Our World

Mike Golding: My Everest

The Vendée Globe Race is perhaps the most demanding challenge of all, pushing boats, sailors and their equipment to their very limits… Before Mike Golding set off on the 12/13 Race, Gael Pawson talked to the British skipper to find out more.

More people have climbed Everest than have sailed around the globe. It’s a simple fact that illustrates the immense challenge that a circumnavigation of our planet presents.

To race around it, non-stop and single-handed, is a challenge for which it’s hard to find an equal. Competitors in the Vendée Globe face 90+ days at sea… alone. Apart from their rivals, their main adversary is the elements; the wind, the waves and the odd iceberg. Facing extreme weather – from hot windless days to full-blown gales – and with no crew to back them up, the intrepid competitors are wholly reliant on their expertise, skill and fitness. Over their 3-4 months at sea, they will be working, eating and sleeping on a 60ft boat that is their world. Never has the right kit been so important.

This is Mike’s fourth race. Now one of the race’s most experienced skippers, he explains that you need cutting edge technology to compete: ‘You have to have a swing keel, daggerboards, aerodynamic rigging, state-of-the-art sails, water ballast… and you have to know how to use it. The trick for us is to combine the requirements of a marathon with the needs of the technologically-driven competitive side of our sport.’

High tech on one side, on the other it’s a simple battle against the elements. The skipper’s wellbeing is vital: ‘Because it is such a big task physically you yourself have to be in a really good place. That means you need to be rested, eating well and warm. Then you’re in a good place to race. It’s a golden rule of mine: eat before you’re hungry, sleep before you’re tired and wrap up warm before you get cold. If you fail on any of those counts it’s too late because it’s very hard to come back. So having the right gear, the right food, the right clothes… your whole wellbeing is crucial. I know that others will be sailing better than me if I fail on any of those counts.’

Still, it doesn’t always go to plan: ‘Sometimes things happen and you get tired, hungry or cold… deeply, deeply cold. You’re wearing all the right gear, but if you get exposed for too long – something goes wrong on the boat, you end up on the leeward side in the water, you miss the fact that your core temperature has dropped… I remember brutally cold more than I remember brutally hungry or tired. It was not a good place to be. It took a long while to recover. I got my warmth back but it took me a long time to get back on pace and I was very tired for two or three days afterwards.’

Half of the Vendée is spent in the Southern Ocean, where it’s cold and remote: ‘If there’s an accident or you hurt yourself you’re not going to get help so you have to be very, very self-reliant. You have to be self-sufficient in the same way as if you were doing an un-manned un-supported solo walk to the North Pole – in fact there’s probably less help around than there is in Antarctica!’ Mike points out.

‘Managing the boat is a process,’ explains Mike. ‘You’re not sitting at the helm day in day out, but you are tinkering all the time to keep the boat at a high level of performance. And you’re trying to live your life; you have to eat, you have to sleep, you have to do all these things in a sustainable way. ‘You sleep in little catnaps, then you’re waking, processing data and deciding whether you can go back to sleep or not. Sometimes an alarm will go off – be it a collision alarm, or a windshift – and you have to be able to respond quickly. You have to get up in the middle of the night in a pitch black Southern Ocean, throw a foulie jacket on and know that you’re gonna get soaked in freezing cold water and do whatever needs to be done to keep the boat going at 100 per cent. Being able to motivate yourself to do that job… that’s what separates first from last.’

Having confidence in your kit helps: ‘It makes an enormous difference to have the confidence in your clothing – to know that it’s up to the task. If things get soaked in salt water we all know how difficult they are to dry, but it’s simple enough to wring things out, and throw then in the engine bay.’

Sending clothing on a Vendée Globe is probably the ultimate test and Musto’s extensive product development has made it the brand of choice for so many skippers: ‘We give our clothing a pretty hard life. We expect an awful lot from it. When I began you had to think about it more carefully – there was less variety, less technology, we didn’t have breathable stuff… These days you don’t think about it, because it just works.’

‘Over the years, I’ve had pretty much every bit of clothing that Musto has brought out… and it just keeps getting better. Every time I do a trip, I go back to them and tell them what I like, what works, what doesn’t…  it just means that the next time I’ll have better gear! Because I have to live in this gear 24/7 it’s got to be just right. I spend a lot of time just in the GORE-TEX® middle layers but pop on the HPX Smock when I need to get up on deck and fix something.’

‘Inspect any of the clothing at the end of that race and sure there will be some stuff with the knees a bit worn and scuffed… but most of it would be absolutely fine – you could give it a good wash and use it again.’

Mike concludes: ‘I don’t carry things we don’t need… I carry stuff because I need it. I won’t be taking a spare mast,’ he jokes, referring to his lost rig in the last race. ‘We only need one mast, but we need the right one.’

The same applies to his clothing. That’s why Mike is wearing MUSTO.

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