Mark Slats wants to drop out less than 50 miles from the lead because he cannot receive detailed weather reports via HAM radio anymore.
The Golden Globe Race (GGR) published the following tweet by Australian-born, Dutch sailor Mark Slats on UTC 11:33 on January 15, 2019, “THINKING OF RETIRING FROM IF CANNOT WEATHER SAFETYFIRST”.
The GGR and race chairman Don McInyre declined to explain the tweet. The Golden Globe Race representatives are the only persons who can call Slats via satellite phone according to race rules. GGR did confirm speaking to him and said he was “fine” and not in distress. Instead, they directed Slow Boat Sailing to Mark Slats’ twitter feed and his team for comment. The Mark Slats facebook page operated by his shore side supporters wrote on UTC 17:30 January 15, “We would like to inform you that Mark’s latest message is NOT about his health or about water. The GGR informed us that Mark’s message ‘thinking of retiring from the race’ is about not receiving weather journals via HAM network anymore.”
The Golden Globe Race recently clarified their rules on “weather routing” which is banned in the retro race. Skippers can obtain weather reports via SSB or HAM radio, but they may have been getting more detailed advice than race organizers envisioned. Moreover, penalties are being imposed by government authorities for HAM radio operators who communicate with unlicensed GGR entrants.
At UTC 17:45 the GGR Facebook page wrote:
“Mark Slats can no longer use his HAM RADIO call sign which means he can now only transmit on MARINE HF SSB frequencies. Most of his previous communications have been by HAM radio. This will mean either joining a Private Maritime Net. (there are a few options) for weather or using official Govt. Maritime forecasts, or listen into any English Ham radio weather forecasts. This is what many other GGR entrants without a HAM radio License have done. GGR does not get involved with any radio traffic, or weather reports at all, which is up to the entrant to organize. GGR requires all entrants to have a Licensed MARINE HF SSB radio and station license and the entrant to have a Marine Radio Operators license only. GGR does monitor all strong weather with winds over 40 kts and if appropriate provides both forecasting and routing information to assist the entrant to sail safely.”
GGR confirms that they had nothing to do with the suspension of Slats supposedly bogus radio call sign. Others have researched the HAM call signs of 1st place Van Den Heede and 3rd place Uku Randmaa of Estonia. The call sign of the former is not registered where it is supposed to be, but Randmaa’s call sign is valid. The GGR says it will not penalize skippers without HAM call signs in the 2018 race, but it will in the 2022 edition of the race.
The radio and satellite communications has been an ongoing headache for race organizers who have banned computers and modern communications to simulate conditions of the 1968 Golden Globe Race except for race only communications and distress calls. Below are three problems that have come out of the GPS and Satellite phone bans:
1.Jean Socrates, who is vying to the oldest woman to sail solo-nonstop around the world, has accused Golden Globe Racers of receiving their positions via HAM radio. Socrates has said she has been in calls with or speaking to Mark Slats, Susie Goodall, and Uku Randmaa. The GGR declined to penalize any racers because they did not request their positions, which are available on the internet by way of the race tracker, but not visible to skippers. The GGR’s position is that it cannot penalize racers for overhearing their GPS positions over the radio. The racers cannot use GPS without incurring penalties. They are supposed to use celestial navigation offshore. Socrates disagrees with the GGR’s ban on GPS navigation according to Good Old Boat magazine.
2. Sat phone calls by two-time Jules Verne trophy winner for the fastest non-stop circumnavigation in history Phillip Peche of France disqualified him from the race. Five-time circumnavigator and race leader Jean Luc Van Den Heede served an 18-hour time penalty for calling his wife after he was pitchpoled and planning to abandon the race. He later decided to press on with the time penalty for the banned phone call. Hungarian-born American sailor Istavan Kopar will serve a time penalty for similar infractions of the satellite phone policy. Satellite communications is cheaper to set up and is usually a more reliable way to obtain weather information offshore than SSB radio. The first racer to drop out, Turkish-born, English sailor Ertan Beskardes, said his inability to call his wife on the satellite phone was his reason for retiring early. Beskardes plans to race again in 2022.
3. The GGR has been providing weather warnings to skippers when they face storm conditions, but that puts the race in the awkward position of acting as a weather router. It opens the race up to criticism rightly or wrongly if their weather advice does not prevent disaster in the case of Susie Goodall’s dismasting in the Pacific Ocean for example.
In all three cases, the 2018 racers have far more information and communications ability than the original GGR 1968 skippers. Thus, the re-enactment seems to have failed to recreate the same conditions that the 1968 skippers faced in terms of technology.
Initially, it looked like that Slats would retire in the Canaries to the east where he was headed earlier in the day. Since the “retiring” message, he has turned north towards the Azores to follow first place racer Van Den Heede in the hunt for a first-place finish.
Eighteen 32-to-36-foot boats entered the solo-nonstop sailing race. Only five competitors remain. The race leaders are about two weeks away from the finish of the 30,000 nautical mile race.
The boats did sail through the Canaries on the way down. If Slats stopped there, he would be short of a circumnavigation. For a circumnavigation, a boat must cross antipodes which are two points on opposite sides of the globe connected by a straight line through the center of the Earth. The first antipodal point is off the coast of France close to the finish. Those points near France are on the opposite side of the earth of the waters south of New Zealand.