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Southern Spars

Speed Meets Tradition - What's a Sailor to Think?

by BW Media on 8 Oct 2008
Vestas SailRocket-Paul Larsen has a history of sailing fast multihulls. His quest for speed led him to Pete Goss and the revolutionary Team Philips. He also joined Tony Bullimore on Legato on ’’The Race’’, then Tracy Edwards on her Maiden II Campaign. Paul’’s credits include a winning non-stop circumnavigation in the Oryx quest and a double handed lap of Britain with Pete Goss on the 30 foot Seacart trimaran. The Vestas SailRocket project is a realisation of his ultimate dream to sail the fastest boat on the planet. .. .
They've been together on the racing circuit for years, and one friend is now trying to push the world sailing record over 50 knots in Namibia.

However the other friend has gone full circle and is preparing a traditional lugger to sail from England to Australia, in the wake of some adventurous Cornishmen 154 years ago.


The two projects couldn't be more different. Just what does a speed sailor think when he sees his friend embarking on such a project?

Paul Larsen, speed sailor, writes about his impressions as he visits Pete Goss, most famous as hero of the Southern Ocean, on Spirit of Mystery for the first time.


Helena and I were due to head back down to Namibia to carry on with our world speed sailing record attempt and time was running out. One of the boxes we really wanted to tick during our short return to the UK was to go down for a sail on 'The Mystery'... but time has a habit etc. etc.

When Pete called with two days to go before our flight I had already sort of decided we had missed our chance. I said I would call back. We still had stuff to do and Plymouth is a long way. Then the priorities of life struck me... as they thankfully often do. Plymouth is only a few hours away and 'stuff' is not a priority... mostly a distraction from what's really important. I called back and we were on our way, instantly feeling better for it.

I had realised that if I didn't go down now I wouldn't see either the boat or Pete until... well I don't know when... but probably until long after this great little adventure was over. Helena and I had last seen the boat in Mid January when the planking had just begun. It was still mostly exposed ribs, beams and a dose of imagination. We hadn't made it back for the launch so I was keen to see the finished product.

Coming through Plymouth on a rainy afternoon we picked up the mandatory bottles of red that such occasions warrant and headed on to Mayflower marina. Now usually when we go looking for Pete in a marina we look for pretty tall carbon fibre masts. This time we had to lower our gaze somewhat but nonetheless the masts were still very distinctive. Walking up to 'The Mystery' for the first time makes you smile, especially as it's Pete's boat. Sort of makes you wonder 'B****y hell, what's he up to now?’


The boat is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, solid and practical. Big chunks of wood to tie stuff onto, ropes you can haul on by hand. You can see what goes where and how it all works very quickly. Character and personality are oozing out of every caulked seam. What a lovely little boat.

Pete showed us down below. The smell is lovely. The Mystery is the real deal with not a single wood veneer on board. This is made painfully obvious the first time you bump your head on one of the overhead frames. No give there!

So as the rain on the deck provide the soft backing track, the curry stewed away and the red wine flowed. The ambience was helped by the gentle flicker of the kerosene lamps, one of which broke it's glass when a cool breeze blew on it from an open porthole above the stove. A reminder of the little problems that were part of a life we modern sailors simply aren't aware of.
This whole trip will be a reminder of how sailing used to be... perhaps, in many respects of what it still should be. Pete showed us through the various bits and pieces of history onboard... a bit of HMS VICTORY here, the CUTTYSARK there... rivets off the SS GREAT BRITAIN made into door knobs, logs for measuring speed which you throw over the side and sextants to earn you an eye patch. It was a lovely night to soak up the company and the feel of the boat. A boat based around adventure rather than competition. It really is a credit to all those who have made her real.

A friend who helped us with Sailrocket passed on a little piece of considered thinking which relates well to The Mystery. He said how the natural state for most things in this world is static i.e. to us, broken or not working. It is only through our efforts and desires that we force these static, independent and in-animate objects to work together to perform some ulterior job. They themselves don't aspire to work. We fuel them, force them, and maintain them until they do amazing things. Once we stop this process, eventually, they will return to their natural state. The law of perpetual motion is one factor that will determine this. This means that anything that is functioning as we desire is in a chaotic state. The more complicated the craft the greater the chaotic balancing act is to keep it going in the chaotic manner we call functioning.

The next morning, albeit with groggy heads (some things remain the same with yachting) we went and had a look over one of the latest OPEN 60 monohulls which had pulled into Mayflower. Now these things are hyper complicated and hence chaotic. For these guys, the whole single handed journey around the world will be a battle against chaos. It will be non-stop and in many cases, the chaos will not be sustainable and the boats will 'return to nature'.

The Mystery on the other hand, through her simplicity and rugged, organic structure feels so much closer to her natural state. The demands one puts on the individual parts of The Mystery are not so complex. Sure, being a wooden boat she will still need maintenance but the way the relationship of chaotic and natural states manifests itself will not be so 'explosive'. Things will generally wear visibly in a manner that doesn't need such immediate attention. The two states will not be orders of magnitude apart. This will make the stress level much lower and which will allow you to focus on the other pleasures of the journey.

I still consider the boat to be a bit confusing for Pete. You see, Pete loves his gadgets, and yet he has gone to the extreme of building this wonderful boat from a 'gadget-less' era to escape them! It will humour me greatly to see what balance is struck. I laughed with Helena on the way down about calling him up and pretending to be someone from a company offering a high tech piece of gadgetry for the trip that is too good to be true... just to see if he would bite.

Well I hope that the fact that we will all be getting updates off the boat during the trip means that Pete's appetite for gadgetry will be satisfied enough. Probably just enough to make him thankful he doesn't have more electronics onboard! (Interestingly... through his satellite comms system, we will know with greater accuracy than Pete exactly where he is as he will be relying on traditional navigation methods throughout. We should also know what weather is about to clout him he, he, he).

So we were both happy that we didn't allow mere 'stuff' to get in the way of seeing Pete and 'The Mystery'. Both are in great form and I'm sure that a very special trip is about to happen. I wonder when we will see them next. Cape Town could be a dangerous place. I have a habit of arriving by plane and leaving by boat!

For more information on Paul Larsen's speed recored attempt, click here , and for more information on Pete Goss's Spirit of Mystery project, click here

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