Golden Globe Race – then and now.

9 Feb
Robin Knox-Johnston finishing the first Golden Globe Race in 1968
I am really looking forward to the Golden Globe around-the-world yacht race that starts on July 1 this year. It’s a brilliant idea, I only wish that I had thought of it, and judging by the number of entries it seems as if many others also saw it as a great idea. Thirty eight people signed up to do the race, but from the race website it looks like that number has been whittled down to 22, still a healthy fleet.

The Golden Globe race celebrates the 50th anniversary of the very first single-handed, non-stop around-the-world yacht race which was named the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race after the British newspaper that (presumably) put up some money to name the event. Nine sailors started that race, but only one finished. Robin Knox-Johnson lapped the planet in his 32-foot double-ender Suhaili in a stately 312 days.

The premise of the upcoming race is to sail around the world just as if you were doing it 50 years ago. In other words navigating by sextant, eating canned food, no auto pilot, no electronics and most definitely no iPad loaded with movies and books. Books are allowed, the old print and paper kind only.

So here is my question. Do you think that the voyage was more of a challenge 50 years ago than it’s going to be for the sailors competing in the upcoming race? While the boats for the new race are certainly better engineered and probably better designed and built, there is still a size limit of 36 feet and the boat has to be full keel with rudder attached to the aft end of the keel. There are also certain things that can’t be replicated like the out-of-date foul weather gear they wore back then as well as clothing. No one is making the sailors wear scratchy wool sweaters and leaky boots and so one would think that the race 50 years ago was much harder. Well here is what I think. I think that the upcoming race is going to be much harder than the one five decades ago and there is a simple reason for my thinking. These modern day sailors know better and that’s going to make it a more difficult challenge.

Let me explain. I once saw a Facebook post where someone posed the question; “would you live in a house in the woods for a week without any electronic devices in return for $2,000?”  99% of those who answered said that they would not, that they could not. Unplugging for a measly seven days was unthinkable. (By the way I was one of the one percent who would most definitely take the money.) Fifty years ago you had no idea that in the future you would be able to plot your position on a chart with pin-point accuracy without having to do a thing. Just switch the GPS on. This is information that these sailors will know while they hang on trying to bring the sun down to the horizon with their sextant. They will have this information in the back of their minds as they drag out the sight reduction tables to get one of three LOP’s (Lines Of Position) on the chart that intersect to form a cocked hat in the middle of which is your position. They will also have this information as they go days without seeing the sun and have to dead reckon their speed and course, taking into account currents and other vagaries, to come up with a rough idea of where they are.

Think about weather. There will be no information other than to look out the hatch to see what’s out there. Their barometer will be the most useful instrument on board as a rising glass predicts lighter winds and a dropping glass could spell trouble. While the sailors are staring at their barometers they will know that with just a click of a button they could get the very best weather information along with routing information, but that’s not allowed. You see I know better. I am fairly sure that I could unplug for a week especially if there was a $2,000 cash incentive but could I go for almost a full year without streaming a movie or downloading a book?  I am not sure, in fact I don’t think so. We are all so used to living in a modern world that being deprived of some of its conveniences would drive the average person crazy.

Robin Knox-Johnston wrote a terrific book about his circumnavigation called A World Of My Own and in it he recounts what kept him motivated when things got challenging. He was sailing for “Queen and Country.” What an awesome idea and when things got tough he just toughed it out knowing that was what would be expected of him. Do you for a moment think any of the competitors competing in the upcoming race are going to be sailing for the pride of their country? There are three American’s in the race. Can you imagine them, when things get difficult and  you know for sure that it’s going to get difficult, that they would just suck it up and say to themselves that they were doing it for Donald Trump and the good old US of A? Not sure about that. You see RKJ didn’t know about any of the modern conveniences of the future and was content and satisfied with what he had. It’s going to be a mind game for those competing in the next race to adopt a sixties mentality and push out of their mind the fact that a Red Bull could be quite useful at times.

Suhaili looking a little tired toward the end of the voyage

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


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  3. John Allin-Grand River Ohio

    I suspect that most entering are naturally tough, both physically and mentally, and awesome sailors to boot. I’ve met a few Ostar guys…they’re a different breed. Singlehanded racing is not for the faint of heart…these guys are jumpin’ at the chance to really get it down to a “one on one” race. My hat’s off to all of them.

  4. Gus van Driel

    Wow, I am surprised by these negative comments. No one is forcing these sailors to take on this challenge. If safety and convenience is your priority in life I respect that as I do too. However, as Captain Tony admits: “I truly admire those with more guts and knowledge than I that sail around the globe.” That pretty much sums it up. Some people rise to a challenge and meet it head on; others turn their back and will never know it they were good enough. That’s what is called “FREEDOM” and and we should all cherish that rather than berate it.

  5. Captain Tony Ciaramitaro

    I truly admire those with more guts and knowledge than I that sail around the globe. I do feel that doing so without the benefit of today’s technology is irresponsible. Weather patterns are much more active today. The chance of being lost at sea therefore greater. Think of the loved ones you will leave behind. Why? To brag that it was done like the old days? You want to race around the world? Great! Go for it! Do it smart. Be safe. Use everything that is available to get you back home alive. I will admire you more knowing you did everything you could to safe.

  6. jaco

    A brilliant idea? Really? If these guys don’t survive their trip through the Southern Ocean in the equivalent of an old shoe, you may have second thoughts about wishing you had thought of it.
    Offer enough money and some people will play Russian roulette with a fifty year old revolver.

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