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Attrition rate and drama factors climb in the 2018 Golden Globe Race

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Loïc Lepage is running short of fresh water and praying for rain - photo © Christophe Favreau / PPL / GGR

Dear Recipient Name

When the UK-based newspaper The Sunday Times sponsored the non-stop, around-the-world 1968/1969 Golden Globe Race for single-handed yachtsmen, plenty of landlubbers declared the race a suicide mission. Still, it captured the world's imagination, especially when Bernard Moitessier continued sailing in the Southern Ocean to save his soul, and as the soon-to-be Sir Robin Knox-Johnston crossed the finishing line aboard his Suhali to claim one of the last true global-sized prizes left for adventurers.

Sure, finishing times have been whittled-down significantly from RKJ's 313 days at sea to the present singlehanded, non-stop circumnavigation record of just 42 days, which was set by Francois Gabart aboard the maxi trimaran Macif, but the challenge of facing a sometimes-angry ocean all alone has remained constant, as evidenced by the experiences of the 18 skippers who set out to compete in the 2018/2019 Golden Globe Race.

Circa 1969: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston returning to Falmouth UK to win the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and become the first man to sail solo non-stop around the Globe - photo © Bill Rowntree / PPL
Circa 1969: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston returning to Falmouth UK to win the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and become the first man to sail solo non-stop around the Globe - photo © Bill Rowntree / PPL

As its name implies, the 2018 Golden Globe Race seeks to replicate many of the challenges faces by Moitessier, Sir Robin and their contemporaries 50 years ago, and the modern GGR uses period-era vessels, celestial-based navigation, and plenty of gumption and human spirit, rather than the latest in weather-routing services, satellite communications, laminate-sail construction and hydrofoil design.

And while some people in the sailing community scoffed at this "retro race", the simple fact that the 2018 GGR has already seen an attrition rate of 55% is evidence aplenty that, while sailors might have gotten slightly more clever in the last 50 years, the challenges put forth by Mother Nature remain utterly unconvinced of mankind's superiority.

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Take the event's most recent drama, which is currently unfurling some 600 nautical miles southwest of Perth, Australia. French-flagged skipper Loïc Lepage (62), sailing aboard his Nicholson 32 Mk X masthead sloop Laaland, suffered a dismasting in 25-knot winds and 10-foot seas and was taking on water. According to an official GGR 2018 press release, the water ingress was relatively limited at first (roughly 30-40 liters per hour at first) before increasing to a more concerning rate of (ballpark) 160 liters per hour, but, fortunately, Laaland's bilge pumps are - as of this writing - keeping pace with the incoming brine.

Loïc Lepage - highly experienced with three solo transatlantic crossings under his belt before the Golden Globe Race. - photo © Christophe Favreau / PPL / GGR
Loïc Lepage - highly experienced with three solo transatlantic crossings under his belt before the Golden Globe Race. - photo © Christophe Favreau / PPL / GGR

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre at Canberra picked up Lepage's emergency beacon signals and promptly issued a MAYDAY relay to all commercial shipping traffic, and the JRCC also dispatched a Challenger aircraft to assess Lepage's situation from the air and to possibly drop supplies to the stranded sailor.

Luckily, the Challenger crew could see that Laaland's stick, which reportedly broke in two places, appeared to have broken clean from the boat and did not appear to be further threatening the hull, and Lepage declined the pump and supplies. Conditions continued to deteriorate, with winds spiking from 25 to 40 knots, but fortunately Lepage was (after some struggles) able to get his ailing engine re-started and has begun the low and slow motor towards dry land.

Loïc Lepage's position 600 miles SW of Perth Western Australia at 21:00 UTC relative to other yachts competing in the Golden Globe Race - photo © Golden Globe Race
Loïc Lepage's position 600 miles SW of Perth Western Australia at 21:00 UTC relative to other yachts competing in the Golden Globe Race - photo © Golden Globe Race

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These efforts are - as of this writing - being further assisted by both commercial and private-vessel traffic that has diverted from their respective courses to offer assistance. Additionally, the JRCC is coordinating flights to provide an "air overwatch" above Lepage, and they also have at least one surface vessel on standby to offer assistance. wishes Lepage the best of luck with his ongoing code-red alert, and we tip our hats in absolute respect to the seven remaining male skippers and the single female skipper who are bravely and single-handedly contesting the same seas and similar challenges as those faced half a century earlier by Sir Robin and Moitessier.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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Attrition rate and drama factors climb in the 2018 Golden Globe Race
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