by Oliver Dewar
Since the beginning of the double-handed, Class40 Global Ocean Race in late September last year, the South African duo of Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire with Phesheya-Racing have sailed 23,000 miles in the event’s three legs spending 118 days of the past six months racing offshore without a title sponsor: a feat that has been achieved through a mix of family and corporate support and a current rebirth of interest in offshore racing in their home country.
Johnny, Di and Phillippa Hutton-Squire prepare Class40 Phesheya-Racing for GOR Leg 4 - 2011-12
Of the five Class40s crossing the start line of Leg 3 in Wellington, New Zealand, for the 6,600-mile course through the Pacific and South Atlantic to the finish line in Punta del Este, Uruguay, three of the teams had varying levels of corporate backing; Cessna Citation, Campagne de France and Buckley Systems. Two of the fleet – Phesheya-Racing and Financial Crisis - have been privately funded combined with partial corporate backing.
During the first few days of Leg 3, Buckley Systems was forced to withdraw from the race following severe back injury to Ross Field in strong headwinds and Campagne de France failed to complete the course, judging the conditions ahead to be too severe and followed the Fields back to New Zealand. The achievement of all the teams reaching Uruguay is immense and the leg victory by Conrad Colman with Cessna Citation was a career milestone for the Kiwi skipper, but the significance of two un-sponsored teams completing the challenge of the GOR’s most demanding leg through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn, successfully circling over half the planet, is exceptional.
Marco Nannini’s GOR campaign with Financial Crisis has been funded by Nannini with partial corporate sponsorship and public donations and while Leggatt and Hutton-Squire’s campaign has been under-pinned by the UK-based, accounting software company, bluQube, and a group of partner sponsors, the biggest logo on their first generation Akilaria’s hull is Cape Crisp – the fruit farming business owned by the Hutton-Squire family in Elgin, the Western Cape’s centre of apple production 70km south-east of Cape Town.
Nick Leggatt and Phillippa Hutton-Squire were forced to heave-to on Phesheya-Racing in a Southern Ocean gale - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Both of Phillippa Hutton-Squire’s parents are in Punta del Este helping with preparation work prior to the start of 5,700-mile Leg 4 from Uruguay to Charleston, USA. Johnny and Di Hutton-Squire were in Palma pre-start of Leg 1 and were in Cape Town for the Leg 1-Leg 2 stopover, but visiting their daughter in Punta del Este wasn’t confirmed until recently: 'We were thinking about coming and then Phillippa actually said ‘please, Mum, will you come’, which is the first direct request we’ve had,' explains the 28-year-old sailor’s mother while taking a short break from splicing a spinnaker snuffer downhaul on the pontoons in Puerto Punta del Este.
Johnny Hutton-Squire – known as ‘Johnny Apples’ to the Cape Town sailing fraternity – is enthusiastic about being part of his daughter’s offshore programme: 'It’s a fantastic opportunity to come and be part of the race,' he confirms. 'Our whole objective from the outset was to be part of the Global Ocean Race. We couldn’t stay at home and miss out as we were part of the race in Palma and joined-in during the Cape Town stopover.'
For the parents, the GOR has become part of their life and with a strong sailing background, a ready-made shore crew is on hand: 'We enjoy contributing when we can and it’s fantastic to be part of a round-the-world race, which is quite a unique thing to be connected with,' he adds. His wife agrees: 'We’ve seen so many races and so many crews passing through Cape Town and it’s great to actually be part of it,' says Di Hutton-Squire.
However, with the fruit harvest in full-swing in South Africa, the Hutton-Squires cannot remain in Uruguay for long: 'Our two sons, Richard and Charlie, are on the farm for the first time together and this has given us the opportunity to get away.
Total foam-up in the Roaring Forties - Photo Phesheya-Racing
So after 40 years of farming, Di and I can take time off and come and do things we enjoy,' explains Johnny Hutton-Squire. 'If my brothers weren’t looking after the farm, then we wouldn’t be able to have such a strong shore team,' adds Phillippa.
For Nick Leggatt, the family support is also strong, although sailing is not in the Leggatt DNA: 'My parents seldom see me as I’m usually sailing round the world,' explains Leggatt who has just rounded Cape Horn for the sixth time. 'The whole family has been very supportive, but we’re not a sailing family and they always wonder why I do it,' he adds. 'My father and brother came sailing with me once and said never again!' says Leggatt of a storm-filled, family voyage from Cape Town to Walvis Bay, Namibia. 'Possibly sailing from the Cape of Storms to the Skeleton Coast wasn’t the best introduction for them!'
For the South African duo, the stopover in Cape Town was a turning point in their campaign: 'All our friends back in South Africa have enjoyed following Phillippa and Nick and are awestruck by what’s going on and their achievements,' says Johnny Hutton-Squire and while the South African press interest in Phesheya-Racing grew exponentially during their home-port stopover, so did the local support. 'We got all sorts of support from friends in the sailing industry who helped us with their time,' explains Nick Leggatt. 'Even old school mates turned out to support us by working on the boat or by providing equipment or supplies,' he adds. 'For example, Richard Allen of Buffet Olives supplied us with enough olives to last us around the world!'
This mix of family, social and corporate involvement is a cornerstone for many of the current and potential GOR teams: 'One of the good things is that it’s an affordable race and people can be a part of it,' says Phillippa Hutton-Squire, miming airborne speech marks around the word affordable. Her mother agrees: 'If ordinary families can put this sort of campaign together, hopefully it’ll be an inspiration and far more people will realise that this sort of adventure can be achieved without too much strain,' predicts Di Hutton-Squire.
This feature combines with a resurgence of interest in offshore racing in South Africa: 'The GOR and our entry in the race is the only offshore game in town for the past 13 years and one thing we hope to do is get more interest going for the next Global Ocean Race and offshore racing generally and from what we’ve heard, the current race is generating great interest,' confirms Leggatt. The involvement of Cape Town yachtsman, Adrian Kuttel, on the Leg 3 winner, Cessna Citation, and his successful publicity campaign also contributed to raising the profile of offshore racing in South Africa.
Meanwhile, with a fortnight to the start of Leg 4, the Hutton-Squire international shore crew will be kept busy until they return to South Africa over this weekend: 'The job list isn’t bad and I thought it would be a lot worse after sailing through the Southern Ocean,' says Phillippa Hutton-Squire. 'We sailed quite conservatively to get here so we didn’t have a massive job list and, so far in the race, we’ve been very lucky. Everyone has come to the party to help.'