather systems, and we should be in an entirely different hemisphere when they start. Because of the speed of the boat, I plan to stay on the shortest possible route on the rhum line and go as far south as I dare.’

Dafydd Hughes did most of the work on the S&S 34 himself ahead of the Global Solo Challenge

Dafydd Hughes did most of the work on the S&S 34 himself. Credit: Leia Morrison

He is also researching the best storm tactics for the boat, favouring warps over drogues; a method Australian circumnavigator Jon Sanders favoured when he completed numerous circumnavigations around the world in his S&S 34.

Hughes is ‘cautiously confident’ about sailing the Southern Ocean solo, believing ‘if you go to sea with an over confident mind then that is not a very good thing.’

All boats entered into the Global Solo Challenge must pass a minimum stability criteria, including adequate watertight bulkheads. As well as a 2,000 mile solo qualifying passage on the boat entered in the race, the 40 skippers who have entered must also have completed a World Sailing/ISAF Approved Offshore Personal Survival Training course.

Getting backing

Hughes started sailing when he was 45, buying his first boat – a Hunter Duet – just days after his first sailing experience.

His enthusiasm for sailing has also won him the support of Sir Robin.

The first sail after the refit work. The S&S 34 is one of the smallest boats taking part in the Global Solo Challenge. Credit: Dafydd Hughes

The first sail after the refit work. The S&S 34 is one of the smallest boats taking part in the Global Solo Challenge. Credit: Dafydd Hughes

‘It is always with great delight, when I hear of a past Clipper Crew member taking on further, challenging adventures in life. I have seen many past crew and skippers go on to reach new goals. This time it is ex-crew member Dafydd Hughes, completely committed to the ultimate sailing test, a solo circumnavigation, with his entry, Bendigedig, an S&S 34 in the Global Solo Challenge 2023/24,’ wrote Sir Robin.

‘I first met Dafydd in 2007, when he was a crew member of Glasgow in the 07/08 edition of the Clipper Race. Not only did he complete the race, but he did so as a Round the World Watch Leader, helping to guide Glasgow to an overall podium position. Since completing Clipper 07/08 Dafydd has gained his RYA Yachtmaster, and climbed Mt Blanc, now he’s off round the world again.’

A man in a black tshirt doing work on the deck of a boat

Dafydd Hughes is a Yachtmaster and was the second person to enter the Global Solo Challenge. Credit: Leia Morrison

Hughes estimates taking part in the Global Solo Challenge will cost in the region of £75,000, and he is hoping to secure £50,000 through sponsorship; so far he has pledges of £25,000.

Ultimately, Hughes is looking forward to the adventure of the Global Solo Challenge and the sole objective of sailing around the world solo in a 34ft boat.

‘The highlight of the race will be finishing, and going around Cape Horn solo; that is a huge milestone to conquer. That day I turn north will also be a pretty epic day,’ he noted.

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