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RS Sailing 2021 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Erden Eruç on entering the 2026 Golden Globe Race

by David Schmidt 30 Aug 08:00 PDT August 30, 2023
Erden Eruç helms Dark Star, a Riptide 44, in some bouncy seas in the Dixon Entrance, south of Ketchikan, Alaska, en route to Seattle, Washington, in June 2022 © David Schmidt

I first met Erden Eruç in 2014, while sailing aboard Dark Star, Libby and Jonathan Mckee's Riptide 44, on the racecourses off of Seattle. The man was (and still is) a pure wall of muscle clad in foul-weather gear, looking to put shoulder to task. It quickly became obvious that Erden Eruç (it's pronounced "Air-dan Air-rooch") wasn't a polished racing sailor, but—and this was many years ago—he had logged hundreds of days of rowing the world's oceans alone.

And he could haul sheets, halyards, and sailbags like nobody's business.

If you read John Krakauer's Into Thin Air, you've seen the name Göran Kropp. The Swedish adventurer rose to international fame in 1996 when he rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal, climbed Mount Everest solo and without supplemental oxygen via the Southeast Ridge/South Col route, and then rode partway home.

In 2002, Kropp was back in North America with the intention of circumnavigating the continent using human power (read: bicycle and sea kayak), but he tragically died in a rock-climbing accident that September in eastern Washington State after a series of equipment failures.

Eruç was his belayer.

While the two had only met the previous year, and while this accident was certainly no one's fault, it lit a fire inside Eruç, who harbored his own dreams of circumnavigating the planet under his own human-generated power (read: bicycle and ocean-rowing boat). Eruç had previously shared these dreams with Kropp, but, after the accident, Eruç realized that life is ephemeral, and, if he was going to realize his dream, it was time to get serious.

A baton silently passed from one world-class adventurer to another.

Eruç began on July 10, 2007, and—five years, 11 days, 12 hours, and 22 minutes later—he finished his journey on July 21, 2012. All told, Eruç cycled across North America, Australia, and Africa, and he rowed the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans.

As mentioned, the man was (and is) a wall of muscle.

But, as I quickly learned, that muscle is controlled by an even more powerful mind. Eruç speaks multiple languages; holds a Master's degree in mechanical engineering, a Master's degree in Engineering Mechanics, an MBA, and he has the kind of mental reserves earned through enduring storms alone in his ocean rowboat.

Alone.

Eruç and I became friends (on and off the boat), the years clicked by, and his bold adventures continued. He's now racked up over 1,000 documented days alone at sea in his rowboat, and he holds 18 Guinness Book of World Records.

He also worked hard to improve his sailing skills, including delivering boats home from Hawaii and Alaska to Seattle.

Most recently, Eruç decided to trade his rowboat for a Biscay 36 and the challenges of the 2026 Golden Globe Race (2026 GGR).

I checked in with Eruç, via email, to learn more about his plans to compete in this committing retro race.

How did you get interested in singlehanded sailing? Also, how long have you been thinking about participating in the 2026 GGR? What pulled you in?

Since about 2014, ever since I completed my formal sailing lessons, I had my eyes on offshore sailing. By then, I had established 15 Guinness World Records, primarily in ocean rowing, and had become the first person to have rowed the three major oceans.

So, it was a natural progression for me to explore the realm of sailing.

The Golden Globe Race was originally announced by the Sunday Times newspaper in England after Sir Francis Chichester completed an eastbound sail around the world in 1967 with one stop in Sydney. It would give a trophy and a handsome 5,000 pounds sterling prize to the first person to complete this feat nonstop.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was the only finisher in 1968 out of nine boats that participated.

The first of the modern GGR was organized in 2018 in the 50th anniversary of the original. GGR takes place every four years, so I began following the 2022 GGR closely...

I felt that I had the resilience required to handle what could prove to be a 230-250 day solo and nonstop race. I decided to attend the closing ceremonies of the 2022 GGR at Les Sables d'Olonne on the Atlantic coast of France.

