What does it take to sail two-handed around the world?
The double-handed Globe 40 teams powered around the world over eight legs in just nine months. Rupert Holmes discovers what cruisers can learn from their tough circumnavigation
Long-distance offshore racing nurtures extraordinary levels of self reliance and mutual support. The inaugural Globe 40 race, an ambitious and testing circumnavigation for double-handed Class 40 teams via the three ‘Great Capes’, with diversions into the tropics to Mauritius and Tahiti, took this to an extreme, with some US entries sailing 44,000 miles.
At the finish in Lorient the sense of camaraderie, solidarity and respect was inspiring. “We were talking to all the other skippers all the time, a lot of it sharing knowledge about fixing the boats,” says Mélodie Schaffer, owner of Canadian entry Whiskey Jack. “We all had problems along the way and all helped one another.”
“We understand each team needs different support and we all try to do that for each other,” adds Craig Horsfield, co-skipper of another North American entry, Brian Harris and Micah Davis’s Amhas, a 2013 Akilaria RC3 model, which finished 2nd overall. Race organisers provided advice while the fleet was at sea and practical help at each of the seven stopovers. Skippers came from a mix of backgrounds: most owners were hugely experienced amateurs looking for the experience of a lifetime, though one had only started racing offshore four years previously, while around 40% of the co-skippers joining them were professional sailors.
The skippers were in frequent contact with each other. “It was a really unique experience,” says Schaffer, “because they’re the people who can appreciate what you are going through most closely.”
An obvious takeaway for anyone with ambitious cruising plans is that your networks matter. When things go wrong having somewhere to turn for expert advice – or even just to bounce ideas around – can be invaluable. But don’t stress about having a network in place before leaving – one of the beauties of cruising is you quickly meet others on a similar journey. For some this happens in Brittany while waiting for a weather window to cross Biscay; while the pre-Atlantic crossing community in the Canary Islands is famously close.
The Globe 40’s demanding course (after starting in Tangier the fleet dove south via Cape Verde, around the Cape of Good Hope, south of Australia to Auckland, stopping over in Papeete before rounding Cape Horn to return up the Atlantic) meant no one had an easy ride. American competitor, skipper Joe Harris (no relation to Brian) saw winds of 62 knots on Gryphon Solo 2, a 2011 Akilaria RC2, while all others encountered more than 50 knots and significant wave heights of at least 6m.
Even at the end, the lead boat had to slow on the approach to the finish, to avoid 50 knot winds and confused 10m seas in Biscay.
The distances involved and conditions encountered would take a toll on any boat, but a nine-month race takes matters to a whole different level. Race organiser Manfred Ramspacher points out the dynamic between co-skippers is crucial to deal effectively with daily challenges and frustrations – even when tired, cold and fed up.
All in the preparation
One team had the luxury of starting their preparation more than two years before the start – Frans Budel and Ysbrand Endt on Sec Hayai. They took overall victory, despite being the oldest boat by a long margin in a class renowned for rapid development.
Sec Hayai, an Akilaria RC1 model launched in 2007, has been in Budel’s family for 12 years. It was also the only boat to have already won a round the world race – the 2008 Portimão Global Ocean Race in the hands of Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme (Budel’s father Nico also competed in the second Global Ocean Race until dismasted).
“Having the oldest boat meant durability and resilience had to be 100%,” Endt told me. “That allowed us to sail at the limit all the time – we showed you can win this race without a fast design of boat.”
Endt’s first big race with Budel was an edition of the Normandy Channel Race with an upwind leg in full gale conditions. He felt the hull was deforming, with the forestay load lifting the bows. They confirmed this visually by lifting the boat with a crane and cranking the backstay on hard.
This led to non-destructive testing (NDT) of the hull structure, which confirmed a problem with longitudinal stiffening. The existing 25mm-wide stiffeners forward of the keel were therefore replaced with an 80mm grid, massively increasing strength, while adding only 15-20kg of weight.
The mast and boom were tested at the same time. Afterwards Sec Hayai gained 3° of pointing ability, mostly thanks to better headstay tension. However, the biggest benefit was absolute confidence that the boat and rig were bulletproof. Sec Hayai was now probably the strongest in the fleet, even though some Class 40s were two generations newer.
A measure of how hard the duo pushed is that downwind in breezy conditions Endt reckons a broach “happened at least every hour and sometimes every few minutes.” They only felt the need to hold back on a couple of occasions. The first was on leg 3, upwind in 48 knots south of Australia, with very steep, pointy waves. “We dropped the main and continued with the J2 jib, 55° off the true wind.” Yet they won the leg.
