Friday, March 9, 2018

Reviving the Voyage for Madmen

Robin Knox-Johnston on his return to Falmouth in 1969 on board Suhaili
Last week, we saw The Mercy, a movie about Donald Crowhurst, the amateur sailor who lost his mind and his life in the first Golden Globe single-handed non-stop race around the world in 1968/69. The story of the nine men who took part was first told in an excellent book by Peter Nichols titled A Voyage for Madmen.

In July, a new Golden Globe Race will be staged to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first. This replay of the first race is scheduled to leave from Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France on July 1, 2018. A total of 23 boats from 14 countries are expected to be on the start line.  
When the nine sailors left Falmouth between 1 June and 31 October 1968, it was not known whether it was actually possible for one person to sail alone around the world without stopping. Two years earlier Sir Francis Chichester had completed a solo circumnavigation, but his was with a stop of almost two months in Sydney, during which time he was able to refit the boat and replenish provisions. Yet, all nine set out with the dream of being the first. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who won the first race, was the only one who completed it. French sailor Bernard Moitessier was favoured to win, before deciding not to turn north at Cape Horn towards the finish, but to continue west to Tahiti instead “to save my soul”, creating the legend of the free spirit. Donald Crowhurst’s multihull was found adrift but his body was never found. Knox-Johnston donated his prize winnings, a considerable sum of £5000, to Crowhurst’s widow. All others retired from the race.
Moitessier aboard Joshua
In recognition of the Golden Globe’s history, and to mark the 50th anniversary of Knox-Johnston’s departure at the start of the 1968/9 race, there will be a week of celebrations in Falmouth from June 9-14.  On the 14th of June, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston aboard Suhaili will lead a parade of sail in Falmouth to mark the day that Sir Robin set out to win the original Golden Globe Race 50 years before. Taking part in the parade will also be Joshua, Moitessier’s yacht in the original race, and Chichester’s Gipsy Moth IV, which sparked the globe girdling craze, together with the entire fleet of 2018 Golden Globe Race yachts.

Suhaili in 2016 after extensive refit
At 13:45, the time Sir Robin slipped his mooring to start 50 years before, he will fire a cannon from the deck of Suhaili to start the GGR SITraN Challenge charity race to Les Sables d’Olonne with Joshua marking the leeward end of the line. Suhaili and Joshua will also compete with a fleet of other famous yachts. Their arrival in Les Sables d’Olonne will mark the opening of the 2018 Golden Globe Race Village two weeks before the start. Why France?  Because the uncertainties around Brexit made it impossible to secure the sponsorship needed to host the event in Britain. The start is predicted to be a bigger event than the start of the Vendee Globe race that sees around a million people visit the French port in the two weeks leading up to the race. Given that this event is taking place at the halfway point of starts of the Vendee Globe, the venue is perfectly suited to host it. The juxtaposition of the Corinthian Golden Globe event with the technologically sophisticated Vendee Globe is also an interesting one and fits within the French spirit of sailing.

A week-long festival is planned in Falmouth before the fleet
heads to Les Sables d’Olonne for the start on July 1.

Competitors in the Golden Globe Race 2018 are limited to the same style of yachts and equipment that were available to competitors in the first race. They are restricted to plastic production boats between 32 and 36 feet (9.75-10.97m) in length that have full-length keels with rudders attached to the trailing edge designed before 1988. It also means sailing with no modern technology using only paper charts, wind-up clocks, a sextant and the stars for navigation. No smart phone, iPads, laptops, not even a calculator will be aboard. They will hand write their logs and cook with kerosene. They will speak with the outside world only when long-range high frequency and HAM radios permit. They will take photos on film. Even music must be on cassette tapes. No autopilots, only wind vanes. The yachts will be tracked 24/7 by satellite, but competitors will not be able to access this information unless an emergency arises, when skippers can break open a sealed box containing a chartplotter. There is no rating system; the first over the line wins. It is a very affordable challenge and intensely satisfying dream.

Entry into the Golden Globe Race 2018 has been restricted to the following 22 yacht types:

Westsail 32 • Tradewind 35 • Saga 34 • Saltram 36 • Vancouver 32 & 34 • OE 32 • Eric (sister ship to Suhaili) • Aries 32 • Baba 35 • Biscay 36 • Bowman 36 • Cape Dory 36 • Nicholson 32 MKX-XI • Rustler 36 • Endurance 35 • Gaia 36 • Hans Christian 33T • Tashiba 36 • Cabo Rico 34 • Hinckley Pilot 35 • Lello 34 • Gale Force 34.

Interestingly, reproductions of both Suhaili and Joshua are now being built as one-design classes for the planned 2020 race.

The competitors will sail 30,000 miles non-stop, alone and unassisted. So who are the 20 sailors who have registered to date?  From the GGR2018 website:
The number of entrants for the Race is limited to 30. The 20 provisionally registered and paid-up entrants have a remarkable range of backgrounds and sailing experience. Professional sailors and adventurers dominate but they also include an engineer, foreign exchange trader, hydrographer, pilot, tailor and university lecturer. All have considerable short – and single-handed sailing experience, one having logged five solo circumnavigations. They are from Australia (2), Estonia (1), Finland (1), France (4), Ireland (1), India (1), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), Norway (1), Palestine (1), Russia (1), UK (3), and the USA (2). Their average age is 47. The youngest is 28; the oldest, 72. More are looking to announce their entries before the start from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1, 2018, but they and their boats must first meet the strict entry conditions, which include 8,000 sailing miles and 2,000 miles solo.”

Susie Goodall is preparing her Rustler 36 Starlight
One big difference in this year’s version of the race is that a female sailor is taking part. Susie Goodall will be sailing her Rustler 36 Starlight in which she completed a solo 8000 mile Atlantic loop to qualify for the Race.  She is smiling and appears on track while others are still fitting engines and building boats...the race to the start is ferocious. “It was finally splash day. After 8 months in refit this little one went back to the water. So many modifications have been made to get her race ready,” Susie commented in social media. #GGR2018

Several competitors’ progress with refits has been hampered by the recent bad weather in Europe and the US.  Frenchman Jean-Luc van den Heede, the oldest at 72 who has completed five circumnavigations and will be sailing his Rustler 36 Matmut, is favoured to win the 2018 Golden Globe Race. An additional 18 entrants have now retired from the race.

Jean-Luc van den Heede aboard his Rustler 36 Matmut

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