GOLDEN GLOBE RACE
Katy Stickland talks to the Golden Globe Race skippers as they come together to honour Sir Robin Knox-johnston’s circumnavigation anniversary
We join the Suhaili Parade of Sail to talk tactics and preparation with the skippers before the race
All around, you could hear the cracking of sails as the Golden Globe skippers angled their boats to the breeze to take advantage of the near-perfect conditions off Pendennis Point in Falmouth. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air: moments earlier, Sir Robin Knox-johnston had fired a cannon from the deck of Suhaili to officially start the SITRAN (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience – the race’s chosen charity) Challenge Race to Les Sables d’olonne in France, the official host port of the Golden Globe Race.
The day before, at the skippers’ press conference, a smiling Sir Robin had told me he was making the gunpowder mix himself, which had necessitated a temporary smoking ban on and in the vicinity of his Bermudian ketch, Suhaili. The same smile was evident when, from one of the press boats, we saw Suhaili in full sail, beating a path towards the Golden Globe Race fleet, Sir Robin beaming while his hand rested lightly on Suhaili’s tiller.
Fifty years earlier, he had also left Falmouth, although a lack of wind meant he had to motor clear of the harbour, setting out to do what many people considered impossible and even suicidal – to circumnavigate the world, solo and non-stop.
Sir Robin later described his last few days in Falmouth as ‘chaotic’ with final checks and saying goodbye to friends and family. He found welcome relief in the Chain Locker bar, part of the thenmarine Hotel where he stayed both before and after he finished the race. Sir Robin also carried a part of the pub on his 312-day voyage, having ‘stolen’ the bar’s barometer. ‘It was about the only sophisticated thing I had on the boat,’ he recalled.
Ironically, the original was later stolen from Suhaili but at the skippers’ press conference, Sir Robin presented a replica of the ‘A Lovely day for a Guinness’-branded barometer to the current landlord of the Chain Locker pub, with the warning, ‘Don’t let someone else steal it!’
The atmosphere amongst the 17 Golden Globe skippers alongside the pontoons at Falmouth Haven was also, at times, chaotic in the days leading up to the start of the SITRAN Challenge and the Suhaili Parade of Sail, which was held before the start of the challenge race to honour Sir Robin’s Sunday Times Golden Globe Race start and his subsequent historic achievement.
Some were busy applying the official race stickers to their hulls and sails while others were loading up with supplies, dealing with engine problems or having to change furling lines to meet the strict rules of the Golden Globe retro race. Italian skipper Francesco Cappelletti’s Endurance 35, 007, was not even in Falmouth, and was instead being trucked to Les Sables d’olonne, although he did make it to the mandatory medical conference that all the 18 entrants had to attend.
The Suhaili Parade of Sail was also the first chance for the skippers to eye up each other’s boats. Sitting in the cockpit of his Rustler 36, Lazy Otter, British entrant Ertan Beskardes told me he was keen to get to the start.
‘I am always worried that someone is going to come along and tell me something isn’t right with the boat, so at least if
I am at sea they can’t get on to me,’ he reflected, having already had to replace his Dyneema lines and fit a new AIS transponder alarm as screens are not allowed.
‘Everyone is trying to get something done with their boat and everyone has got either something missing or they have problems.’
Apart from safety gear, the skippers must only use equipment that was on Suhaili during the original 1968-69 race, which means no electronics or any computerbased devices. There are some exceptions such as LED lights and headsail furling. All the boats have to undergo inspection in France to make sure they meet the rules ahead of the start of the race.
Beskardes, who runs his own military tailoring and regalia business, is one of the few truly amateur sailors taking part in the race. He began sailing at the age of 12 in the Bosphorus before leaving Turkey for
There are a few hot favourites, a few gung-hoes and a few cruising guys: any one of them can win this race
Bournemouth where he continued sailing all the year round with his wife, Arzu and his children, first in a Drascombe Cruiser Longboat, then a Parker 235 cruising yacht before buying a Jeanneau Odyssey 33.
‘Already, I feel very privileged as an amateur sailor to be allowed in this event because there are a lot of professional sailors here so I am actually riding on this wave freely and really, I have no pressure on me. I just tag along and they allow me to be around,’ said the 57 year old.
Berthed next to Beskardes is arguably the most experienced skipper in the race, Jean-luc Van Den Heede – the man many consider to be the father of solo sailing in France.
