Goodbye GGR, Hello World
Samuel Dunn’s 1794 General Map of the World or Terraqeuous Globe shows a Southern Ocean (but meaning what is today named the South Atlantic) and a Southern Icy Ocean.When asked why I want to sail around the world on my own for 9 months my reply has rarely referred to racing: First there is the adventure of it all. I’m an advocate of adventure – as children adventures are where we learn about fear, and how to moderate our reaction to it. But it’s important this is developed into adulthood. FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER. A good adventure gets us up close to that paralysing fear that makes you want to curl up and hide. You have to punch through that feeling when the wind drops after the storm and you know you have to go to the mast to hoist that rag to keep the boat driving hard through a confused sea. You learn a lot about yourself in this place. I think every politician needs to understand that kind of fear, especially today with the worrying rise of populism. Ideally every citizen should as well. Without an understanding of fear we are horribly vulnerable to manipulation. Going out and scaring yourself silly – having an adventure – and seeing how you handle it isn’t just for crazy people. It’s actually a very sane and sensible thing to do.
Circumnavigating via Southern Ocean alone, in a slow 35ft boat, is an extraordinary challenge. Very few people have ever done it – perhaps less than ten or so in boats under 40ft. Such a voyage demands a specific approach. There is a huge amount to consider. I enjoy this immensely. It has to be about the process rather than the destination (thinking too much about the finish line on such a long trip is a recipe for madness). I have to take pleasure in completing simple jobs and whatever each day has to offer. Exploring the philosophy this project demands is big motivation for going. Call it craftsmanship if you like, but this term has gone a bit stale (it’s too often been used to advertise overpriced mass-produced tat). The philosophy required is better summed up as long-termism. This is a quality sadly absent in much of today’s commerce and culture, a renaissance is long overdue.
How can I contemplate being alone for 9 months? I often respond to this with the quote from Robin Williams –
“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”
The solitude I can live with. No doubt on some days I will struggle with it, on others I will find solace in it. When I’m alone on my boat I often think of those people who are excluded from the communities they live in, for whatever reason, whether it’s because of their race, sexuality, or simply for their beliefs. My isolation is by choice, theirs is foisted upon them. Their predicament is much worse than my own. I sail for all of them. Although I’m alone I have always thought of this voyage as a celebration of humanitarianism.
This is all well and good, but with the failure of my sweat shop idea last month I have had to face up to the grim reality that unless I work incredibly hard these next 18 months and fund this circumnavigation myself I’ll be going nowhere! I’ve just taken on a restoration project in Devon with that in mind – conveniently the client only wants to work on the old farmhouse for just one or two weeks a month – so I’ll have just enough time to carry on with the refit of Black Sheep. Hopefully I’ll be able to supplement the income from this by pre-selling some bottles of Cape Horn sea water. As you may have guessed this new reality has made me re-examine my reasons for wanting to do this trip. It has also made me take a hard look at the the budget…
What’s become startlingly obvious is that by far the biggest expense of my voyage is the GGR itself. The race fees are £8k. If I get any form of sponsorship – like Monitor Windvane providing me with an emergency rudder (which fantastically they have) – then I have to give another £8k to the organisers. Then there is compliance. Mechanical chronometers and watches are expensive bits of kit when a cheap Casio watch (£6) would do a better job. The rules specify old fashioned Dacron sail cloth – this means all my sails will be shot when I get back. If I used a more modern material I could go round the world again with the same sail wardrobe – so compliance with this rule is really money down the drain. For comms I could go with just a satellite texting device (£500) rather than full HF radio rig costing £4k. (Just texting for comms – now that’s real solitude)! All in all compliance and fees add up to around an extra £30-35k – not including the wasted sail budget – which is about another £12k. Of course I love the idea of doing this voyage as part of an organised event. But recently I have had to consider if this is a luxury I can afford.
I always thought that being part of the GGR would provide greater sponsorship opportunities than if I sailed independently. The restriction to sponsors logo size was a little frustrating but I also kinda liked it. I am happy that the boats aren’t going to be floating billboards like in the other ocean races. I still hope that a title sponsor will be part of my campaign. However, in the recent Paris meeting we were notified of a significant change in the rules. All the digital footage shot by the entrants while at sea is now going to be owned exclusively by the race organisers. Only the Super 8 footage (which will be very limited compared to the digital material) is to be shared. I have queried this with the organisers and they have told me they won’t review this position under any circumstances. This fundamental change in the filming rights now makes it foolhardy for a title sponsor to get involved with this event. This makes the GGR probably the most expensive and inaccessible yacht race there is. It is now effectively restricted to corinthian (privately funded) sailors, well beyond my means.
This rule change also scuppers my plan of making my own film about the race, based around the themes above. I would be forced to hand over my carefully crafted footage to the GGR film producers, who will have a completely different agenda to my own. If there is a major incident they will earn all the income from the footage (far more likely to be captured on digital rather than Super 8). The organisers will be profiting from the sailor’s bravery and suffering, while we will get nothing. It seems so wrong to take this away from the entrants. This sudden change has made my decision about whether I remain part of the race a lot simpler. Sorry if I fail to conceal my disappointment about this. I was always happy to share the rights with the organisers like the first versions of the rules made clear we would be. For them to ignore the precedent set by this and claim exclusive rights to the digital footage is just plain greedy.
It was also reported in Paris that the GGR organisers haven’t yet secured Falmouth as the race port. They are now considering Plymouth. It’s another big change from the race I originally signed up to. This undermines the original concept of linking this event to Robin Knox-Johnston’s 1968 race. If we are leaving from Plymouth entrants may as well be allowed 39 ft boats like Moitessier’s Joshua, or catamarans. Falmouth is where I will be starting and finishing from, whether I sail as part of the GGR or not. It’s the port I have done most of my professional sailing out of and has personal significance for me – it’s also safer as it means less time in the busy English Channel.
So with my motivations for going to sea having nought to do with racing, the extra cost of fees and compliance incurred by the GGR and the recent unfavourable changes to the race rules I have today decided to withdraw from the GGR. If the organisers had stuck to the original rules and kept the rights to all the footage shared I would have overlooked the other issues and continued with my GGR campaign. It is quite upsetting when I think of it like this.
But make no mistake – I have resigned from the GGR so that I can concentrate on sailing solo, non-stop around the world. I’m still going. I’ll depart from Falmouth in the Summer of 2018. Probably a bit later than the June 16th GGR start date so I can have my birthday with my friends on June 17th. Perhaps I’ll call into New Zealand’s South Island for a couple of hours for a floating interview – assuming anybody is interested.
I’ve told a few people I’m considering going alone. Often their first concern is about safety. The GGR organisers don’t possess their own navy! There is no safety benefit to doing this voyage as part of the GGR. The press may get handled a bit more slickly but that will be all. My emergency beacon will alert the UK coastguard and they will oversee the rescue whether I’m part of the of the GGR or not.
I wish all the entrants of the GGR the very best. My decision to go it alone is a very personal one. Part of me is sad to no longer be part of the club – but then I am the Black Sheep! My overwhelming emotion today is one of liberation.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a gleeful 2017.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]