The rest is history, as they say.

One has to breath that air in Les Sables and mingle with the supportive crowd. The participants couldn't have been kinder, ready to share their experiences and offer advice.

I was probably acting like a kid in a candy store, but they all handled it well...

You have a background in mechanical engineering and IT—why have you opted for a race that doesn't use electronics or modern technology?

GGR is a retro race, which only allows standard production yachts built before 1988. Restricted to 32-36 feet length, they must have a rudder attached at the trailing edge of a full keel. Modern conveniences like GPS, chartplotter, desalinator, satellite communications or exotic materials like carbon fiber or dyneema are not allowed.

WeatherFax over SSB radio is how one receives broad forecasts. One has to sail as it were 1968. Without a desalinator, one has to bring all the water to last the duration of the race and hope to supplement that with rain water, especially for occasional bodily cleansing.

One of the lessons from my ocean rowing was that, when I reached distant shores, I found new friends who valued the sweat equity that I had put into the journey and saw meaning in that I had sacrificed conveniences that a cruise liner or a modern yacht could offer.

Similarly, in a retro race like GGR, when one peels away the modern conveniences and requires one to proceed by traditional coastal navigation and celestial navigation, to remain self-reliant and to manage precious resources including victuals and water, what remains is the mariner; the whole endeavor gains more meaning.

So, the outcome becomes more uncertain, adding a sense of adventure to it.

What do you see as your biggest strengths going into the GGR 2026? Also, how do you plan to leverage these advantages as you work your way around the world?

My biggest strength will be that I have a strong partner in my wife Nancy who will remain my rock and my homing beacon throughout the race. Leaving everything behind and focusing on the race requires a high level of confidence that all will be alright on the home front in my absence.

I am comfortable in my own skin, I enjoy solitude without distractions of crowds or social media. The daily routine of managing a boat keeps me focused, I read more, I write more. It is a productive existence that I yearn [for] when back on land.

I am an engineer by training, I am wired as a problem solver. With proper preparation, I am able to manage risks and remain resilient in the face of that daunting and powerful ocean.

It takes a lot to rattle me, so I will survive this challenge.

What do you see as your weaknesses? Also, how do you plan to address these before the start of the race?

I have just over three years before the 2026 GGR will launch. My main weakness remains lack of time alone on my new sailboat, Clara. She is in France at a boatyard near Lorient now. Starting in the spring of 2024, I will begin sailing on Clara. I will put in far more than the 2,000 nautical mile solo passage, which is one of the qualification requirements for GGR.

My other weakness is funding; I don't have any sponsors yet.

The good news is that my GGR sailing plans seem to generate a more enthusiastic response compared to seeking sponsorships to row across The Ocean. I plan to spend all of next fall and winter visiting yacht clubs and corporate settings for presentations to tell my story.

That is a challenge in its own right and I must succeed in that first to reach the GGR starting line later.

How did you acquire your boat? Also, is there a lot of work to do to get it ready for the GGR 2026?

When at Les Sables d'Olonne, I looked at the fleet of vessels that had participated in the 2022 GGR. I met Simon Curwen who was the first to arrive at the finish line with Clara. Simon passed every gate for film drop in first place. When a big wave broke on his transom short of Cape Horn, a cast-metal piece broke on his Hydrovane. He diverted to Puerto Montt in Chile to receive a replacement part. He lost ten days in the process and turned Cape Horn in fourth place. Despite that, Simon was able to catch the leaders and still arrive first.

The rules required a nonstop journey, so he was demoted to Chichester class for his single stop. Two stops would lead to disqualification according to race rules.

We agreed on a price and a payment schedule with Simon. Clara remains in his care, and he has scheduled the necessary repairs and improvements. Chafing of the genoa halyard was an issue, so the mast was pulled for that. The SSB radio was not grounded properly, so Simon was not able to broadcast during his race though he could listen; that will be resolved. There are other such items on the task list but I have high confidence in Clara. If I can come close to Simon's sailing skills, Clara will serve me well.

