GOLDEN GLOBE RACE: Back in the Atlantic, Attrition, Bending the Rules

GGR tracker

There’s certainly been no lack of drama in this year’s “remake” of the first non-stop round-the-world Golden Globe Race of 50 years ago. As one would expect the attrition rate has been high, with dismastings, rescues at sea, injuries, including one broken back, and very thankfully (so far) no fatalities. Of the 18 sailors who set out on this adventure back in July, only eight are still sailing. Or wait… that may be seven now, as word comes this morning that Susie Goodall, on DHL Starlight, has just set off her EPIRB. Bummer!

Amazingly, two GGR boats have already turned the corner at Cape Horn and are back in the Atlantic Ocean with their bows pointed north toward the finish line. At this same point in the original race, Robin Knox-Johnston and Bernard Moitessier were still in the neighborhood of Australia and New Zealand, with all the Pacific Ocean in front of them. However this turns out, I think the race has been a great success. As I’ve been following it, however, I’ve raised my eyebrows a few times at how the race organizer, Don McIntyre, has meddled with things, granting dispensations to sailors who have violated the rules and changing the rules in mid-race.

The biggest benefactor has been the race leader, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, who early last month, while still well west of Cape Horn, suffered a knockdown on his Rustler 36 Matmut that seriously damaged its mast. Consequently Van Den Heede broke the race rules and placed two satellite phone calls to his wife, ostensibly for moral support. Later, after he concluded he could repair his mast at sea and keep on racing, Van Den Heede asked McIntyre to forgive his illegal phone calls, and McIntyre promptly acquiesced, handing out an 18-hour time penalty instead of a disqualification.


Jean-Luc on Matmut. At age 73 he is by far the most experienced solo sailor in the fleet, with four podium finishes in the Vendee Globe and the old BOC race, among other achievements

At the time Van Den Heede was 1,500 miles ahead of his nearest competitor and an 18-hour penalty seemed quite meaningless. Those suspecting McIntyre might be prejudiced in favor of Van Den Heede, a former professional ocean-racer, had only to scroll along the GGR website to a passionate screed McIntyre posted just two weeks earlier to find proof of this. The post in question, in which McIntyre hailed JL VDH (as he is known) as a veritable ocean-sailing god, is embarrassingly biased.

“[JD VDH] has ultimate EXPERIENCE,” gushed McIntyre. “He knows how to do things and why, so gets on with it. No one else is on this level. It shows. If you look closely it really shows! His boat preparation and gear choice is perfect.”

The entire post runs on like this, except for a throw-away disclaimer at the very end that does not disclaim much: “Of the 18 who lined up at the start none is better than the other. They are all equal in my mind, just some are faster!”

To justify his favoritism, McIntyre had only to point to a precedent he established earlier in the race when he gave Istvan Kopar an 18-hour penalty instead of disqualifying him after Kopar stopped and anchored in the Cape Verdes. Though in that case the motivation was seemingly pity rather than favoritism, as Kopar was at the back of the fleet and pleaded stress and exhaustion as mitigating circumstances.

More recently there’s been a fuss over how GGR competitors are keeping track of their positions, which theoretically should be done only with a sextant. Solo sailor Jeanne Socrates, currently out on another non-stop circumnavigation herself, is in regular radio contact with several GGR sailors (as is allowed under the GGR rules), and she reported in a recent interview with Michael Robertson of Good Old Boat that they are receiving daily position data, derived from the public GGR website tracker, via SSB radio contacts on shore. Robertson asked GGR race management about this and got stonewalled. Then just this week Don McIntyre issued a pronouncement that a) denied that GGR sailors were not using their sextants; and b) changed the rules to make it explicitly illegal for sailors to get tracker position data from any outside source.

Which seems a bit hypocritical, as I’ve noticed McIntyre in his weekly sat-phone calls with individual competitors sometimes himself shares position data and weather-routing advice as a matter of course.

Jeanne Socrates

Jeanne Socrates aboard her boat Nereida, a Najad 380. She completed a solo non-stop circumnavigation in 2013 and set out again on another in October

Thuriya rescue

GGR boat Thuriya after being dismasted in a storm 1,900 miles southwest of Australia in September. Her skipper, Abhilash Tomy, suffered severe back injuries and was evacuated on to a fisheries patrol vessel. Also diverting to assist was GGR sailor Gregor McGuckin, whose boat Hanley Energy Endurance was dismasted in the same storm. He was able to put up a jury rig, however, and continued to Perth without mishap

Lepage boat

GGR sailor Loïc Lepage also abandoned his boat Laaland after it was dismasted in October about 670 miles southwest of Perth. Another dismasted GGR boat, Olleanna, sailed by Are Wiig, was able to make it to Cape Town under jury rig in August


GGR sailor Mark Sinclair aboard Coconut arrived in Adelaide, Australia, just today, as Sinclair has been forced into port to replenish his water supply. This disqualifies him from the racing Golden Globe class and reduces him to “Chichester” status (though if I were him I’d ask Don McIntyre for an 18-hour penalty instead). Another competitor, Igor Zaretskiy, on Esmeralda, is also putting into Australia to haul out and scrape off an amazing barnacle farm that has all but disabled his boat. He too will be demoted to the Chichester class, which will leave just five GGR sailors who are properly in the race

