Solo around the world with stops

Eight boats and two mammoth opening legs are features of this year's race

Friday October 20th 2006, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected
Sunday's start gun for the Velux 5 Oceans fires for a very different singlehanded round the world race with stops to those preceding it in the event's 25 year history.

First held in 1982-3 when it was known as the BOC Challenge, the race started and finished in Newport, RI, and was very much a US-run affair despite sponsorship from the British Oxygen Corporation (going still further back in time British Oxygen had sponsored one of Robin Knox-Johnson's maxi-catamarans during the 1970s). BOC quit their sponsorship of the race prior to the 1997-8 event when it became known as Around Alone. The event was then purchased by the UK-based Clipper Ventures - highly appropriate given that Robin Knox-Johnston, Chairman of Clipper Ventures, was the BOC Challenge's first Race Director. Four years ago Around Alone followed pretty much the original route with stopovers in Cape Town, Tauranga (New Zealand), Salvador (Brazil) and finishing in Newport, but with an opening leg from New York to Brixham.

During the last race it became apparent that a logistical problem existed over the long duration of the race and in particular its stopovers, so this time the Velux 5 Oceans, as the race is now known, has had some stopovers axed. It now comprises just three rather than five legs and under this new format, the first two legs are massive: Bilbao down the Altantic past South Africa and across the Indian Ocean to Fremantle, Western Australia at over 12,000 miles. Then Fremantle across the Pacific section of the Southern Ocean, round Cape Horn and all the way up the Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia on the east coast of the US, at around 14,200 miles. The race concludes with a final leg, a compartive sprint across the North Atlantic, to the finish once again in Bilbao. At around 30,000 miles total it at least 5,000 miles longer than the Vendee Globe. While the Velux 5 Oceans is a round the world race with stops, some skippers are referring to its first two legs as being like two Vendee Globes back to back.

In addition to shedding stopovers Clipper Ventures have attempted to even out the relative performance of the boats, by only allowing Open 60s and 50s to enter this time - Open 40s are no longer allowed.

How successful Clipper Ventures have been in their modifications to the race remains to be seen. The entry list is tiny with only eight boats one of which is an Open 50 and with just two days to go until the start the field may possibly get smaller still. It possible the field will be reduced to seven as so far American Tim Troy's Open 60 Margaret Anna has failed to rate as an Open 60 with a small hope at this stage of getting it modified in time. Graham Dalton too, sailing the only Open 50, is also struggling to make the start having sustained damage to his yacht's keel and rudders on the delivery/qualification trip across the Atlantic to Bilbao. Last night as Bilbao was battered by 60 knot winds, Dalton's rig (due to be put back on the boat today) was damaged when it was blown off its cradle.

While this does not bode well, this race will be the most competitive we have seen in recent races with three boats - Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss, Mike Golding's Ecover and Bernard Stamm's Cheminee Poujoulat - all jockeying for line honours. As a result the race is unlikely to see another run-away victory of the type Stamm enjoyed four years ago. But there only being one Open 50 is particularly disappointing and probably marks the end for this class in this race (the mantle being taken up - as it is with the 40s - by Josh Hall and Brian Hancock's Global Ocean Challenge round the world race, taking place over 2007-8).

The perennial problem with the Velux 5 Oceans is that it clashes and has always clashed with the Route du Rhum, an event which for many of the French Open 60 teams represents a return to their sponsors otherwise only achievable from the Vendee Globe itself, all nicely packaged into a two week long period. Neither Route du Rhum organisers Pen Duick, nor Clipper Ventures seem keen on changing the year their event runs, nor, as has been suggested on numerous occasions, does it seem possible to have the Route du Rhum as the opening leg of the round the world race. At present the Route du Rhum remains the favoured choice among Open 60 teams with 14 boats expected to be on the start line in just over one week's time including three brand new state of the art boats.