Sadly this must have been a bittersweet victory for Frans: jubilation that the family boat had finally won a tough leg in a round the world race, but sadly his father died shortly before Sec Hayai’s arrival in Auckland.
Budel and Endt also had to sail conservatively on the final leg, when the sails were becoming weaker. They therefore kept the second reef in for a long time in moderating winds, but with the knowledge they already had enough points for overall victory.
A boat’s systems must also be bulletproof to achieve reliable long-term performance. At this level multiple levels of redundancy are a given, so if one item fails you can switch to a backup fairly seamlessly. However, this adds to routine maintenance and there are plenty of boats – cruisers and racers alike – with backup pilots that have languished unused and untested for years.
All teams I spoke with had completely independent pilot systems with separate rams, pilot computers, electronic compasses and data buses. Gryphon Solo also carried two additional hydraulic rams, as these proved prone to leaky seals. On the other hand Amhas, which has electric drives for the pilot, simply swapped the primary ram with the secondary at the halfway point.
Duplicate masthead wind sensors are also standard equipment. If the primary (vertical) sensor fails, you can use the horizontal, even though upwash off the rig means data is less precise. Sec Hayai also carried two further spares to rig on the pushpit, or replace a masthead unit in conditions safe enough to climb the rig at sea. It was a prudent move as the wind instruments packed up on the second leg due to the cable chafing.
“It had recently been replaced, but we didn’t check the work of the installer,” says Endt.
A bigger incident occurred between Tahiti and Cape Horn, when the cover stripped off the tackline of Sec Hayai’s 150m2 A5 in 30 knots of breeze, leading to “quite a big broach.” They couldn’t get the snuffer down, even using a winch, so released the halyard and pulled it in by the sheets. Other damage included a mainsail rip at the second spreader requiring a repair glued both sides, while the leech and foot of the Code 0 and several spinnakers needed reinforcement halfway through. These are common problem areas and it’s worth keeping a close eye on them, though extra reinforcement can affect sail shape and isn’t routinely added to new sails.
Endt says they pushed Sec Hayai hard in different conditions at the start of the project, “to identify the edges of control and the edges of the boat’s strength.” Previously Nico and Frans had tended to sail in a more conservative fashion, with a policy of dousing the spinnaker for every gybe. This served them well over many tens of thousands of ocean racing miles, but Endt identified it as an area in which big gains were possible.
He also progressively increased upwind speed from 7.2 to 8 knots. “We did 15-20,000 miles of training and racing before the Globe 40,” Endt told me, “including the Transat Jacques Vabre, two Normandy Channel Races and the Fastnet Race.” This helped maximise the performance that could be extracted from the boat and turn Budel into a near-professional level sailor in Endt’s estimation.
The boat originally tended to bury the bows, so sails were cut to help lift the forefoot. Mast rake was also changed from dead upright to 6° aft following discussions with the sailmaker, mast manufacturer and designer Marc Lombard. The sail inventory needed to be as flexible as possible, with generous overlaps between different sails. “This means fewer sail changes,” says Endt, “which helps conserve energy for trimming.” It also means losing a sail has less impact.
The boat is set up to be handled from the cockpit in heavy weather. After the finish there was much discussion about the importance of comfort in enabling maximum performance, with many teams envying Sec Hayai’s set up. “At the outset, we knew this was important,” says Endt. “You can’t replenish energy if you’re struggling to keep warm when resting.” This meant heating, comfortable seats, decent beds and good food, plus dry kit available for each watch change.
Keeping the water out
Craig Horsfield and British sailor Ollie Bond also proved to be a formidable team, winning two of the three stages they sailed together on Amhas. This duo’s first victory was the 7,150-mile leg from Cape Verde to Mauritius, despite breaking a half bulkhead in the forward crash box while ploughing upwind. The root cause was a cracked pulpit fitting, but the first sign of an issue wasn’t until water leaked into the main accommodation when the crash box was two-thirds full.
Horsfield says emptying the compartment was not an easy job. The boat was pitching so much he was repeatedly launched towards the deckhead as the bow plunged down, with water simultaneously out of his bucket. Fortunately, they were only 500 miles from the finish, with moderating conditions and a 300-mile lead, so could ease back and take pressure off the structure.
Nevertheless, they contacted the boat’s designer to check the problem wasn’t likely to lead to a more major failure. They also marked each side of the damage with marker pen to make any further movement or delamination obvious.
