Katy Stick­land talks to the Golden Globe Race skip­pers as they come to­gether to hon­our Sir Robin Knox-john­ston’s cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion an­niver­sary

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Katy Stick­land

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

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