The five-time circumnavigator and Vendée Globe podium finisher has, like Beskardes and other entrants, Susie Goodall, Philippe Péché, Uku Randmaa and Mark Slats, chosen a Rustler 36. He bought Matmut in 2015 and has completely refitted her.
He said he was torn between choosing a Gaia or a Rustler
‘I think a Gaia is a little bit faster but I think the Rustler is a little bit safer. But I am not sure of my choice, you know, we are 18 boats and they are going the same speed, so we will see. There are six Rustlers taking part so that will be a race within a race.’
Aged 73, Van Den Heede is also the oldest skipper taking part. He was 23 when the original race happened and eagerly followed the progress of the
nine entrants, dreaming about taking part in something similar.
‘When I heard that they make a race, I say, well, this time I am too old but I will try. Last time I was too young. I was not born at the right time,’ he quips.
Van Den Heede does not see his previous circumnavigations as an advantage. ‘It is a race completely different than the Vendée Globe, the BOC [Challenge Around Alone Race] or going round the wrong way [Van Den Heede holds the record for the fastest solo westabout non-stop circumnavigation against the prevailing winds and currents]. We are going to leave slowly, we are going to sail slowly, we have no weather forecast, we have no computer – we go back to 1968,’ he said, adding that he had to take extra celestial navigations lessons, having forgotten how to take star sights.
While some skippers are just planning to make it round, others are very much seeing it as a race to the finish line.
For French professional racer Philippe Péché, the Golden Globe will be his last race and will mark the end of his offshore career, which has included two Jules Verne Trophy wins with Bruno Peyron.
The 57 year old has ensured his Rustler 36, PRB, has no furler, so he has the ability to ‘change my sails and choose the sails that I want for the conditions’. The race will also be his first solo outing.
‘I am in it for the winning, that’s what motivates me. I am not a big adventurer, I love being at sea but adventure is not my thing so racing, pushing the boat, will be what motivates me and keeps me involved and hopefully I won’t make too many mistakes,’ said the Breton sailor, who signed up for the race three years ago and considers Van Den Heede his biggest rival.
‘I have been racing all my life so it is in my blood. I have prepared the boat for me to race so it is set up more as a racer rather than an adventurer, but I need all those tweaking things. I need to keep myself busy
We have no weather forecast, no computer – we go back to 1968
with playing with my sails, playing with my mast, playing with performance. If I don’t have that,
I will be lost. My mind will be lost,’ added Péché, who believes he is in with a strong chance of winning.
Like the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, people have already picked their favourites, but chairman of the retro race Don Mcintyre believes history could repeat itself.
‘In the first race, Robin Knox-johnston was considered to be a total outsider with no chance of winning. What happened? He was the only one who finished. I can tell you now the same thing could happen here. There are a few hot favourites, a few gung-hoes and a few cruising guys who are just going around for the adventure: any one of them can win this race,’ said the former BOC Challenge Around Alone Race skipper, who was inspired by the original Golden Globe Race. The first boat he built was a ferro-cement replica of Suhaili.
‘The interesting thing is some of the entrants have spent a huge amount of money but for me, I want to tell people that you don’t have to do it that way. You can do it inexpensively: £70K and you can do this race and at the end of it, you have a beautiful world cruising boat which you can keep or sell on.’
He believes mentally preparing for months alone at sea is one of the key components for winning.
‘It is hard to get to the start line; you need passion, you need dedication. It will be hard for these guys and Susie [Goodall] to get around the world because it is psychological. It is their own personal reason for wanting to do it that will get them around.
‘You also need a bit of luck and it will all come down to planning, execution and preparation. So far, the entrants are looking good,’ he added.
As I watched the sails of the 17 Golden Globe boats get smaller and smaller on the Falmouth horizon, I wondered how many of the skippers are up to the rigours of taking a family cruiser into the depths of the Southern Ocean. One thing is certain – the next nine months will be unlike any sailing they have done before, and it will take all of their courage to make it to the finish line.
RIGHT & BELOW: Frantic preparations to meet the race’s strict rules on sponsorship and equipment ABOVE: Abhilash Tomy is sailing a Suhaili replica
ABOVE: There was no wind when Suhaili left 50 years ago
BELOW & RIGHT: The canon fires and they’re off!
ABOVE: Four French skippers are in the race, including Antoine Cousot
BELOW: Ertan Beskardes is one of the few amateur sailors racing