Another possible influence on Velux 5 Oceans numbers has been the advent of OC Group's double handed non-stop Barcelona World Race to be held next year sandwiched into the IMOCA calendar between the Velux 5 Oceans and the Vendee Globe. Alex Thomson is the only competitor at present sailing both the Velux 5 Oceans and the Barcelona World Race and one wonders if for some other skippers it was an either/or decision.
The Form
OPEN 60s
Unai Basurko
Mike Golding
Robin Knox-Johnston
Kojiro Shiraishi
Bernard Stamm
Alex Thomson
Tim Troy
Graham Dalton
Marital status
Partner, Robbie
Solo racing 
1998-9 Around Alone leg one winner, 2000-1 Vendee Globe (7th), 2002 Route du Rhum (2nd), 2003 Defi Atlantique (1st), 2004 Transat (1st) 2004-5 Vendee Globe (3rd) 
1968-69 - Only finisher in The Sunday Times Golden Globe on Suhaili; first man to circumnavigate the world solo non-stop after 313 days at sea
1994 Sailed RTW singlehanded non-stop, 2002-3 4th Around Alone on Open 40
2002-3 Around Alone (1st)
2003 Defi Atlantique (3rd), 24hr monohull solo record holder, completed first 1/4 of 2004-5 Vendee Globe
Two time winners of the Bermuda 1-2 race
Completed three quarters of 2002-3 Around Alone
Past RTWs
As above plus 1992-3 Global Challenge, 1993-4 RTW westabout solo, 1996-7 Global Challenge
As above, plus 1977 Whitbread on Heath's Condor, 1994 Jules Verne on ENZA New Zealand
As above
As above plus 2005 Jules Verne Trophy on Orange II
1998-9 Clipper round the world race (1st)
As above
Saga Insurance
Spirit of Yukoh
Cheminees Poujoulat
Hugo Boss
Margaret Anna
A Southern Man-A.G.D.
Murray, Burns, Dovell
Owen Clarke Design LLP
Pierre Rolland
Marc Lombard
Bernard Nivelt
Greg Elliott
Jarkan Yacht Builders
Southern Ocean Marine
MAG France
MAG Ocean
Davie Norris Boat Builders
9.5 tonnes
9 tonnes
9 tonnes
10 tonnes
9 tonnes
Movable ballast
Canting keel
Canting keel
Canting keel
Water ballast
Canting keel
Canting keel
Canting keel
Canting keel
Twin asymmetric
Twin asymmetric
Twin asymmetric
Twin asymmetric
Twin asymmetric
Single daggerboard
Rig type
Rotating mast
Rotating wingmast
Fixed, 3 spreader
Fixed three speader
Fixed three spreaders
Mast height (m)
Upwind SA (sqm)
Downwind SA (sqm)
New, first race
New keel fitted in August
ex-Fila, 1998-99 BOC Challenge winner 
Ex Dominique Wavre's Temenos/Union Banque Privee
Fully repairs after 2004 capsize in the Transat
Formerly Roland Jourdain's Sill
Formerly Petit Navire
New, first race
In terms of the form the top three skippers and boats - Mike Golding and Ecover, Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss, Bernard Stamm and Cheminees Poujoulat - are hard to prise apart. At this stage we think that any of these three skipper-boat combinations has the potential to win.

If we have to separate these three then the favourite has to be Mike Golding and Ecover. While Unai Basurko's boat is the only new Open 60 taking part, the newest of the designs by those with previous experience in the class is Ecover and Golding knows her inside out having won the 2004 Transat and coming very close victory in the last Vendee Globe aboard her. Psychologically Golding is more than ready to finally win a solo round the world race after disappointment in the last three he has attempted. While his previous experience in this race was an unhappy one when a navigational error caused him to run aground on Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northwesternmost headland, Golding acknowledges that the last two Vendee Globes he has been the victim of gear failure - a dismasting within hours of the start of the 2000-1 race and due to halyard failure and ultimately a keel loss in the 2004-5 event. To prevent this happening again the pressure will be on Golding's shore team to ensure Ecover is prepared to the nth degree, equally as it will be on Golding himself to carry out a more comprehensive preventative maintenance program while the race is on. Ecover has recently gone back to having a fabricated steel keel and has had more sub-divisions put into her fore and aft water ballasts.

