Heroes from the world of Solo Sailing

Published on November 22nd, 2022

The inaugural Global Solo Challenge 2023-24 seeks to be a budget-friendly solo, non-stop race around the world. For boats from 32 to 55 feet with an IRC rating below 1.370, a pursuit start over 11 weeks begins in A Coruña, Spain, with the first boat to return deemed the winner.

In this report by Dave Proctor, he asked a few notable sailors who were their sailing heroes, and who inspired them in their endeavors. He also got an update from them with advice for the entrants to the 2023 Global Solo Challenge.


Mike Golding O.B.E
As well as being a previous IMOCA and FOCA World Champion, Mike Golding holds numerous world records and awards – including the prestigious “Emile Robin” and “Royal Humane Society” awards following the successful rescue of fellow solo sailor Alex Thomson from his sinking yacht in the remote southern oceans.

Mike said that his yachting heroes (and there are many) would include Robin Knox Johnson, Chay Blyth, Peter Blake, Florence Arthaud, and Ellen MacArthur.

Sir Charles ‘Chay’ Blyth was the first man to sail solo non-stop around the Globe against the prevailing winds.

Peter Blake was a New Zealand winner of the Whitbread Round the World race. For three years he held the Jules Verne Trophy, and was a successful America’s Cup winner.

Florence Arthaud, sadly died prematurely after a freak helicopter crash whilst filming a reality show. During her life, she won numerous races, including the Route de Rhum, and the Transpac Race. She also held the record for the fastest crossing of the North Atlantic.

Dame Ellen MacArthur, is a British-born offshore sailor, who in her career, won races and records, including at the time, the fastest solo circumnavigation.

“While I have retired from mainstream competitive sailing – I am still very much involved with the sport and I focus on making our sport more sustainable and accessible,” said Golding. “This includes being Chair of the Sustainability Commission at World Sailing, sailor representative on the WS Oceanic Events Committee, Patron of the RYA/BM Green Blue initiative, and President of the Little Ship Club in London. I also offer private coaching to sailors who are progressing into the shorthanded sport.”

His words of wisdom for the GSC sailors would be – “one day at a time.”

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede
My colleague Margherita has already interviewed this intrepid and inspirational sailor, so rather than repeat his achievements here, let us look at who inspired him: Marcel Bardiaux, Alain Gerbault, Robin Knox Johnston, Bernard Moitessier, Vito Dumas.

I must admit that I did not know the name Marcel Bardiaux, but he was a sailor, writer, boatbuilder, wartime POW (he escaped twice) and indeed a kayaker and kayak builder who in his lifetime sailed 400,000 nm. He eventually retired from sailing after completing 40 Atlantic crossings, the last of which when he was 88 years old. Bardiaux managed to convey his enthusiasm and love of the sea in the books that he penned.

Jean-Luc’s second hero was another French sailor/author – Alain Gerbault – who also happened to be an accomplished tennis player. Gerbault circumnavigated the Globe, taking from 1923 to 1929 to complete the journey, oh and en-route, he won the Panamanian Tennis Championships. His books were classics of the period.

Moitessier was the French sailor who, arguably, could have been the winner of the original Golden Globe, but instead, he did not succeed – or rather wished – to head north to the finish line and preferred to continue circumnavigating the globe until he reached French Polynesia where he lived for a number of years (apparently he made this choice out of rejection of the modern world).

There cannot be many sailors that have had a tango named after them, but Vito Dumas the Argentinian sailor did. In the 1940s, during World War II, Dumas circumnavigated the Globe, in the most rudimentary of boats with only three stops.

Jean Luc, when asked what he was up to said “I am going to cruise two weeks in Corsica on a sailing boat.”

Pete Goss MBE
Former British Royal Marine, Pete, is probably best known for his heroic rescue in hurricane conditions of a fellow competitor, Raphaël Dinelli, during the 1996-97 Vendee Globe, round-the-world race. There is a rumor that Dinelli came from his life raft holding a bottle of champagne for his savior, but I do not know if that is a true story or not.

Pete has completed over 250,000 nm, having previously competed in six transatlantic and two round-the-world races, as well as other challenges such as Polar Exploration and kayaking.

As Pete says, “Life hangs on a very thin thread and the cancer of time is complacency. If you are going to do something, do it now. Tomorrow is too late.”

Pete is the author of the best-selling book about his yachting adventures ‘Close to the Wind.’

His heroes are Sir Francis Drake, Captain Cook, Ernest Shackleton, Ernest ‘Blondie’ Hasler, and Éric Tabarly.

‘Blondie’ Hasler was a WWII hero, and later a yachtsman, who was credited in designing the earliest commercially available wind vane. He was a co-founder of the OSTAR races and competed in the early events in his boat Jester, which quite uniquely for the time, was rigged, so that the skipper did not have to leave the shelter of the central cockpit.

Eric Tabarly was a French Naval officer and sailor, who had incredible racing success, particularly winning two OSTAR races.

Pete reports that, amongst many things, he has recently designed, built, and just launched an aptly named boat ‘Oddity’ to explore the coast, upper reaches, rivers and canals of Europe.

His advice to the entrants in the Global Solo Challenge: “Focus on safety, give the Southern Ocean a huge amount of respect, and take time out to enjoy and reflect on the special moments of your adventure.”

MORE: For previous reports on solo sailing heroes, click here.

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