Welshman Dafydd Hughes was one of the first participants to sign up for the Global Solo Challenge, which will start next September in A Coruña, Spain. This will be his second trip around the world as a sailor, but this time, he will go alone.
Question. What do famous navigator Alex Thomson, known for his multiple Vendée Globe podiums, and Dafydd Hughes, one of the participants in the Global Solo Challenge, have in common? The answer is simple: both men are from Wales, and if Dafydd succeeds in his challenge, they will be the only two representatives of their nation who can boast of having completed a non-stop, solo, sailing trip around the world. No small feat!
But the comparison stops there. While Alex Thomson completed his round-the-world trip in 75 days on his Imoca Hugo Boss during his best performance, Dafydd plans to spend 200 days on his circumnavigation aboard Bendigedig, a 34-foot Sparkman & Stephens. More than double the time. “I expect 50 wonderful days, 100 rather average days… And 50 really rotten days!” he says with a smile. The famous British composure in all its glory.
Unlike many GSC participants, the friendly Welshman took up sailing later in life. “The first time I set foot on a sailboat, I was 35 years old. The following Friday, I bought a boat,” he recalls. Dafydd is not one to do things halfway, and he quickly catches up. In 2007, he participated in the Clipper Race aboard Glasgow as a watch leader and made his first round-the-world trip on a sailboat. The crew even finished 3rd in the race. It was also during this time that he met Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, who supports the Welshman in his participation in the Global Solo Challenge.
Since his round-the-world trip with the Glasgow crew, Dafydd has obtained his RYA Yachtmaster certification and participated in numerous regattas, such as the RORC Caribbean 600 on a Class40. However, it wasn’t until the GSC qualification process and the refitting of Bendigedig that Dafydd discovered the joys of solo sailing. “It’s incredible, but I had never sailed alone before. But I immediately felt at ease. Just a little apprehension when leaving the dock,” he assures.
As you can see, Dafydd doesn’t hesitate when diving into a project. When he decided to sign up for the Global Solo Challenge, it was no different: “I was browsing the internet like we all do sometimes, going from page to page… and I came across the Global Solo Challenge. I immediately thought the concept was brilliant and signed up within the hour.” And even though he admits to wondering what made him sign up so quickly, he has never since questioned his commitment to the race. Sufficient proof of his determination and motivation.
Our favourite Welshman needed a boat to complete his round-the-world trip and participate in the GSC. While researching to find the perfect boat, he received a phone call: “A friend calls me and says, ‘Dafydd, I found the ideal boat for you.'” The boat in question, a 1971 S&S 34, which he renamed Bendigedig (“fantastic” in Welsh), had been in a hangar for over a decade and required a complete refit. “It was just a hull and a deck,” he says. Not enough to scare off the intrepid GSC participant, who got to work immediately.
It took Dafydd more than twelve months of work to get his boat in shape, and he now knows every nook and cranny. But that’s not the only asset the sailor can rely on during his round-the-world trip. Dafydd has already sailed the Southern Ocean during the Clipper Race and knows what to expect in high latitudes. “It’s gray, it’s cold… But it’s a wonderful place. At sea, you are the king of your own kingdom.” The question remains how he will handle nearly six months of isolation at sea: “Maybe I’ll go crazy, we’ll see after 200 days,” he jokes before continuing, “I’ll mainly try to keep a routine, have breakfast every day, for example. But I’m not the type to get bored. On the train, I don’t need to talk to anyone; I can spend the whole trip looking at the scenery through the window.”
For his challenge, Dafydd is well supported, especially by former Clipper Race participants with whom he has raced. The founder of Curious Roo Coffee Roasters, one of Dafydd’s sponsors, was on board Glasgow during the GSC participant’s first round-the-world trip. Glasgow’s skipper, Hannah Jenner, also provides technical support to Dafydd and helps him prepare for the GSC. Sailing is a tight-knit community, and sharing a round-the-world trip leaves an indelible mark.
Dafydd Hughes is one of the most prolific sailors from a media point of view for this first edition of the Global Solo Challenge. He has a very comprehensive website that I encourage you to visit, but Dafydd is also very active on social media, and you can follow the project’s progress day by day on Facebook. Another feature of the Welshman: Dafydd hopes to complete his round-the-world trip without any CO2 emissions and also wants to promote the connection between nature and mental health through the association Coed Lleol, the Small Woods Association of Wales.
In less than six months, Dafydd will set sail from the port of A Coruña in Spain. Just two years ago, he had never sailed solo, didn’t own a boat suitable for a round-the-world trip, and never imagined being able to achieve a circumnavigation. Now, at the age of 60, he may become the second Welshman to complete a solo round-the-world trip. If there is an element of madness in Dafydd, it’s one that makes you want to join in.