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‘No one to complain to, no one to cry to, no one to laugh with. Just you’: Why it’s so freeing to compete in the Golden Globe Race

‘No one to complain to, no one to cry to, no one to laugh with. Just you’: Why it’s so freeing to compete in the Golden Globe Race
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The solar panels on her aging British yacht aren’t working, her last fresh orange is gone and, in the first week at sea, Susie Goodall took a rolling wave into the cabin, soaking everything.

But Goodall, the youngest competitor and only woman among the 12 (as of Wednesday) remaining skippers sailing solo, non-stop around the world in the Golden Globe Race is enjoying the company of dolphins, and her father’s fruit cake.

British skipper Susie Goodall. DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

“Just need the sun to make an appearance,” Goodall said in a satellite check-in on her run towards  Cape Verde this week. “All good here.”

The race is the first re-run and 50th anniversary of the historic Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. On July 1, 1968, nine men set out from Falmouth, U.K. Only one, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, finished, 312 days later.

The 2018 anniversary edition began with 17 sailors on July 1 in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. The race, like the original, is “very simple,” according to the official website: Depart Les Sables-d’Olonne, sail non-stop 30,000 miles (48,300 km) via the five Great Capes and return to Les Sables-d’Olonne some 260 days later.

The competitors are sailing single-handed and without assistance, in similar boats and using similar equipment that was available to Sir Robin, who circumnavigated the globe in Suhaili, a slow, sturdy 32-foot double-ended ketch. Boats must be designed before 1988. No electronic instruments or autopilot, only sextants and paper charts. No sophisticated, shore-based weather routing advice. No support crews. No cell phones. There are single sideband radios and VHF for communications, according to Sail-world.com, as well as as sealed box with a portable GPS, for emergency use only. Break the seal on the safety pack, and the race is over.

The idea is to recreate a “retro” race that harkens to the golden age of “one sailor, one boat.”

Goodall, at 28, is the youngest competitor. Jean-Luc van den Heede, of France, the oldest, at 72.

Goodall’s yacht is a Rustler 36 Masthead sloop named DHL Starlight, in which she completed a double Atlantic solo crossing in 2017. Goodall is an offshore and ocean sailing instructor. The first time she was in a boat was when she was three. She grew up sailing. As a kid, she raced Laser dinghies.

“Why do I race at the Golden Globe? Well, why not? It’s there to be challenged,” Goodall says in a pre-race YouTube video produced by her sponsor.

“Out on the ocean, all there is you, your boat and nothing but sea. No one to complain to, no one to cry to, no one to laugh with. Just you. Totally, totally alone.”

“The biggest risk is not coming back.”

Even with boats and equipment far more sophisticated than any available back in 1968, the sea is a dangerous place.

In 1998, 115 boats set sail in an annual race from Sydney to Hobart, in the ocean east of Australia — a two-day journey if all goes well.

A storm blew in with sustained winds greater than 65 knots (120 kilometres per hour) and gusts even stronger. In the end five yachts were lost, six crew members killed and more than 50 crew members rescued. Only 44 boats completed the race.

Only a year earlier, in 1997, Canadian skipper Gerry Roufs had died in the South Pacific during the annual Vendée Globe race. He had earlier told race directors that, “The waves are not mere waves, they are the Alps.” Wreckage from his yacht later washed ashore in Chile, but searchers never found his body.

The Golden Globe racers are facing nine months alone at sea, bone-crushing fatigue and trying to control their boats amid ferocious winds and waves in the Southern Ocean, all while relying on celestial bodies to pilot their course. They can’t restock at any point in the race. The sat phone is to be used for once-a-week check ins only with race headquarters. “Just think — no email, no texts, no news alerts for the better part of a year. But no family or friends, either,”

“No human touch. Just one person, one boat, one planet.”

The first solo circumnavigator was Joshua Slocum, of Brier Island, Nova Scotia. On April 24, 1895, at the age of 51, Slocum departed Boston on his tiny sloop oyster boat name Spray, and sailed around the world single-handed, returning to Newport, Rhode Island, three years later. He disappeared while aboard Spray in 1909 and was presumed drowned at sea.

The re-created Golden Globe Race has cut out virtually all post-1960’s technology, especially modern autopilot, a system that allows the sailor to sail and sleep at the same time.

Australian skipper Kevin Farebrother pulled out of the race on Sunday. According to yachtingmonthy.com, Farebrother had problems with his windvane self steering, which left him steering by hand. Exhausted, Farebrother, a fireman who had climbed Everest three times, reported to race officials he was hallucinating, and said sleeping below decks, was “like getting into the back seat of a moving car to sleep when no-one is at the wheel. As a result, I’ve had very little sleep over the past two weeks … My boat is now for sale!”

In a 2006 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Knox-Johnston said that, when he wasn’t battling 25 metre waves or fighting off sharks, he kept sane during the thousands of miles of ocean solitude by reading poetry and singing his favourite Gilbert and Sullivan songs. (According to the Telegraph, among his provisions was a case each of brandy and scotch.)

Goodall, for her part, has been experiencing strong winds, and days so cloudy she jokingly mused whether she would be disqualified if she missed the Canaries (it’s a mandatory mark on the course). The first couple of days, she said, “wasn’t so much fun.” She told yachtingmonthly.com that she plans to listen to music during the down times (the rules stipulate cassette tapes only.)

As of Wednesday, Goodall was in fifth place, behind the leading trio of Mark Slats of Norway, Phillipe Péche of France and van den Heede.

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