Only vessels built before 1988 out of a list of dozen approved production models are allowed in the race. One would have to find such an old vessel then refit it to meet GGR safety requirements. If said vessel cannot be sailed immediately, the repairs and refit would have to be done wherever it may be. Finding talent, parts and money to deal with these distant chores was a big risk.

Paying the premium to buy Clara as a race-ready boat removed much of the uncertainty for me.

What do you have planned in terms of pre-race passages and cruises with the boat?

The rough plan that I have is to join Clara in France in the second half of March. I will spend some time with Simon to go over the sails, polars, his choice of sails for different sea states, how he managed the vessel solo, and his routine. A bit of a mind-meld if you will... Later I want to sail Clara in May from France into the Mediterranean, then east to Turkey, where I want to show off Clara in June 2024 with a solo attempt to sail the length of the coast of Anatolia from the border of Georgia to that of Syria.

Later next summer, I would like to sail west on the Mediterranean then through the Gibraltar Straits to position Clara in the Canary Islands. I should sail from there to Florida beginning in November 2024.

The grand plan is to sail along the east coast of U.S. to Boston. The return trip to France may have stops in Iceland and Ireland. Such a long voyage will give me further confidence in Clara and myself. It will also help me identify any additional repairs or improvements that I should plan.

I may plan additional passages in 2025; that said, I cannot break Clara, and I want Clara to be shipshape by early 2026. I intend to spend the summer of 2026 near Les Sables d'Olonne, perfecting my skills on Clara for better performance. That will pay off once the race starts.

I realize that crystal balls are in short supply, but what do you see as the race's hardest challenges?

The reliance on laborious celestial navigation will be a primary challenge. It is very easy to make mistakes in all the sight reductions and multistep calculations. I will always be nervous about my whereabouts, especially near unlit land hazards at night.

Managing sleep deprivation and the risk of collision will be a concern in heavy traffic, especially near Cape Finisterre, which can also be foggy. With no chartplotter, I will not be able to see other vessels by their AIS signals, so it will be a nervous time trying to manage their sound signals while communicating bridge-to-bridge over VHF.

I will only have access to broad forecasts over WeatherFax using SSB Radio, [which is] unlike the detailed weather routing I am used to; I can just imagine how limiting that will feel especially as the seas get bigger. Six-to-seven-knot boatspeed is typical with Clara, so it will not be possible to navigate around storms. Weather and big seas in southern oceans will remain daunting. I have never sailed at such latitudes; I will undoubtedly be challenged. Keeping my cool while I practice my storm sailing tactics will be critical.

What do you think has done more to prepare you for the challenges of the GGR 2026—all the impressive solo rowing that you have done, or the sailing miles that you've logged? Also, why?

I spent a record 1,084 days of my life solo on an ocean rowboat crossing various large bodies of water. Over the years, I have been involved in mountaineering, climbing rock, ice, and big walls. I planned and executed a circumnavigation by human power, which darn near broke us financially, yet I was able to rise to its demands, be it while rowing across the oceans, sea kayaking along crocodile-infested shores or sharing highways on a bicycle with fast-moving [and] distracted drivers.

I was able to solve problems, manage risks, stretch our funds, and outlast fatigue. I formally learned to sail after I completed my circumnavigation, then became a sailing instructor, and [then I] found my way onto racing yachts.

Each of these required a high level of commitment, problem-solving skills, and project-management acumen. This well-rounded background makes me resilient and gives me stamina in the face of adversity, which improves my odds not only of survival but also of completing the GGR mission in good standing.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your preparations or participation in the GGR 2026, for the record?

The website for the race is: goldengloberace.com

My website address is: www.erdeneruc.com

There, I will soon update the homepage and share my progress in my blog posts.

Those friends who are excited about the Golden Globe Race and my 2026 GGR participation with Clara, may consider sharing my story with others. With their help, I hope to reach decision-makers for sponsorships, for speaking engagements, and for presentations to enthusiastic audiences such as those at yacht clubs.

May the journey raise us all.

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