The Brutal Southern Ocean Record for the 2018 Golden Globe Race

The 2018 Golden Globe Race rules are based on the success of a sample size of one in 1968. The bigger Southern Ocean sample size of thirteen 32-to-36-foot yachts in the 2018 contest is more disturbing.

With the 2018 GGR for 32-to-36 foot sailboats far from over and five out of eighteen starters left, its statistics since the competitors have entered the Southern Ocean are brutal. By my count thirteen competitors made it to Cape Town or further east in the Southern Ocean. Only five of those competitors are in the race and five have been dismasted. Only three of the Southern Ocean racers retired voluntarily.

I will use Cape Town, South Africa as the start of the Southern Ocean portion of the race. By my definition, boats that make it to Cape Town or beyond are said to have made it in the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is the sea that includes the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans below the continents north of Antartica. This stormy body of water has claimed the masts of five Golden Globe Racers so far.

Brutal

Caption: Susie Goodall has a “cuppa” what looks like Chilean wine in ambulance that carried her to hospital for a checkup after her arrival in Punta Arenas, Chile on December 16, 2018,  following her dismasting the previous week. Gregor McGuckin’s abandoned yacht HANLEY ENERGY ENDURANCE photographed by GGR skipper Mark Sinclair as he sailed passed the yacht a month after the yacht was rolled and dismasted in the South Indian Ocean.

Let’s compare that with the 1968 Golden Globe Race. Only four of the 1968 competitors sailed to Cape town and beyond. Two racers retired, Bill King dropped out in Cape Town and Bernard Moitessier sailed to Tahiti for 1.5 laps of the Southern Ocean. None of the 1968-1969 GGR’s four competitors lost their masts. Two sailed up the Atlantic. Nigel Tetley’s Trimaran sank in the North Atlantic.  Only Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in his 32-foot, full-keel mono-hull sailboat finished in 312 days. One sailor, Donald Crowhurst, who did not enter the Southern Ocean died of an apparent suicide during the race, but no man died during the race from a sinking boat or being washed overboard.

Thankfully, we have had no deaths so far by day 170 in the 2018 GGR. French sailor Loic Lepage fell to the sea when trying to climb a cargo ship during his rescue. Englishwoman Susie Goodall had to catch a swinging crane to get aboard her 190 meter rescue ship. Abilash Tomy needed back surgery after being washed overboard on a knock-down, clinging to the top of the mast, and falling to the boom after the boat righted itself soon before his 32-foot sailboat was dismasted. He was taken off his boat in a stretcher. Three more GGR 2018 boats are still in the Southern Ocean west of Cape Horn at the time of writing. We do not know if all those three remaining boats and skippers will make it northeast of Cape Horn and out of the Southern Ocean before exiting the race.

The 1968 race provides a sample size of one for 32-to-36-foot full-keel, monohull sailboats doing well in the Southern Ocean.  (Yes, there was only one 32-to-36-foot boat that sailed the Southern Ocean in the 1968 Golden Globe Race.) The larger sample size of the unfinished 2018 Golden Globe Race does not even compare well to the Golden Globe Race Chairman Don McIntyre’s cherry-picked sample of the worst years of the Vendee Globe solo nonstop race which runs almost the same course at the 2018 GGR.

I think my episode 19 Slow Boat Sailing Podcast guest, Don McIntyre, loves re-enactments. On my podcast, he told of his open boat re-enactment of the Captain Bligh voyage in the Mutiny on the Bounty. He told me that he planned to do a re-enactment of the open boat voyage of Shackleton, but cancelled the attempt when some other team did it. What we love about the GGR is not that its a re-enactment. It is a race of monumental proportions. Its a solo-nonstop race in the Southern Ocean for sailboats accessible to most cruising sailors.

Reforms for 2022 running that surely would make the boats safer at little additional costs to the entrants are the following:

  1. unlimited satellite communications
  2. electronic autopilot backups
  3. electronic chart plotters and GPS
  4. unlimited weather routing

The Vendee Globe has all those things and that extremely dangerous race has a much lower rate of rescue and dismasting than the 2018 GGR.

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