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The Global Solo Challenge begins, looking ahead at the Ocean Globe Race

by David Schmidt 29 Aug 08:00 PDT August 29, 2023
Dafydd Hughes & Bendigedig © Global Solo Challenge

As the summer of 2023 grinds its way into dog-days territory, and as wildfire smoke lingers and churns in the Pacific Northwest, I find myself day dreaming about two things: long forest-soaking rains and sailing adventures. Fortunately, and with a pinch of luck, September's arrival will bring the former to a region that hasn't seen significant precipitation (say, more than an inch in a month) since April. Better still, this weekend's start of the Global Solo Challenge ensures that long-distance, offshore sailing adventures, at least of the armchair-viewing variety, are back on the menu for the first time since The Ocean Race concluded in July.

If you're just tuning in to the inaugural Global Solo Challenge, the event sounds like a super-cool singlehanded adventure around the planet. Sailors can race any vessel they like, so long as it measures at least 32', LOA. This includes offshore weapons like Class 40s, Open 50s and IMOCAs, however event organizers have requested that entrants do not build a bespoke vessel for this event, but rather reuse an older boat in order to keep both costs and carbon signatures low.

The race started, and will end, on the waters off of A Coruña, Spain, and it will follow an east-about circumnavigation routing, with all skippers leaving the three great capes to port and the various ice-exclusion zones to starboard.

The event is employing a rolling, pursuit-style start, where the tortoises start first before the hares are allowed to give chase. To that end, the first starters crossed the line on August 26, 2023, while the last starters won't be released onto the racecourse until January 6, 2024. This eliminates any need for post-sailing corrected times (read: first boat across the finishing line wins), and it should hopefully also ensure exciting finishing-line celebrations.

And hopefully, for us armchair observers, it should also make for some darn good internet spectating.

As of this writing, 19 skippers have registered for the Global Solo Challenge. This includes one "Anonymous" entrant, as well as five North American sailors, including Curt Morlock, Ronnie Simpson, David Linger, and Peter Bourke, who all hail from the USA, and William MacBrien, who calls Toronto, Canada home.

While all of these sailors have cleared some miles (with the possible exception of Curt Morlock, who hails from the sailing mecca of New Castle, Colorado, and who chose not to disclose his offshore experience on the event's website... even though he plans to sail a powerful Open 60, training wheels not included), Ronnie Simpson is sitting on 130,000-plus offshore miles. This includes 19 crossings between the mainland USA and his home state of Hawaii; a Sydney-Hobart Race, and two solo Hawaii races, and he has built a heck of a reputation in serious offshore sailing circles. He will be sailing aboard a 1994 Open 50, and he is already ladling-on the miles.

While I'm not the wagering type, and while there are some darned good sailors in the Global Solo Challenge's mix, I certainly wouldn't bet against Simpson, who will start racing on October 28 at 1300 hours, UTC.

In fact, I plan to cheer him on.

Of course, I also plan to root for the other 18 participants (although it's tough to get excited about "Anonymous").

In fact, I've already started cheering for Dafydd Hughes, of Talybont, West Wales, United Kingdom, who started racing on Saturday, August 26, aboard Bendigedig, his 1971 Sparkman & Stephen 34.

As of this writing (Monday morning, Pacific Northwest time), Hughes had sailed roughly 125 nautical miles on an otherwise empty racetrack.

"It's an honor to inaugurate such an extraordinary event, and it's fantastic to know that everyone will have to follow me," Hughes said in an official event release. "People often tell me, 'I wish I had your courage and passion.' My answer is that if I can do it, anyone can. I'm not special; I'm just an ordinary person trying to do something extraordinary. My journey serves to remind everyone that everything is possible if you're willing to take the first step."

Skipper Ivan Dimov, who hails from Barberino-Tavernelle, Italy, was also supposed to start racing on August 26 but requested more time. He must start racing by January 10, at 0448 hours, UTC, or face disqualification; even then, he will be facing (metaphoric, but also possibly physical) headwinds, given the race's pursuit-style format.

Unless Dimov starts racing by September 16, Édouard De Keyser, of Brussels, Belgium, will be the next skipper to set to sea. According to the event's website, De Keyser has 50,000-plus miles to his credit and will be racing aboard his Solaire 34.

Sail-World wishes all of these bold sailors safe and speedy journeys. As the dog days eventually run astray and as the rains eventually find the Pacific Northwest, I expect to be spending increasing amounts of time living vicariously through (errr, I of course mean "professionally tracking") this event.

Also, it should be noted that the Ocean Globe Race begins on 10 September on the waters off of Southampton, UK. The Ocean Globe Race will take fully crewed teams, racing aboard retro boats sans modern equipment, sails, or electronics, on an around-the-world course that negotiates the three great Capes and enjoys stopovers in Cape Town, South Africa, Auckland, New Zealand, and Punta del Este, Uruguay.

If it's sounding like a rainy fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest will be buoyed by some great offshore racing, you're talking my language. Wildfire smoke and all.

Finally, a reading-list suggestion. I just finished The Wager by David Grann, and it's excellent. Without giving away anything that's not on the book's back cover, if you enjoy reading stories of sailing in the days of yore, of Patagonian shipwrecks, of the British Royal Navy, and of high-seas leadership under some of the harshest conditions (mentally and physically) imaginable, add The Wager to your list.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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