Ideas from the Golden Globe
Barry Pickthall takes a close look at the brilliant ideas utilised by solo sailors in the Golden Globe Race round the world event
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Back in July, when Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was watching 17 sailors set out from Les Sables d’Olonne to recreate his own record setting solo circumnavigation around the globe, he had this to say: “These are ordinary cruising boats that you will see in any marina which makes this event affordable to compete in and so interesting for many more.”
The fleet of production yachts includes the Biscay 36, Endurance 35, Gaia 36 – the long-keeled forerunner to the original Swan 36 – Nicholson 32, Rustler 36 and Tradewind 35. These are all rugged long-keel designs from the 1980s and earlier that were chosen for the current Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world race. Yet it’s what these skippers from 13 countries did to prepare their boats for the rigours of a nine-month solo voyage that I found so interesting. There were so many clever ideas and, in many ways, these rugged production yachts reflected the personalities of their skippers.
While some skippers went little further than giving their hulls a polish, lick of paint or adding extra stiffening to hull/deck joints and coachroofs, several went to the extreme of totally rebuilding their boats.
Hungarian-born American sailing instructor Istvan Kopar, who had already completed one circumnavigation, sold his house and just about everything else in his life, to take a standard 1986 vintage Tradewind 35 and completely restore it.
He and his team stripped off the outer gel coat to check for delamination and osmosis and added an extra reinforced polyester skin before re-gelling and fairing the hull. Unable to afford a travel hoist or crane, Kopar came up with the novel idea of resting the lower side of his boat on a mound of tires so that it lay at a convenient angle to lay up the resin on the upper side. They produced a remarkably fair and polished finish –but the restoration took the best part of three years.
Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen took his preparations to the extreme of removing the deck and stripping away both inner and outer layers on his 1965 S&Sdesigned Gaia 36. At one low point during the work he told me: “I have a plan B. If all else fails, I’ll paint the inside blue and sell her as a swimming pool!”
Lehtinen had the work done professionally last winter by Nordic Refit Centre in Finland, and to all intents and purposes she finished up as a new yacht. Tapio is conservative by nature and his boat Asteria, reflects this. He is quick to remind us: “I don’t like taking risks and know full well that to win, I first have to finish.”
The Gaia’s deck was scrapped because of water ingress in the balsa core and replaced with an identical shape using the foam core as a male mould, and the hull was refitted with four watertight bulkheads. All fittings and fastenings were replaced with new and Tapio has been nicknamed ‘The Stig’ for the racy helmet-shaped hood protecting the companionway. Her rigging was also the heaviest 1x16 wire in the fleet to guard against rig failure.
The downside for Kopar’s Tradewind 35 and Lehtinen’s Gaia 36 is that both boats are now heavier – considerably so in the case of Asteria, which had little more than 13in of freeboard when fully stocked – albeit 1in more than Sir Robin’s Suhaili 50 years before!
Rig set-ups was where solo skippers gave most thought and the variations are as varied as the motivations for entering this retro race. The fleet was divided into two camps: those with roller furling systems as opposed to hanked headsails and variations between the two, and those who had all control lines leading back to the cockpit rather than terminated at the mast.
The rules do not allow competitors to exceed the standard sail plan for each production boat, so they can’t have additions like bowsprits when there wasn’t one, taller rigs or the modern preponderance for huge roaches and flat-topped mainsails – and certainly none of the latest super fibre cloths or laminated sails; just ordinary Dacron and nylon. Instead it needed some clever thinking to maximise the sails.
Dick Koopmans, the Dutch designer who prepared Mark Slats’ Rustler 36 Ohpen Maverick, went to the lengths of running a computer model of the boat in a velocity prediction programme around the global course to assess likely weather conditions and design a variable sail plan to match them. He went the hanked sail route with headsail and staysail but with the addition of a wire headstay on which to hank a super large double headsail that could then be poled out either side for running through the North-east Trades and, if Slat’s nerves hold, in the Southern Ocean too.
Philippe Péché has a similar double headsail, and like Slats decided to dispense with roller furlers altogether.
“I may lose some time changing sails but it gives me the opportunity to fly bigger sails than those with roller furlers.” The Frenchman explained. Péché led the early stages of the race, but an emergency phone call following a broken self steering and tiller in huge seas meant he is now relegated to the race’s Chichester Class. The question remains whether he and Slats will share the same enthusiasm when they are in the freezing extremes of the Southern Ocean fumbling with bare hands to release hanks on a small, very exposed foredeck – especially since Slats forgot to take sailing gloves.
Fellow Frenchman Antoine Cousot sailing the ketch rigged Biscay 36 Métier Intérim, was another to go without roller furling on his headsail. Following self-steering problems from the outset, he was forced by extreme tiredness to stop in Lanzarote to rest and make repairs where he admitted to race organisers it had been a mistake to go without roller furling.
“I feel very exposed when I am at the bow changing sail.”
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, at 73, the oldest and most experienced solo circumnavigator in the fleet, has taken another tack completely. After two winters of extensive trials in the Bay of Biscay, he concluded that his Rustler 36 Matmut was sailing with at least one reef in the mainsail for much of the time, so he downsized the entire rig. Reducing masthead height by 70cms allowed him to select a smaller, lighter mast section and reduce the size of his standing rigging. This in turn has made the boat stiffer, hobbyhorse less into head seas and made the sails more manageable. He also went for full roller
furling and has all halyards and control lines leading back to the cockpit. “I have bad knees so don’t want to be scrambling around on deck all the time, especially in the Southern Ocean,” he explained. During the chase down through the South-east Trades however, he messaged Race HQ that he found his smaller running sails had put him at a disadvantage against Péché’s rival Rustler PRB.
Tapio Lehtinen virtually rebuilt Asteria, his Gaia 36 Water ingress in the balsa-cored deck of Asteria meant it had to be completely stripped off
Will the smiles remain when hanking on headsails in the Southern Ocean?
Antoine Cousot went without roller furling on his headsail – and later admitted that was a mistake
Having lines led to the mast means a lot of scrambling about on deck
Mark Slats has a double headsail that can be poled out either side of
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede downsized his entire rig, trading outright performance for longevity and ease of use