An interview with the everyman who never stopped believing
This Vendée Globe race, solo, non-stop, around the world, is bigger than any before, multinational in every sense. Of the thirty boats here, 20 are brand new. It’s fantastic that yacht racing continues to enjoy major commercial backing and everywhere there are press releases from retained PR companies keeping us up-to-the-minute on the intricacies of each campaign.
Except one. Steve White’s. Since taking part in the BT Challenge ten years ago, he’s dreamed of this race. Many of us do, but he didn’t just dream, he believed with incandescent passion. He remortgaged his house to buy his Open 60, Josh Hall’s oldGartmore, which came ninth in the 2000-01 Vendée Globe. Is he single, or divorced as a result of this consuming passion? No. He’s married to Kim, mother of his four children and she’s believed in him, every step of the way.
‘Yes, she must be mad,’ said White.
I spoke to Steve as he and his team battled below amid the carnage of tools, parts and spares, to prepare his yacht, now namedToe in the Water, for the voyage. I nearly suggestedSteptoe in the Watermight be more suitable. Instead I congratulated him on his Corinthian entry. Laughter rang round the cabin.
‘I’ve been called all manner of things,’ chuckled White. ‘Corinthian is one of the more polite.’
How did it feel to be on the verge of fulfilling a dream?
‘It’s pretty good,’ he understated. ‘I could do with somebody sticking their finger in the workings of the clock for a few hours but we’ll get there,’ he said, wiring up the generator and eyeing the fuel tank that needed plumbing in.
‘It’s all a bit of a shock. We nearly turned around and went home just outside here,’ said Steve, before explaining that their potential sponsor had to pull out at the ‘eleven and a half-th hour.’
‘That was that. Psychologically I thought it was easier to turn round now than come into the race village and go through all hype then still not get the money and have to turn round and go home not having started the race.
‘We had a backer who’d agreed to help top things up but we thought if we can’t fulfil our part of the bargain and provide sponsorship, there’s no reason he should fulfil his. We gave him a call and he said “Keep going, I’ll sort something out. I’ll call you back.” He never called back but I didn’t realise the Iridium had gone down so I kept going, miserable as sin.
‘At 0200 I got about seven text messages and three voicemails from Kim who was beside herself, “We have the money!” I had a five-minute conversation with Kim as I got reception just off the coast and she was absolutely ecstatic. I lost reception then so I knew I had the money but I didn’t know where from. Since then I’ve come in here and it’s back to reality, getting the boat up and running.
‘If it doesn’t rain tomorrow I’d like to paint the deck because it’s like glass. A well known French boatbuilder came onboard and before saying anything he scuffed his shoe on the deck and turned around and said “This deck will kill you.” I hasn’t killed me yet after two years but I’d quite like to paint it before it has the chance.
‘Patrick the rigger’s finishing today so the rig’s straight, the sails all fit. North has organised my sail repair kit. Mark’s finishing up the electronics. Kim’s going to do the food – the rest of the food arrived literally five minutes ago so that will all be packed. Conrad’s here helping us for nothing and he’s sorting out a package of spare blocks, helping the riggers. I’ve got to go through my old spares, get them on, then we’re good to go.
‘Pretty keen to get going now, after ten years,’ said White.
I wished him good luck, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from YM and said I’d see him at the finish line.