In the wake of history

Just completing the qualifying voyages for next year’s Golden Globe Race, which at this stage will feature a strong Australian contingent, is proving a tough challenge.

Photography by Sunday Times Golden Globe Race

04 July 2017


In just under a year, on 30 June 2018, as many as 30 sailors will set out from Plymouth to recreate history at the start of a solo circumnavigation in small traditional long keeled yachts using just paper charts, a sextant and wind up chronometer to navigate by.

The Race marks the 50th anniversary of the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and the remarkable achievement of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in becoming the first man to complete a solo nonstop circumnavigation.

50 years on from the original race when only one of the nine starters managed to finish, the dramas being faced by competitors during their 2,000 nautical mile proving trials show that the challenges remain just as great.

Six months after Australian entrant, Shane Freeman was capsized and left dismasted 600 miles from Cape Horn, Frenchman Loïc Lepage lost his liferaft, when it exploded from its canister stowed on deck during his proving voyage.


It was a heart-stopping moment, but after returning to France to replace the raft and review the position and fastenings, he has set out once more to sail solo to the Azores and back.

Freeman’s liferaft, stowed in a similar manner on deck, was also damaged, and the Australian also lost the use of his wind vane self steering when the line connected to a drogue became tangled round the blade.

Frenchman Lionel Regnier, who has made 23 previous transatlantic crossings and never retired from a race before, also suffered self-steering failure when racing his Rustler 36 One and All in this year’s windswept OSTAR transatlantic Race from Plymouth to Newport. The damage forced him into early retirement and long hours of hand-steering back to France. By all accounts, Lionel had a torrid time, and after a week of reflection has decided to retire from the GGR, sell his boat and devote his energies to supporting fellow Frenchman Jean-Luc Van Den Heede.

Then, just days ago, American based Palestinian entrant Nabil Amra told of the trials he experienced aboard his Contessa 32 during a voyage out into the Atlantic to gain his 8,000 sea mile qualification. “It was a much rougher trip than I let on but it hasn’t shaken me off the GGR horse. I’m still in it. I had a Shane Freeman incident with the wind vane and my drogue… Then had to hand sail the last 550 miles with a sodden cabin and clothes, spoiled food, no heat or self steering gear. It was a real test of mental and physical endurance. I’m now working on having my phone and camera, destroyed by the conditions, salvaged to get the footage off them to make a short video of the voyage.”

Amra’s choice of yacht for the Golden Globe Race, a Biscay 36, is currently being refitted at the Falmouth Boat Co in Cornwall and with this experience, he is likely to call for additional alterations.

And spare a thought for Nérée Cornuz, the 27 year old Swiss/Italian currently sailing his engineless Lello 34 solo from Cape Town has suffered broken rigging and problems with his home made windvane self steering enroute to the Mediterranean.

Don McIntyre, the race founder says of the dramas, “These events have been a wake-up call for competitors. The 2018 GGR is no more a walk in the park than the original event back in 1968”.

“It will be a race of attrition testing even the fittest and best prepared. Wind vane self steering systems are much better than they were, but are still vulnerable to damage, and those who don’t carry spare parts are likely to be early casualties. Liferafts stowed on exposed parts of the deck have also proved at risk, and some skippers are now adapting cockpit lockers to protect them better and still have them ready for instant use. Skippers will now be re-looking at every part of their boats to reassess what parts could break and plan how to fix them when conditions are at their worst.”

Decision time for Skippers…choose your boat

At the one year start deadline, skippers must nominate the boats they will sail in. British entrant Robin Davie, a veteran of two BOC Around Alone race campaigns, and Brazilian solo circumnavigator Izabel Pimentel have both bought Rustler 36 class yachts, raising the number of these Falmouth built boats to 6.
Britain’s Susie Goodall, who also has a Rustler 36, has just completed a double Atlantic crossing and is heading to Falmouth to have her refitted for the Race.

Ireland’s Gregor McGuckin and Arsène Ledertheil from France have each bought Biscay 36 yachts, making this the second most popular class with 4 in the Race. Russia’s Igor Zaretskiy has selected the well found Bellure Endurance 35 for his voyage, joining Britain’s Ian Reid and Patrick Phelipon from France in a class of three.

Some of the original entrants have dropped out but their places were eagerly filled by those on the Wait List. This has left a very strong list of 26 entrants including new names Tapio Lehtinen from Finland, Commander Abhilash Tomy, KC from India, Izabel Pimentel from Brazil, Mark Slats from the Netherlands, and Mike Smith from Australia. 58 year-old Smith is a boat builder and former project coordinator for Boatspeed, builders of Dame Ellen Macarthur’s record-breaking trimaran B&Q/Castorama, and the Volvo Ocean Race yacht Movistar.

Very experienced in hi-tech composite construction, this South African born sailor is using his expertise to create a modern replica of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s 1968/9 race winner Suhaili. He has utilised the latest CAD design system to first fair the lines of this ERIC design, then laser cut the frames. Construction is taking place in a barn outside his home near Newcastle, NSW and she is now ready to be strip-planked and sheathed in epoxy. Mike’s plan is to compete the hull later this year and have it shipped to Cape Town for fitting out before sailing her to Plymouth for the start.

Two other Australians, Mark Sinclair from Adelaide and Kevin Farebrother from Perth, are also preparing their boats for the race.

It also gives the opportunity for four more to fulfill lifelong dreams of sailing around the world. “The Race is limited to 30 entrants, and since we have received more than 150 enquiries, we don’t think it will be long before our list is full again” says Don McIntyre, the GGR Chairman.

The Golden Globe Race by the numbers

The course: 30,000 miles with 4 rendezvous gates
26 entrants (Max entry list is 30)
Competitors represent 14 countries
America (3) Australia (3) Brazil (2) Britain (3) Estonia (1) Finland (1) France (6) Ireland (1) India (1) Italy (1) Netherlands (1) Norway (1) Palestine (1) Russia (1)
Oldest competitor: Jean-Luc van den Heede (FRA) 72.
Youngest competitors: aged 27: Roy Hubbard (USA) Susie Goodall (GBR) and Nérée Cornuz (Italy/Switzerland).

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