In all fairness to Don McIntyre, I don’t really have a big problem with his administration of the race. Cutting slack for both Van Den Heede and Kopar, for example, was the right thing to do in both those circumstances. (Though it is probably a bad idea for him to act as both color commentator and as principal race officer.) The real problem, as I’ve said all along, is that the race rules themselves are just silly and contradictory. It’s little wonder McIntyre has had to fiddle with them, and hopefully in the next edition of the race they will be more rational. Given the world we live in now it’s just not possible to “rerun” the original Golden Globe, but it should be possible to run an event in the spirit of that race that properly incorporates modern technology and is open and accessible to amateur sailors. (Indeed, there’s an argument to be made it should be open only to amateurs. Letting super-experienced ex-professionals like Van Den Heede into the field does seem a bit unfair.)

Meanwhile, as I said, it’s been a fantastic race. As McIntyre has recently pointed out, Van Den Heede’s great lead is now at risk, as Mark Slats, in second place on The Ohpen Maverick, has been closing the gap between them. Van Den Heede’s damaged rig is a serious liability when sailing to windward and there’s a good chance that Slats, a young lad on an undamaged boat, will catch him before the finish line.

There was also a nice race for third place going on between Susie Goodall and Uku Randmaa on One and All, but that alas is ended now as the most recent information has it that Susie’s boat has been pitchpoled and dismasted in a furious storm. Presumably, with her EPIRB flashing, she plans now to abandon it.

And let us not forget all the other folks out there! In addition to Jeanne Socrates, Randall Reeves is out again on his second attempt at a Figure 8 voyage, circling both Antarctica and the Americas all in one go. Plus there are many Longue Route sailors scattered across the planet, most notably Suzanne Huber-Curphey on Nehaj, just now coming up on Cape Horn.


Mark Slats aboard Maverick. He suffered a broken rib during a knockdown earlier in the race, but it hasn’t slowed him down

Susie Goodall

Susie Goodall on DHL Starlight. She reportedly suffered a concussion when the boat pitchpoled and must wait two days before the nearest ship can reach her


Randall Reeves aboard his boat Moli has just recently passed Cape Horn

Suzanne Huber-Curphey

Suzanne Huber-Curphey aboard her boat Nehaj. She leads the Longue Route fleet and like some others reportedly had a very serious barnacle problem that she solved the old-fashioned way: by getting in the water and scraping them off by hand. Her husband Tony Curphey, aboard Nicolas Deux, is also in the Longue Route fleet, just now passing New Zealand

The best place to keep track of all this action is on the Longue Route tracker, as it shows positions for all the GGR sailors, all the Longue Route sailors, and all the “associate” sailors, like Reeves and Socrates, who are doing their own non-stop circumnavigations. It also shows relative positions for both Moitessier and Knox-Johnston in the original race.

LR tracker

Bernie and Robin at this point in the last race, courtesy of the Longue Route tracker

Kiwi Spirit II

Stanley Paris aboard his second Kiwi Spirit

The only one they’ve left out is Stanley Paris, who recently left Florida, as quietly as possible, on his fourth attempt at a non-stop solo circle of the globe. This time he’s hoping he at least makes it past Cape Town.

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5 Responses
  1. Michael Robertson, Good Old Bo

    Great summary and editorial, Charlie. I think in the world we live in, it might be possible to duplicate the 1968 race, and would require only that race officials report only racer-reported positions to the public. But for what point? To prove sextant navigation is possible? I think you hit it on the head with the following comments and I hope this is the direction of the 2020 race, if that does indeed take place. “…it should be possible to run an event in the spirit of that race that properly incorporates modern technology and is open and accessible to amateur sailors. (Indeed, there’s an argument to be made it should be open only to amateurs. Letting super-experienced ex-professionals like Van Den Heede into the field does seem a bit unfair.)

  2. Damon Gannon

    I don’t think it is practical to exclude certain people from the competition (professional sailors). Where do you draw the line? How much experience is too much? Just have clear, fair rules that are enforced evenly and transparently. And as you suggested, separate the functions of race promoter and referee.

  3. Pete Hogan

    Super commentary Charlie, especially considering the doubts you had about this venture. I think Don is doing his best to keep as many entrants in the race as possible. By the way my friend, unfortunate Gregor McGucian had to abandon his boat and is back in Ireland. His boat, tracker still working is drifting towards Australia. Two other boats also abandoned as I write.

  4. Charlie

    @Damon: You may be right about that. But Jean-Luc really did overpower the rest of the fleet early on.

    @Pete: Gregor did a great job! Nothing to be ashamed of getting knocked out of this race. As I wrote elsewhere (in the print magazine), I think sailing the Southern Ocean may be harder now than it was in 1968. Average wind speeds and wave heights have been increasing for some time. Remember in 1968 no one got knocked out in the Southern Ocean (though, granted, many fewer made it there).

  5. Dave

    Charles, Stanley Paris is currently (Jan 9, 2019) tied up to a dock in St. Augustine, FL. Or, at least Kiwi Spirit is. Looking like he is still Florida stuck.

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