Sec Hayai also encountered a leak, but on a far more serious level: a broken seal around a rudder shaft as a result of contact with a submerged object. This was repaired using “a large amount of vulcanising tape” around the shaft and fitting, which held for 12 days.
They were not the only boat to hit a submerged object. Koji Nakagawa’s team on Milai, a 2011 Pogo 40 S2, was consistently fastest on the water for much of the race, winning the first, fourth and fifth legs, but then hit a floating object off the Argentine coast causing significant structural damage. It’s a measure of their skill and preparation that co-skippers Masa Suzuki and Estelle Greck were able to laminate a temporary repair and reach port without assistance. Once repairs were complete they were too late to rejoin the fleet, but had already bagged enough points to retain an overall podium position.
Mélodie Schaffer’s approach to the race was from a different perspective to those of the long-term Class 40 owners. Her first ever offshore race was just four years before the start, as a crewmember in the 2018 RORC Caribbean 600. It was an event that, unexpectedly, changed the direction of Schaffer’s life, after she realised “how important sailing is to me.”
After the 600 she did three Clipper Round the World Race legs, including a Southern Ocean stint as main helm, encountering 50-80 knot gusts. “That taught me big boat safety,” she says. “It was really instilled into us.”
She bought Whiskey Jack, a 2013 Akilaria RC3 design, only 10 months before the start. Early prep included a couple of weeks training in Europe before the Transat Jacques Vabre. This was followed by a period at Brian Harris’ Maine Yacht Center, where all three North American entries were based.
She trained in Antigua for two months in early 2022 with a sailing friend who planned to do the whole race, but had to drop out, leaving Schaffer without a team-mate at the 11th hour. She therefore sailed the first five legs with different co-skippers, before teaming up with Hawaii-based attorney Tom Pierce for the final three.
“I appreciated the knowledge they each brought to the boat – every person you sail with gives you a new opportunity to learn from them,” she explains.
“We often didn’t have time to sail the boat much – if at all – before the leg start. We did, however, have time together working on the boat so you begin to understand what your partner is like, how they problem solve, their areas of expertise and how they handle challenges.
“Even if we could not get out ahead of the race to practise, we spoke through [manoeuvres] and practiced at the dock. In some ways I think that’s even better – we went through all of the actions with the lines and could repeat things to optimise.
“Then once on the water, before [manoeuvres] we also talked through the plan. I would take a safe approach, especially in the first few days, so if we had a spinnaker gybe we first furled the sail or socked it down. In previous races with my training partner we’d sail through the gybe, but with changing co-skippers so often and the length of the race, it wasn’t worth the risk for the sake of a few extra minutes.”
With Schaffer’s preparation hampered by lack of time and budget, she mostly used the sails that came with the boat, although they were regularly inspected and reinforced. Even so, many of the problems Schaffer experienced could be put down to bad luck.
On the first leg an internal bow pulpit bolt sheared, making it impractical to use spinnakers, and five sails were damaged on the long second leg. Then, having led the fleet on leg three, a spinnaker wrap forced a 36-hour diversion into calmer seas before it could be safely sorted. The mainsail also ripped from luff to leech, requiring two days of sewing, with one person each side to push the needle back and forth, and the sprit broke en route to Cape Horn from Tahiti.
These breakages cost Schaffer many days, but didn’t stop her consistently notching up the fleet’s biggest daily runs. In leg 7, from Recife to Grenada, she set the overall 24 hour race record, covering an astounding 346.7 miles at an average of 14.48 knots. This was with two reefs in the main, and both the A5 and J2 set.
She went on to win the leg, finishing almost four hours ahead of Sec Hayai. Even in the final few days before the finish, she notched up a 318-mile 24-hour run, setting the fleet record for that leg. Whiskey Jack’s maximum boat speed was 28 knots in a 45 minute squall with gusts of 40 knots. Schaffer hand-steered through this, using instincts gained from her background as a dinghy racer in her youth. “I love sailing and I love sailing well,” she says. “The feeling when the boat is humming is still magic.”
Despite the problems she encountered, Schaffer finished every leg, which brought “a lot of satisfaction – I love the feeling of successful accomplishments. I had many setbacks but I never thought of giving up,” she says. “The strength that counts the most when you’re cold and tired and something breaks is your inner strength.”
What of the future? “I’m keeping the boat,” she answers. “This year I want to do the Rolex Fastnet Race and the TJV. Then I want to do the Globe 40 again. This time a lot of energy went into managing problems, but we had 176 days of ocean racing and you learn from every single one.
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