Alex Thomson and Bernard Stamm are harder to prise apart form-wise simply because their sailing style is similar - they both push the ^%$^%$ off their boats. While on paper their boats might seem long in the tooth, very little of either boat is original other than the hull. Hugo Boss had her keel replaced with a carbon fibre one prior to last year's Rolex Sydney Hobart race and a new rig put in following her dismasting en route to Cape Horn earlier this year. She has also had new electronics fitted. Hugo Boss has two sets of boards - the original set and a longer, newer set fitted prior to the Vendee Globe. The joke on the dock here in Bilbao is that his shore team keep changing the boards around according to the forecast. At present the longer boards are in as some upwind work is expected early next week once the boats have rounded Cape Finisterre.

Thomson is taking his personal preparation for the race very seriously. When he arrived in Bilbao two weeks ago he has started the catnapping regime he will employ during the race, sleeping in short bursts throughout the day and night, and during the day has been crashed out on an air mattress in the back of his car. He has specialists in town helping him with his sleep management. Meanwhile leading navigator Andrew Cape, who he will be sailing the Barcelona World Race with him, is here to assist and Thomson has also enrolled the great Jean-Yves Bernot to help him with his routing and pre-race weather forecasting. While Golding and Stamm hold huge experience of singlehanding and the round the world race course, Thomson, the relative newbie, is pulling out all the stops to catch up fast. (Read more about what has been going on with Thomson's boat here.)

As with Ecover and Hugo Boss, little work has been going on aboard Bernard Stamm's Pierre Rolland-designed Open 60 Cheminee Poujoulat - quite simply she has been fully prepared and ready to roll since her arrival in Bilbao. Like Hugo Boss most of Stamm's boat was replaced following her near loss when her keel broke off in the Transat two years ago. Rig, sails, keel, daggerboards, water ballast system, electronics were all replaced over the winter of 2004-5 and the boat today looks like she is new. Any previous problems with the boat, have been ironed out and we can expect Stamm to defend his title in the most tenacious way.

The fight for fourth will be an equally interesting one. Spanish sailor Unai Basurko, a protege of leading Spanish solo sailor Jose Ugarte, could be in the frame. He has a new boat, Pakea designed by Sydney-based architects Burns, Murray & Dovell who have credibility as a design house, but no experience in Open 60s. The boat looks strong, but slightly old fashioned with a narrow beam compared to the surfboard-shaped European designs. Basurko has no previous experience racing state of the art Open 60s and has done a year of Figaro sailing finishing up pretty much last in the Solitaire in 2003. One anticipates that it will be a case of learning on the job for Basurko.

It is fantastic that Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has chosen to enter the Velux 5 Oceans. A living legend RKJ was obviously the first man ever to have sailed around the world non-stop singlehanded (or fully crewed for that matter) and this is the first time he has chosen to return to the round the world race course singlehanded since the Sunday Times Golden Globe 37 years ago. In the interim he sailed round the world on Heath's Condor in the 1977 Whitbread and on ENZA New Zealand's successful Jules Verne Trophy attempt in 1994, on both occasions with the late Sir Peter Blake. Becoming a widower is perhaps what has provided Knox-Johnston with the opportunity to have another crack at racing round the world singlehanded, an idea that has presumably been bristling his beard for some years. While he is a newcomer to Open 60s and is sailing one of the more quirky boats - his is the old boat with deck spreaders for example - he is no stranger to boats of this power and size having raced Whitbread maxis as well a number of a large racing catamarans competitively and often short-handed on and off since the early 1970s. Sir Robin remains as strong as an ox, although he has been suffering over recent days after injuring his coccyx in a fall.

RKJ's boat wins the award for the most entertaining sponsor - Saga Insurance, who provide insurance cover for the over 50s. The boat herself is solid, formerly Giovanni Soldini's Fila, winner of the 1998-9 Around Alone, although has perhaps suffered from a lack of love over recent years.

