ADVENTURE THE LONG WAY
Yachting Monthly|October 2021
Katy Stickland meets the skippers turning their backs on modern technology to take part in the slowest yacht race around the world - the Golden Globe Race
Katy Stickland

Just one man - Robin Knox-Johnston finished the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. His triumph led to the beginnings of the round the world yacht races we see today, and now fast foiling boats, specced to the max, circumnavigate in a mere 41 days. Many raised doubts (as they did with the original event) when Australian sailor Don McIntyre announced he would be running a 2018 Golden Globe Race - 50 years after the original - with skippers having to sail nonstop around the world using only the technology available to Knox-Johnston. This meant no GPS, satellite phones, weather routing, chartplotters or autopilots. Instead, the skippers would navigate their pre-1988 production long-keeled 32-36ft boats using a sextant and rely on HAM radio for weather information as well as a barometer. In the end, 18 skippers started the 2018 Golden Globe Race; five made it to the finish. Five boats were dismasted, with three sailors needing rescue from the Southern Ocean. Others endured multiple knockdowns, were pitchpoled in heavy weather or suffered equipment failure. All of them survived.

Next year, the Golden Globe Race will return, but with some changes. The ‘retro’ element of the event will remain but the fleet will start two months later - 4 September 2022 - in an effort to avoid entering the Southern Ocean too early. McIntyre admits the speed of the 2018 fleet took him by surprise after he ‘didn’t believe’ the modelling which showed a circumnavigation of 210-220 days. Race winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede finished in 211 days, 102 days faster than Knox-Johnston.

Rules on rigging sizes have been dropped and there will be no spar size restrictions, except for length. HAM radio will also be banned, replaced with a 100% waterproof HF SSB radio and weather fax for receiving weather charts. In 2018, there was controversy when it was revealed some of the skippers didn’t have HAM radio licences. This change has caused concerns, with some of the 2018 entrants highlighting difficulties in picking up Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) frequencies in the Southern Ocean due to the shrinking of the broadcasting network as more mariners rely on satellite communication.

The route is also different, ‘to make it less demanding on the boats,’ according to McIntyre. The 2022 skippers will have to keep the South Atlantic island Trindade to port and make a photo gate stop at Cape Town. This follows the Clipper route, which was taken by Bernard Moitessier in the 1968 race.

COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

Some entrants in 2018 had never sailed using their windvane steering; McIntyre has now introduced an extra 2,000 mile nonstop and tracked qualifying passage. Skippers must use their race boat and sail using windvane steering and celestial navigation.

Like 2018, the 2022 event has attracted an interesting mix of colourful characters, with some of the 2018 skippers returning including Ertan Beskardes, Mark Sinclair and fifth placed Tapio Lehtinen.

For Australian Sinclair, racing around the world in his bright orange Lello 34 masthead cutter, Coconut is as much about the race’s nautical history as it is about the competition. He has truly embraced the retro aspect of the event, using car tyres instead of a drogue, and fitting a Second World War US Navy Chelsea engine-room clock to the main bulkhead.

Last time, Sinclair, 62, retired at his home port of Adelaide after 157 days of sailing, having ‘gone rogue’, effectively abandoning the race in favour of cruising the coast of South Africa. Barnacles on the hull and a diminishing water supply meant it was unwise to push on into the Southern Ocean. He has now fitted a 200 litre bladder water tank.

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