Thursday 15 August 2019

Piece written for Sunday Miscellany in November 2018. but not used by them.  They ask you to wait six months before publishing elsewhere.  In their automated reply.

The Golden Globe Yacht Race

It was 50 years ago, in 1968, that an English newspaper decided to organise a race for yachts to circle the earth, nonstop and crewed by just one person.  Single handers.  Like the assault on Everest or the Four Minute Mile this was an obvious record waiting to be broken.

In 1968 sailing races and interest in sailing was on an upward spiral with races across the oceans and long distance voyages by hardy single handers gaining much publicity.  It was inevitable that soon someone would sail around the world nonstop and several intrepid voyagers were planning such a venture. 
So the Sunday Times announced the Golden Globe Race and put up a prize for the first solo, non-stop, circumnavigation.  A motley bunch of adventurers and dreamers rallied to the call.  They were mostly English but also included 2 French boats and an Italian.  There was, in those days, intense rivalry between the French and the English over matters nautical.  There was one Irish entrant, Commander Bill King, from Galway.
 The sailors competing would leave an English port in the summer of 1968 and sail around the world non-stop.  The race was notable in that, of the nine starters, only one succeeded and finished, the now well-known Sir Robin Knox Johnston.  One famously faked his race attempt and then committed suicide - the unfortunate Donald Crowhurst.  The Irish entrant, Bill King, capsized, was dismasted and had to retire from the race.  Most of the entrants were in highly unsuitable vessels and retired because their boats were not up to the rigours of the Southern Ocean.  A bestselling book about the race described it as a Voyage for Madmen.
Coming forward to this year, a commemorative race has been organised which is presently under way. It is also called the Golden Globe Race. While there have been vast improvements in the design, technology and safety of sailing boats since 1968 it was decided to try and confine the race to the technology and design of the original race era.  Only smaller, heavy, long keel boats dating from the period would be allowed and modern forms of electronic navigation would be prohibited.  Celestial navigation, using the sun and the stars, would be the rule.  Contact with the outside world and social media would not be allowed or at least severely curtailed. Great efforts would be made to restrict the costs associated with sponsored yacht racing so that crusty old Barnacle Bills and dreamers would be able to compete.
18 sailors took up the challenge and set off this July to commemorate the race of 50 years ago.   They are a very varied bunch, both in age and nationality.  Four Frenchmen started and, surprisingly, only two from the United Kingdom of whom one is a female and the youngest in the race at age 27.  The oldest is a 73 year old Frenchman.  The rest are evenly spread over the nationalities of the world.  From Ireland, Gregor Mc Guckin, a professional Yacht Master from Clontarf, put up his hand.  He acquired a suitable boat, got considerable sponsorship and off he went. Should he succeed he would be the first Irishman to sail around the world nonstop.
Sir Robin Knox Johnston on board his boat, Suhaili, in which he had competed and won in 1968, fired the gun to start this commemorative race.  The huge send-off fleet reflected the explosion of interest in sailing which has occurred over the last fifty years.  Knox Johnston took over 300 days to complete his non-stop voyage.  The record now for the singlehanded circumnavigation of the globe stands at an astonishing 42 days, a telling indication of the interest and progress which sailing has engendered over the last half century.
The commemorative race as it enfolds has had its share of drama.  The less experienced skippers dropped out fairly early. It was not for them.  Seasickness, lack of sailing knowledge and equipment failures took their toll.  Then off the Cape of Good Hope, two of the leading contenders dropped out as a storm damaged their boats.  On into the Indian ocean another storm dismasted two other boats including our Irishman Gregor McGuckin.  His jury rigged boat was involved in a dramatic rescue attempt when another competitor was capsized and injured.  The Australian Navy and the Indian Navy rushed to the rescue and Gregor was forced to abandon his stricken boat and record attempt.
A handful of competitors struggle on in the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean – destination - the infamous Cape Horn at the tip of South America, before they turn north for home.  We will have to wait for another day before an Irishman sails around the world, singlehanded, nonstop.  I am sure that, sooner or later, an Irish boat will do it.

Pete Hogan
November, 2018.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

 Written for RTE radio program Sunday Miscellany.
October 18.
Illustrations from Exhibition called 'Sailing to Stromboli'.

Sailing to Stromboli

There are many islands off the coast of Italy.  Some are large - Sicily and Sardinia – but there are many smaller, from the mud bank that is Venice to topical Lampedusa, currently on the front line of the influx of refugees fleeing North Africa.  By chance, rather than any grand plan, I sailed in my yacht with my family to another famous Italian Island this summer - the volcanic isle of Stromboli, known down through the ages to mariners as the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.
Stromboli, one of the Aeolian group of islands, guards the approaches to the Straights of Messina.  This is the narrow band of water between the toe of Italy and the island of Sicily.  Stromboli is an active volcano, a tall cone of smoking and at times flaming eruptions.  In such a prominent position it earned the title ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’.   It guides the wandering mariner into the mouth of the famed passage between Scylla and Charybdis.

