Harken Derm

Let dreamers fulfill their fantasies

Published on July 24th, 2018

The 2018 Golden Globe Race started for 17 skippers from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sunday Times Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world Race in 1968-69.

However, a notable twist to 2018 format is how entrants are restricted to using the same type of yachts and equipment that were available in that first race, with the premise being to keep the race within financial reach of every dreamer.

But is it safe to let dreamers fulfill their fantasies, and to do it with boats and equipment shunning the progress occurred in half a century? Sailing coach and frequent Scuttlebutt commentator Joe Cooper chimes in on the subject.


Without progress, not much happens. In fact we might all still be in the trees. But on the other hand, there is no one holding a gun to the competitor’s head and sailors are perfectly free to undertake any passage they feel themselves fit to.

Do we really want the sailing world to emulate the situation in the EU where people with perhaps no sailing skills are telling sailors what they can and cannot take to sea? I think not. Do some people undertake what others might view, rightly or not, as really dumb passages? Of course, we are humans.

For me, I am not jazzed about jumping out of a perfectly good plane with just the VMG kite slowing me down…

A read of the competitors actually reveals the bulk to be fairly capable. The stand-outs include former Whitbread sailors, crews from the big French cats in the Jules Verne, multiple solo Transatlantic passages, in the OSTAR and otherwise, and several have circumnavigations prior to the GGR under their sea boots.

Jan Luc Van Den Heede, VDH as he is known, will be undertaking his 6th lap in this race. But my favorite is the guy from Hungry, (that hotbed of offshore solo sailing) who completed a one stop circumnavigation in a self-built 31-footer, with no GPS, sextant only and paper charts and deciphering wx by Morse. Crazy? Why? It is “Too Dangerous’? According to whom? How you stop him, or her and by what right?

I have read Blondie Hasler’s biography and in the section on the first OSTAR, there were many who thought the idea of taking small sailing boats across the ocean was madness. The Observer paper and the Royal Western Yacht Club came under pretty hot fire for abetting “this madness”.

In that race, now THE Grandfather of solo racing, there was only one boat with a LOA greater than 30 feet. The first Mini Transat had people shaking their heads. As did, I recall, the first Trophy Jules Verne. “My god, they are taking a 100-foot multihull into the Southern? Madness…”

If I recall reading Robin Knox Johnston’s book and all the others (all those that lit MY sailing adventure fire), I thought “what a great caper”. I’ll bet many thought the early passages in small boats across the ocean undertaken in for instance, Sopranino, 19’, were madness. Likewise (now Sir) Robin Knox Johnston contemplating a circumnavigation in a 32-foot boat? Well, look what at the “progress” that wrought. BOC, Vendee globe, The Race, Jules Verne Trophy……

And frankly, all the foregoing races are now the almost universal purview of the French. In contrast, the GGR has in fact the widest spread of nationals I have ever seen in any long distance solo event; any event short of one-design worlds in fact.

There are sailors from Russian, Palestine, Finland, Estonia, Ireland, Norway, Brazil, and India of all places, another hot-bed of solo global racing. Who knew? Actually, I recall India was where RKJ built Suihali. The skipper from India is a pilot in the Indian Navy and has one lap to his credit already, so hardly a rookie or crazy, though I reserve on that one – Navy pilot and all…

The fact that sailors are withdrawing is of course testament to one of the oldest rules of the sea, which the continuance of any voyage is at the discretion of the master.

As for small boats circumnavigating, many have done it before. I count an Alberg 30, Vertue 25’s, and an Aussie woman (Kay Cottee) did a lap in a 35-footer. Jon Saunders, an Aussie, is up to about ten laps I think, mostly across the Southern Ocean in an S&S 34.

A woman from Bristol RI, sailing a Southern Cross 28, has made 1.5 circles. In the second one she diverted to the Panama Canal after damage, again exercising her wisdom as the master on the spot. A Mini 6.50 (at least one) has made a circumnavigation. About two years ago Joe Harris did one in a Class 40, with a couple of stops, trying to beat the Chinese guy who had established the reference time for such a boat.

Certainly, there is the “what if I die” card? I have no doubt this is in the back of the minds of all these sailors, for crazy some may think of them, stupid they certainly are not. Well at least they were doing something that nurtured their soul. How many of us sit in traffic, ride the bus or subway day after day and think “there has to be more to it than this?”

There is, I think, a widening gap in in the US, versus, say in particular, France, of the sense of what life means. The trade-offs between the almighty dollar and some unique and distinct adventure that can leave an indelible mark on our lives.

Sailing is one of the few, possibly the last, activity available to humans where they can go and do what they bloody well want to and not have someone tell them they cannot.

I am prepared to take the arrows when I say, anyone who thinks these people are tyros, crazy, unskilled or in some other way unsuited to the adventure they have taken on for themselves, then I invite you to try sailing a 35-footer, solo, from Newport to BDA with a sextant and making your own weather maps on the way. The Bermuda 1-2 starts in June 2019.

As for questioning organizer Don McIntyre for running such a retro-event, good luck with that. He has spent the last 30 odd years since his BOC adventures running expedition passages to the Antarctic. In 2010 he and a few mates duplicated Bligh’s passage across the south pacific in a duplicate boat to Bligh’s, with the same kit as Bligh.

No, I applaud the competitors and say good luck to ’em. Let progress be a spectator this time.

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Background:
The 2018 Golden Globe Race started for 17 skippers from Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday July 1, 2018, with the inaugural solo non-stop around the world yacht race expected to take 9-10 months to complete.

The event marks the 50th anniversary of the Sunday Times Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world Race in 1968-69 when rules then allowed competitors to start from ports in northern France or UK between June 1st and October 31st.

A notable twist to 2018 Golden Globe Race format is how entrants are restricted to using the same type of yachts and equipment that were available in that first race, with the premise being to keep the race within financial reach of every dreamer.

The rules allow for one breach of the strict solo, non-stop un-assisted circumnavigation without the aid of modern electronic navigation aids regulations that make this Race unique. However, those that do gain assistance move down to the Chichester Class as if, like Sir Francis Chichester in 1966-67, they have made one stop during their solo circumnavigation.

Those who breach the rules for a second time are deemed to have retired from the GGR Event and the organisers have no responsibility or obligation to them.

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