Today, every ocean has been sailed, every bay charted, and speed records are broken annually. So what is left for the sailor who quests to find true adventure? Well, go back in time of course! On July 1st 2018, 19 sailors will start a solo non-stop race around the world, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen for 50 years. The unique twist? Competitors are only allowed to use 1960s technology. Which means no GPS, radar, AIS, electronic charts, satellite phones, computers, electric auto-pilots, etc. If you want to take photos or videos, you better dig through the basement for some 35mm film and Super 8 film stock.
The race marks the 50th anniversary of the original Golden Globe Race (GGR), which has become something of a landmark in sailing history. In 1968, nine sailors set off to circle the globe without stopping; only one of them made it. Robin Knox-Johnston became a knight of the realm in the UK for his achievement. Another competitor, Bernard Moitessier, who could have won, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by continuing on for a near second lap of the world. Another competitor, Donald Crowhurst, sent out fake position reports while floating off the coast of Brazil and, upon threat of being found out, committed suicide.
The original race so captured people’s imaginations that when the 2nd GGR was announced in April 2015, organizers were bowled over with applications. Barry Pickthall, the race media coordinator, told me, “I thought we would be lucky to get more than 9 entries, the same as the original race.” The organizers optimistically set a limit of 25 entries, but in less than 2 weeks they had to open an additional five slots. “At one point we had 15 paid up entrants on a waiting list,” Pickthall told me, “And 150 more around the world who showed serious intent. In retrospect, we should not have worried about numbers.”
Pickthall thinks much of the appeal of retro racing has to do with the accessibility, “This is not a Volvo [which costs $15m to enter] or a Vendée Race [which costs $10m to put together a competitive entry]. We showed that you can enter this race and sail around the world for as little as $100,000, and there is a growing number of people with a solo circumnavigation on their bucket list who have accumulated that level of spare cash in their lives.”
It’s one thing to tinker with old boats and quite another to sail one around the world in a race that has a 1 in 9 finishing rate. Each competitor has their own motivations for signing up. Istvan Kopar, the only American-flagged racer, told me it comes down to a sense of self-sufficiency, “In the Vendée Globe their boats are like space shuttles, they have land support, minute-to-minute communication, all kinds of analysis. In this respect, the skipper is an operator as opposed to being a self-sufficient sailor.”
For Palestinian-American competitor Nabil Amra it was a matter of personal growth, “I’m preparing to start a new chapter in my life that has more to do with adventure. The GGR came along at just the right time to turn an incessant daydream into reality”
As a spectator, one of the greatest appeals of retro racing to me is its relatability. Most competitors have paid their own way, some even downsizing or selling off their homes to do so. The boat designs are those that you might see at your local marinas. To me, this makes the GGR 2018 truly an everyman’s race, democratizing sailing by pitting man and not technology against the elements.
Fiona McGlynn is an award-winning freelance writer, who recently cruised from Canada to Australia. This summer, she’ll be at the start line in France, reporting on the 2018 Golden Globe Race. Fiona also runs YoungandSalty.com a site dedicated to millennial sailing culture.