One of the pioneers in the World of Solo Circumnavigation is Sir Charles (Chay) Blyth.
Up until 1968, Blyth’s only seafaring experience was as a long-distance rower when he, along with John Ridgway, rowed the Atlantic Ocean.
In the Sunday Times, Golden Globe Race of that year, he entered this race with no sailing experience, whatsoever. Indeed, Author Peter Nichols wrote that “Few people leaving a dock for an afternoon sail in a dinghy, have cast off with less experience than Chay Blyth had when he set sail alone around the World.” It is even reported that Blyth followed some friends in their yacht for the first part of the race so that he could copy them!
Blyth was sailing a 30 ft yacht called Dytiscus III, and incredibly despite his lack of experience and knowledge of sailing, he actually made it beyond the Cape of Good Hope. Then, in storm force 10-11, the fibreglass twin-keeled yacht, broached repeatedly, breaking the self-steering gear.
The yacht was also knocked down three times before Blyth decided to retire.
With hindsight, the boat that he was sailing, was deemed totally unsuitable for such a journey.
In 1971, still having only three years of sailing experience behind him, Blyth became the first man to circumnavigate the Globe, solo and non-stop westwards, so that was against all the prevailing winds.
In contrast, all of the entrants to the Global Solo Challenge (GSC) have considerable sailing experience, with the number of nautical miles already covered by each sailor being measured in tens, if not hundreds of thousands of nautical miles.
The organisers, have set a framework of the minimum requirements for the boats to be used, and whilst they may assist and advise the entrants, at the end of the day, it is for the individual skippers to decide if their boats and indeed they themselves are up to the challenge
To ensure that the skippers are aware of their own abilities, the suitability of their boats and its equipment, the organisers have stipulated that every sailor will have sailed the boat that they are going to be using in the challenge for at least 2,000 nautical miles, solo and non-stop before they can even get to the starting line.
I spoke to a number of the entrants, and they all agreed, that a thorough knowledge of the boat and a comprehensive test drive, to ensure the viability of every single piece of equipment and every aspect of their yacht, was a necessity.
Indeed, some even said that final decisions on certain aspects of their systems, would not be made until after the two thousand miles had been completed.
This qualification passage is, in itself, a formidable challenge, but one that the participants acknowledge as an essential part of their training. Some are planning routes to test themselves and their boats in different conditions, and others are taking part in long-distance races.
Indeed one particular race has been set up for this purpose which has been organised by the GSC’s partner, the Royal Western Yacht Club. The route will be similar to the Vendée Artique, but in this case will set off from Plymouth, England, go around Iceland and then back to Plymouth. This will be a difficult course and one that will readily test the entrants, their boats and their equipment. This race, whilst not compulsory, is one that is recommended by the GSC organisers.
One entrant in the GSC, Pavlin Nadvorni, has had difficulties even preparing for the qualification sail, in that, his first idea was to complete the distance in the Black Sea in varying weather conditions. (He remarks that ‘it’s a tough place to sail in, it isn’t called “black sea” for no reason”). However, the recent war in the region has posed some questions about whether navigation will be at all possible. So, he will have to wait and see and is alternatively considering sailing his trial in the Mediterranean.
An incredible thought is that Chay Blyth, who is acknowledged as an intrepid pioneer and champion of solo sailing, would not even be considered if he had tried to enter the Global Solo Challenge in the boat he used and without having clocked up sufficient hours.