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Global Solo Challenge – One watch at a time

Global Solo Challenge

By: Brian Hancok

One of my favorite short stories when I was a nipper growing up in South Africa was ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.’ It was first published in 1959 and was about a boy from a poor family who finds long distance running as an outlet, a way to ease his mind in trying times, his trying times meaning that he was in prison. He garnered some privileges from the authorities because of his prowess as a runner. The story came out as a movie and the tagline was, “you can play it by rules… or you can play it by ear – what counts is that you play it right for you.” If that doesn’t resonate with sailors, especially solo sailors, then I am not sure what does.

I am no longer a nipper; in fact I have more than a few gray hairs but as I have navigated my way through life, especially after I became a professional sailor, I have thought about the lessons learned from that simple story. Now, I am thinking about all the sailors that have signed up to do the Global Solo Challenge and how they will navigate their way not only around the world, but through the mental challenges that will inevitably come their way; along the way, as they lap the planet.

Global Solo Challenge Route
Global Solo Challenge Route @globalsolochallenge


My mate Skip Novak, who has done multiple circumnavigations, might just have summed things up perfectly when he wrote his book, ‘One Watch at a Time’. It was about the ‘85/86 Whitbread Round the World Race. I raced with Skip aboard Drum, the boat owned and sponsored by Simon le Bon and the managers of the rock group Duran Duran. You have heard of them, right? Anyway I digress. The point of the title of Skip’s book is what all the sailors who have signed up for the Global Solo Challenge need to consider. They might need to also consider this. It’s a well worn joke that goes, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer; “one mouthful at a time.”

Let’s look at the task that lies ahead. A single-handed, solo, alone, call it what you want, non-stop circumnavigation via the three southern capes is a brutal challenge. For a start it’s a long way, around 26,000 miles depending on the route you take. Some of the 52 competitors that have so far signed up for the race might have gone down the same path that my wife and I did many times when we signed up to run various marathons. We had a few martinis, started to reminisce about all the races we had run and then filled in the credit card information for yet another race. In the morning, slightly hungover, we realized what we had done but with the money already spent we went off and ran the race. It’s lonely being a long distance runner. It’s also lonely being a long distance sailor and I hope that there is no buyers remorse among the competitors that have signed up for this grand adventure.

GOPR7677 2 scaled


So how do you deal with the enormity of the task ahead? You take it one watch at a time, or in the case of eating an elephant, one mouthful at a time. You start from A Coruña, on the west coast of Spain, a perfect send-off city I might add. Do not look at the enormity of the task that lies ahead. Just think of how you are going to tackle things. First you need to make it as far as the equator. OK that’s too not monumental. Then you have to go south into the Southern Ocean. That’s OK. When you get there there will be a big slingshot waiting for you. Hold onto your hats, it’s a fairly hairy ride across the Southern Ocean to Cape Horn and once you round that legendary cape, it’s still no easy passage back to the finish in Spain. But let’s go back to the start again.

It won’t be long after you leave Spain until you are in the trade winds. You can ease into the journey. Don’t look too far ahead. Just focus on getting to the equator. Well, take that back. The equator might be too far. Focus on passing the Cape Verde Islands. Take that back as well. The Cape Verde Islands might seem a bit too far as well. How about the Canary Islands? That’s not a big trip is it? Well it kind of is so focus on making it past the Azores. That’s easy. Right? The Azores is still a bit of a hike so just try and make it through the first week. Nah take that back. Try and focus on getting through the first 24 hours and if that seems too long focus on making it to dinner, or as Skip said so well, take it one watch at a time. I know that solo sailors don’t stand a typical watch system but my point remains the same. Don’t focus on the enormity of the task that lies ahead. Break it down into bite sized chunks and before you know it you will have eaten the whole elephant; and circumnavigated the world

Brian Hancok

Brian Hancock is an expert in offshore ocean racing and a regular feature writer for ‘Sailing’, ‘Blue Water Sailor’, and ‘Yachting World’ magazines. Specialising in sails and sailmaking, he is the author of “Maximum Sail Power” and the founder of Great Circle Sails. E: greatcirclesails@gmail.com T:  +1 617-271-0712


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