The most likely candidate for fourth place we figure is likely to be Japanese solo sailor Kojiro Shiraishi, otherwise nicknamed by us western heathens as 'Koji' or 'Code Zero'. Koji has laid down all the necessary ground-work: this will be his third singlehanded round the world voyage having sailed an Open 40 in the race four years ago. This time he returns in Dominique Wavre's former Temenos, a 1999 generation Finot-Conq design popped from the same moulds as Mike Golding's original Team Group 4 and Josh Hall's Gartmore. Compared to other Open 60s the boat has traditionally been heavy but with an enormous sail plan and thanks to the skill of her former skipper has placed fifth and then fourth in the last two Vendee Globes. Since buying Temenos in March, Shiraishi's shore team, including former competitor Josh Hall, has undergone an intense refit at the boat's builders, JMV Industries in Cherbourg. Work has included raising the cockpit sole so that winch heights suit Koji's smaller size (compared to Wavre), fitting a pedestal and renewing the electronics.

A man who when he is not sailing enjoys adventure sports, Koji is one of the fittest skippers in the race and will need every ounce of his brute strength if he is to get his beast of a boat around the race course in any sort of competitive manner.

The sole representative from the US is Tim Troy and his yacht Margaret Anna. Troy has no previous on the round the world race track, although he has credibitilty racing singlehanded on shorter courses having won the Bermuda 1-2 on two occasions. Margaret Anna has an interesting pedigree: Originally called Petit Navireto a design by Joubert-Nivelt, she was unique among French Open 60s for originally being built to race fully crewed. Not only this but when she was first launched in 1998 she was fitted with both a canting keel and a canting rig. Unfortunately this promising campaign was short-lived, falling apart once she had dismasted a few months after launching. Since then she has been converted to singlehanding and fitted with a conventionally stayed mast, but has otherwise had a chequered career before ending up in Troy's hands.

Unfortunately Troy is currently experiencing problems with his IMOCA rating will not be starting on Sunday as he attempts to get Margaret Anna to comply with the minimum AVS requirements of the IMOCA Open 60 rule. When measured recently she was 3 degrees out. Troy has also just been told that he needs to have Margaret Anna put through her 180deg inversion test and this will involve removing her rig.

Finally, the lone entry in the Open 50 class is Grant Dalton's elder brother, Graham. Dalton's Around Alone race four years ago was nothing short of a disaster. The boat dismasted during her qualifier, causing Dalton to receive a penalty for his late arrival at the start. The top of his replacement mast nearly snapped off again when the compression members inside the top spreader roots collapsed coming towards the end of leg two into Cape Town. The high point of Dalton's Around Alone was when he finished third into his native New Zealand at the end of leg three. However on leg four shortly after rounding Cape Horn his race finally came to an end when his HSBC-sponsored Hexagon yet again dismasted. The boat has since become Pindar and will race in a little over a week as Brian Thompson's Artemis Ocean Racing in the Route du Rhum.

This time round Dalton returns with a potent-looking Open 50 designed by Greg Elliott, the man behind the Kiwi canting keel 100 footer, Maximus. However the writing is once again on the wall: on Dalton's qualifier/delivery trip to Bilbao, his yacht A Southern Man A.G.D. experienced a collision with a submerged object damaging both her keel foil and her rudders. She also sustained damage to her standing rigging. Since arriving in Bilbao Dalton has been scrabbling to get his yacht repaired in time for Sunday's start.

Aside from this race representing unfinished business for him, Dalton is sailing the Velux 5 Oceans to raise money for charity, following the death of his 22 year old son Tony from cancer just before Christmas last year - the A.G.D. at the end of his boat's name are his late son's initials. We hope Dalton has a change of fortune.

The Velux 5 Oceans gets underway at 13:00 local time this Sunday 22 October. The forecast is for strong southerlies for the first few days, enabling the boats to get to Cape Finisterre quickly but putting them on the nose as they turn the corner to head down the Portugese coast.
And the all-important odds?
Skipper Boat
Odds to win (x:1)
Mike Golding Ecover
Bernard Stamm Cheminees Poujoulat
Alex Thomson Hugo Boss
Kojiro Shiraishi Spirit of Yukoh
Unai Basurko Pakea
Robin Knox-Johnston Saga Insurance
Tim Troy Margaret Anna
Graham Dalton A Southern Man-AGD

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