Extreme Yacht Racing
With Mike Golding, whom we welcomed to our October meeting, we continue to attract some of the biggest names in yachting. Mike is one of the world’s most successful offshore racing sailors, with 250,000 racing miles under his belt. He’s crossed the Equator 25 times and rounded Cape Horn six times. He’s the first person to have sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in both east and west-about directions (1993/4 and 2000/1), and holds many sailing records.
A former career fire fighter, Mike turned to professional sailing following his win in the BT Global Challenge – a crewed, round the world race – in 1996/7. In 2006 he made international headlines by giving up his own prospects of winning the Vendee Globe (a solo around the world race in which he has competed 3 times) to rescue fellow sailor Alex Thomson whose yacht was sinking in the Southern Ocean. Mike was awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for bravery.
Mike’s started his talk with a promotional movie designed to wow potential sponsors. It certainly wowed us. The kind of racing he does is a very high tech and big budget activity, and getting the necessary sponsorship is almost as challenging, one suspects, as battling round the Horn. There was a time (in say Slocum’s, or Moitessier’s day) when single handed round the world yachting was a solitary, lonely, activity. Now, as Mike made clear, it is the opposite – the networking, team building, and project management before the races and the communications during it make it more suited to extroverts. For everyone involved (including sponsors) it is an unforgettable experience.
The 60 foot (plus 6 foot bowsprit) Vendée Globe boats are not of fixed design. Mike’s boat, the Gamesa, displaces a mere 8 tonnes, of which 3 is the lead bulb in the hydraulically controlled, 45 degree canting, keel. To achieve this low hull and rigging weight, it is constructed almost exclusively of carbon fibre – and the attention to detail in weight management is so strict that food (nutritious though unappetising!) is carried dehydrated. A memorable picture showed a mess tin containing baked beans (real ones, from a tin), some scrambled egg (not real, made from powdered egg) and a piece of toast made from 74 day old bread. This represented a celebratory meal to mark a milestone. It put in mind the recently released film “the Martian” in which the hero also puts aside a few “real” meals, to consume when there’s something very special to celebrate. Long distance solo sailing has its parallels with astronautics.
Are Vendée Globe boats fast? Exciting? 30 knots is not uncommon, 34 can be achieved at times. 400 miles is a normal day’s run, Mike’s record is 474. Around 26,000 miles is covered at an average speed of 10 to 14 knots. There is an unrelenting grind of hard work, against a background of noise and discomfort. Sleep is grabbed in very short bursts. Mike has a car alarm on a timer to get him up, but he does of course wake before it goes off. Not for many, this.
The Vendée Globe is run every four years and is hugely popular in France. Some 3 million people visit the start before each race to admire and stroke the boats, and (if men) twang the rigging appreciatively. It was nice to hear about the involvement of primary school children – both in France and the UK – where a class visit the boat and are given an opportunity to participate – by for example, following the race online and preparing gifts to be unwrapped at key moments. They seemed to be mostly cards and hats – there are strict limits of course on weight!