The Golden Globe yacht race, its rules and history

The Golden Globe yacht race is set to be the most challenging singlehanded round the world race since it was last held in the 1960's. Though most of the competitors in the last edition left from the UK, the race has moved to Les Sables d'Olonne in France for the 2018-19 edition.

As a Brit I feel quite unhappy about this, but will nonetheless get down to Les Sables d'Olonne to see the race start, as I did the 2016-17 Vendee Globe. For this article I want to examine why the race ended up in France, and call out the UK government for making this a complete non-starter.

What is the Golden Globe yacht race?

In 1968 the Sunday Times sponsored a singlehanded round the world yacht race. There were no rules - just a prize of £5000 to the winner. Nine racers left Europe but only one returned to finish the race. Robin Knox Johnson went down in history as the winner of this epic race.

In the coming weeks you will see the Hollywood movie The Mercy released in cinemas around the world. This is about another character in the Golden Globe race - Donald Crowhurst. He set sail in his trimaran and for some reason ended up sailing in circles around the Atlantic, sending fictitious position reports back to base. Again, for some unknown reason he jumped over the side of his yacht and died. His yacht was found floating without its owner some months later.

The rest of the boats in the race either were so badly damaged they had to retire or sank.

Vendee Globe race

I'm a mad fan of singlehanded round the world races. I am lucky enough to have friends who live in Les Sables d'Olonne and drove to see the start and finish of this epic yacht race in November and then in January. The Vendee Globe is one where state of the art boats are sailed at vast speeds from Les Sables d'Olonne round the Great Capes of the Southern Ocean and back to France. Armel le Cleach circumnavigated the world in 74 days and 3 hours this year, with Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss in hot pursuit.

Where the Golden Globe and Vendee Globe differ is in the technology. The last finisher of the Vendee Globe 16-17 did it in just over 124 days. Knox Johnson finished his race in 312 days!

While the Vendee Globe is based on the IMOCA 60 'Open' design that within a 'box rule' permit boats that can sail at speeds of 20kts plus, the rules of the Golden Globe are designed to make for slow and relatively safe vessels. The Golden Globe yacht specs are broadly covered here: Approval for Production yacht types for entry into the Golden Globe Race has now been restricted to the following 22 yachts with the following general specifications:

    • Of fibre reinforced plastic construction.
    • Designed prior to 1988 and have a minimum series of 20 yachts built from one mould.
    • Have a hull length of between 32ft and 36ft. Bowsprits, wind vanes and outboard rudders, boomkins, pushpits and pulpits are not measured.
    • Have full-length keels with rudders attached to the trailing edge.
    • A minimum design displacement is 6,200kg.

In addition the Notice of Race states:
"The following are typical things NOT allowed. GPS, radar, AIS, chart plotters and electronic charts, electronic wind instruments, electric auto pilots, electronic log, mobile phone, iPhone, iPod, Kindle or any computer based device, CD players, electronic watches/clocks, video cameras and electronic digital cameras, satellite equipment of any kind, digital binoculars, pocket scientific calculators, electronic clocks or watches, water-maker…"

Sailors will navigate using a sextant and paper charts

They will need a clockwork chronometer for navigation too – no satellite or electric clock to get the exact times for navigation. They will have to be their own meteorologist – no feeds from base. They will be allowed traditional mechanical ‘wind vane' autopilots so they can sleep (sometimes). They will have to carry enough drinking water for the whole race, which could take a year. Music will be on a tape deck and books will entertain them. To keep them sane they will be able to use a satellite phone to speak to their loved ones, though the GPS function will be disabled so they can't use it to figure out where they are. The boats will report their positions to the yacht race organisers for safety purposes but no skipper will know where they are except by traditional means.

Vendee Globe boats have a satellite navigation system attached to a computer controlled autopilot that more or less sails them with the skipper making weather decisions based on satellite feeds from their base and team. The skipper is largely on board to make decisions that the computer can't and to repair damage that these fragile boats have done to them as they go. They are superstar janitors while the Golden Globe is about the art of seamanship and the psychology of being on your own for up to a year. It is a sailor's race where the VG is a lot more like Formula 1 where most sailors won't even dream of the technologies that are available to these giants of yacht racing.

Why haven't I heard of this?

Unless you're French, a yachtsman or someone who's just seen The Mercy, you'll not have heard much about this race. This is where I get on my high horse and claim that the organisers didn't manage to capture the UK public's imagination. While one of those organisers is a top yachting journalist (I'm lucky just to walk in this guy's shadow) and who has access to the national mainstream media, he just couldn't get the sponsorship for the race or anything like the media coverage the race deserves.

Last week you would have heard about the Golden Globe Race in France. I heard rumours the night before that the Mayor of Les Sables d'Olonne had found €150,000 to sponsor the race on condition that it would start and finish in the town. The following morning this was confirmed and the sailing mad French media trumpeted the news so loudly the echoes could be heard at Point Nemo (the furthest point from human civilisation, and a place the racers will pass as they sail around the world). Us Brits felt as if a way of announcing that Britannia Rules the Waves again was stolen from us, in much the way at kindergarten some big boy steals your toy. Quite peeved.

I offered this article to Kavas Yachting to have a blast at the councils of Plymouth or Falmouth and to blame their rank inability to publicise a piss up in a brewery. I happen to know Falmouth is good at that as over the year I was doing my Master's Degree there, two beer festivals ran out of beer on their first nights which should have lasted two… Sadly it isn't about that. It's about Brexit.

Brexit and yachting?

According to the team running the bid to have the Golden Globe in the UK, it came down to company sponsors refusing to fund it until the storm clouds over Brexit have cleared. Whatever your views on Brexit are (many in Greece wish they could follow us. I'm not in disagreement about the great failings of the EU from a left winger's perspective) the fact is businesses won't invest in the UK until our trajectory of the European Union is clear. One of the organisers, Barry Pickthall, told Yachting Monthly:

"We had major sponsors lined up, but no one knows what is happening with Brexit and because of that uncertainty no one wants to spend money. We are by no means the only sporting event affected by this. We feel that we exhausted every avenue before making this decision"

Basically it isn't due to the inability of the old fogeys in Plymouth or Falmouth councils to publicise the Golden Globe, but due to the imbeciles in our national government to give a clear sense of direction to the world as to how the UK is leaving the EU. It is not down to the UK's inability to throw a brilliant event, but down to a bunch of self-serving nincompoops who haven't the ability to walk down the street in a straight line due to the copious quantities of expensive French wine in their system let alone to tell the world confidently “We're leaving the EU and this is how.” Until they do, or until we get a government that has a clear idea after a general election chucking out the trash that's in there at the moment, more sporting events like the Golden Globe are likely to die on their shrivelled backsides too.

If I add in Austerity? Barry Pickthall also runs a campaign to stop his council in West Sussex from cutting support to the disabled and elderly. I covered one of those terrible stories in West Sussex for the Sunday Express a few years back. The same idiots in London who are making the UK a laughing stock over Brexit are strangling council budgets in the UK too. While Les Sables d'Olonne's council could find the cash to sponsor the Golden Globe, if Plymouth found £100,000 from its 'Magic Money Tree' the councillors finding that money would lose their seats in the next election as that money could be better spent on adequate public services instead. Better for a child to not be homeless than to have a yacht race?

See you there

I will be booking my ferry to France in the next few months. I will be there to see the brave racers off. It takes around 12 hours to get there. The party will be amazing. It is a shame that the piss artists in our current government can't keep the Golden Globe here as it would be brilliant for sailing in the UK. Until we get a new government however, that and other races will end up in other countries too...

Richard Shrubb