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

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents - Oh­pen Mav­er­ick

– page 28

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

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