Solo long distance offshore sailing is a discipline that requires a skill set far more varied than would be required for any other form of sailing, particularly when you are intending to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop.
You cannot rely on specialists like riggers, mechanics, electrical repairers, radar technicians, and the like. It is just you, and once you set sail, you have to get on with it.
I spoke to Australian Global Solo Challenge entrant Kevin Le Poidevin, who probably has the most eclectic set of skills of all the skippers I have spoken to.
Born in the West of England, at the age of two, he emigrated to Australia (there was an incentive at the time that families could emigrate for £10; hence the sobriquet “Ten-Pound Poms”).
After finishing school, Kevin trained and worked as a vehicle mechanic, ambulance rescue vehicle operator, and volunteer Air Sea Rescue skipper. After 15 years on the job, he was looking for a change, and through his ambulance mates who were ex-military, they encouraged him to join the Australian Defense Force. So, when he was 29 years old, with a wife and two children in tow, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force.
Obviously, his new employer’s ideal was for him to continue to work as a vehicle mechanic, but Kevin did not want to remain in his previous field and was keen to broaden his horizons, so he trained as an instrument technician before cross-training in radar, radio, and electrical systems to become an advanced avionics technician. He specialised in the diagnostic repair and maintenance of complex aircraft missions and weapon systems on military fast jets.
While serving as a senior non-commissioned officer, Kevin led one of a number of teams that went through an exercise in fatigue management and risk assessment. Something that is particularly relevant in solo offshore racing. In this arduous exercise, a team was forced to continue without sleep for an extended period. After performing various other task related elements of the exercise over the course of 24 hours, it concluded with the team having to complete numerous mathematical and mental agility tests, one after another.
Apparently, after a period of doing this, Kevin’s team were the first to say ‘enough’ and withdraw from further testing. It transpired that that was the particular lesson to be learned. You should recognise the effects of fatigue through sleep deprivation and understand what to do when your team is failing to function properly, and indeed, how it affects your own behaviour when you are suffering from fatigue.
Kevin describes how the Military would often prefer a technician to specialise in the systems for one particular type of aircraft so that the technicians do not have to cross-train on multiple aircraft platforms and also so that they can hone their skills on that particular aircraft. At this time Kevin was predominantly working as an Advanced Avionics Technician on the F/A-18 Hornet, culminating in his operational deployment with No. 75 Squadron ‘Magpies’ to the Middle East in 2003.
Postings came in, and he travelled around the world, visiting countries as diverse as England, Singapore, and America.
After a period of carrying out such work, it was again time for change. Kevin was selected and posted into Defense Force Recruitment, and although this could seem like a rather mundane role, he discovered that he was working with doctors and psychologists, and he became interested in their work and how it was applied to Army, Navy, and Air Force recruitment. More skills to add to this sailor’s kit bag.
In 2007, Kevin was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force and became involved in project engineering and management assignments in the air, ground, and space domains. His career highlight was a three-year posting to Virginia in the USA as the Australian representative for F-35 site activation and the introduction to service of the first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning aircraft that would replace the ageing F/A-18 Hornet.
Kevin retired from full-time military service after 31 years but is still an active reservist. It is worth noting that Kevin had been sailing whenever he had the opportunity before he joined the Military, while in the Services and indeed since. He gives a rough estimate of his having completed over 50,000 nm under sail and, indeed, has competed in two editions of the Solo Tasman Challenges and two editions of the Sydney to Hobart races.
So to summarise, Kevin has expertise in engine mechanics, electronic systems, radar, radio systems, project management, sleep patterns and fatigue management, risk assessment, safety, marine rescue, discipline, and fitness, as well as being an experienced offshore solo sailor.
The story of how Kevin came to enter the Global Solo Challenge is also quite unique in that he was previously a keen supporter of Marco Nannini, the organiser of the GSC, since he had sailed the same type of yacht that Kevin still owns in the 2009 OSTAR, and when Marco announced this new event, Kevin realised that it came at a perfect time in his life, having recently retired, and that it fit in with his dream of a solo circumnavigation.
Kevin is currently back in Australia, while Roaring Forty is completing her refit under the watchful eye of Marina Coruña‘s Director Roberto ‘Chuny’ Bermudez de Castro, a notable offshore sailor in his own right.
Kevin will return to Spain just before ANZAC Day in April (a memorial day in Australia and New Zealand that remembers the fallen of all wars and conflicts). He will then take part in the Azores and Back (AZAB) Race (from Falmouth, England, to the Azores and back) and will then complete his 2,000 mile solo qualifying sail.
Kevin is supported by and readily promotes his Team Aviator Ocean Racing. I asked him about the team, and I admit that I was expecting him to list a comprehensive team of technicians, dieticians, medical advisors, etc.
“Oh, Team Aviator is really just me, my wife, and my mate Daz,” he proudly exclaimed. “The name came from when the Chief of the Air Force made a speech proudly announcing that everyone in the Air Force was an Aviator, whether they be a cook, a mechanic, a storeman, or a pilot, we were all Aviators.
“So I decided that the name of my team would be Aviator Ocean Racing.”
Moving forward to the current era of Kevin’s life. He is a keen supporter of ‘Soldier On’, a charity that is there to support veterans and their families as they transition from military life, and ‘Brain Tumour Alliance Australia, which has volunteers who support victims of brain cancer, their families, and carers. Please donate what you can at the links below.
Aviator Ocean Racing will continue after the GSC, when Kevin returns to Australia with his yacht, Roaring Forty (a Lutra designed Open 40), and he will be training up veterans to take on new and exciting challenges.
Brain Tumour Alliance Australia: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/global-solo-challenge-for-bullet