No one wanders around the ocean these days on board boats looking for lighthouses.  One knows exactly where one is thanks to modern methods of navigation - GPS, radar and other communication devices.  But we espied with excitement the distinct cone of Stromboli while we were yet far off and it was not long before we could discern the wisp of smoke emitting from its summit.
We dropped anchor off the village.  There is no safe harbour on Stromboli, it being symmetrically round in shape as it rises from the depths to its smoking cone. Our party of five landed in our rubber dinghy and sought out a pizza joint, which we had found online.  Night was falling.
The rest of the Aeolian Islands are crowded and busy with tourists and holidaymakers.  This is the summer playground of the Italian cities, Rome and Naples.  Not so Stromboli.  It has a small population, narrow streets, no cars, little boxy houses and, island like, no street lighting.  We stumbled up dark lanes to find our supper.  As we sat down on a large outdoor terrace we could look up and see the head lamps of the trekkers who nightly make the guided climb up to the crater to view the action.  They make the six hour trip wearing helmets, lights and strong boots to see the bubbling cauldron.

Our party were more interested in food and we were not disappointed.  I looked around the restaurant.  There was a big group of sophisticated elderly Italians eating, drinking and gesticulating.  On the walls was a large collection of black and white photographs.  On closer inspection they turned out to be stills from the famous movie Stromboli which Robert Rossellini had made on the island in 1949 starring his then lover, Ingrid Bergman.

I was reminded of another island and another movie.  Man of Aran was filmed by Robert Flaherty in 1934.  It was a considerable critical success and won a prize at the Venice Film festival.  It seems impossible to think that Rossellini had not seen it.  There are many similarities between the two movies.  Both directors use the local people as actors.  Each movie has dramatic fishing scenes.  The rugged faces of the locals, the weather and the harsh terrain are a big part of both movies.
Rossellini almost invented the genre of Neorealism in the movie business with his use of nonprofessional actors and actual locations.  But into this harsh landscape and primitive population of Stromboli he casts the most beautiful woman in the world and proceeds to kill her off in a dramatic eruption. Viewed today it is almost comic in its storyline.   While Flaherty’s film was a worldwide success, Rossellini’s was less so.  Apart from a critical drubbing, in the United States the romantic affair between the director and his world famous star, both being married to others at the time, was considered too scandalous.  The director fell out with his American backers and the movie was called out as evil on the floor of the United States Senate.  But it also won a prize at the Venice film festival.
We returned to our anchored yacht through the unlit alley ways of Stromboli picking up our rubber dinghy on the black volcanic beach.   We had our pre bunk refreshments in the cockpit.  It was a beautiful calm night.  We could look up at the groups of climbers as they snaked their way up the cone of the sleeping volcano, each with a head lamp on their helmet.  Back and forth they went on the switchback trail.  On these slopes, Ingrid Bergman, in the movie Stromboli, had met her fate.

Friday 22 February 2019

Short speech written as introduction to talk given by Gregor McGuckin  in Poolbeg YC in Feb 2019.

The Golden Globe Race, 1968. 
Pete Hogan .

The original Golden Globe race was organised by the Sunday Times in 1968.  In competition to the Observer newspaper which had the very successful OSTAR race, the Times decided it wanted to get in on the sailing sponsorship game.  They realized that following Francis Chichester’s famous round the world one stop voyage it was only a matter of time till somebody sailed around non-stop.  They identified a few sailors who had plans to try and corralled them into a loose competition and called it the Golden Globe.  It was loose in that there was no start, just the stipulation that you had to begin in the summer of 1968 from an English port, sail around non stop, unassisted and return to an English port.  There were very few safety rules or restrictions on the type of boat you could use.  There would be a prize, The Golden Globe, for the first to succeed and then a cash prize for the fastest circumnavigation. RKJ won both.
There were 9 starters.  I will list them and give a short summery of what the race did to them.  Some of them are now famous, others forgotten.  All of them I think were profoundly changed by the experience. Some for the better others tragically.

1.Robin Knox Johnson. Knighted. Stellar career.  He fully supported the 50 anniversary race and brought his old Suhaili to the starting line.  Other classics of the era were also there. Joshua, Pen Duick, Gipsy Moth 4.

2.Bernard Moitessier  The ultimate dreamer and lost soul.  The St Francis of voyagers.

3. Alec Caruzzo.  ill health.  Good boat, could have won. Italian Chichester

4. Loic Fougeron.  Boat a bit small. Knock down. Sensible decision to quit.  Had two other efforts at Cape Horn and in 1976 became the 4th French man to circumnavigate by Cape Horn. In bigger boat.

5.  Bill King.  Unlucky in his choice of yacht.  The Irish connection.

6.  Nigel Tetley.  Tragic normal person.

7.  John Ridgeway  Unsuitable boat.

8.  Chay Blyth  Unsuitable boat.

9.  Donald Crowhurst.  Tragic figure who stole the show.

It is an indication of how far sailing and boat technology has come in the intervening years when one looks at the motley collection of boats which set out.  Especially the boats of Ridgeway and Blythe.

The 50 year anniversary race was the initiative of one Don McIntyre. An Aussie sailor, adventurer, and entrepreneur.  His main selling point for the 2018 race was that it should be for dreamers and adventurers and in particular, affordable. For those who did not have sponsorship.  Several of the entrants were his buddies.  He came up with the idea of restricting the race to boats designed and in production in 1968.  And a length restriction of 36 ft and full keel.  And lots of other restrictions.  Very few, or none of the original entrants would have qualified for the recent race.  Entrants would also have to use celestial navigation and could not get outside assistance by radio.  With exceptions.  There were onerous safety requirements which turned out to be a good thing.  The aim was to keep costs down.

It is generally accepted that the 2018 race has been a great success and that Don McIntyre ran it with great skill, compassion and on a shoestring.  He has attempted to create a brand for the race and is going to run another one in 4 years time.

But I am sure that Gregor will tell you all about that.