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Not a bag of liquorice

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 27 Feb 2023 13:00 PST
Guy Waites on board Sagarmatha © John Curnow

However, after one of the many conversations I have with our Managing Editor, Mark Jardine, that there was a standout notion. That would be all sorts, hence the title. Our sport is as deep as the Mindanao Trench, and as wide as the Pacific Ocean. There are colours and characters everywhere, and just because you prefer the layer cake varieties, doesn't mean others are not eagerly seeking out the sprinkle and twist versions in the same packet.

If you compare and contrast François Gabart's awesome achievement of 42 days and some change for a lap of the planet, against say six months in a full keel vessel that you could just about get out and walk faster than, well you'll see what we're saying about all sorts. Our sport takes them all, and has homes for them. Belting out an average of 29 knots across the mighty Pacific comes with bruises and who knows what kind of sleep. Alternatively, about the only nine you'll see in the full keeler will be 4.9, or 3.9 etc. In this one there is the mental game and what would seem like an interminable time line to get from A back to A, with pondering and birds your constant companions. Yet both have perseverance, some fortune, and downright dogged determination as founding marks. It is for these qualities that you find them in the same packet.

On a recent trip to Hobart Town I was fortunate enough to meet Guy Waites. Now he would have definitely proffered not to have met me, mind you, but the cards had dealt him yet another blow. Beset by barnacles, the only point nines he was getting were inches closer to the gunwales going under. So Cape Town it was to sort it out.

Regrettably, that meant he was out of the main classification in the Golden Globe Race. Later, missing the Hobart gate meant he was out of the Chichester Class too. So as the remaining fleet arranged for themselves to get around the Horn and head for home, the hand of fate once more took a swipe when an 8m wave took his life raft clean off the boat.

Time to come in once more. This was when I got to meet him, and to see that despite it all, the dogged determination was alive and kicking, for as Guy Waites put it, "I'm about as far from home as I can get now, so if I can get back I'll have a solo circumnavigation by sextant only to my name, and that's a fairly small club."

So what does one of these journeys really look like? Why does one do it in the first place, and why does one persevere when it has not been so glorious? "Well, the two things go hand in hand, really. It's, it's the length of the journey before you even start. That's the thing that keeps you motivated to get to the end. This began three years before the race start. "

"First there was finding the boat and sailing it across the Atlantic, single-handed, getting knocked down in a storm, breaking the mast, and learning a lot about the boat, all the time knowing that you haven't got the funds necessary to even make the start line yet."

"You keep the dream alive every day, and you keep working and working and working at it. It's a seven-day a week process for a long, long time, and a lot of work on your own, unsupported and all of that, including a great deal of help from sponsors and donators and people dropping cash into my GoFundMe page that enabled me to even get to the start line."

"So you don't just want to let yourself down, or let anyone else down either. There are lots of motivators, and lots of things to stop you, but the things that come along to stop you are the things that you then sort of front up to and say, No, I'm not going to let me stop me."

"You think about how I've come too far, done too much, and I've got too much support from too many people that I don't want let them down. So to hell with it, I'm going to keep on going."

"It was disappointing of course to be out of the Golden Globe Race as early on as I was, but it hadn't been a race for me at that point for weeks and weeks and weeks due to some rather small barnacles that were getting increasingly bigger, bigger and more annoying with every single day", said Waites.

"My plan for the race start to Cape Town was somewhere in the region of 60 days. It took me a hundred and so you're already a long way behind at that point. In fact, I was pretty much a whole ocean behind the front-runners when I left Cape Town and made a pretty good effort to try and catch back up through the South Indian Ocean, but unfortunately missed the Hobart cut-off point, which was the 31st of January."

"I wasn't aiming to stop in Hobart. I was actually aiming very much at the south of New Zealand, down around 48 degrees South, and I had a depression come right over the top of me, knock me down a couple of times, and a very nice life raft just disappeared over the side and gone."

"So I was of a mind to carry on because of the preparation that I put into the boat, which has 15 watertight compartments, not just a watertight companionway hatch. It's pretty well subdivided to make it a life raft of its own, and the last thing anyone wants to do is get into a life raft. I describe them as a paddling pool with a windy house glued on top when compared to a boat, but I don't think there's any member of my family that would be the least bit happy with me continuing on without one. So it's forced my hand and here I am."

Have you passed through anger and depression and now it's just straight back to motivation, or does it all still keep coming back? "Yes, it does keep coming back up. There's no doubt about it. I mean, I went through all of this with the barnacles, and the only good thing about being on your own in the middle of nowhere for a long period of time is that you get time to process."

"Sure. All of the disappointment, the anger, the frustration, and just the emotional highs and lows are there, and over time it gradually subsides, you are resolved to keep going and you find renewed energy to continue. So this is now just another, just like another little obstacle that's come along to, to try and unhinge me."

Because I'm no longer in the race, and haven't been for such a long time now, the life raft is less of a concern for me than, and it's less of an impact on me from the point of view of continuing. The barnacle issue was the big problem, undoubtedly, and it is difficult, as you never quite overcome it mentally, or emotionally, because it's always there, niggling away at you in the background. It gets easier every day, and now the focus is just to get through the South Pacific, and get around the Horn before it's any later than it absolutely has to be."

So then, does all of this preclude Waites from having another crack? "No. It wouldn't stop me. It certainly wouldn't stop me having another attempt at a non-stop solo circumnavigation. Whilst I've got some disappointment from not going round non-stop, there's a lot still to be had from completing the challenge. Absolutely. It's still a solo circumnavigation. It's still via the three Great Capes. It's still with a sextant in your hand. It's already got 80% at least of the original challenge, and there's a lot there to be positive about."

"I'd still love to do the non-stop. I've always said about sailing challenges of any kind that I wouldn't ever want to take on a challenge and come away with it saying to myself never again, because that would undermine my love of sailing too much. You know, the last thing I want to do is lose my passion for sailing. One of my motivators for stopping in Cape Town was the fact that I was sailing so slowly with those barnacles that I was actually not enjoying sailing anymore. So I had to stop to get rid of that."

"So sailing became a joy again, which it did very quickly. There was barely a day that went by where I wasn't either one of the fastest or the fastest from the fleet over a 24-hour period getting from Cape Town to Hobart. This was a big motivator for me to stay in the race, even though I wasn't in it officially."

"I'd love to do the Golden Globe Race again, and I was asked earlier today by Mike Smith this very question. My answer is, only if I had a big sponsor. I sold my house to buy Sagarmatha. I had nothing left to keep going, and I didn't actually have enough funds to even complete the race until the final week before race start on September the Fourth. So a nonstop is possible, but it might require additional things to fall into place."

It was easy to be compelled in conversation with Guy. It's a great tale, and the desire is as evident as the smile. The fires down in the boilers are strong, and it would seem there is a heap of coal there too. I asked if there were people who needed to be thanked specifically, but he was adamant in reply.

"It would be unfair to thank a few, and not thank everyone. So many people have helped in so many ways. Whether they're a sponsor and they get their name on the side of the boat or a donator to the GoFundMe page, there have been some very, very generous people."

"There were also a great many people who've helped me in the background that people will probably never know about, which is a pity, and a lot of people who helped me get to the start line and without whom I wouldn't be here. So I just need to thank absolutely everybody involved. Wholeheartedly."

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's sites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Editor, Sail World AUS

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