Ben Meakins talks to Tim Newson, set to participate in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, about the modifications required to get his Baba 35, Black Sheep, ready for the race
In 1968, the original Golden Globe Race was widely regarded as ‘a voyage for madmen’. But where does that leave the 34 men and one woman who are signed up to recreate the voyage in 2018 with 50-year-old technology?
One such madman is Tim Newson, 35. Tim, a cabinetmaker and sailing instructor by trade, sold his London flat and bought a boat, a Baba 35 named Black Sheep, in 2014. He was refitting the boat last year to get her coded so he could run some sailing trips when he heard about the 2018 race. ‘It just clicked,’ he said, and in no time he became one of the first entrants. He’d long been an avid reader of the classic sailing books by Knox-Johnston and Chichester, and remains very excited about the race.
I met Tim and his partner, Colette, aboard Black Sheep on a winter’s day, when the latest of a series of gales was battering the South Coast. Sitting down below on Black Sheep, with the wind whistling through the open hatch and the boat buffeted by the wind, seemed a fitting place to talk about the upcoming race, which will test boats and skippers – not least because of the absence of any electronic navigation aids, let alone modern sources of entertainment such as iPods, tablets and e-books.
The brainchild of Australian adventurer Don McIntyre, the race aims to honour and recreate the original Golden Globe Race, 50 years on. Leaving in 2018 from Falmouth and returning there around 300 days later, McIntyre describes the plan as: ‘Depart Falmouth and sail solo, non-stop, around the world, via the five Great Capes and return to Falmouth. Entrants are limited to using the same type of yachts and equipment that were available to Robin Knox-Johnston in that first race. The challenge is pure and very raw, placing the adventure ahead of winning at all costs. It is for “those who dare”, just as it was for Robin. They will be navigating with sextant on paper charts, without electronic instruments or autopilots. They will handwrite their logs and determine the weather for themselves. Only occasionally will they talk to loved ones and the outside world, when long-range high-frequency and ham radios allow. ‘
Tim’s first experience of adventurous sailing was a delivery trip with his father on a newly-bought GK29 from Cardiff to Chichester at the age of 13. That trip sparked his interest in sailing, and he began to look forward to the annual trip he made with his father in the boat. He took up mountaineering until an accident in Scotland persuaded him that mountains were too unpredictable. He then spent a summer working as an instructor for a sailing school in Cornwall, and never looked back.
The Golden Globe 2018 is being run under strict limits. The boats must be production boats between 32ft and 36ft overall, designed prior to 1988, and having a full-length keel with rudder attached to their trailing edge. Black Sheep, says Tim, is one of the more competitive designs that falls within that bracket, with her big rig, long, slender keel and proven hull shape, well tried in many an offshore passage.
Tim said he bought the boat to set up his sailing school, for which he needed to get the boat coded. He looked at the work he was doing to ready the boat for coding, and realised that while a lot of work would be required, he could modify Black Sheep relatively easily. And so, with the decision made, he began the long job of adapting her for the race.
While modern race boats can circumnavigate in under 80 days, the Golden Globe competitors are more likely to take approximately 300 days. That’s a lot of use – most boats would only have that much wear and tear after 25 years of weekend usage.
To begin with, Tim removed Black Sheep’s rudder. The glassfibre had cracked, and the rudder was completely filled with water. In addition, he plans to convert the boat from wheel
to tiller steering. This is a much simpler system, with fewer moving parts – and Black Sheep is well balanced, perfectly suited for tiller steering. As we went to press, the rudder was being rebuilt with a longer stock to allow the tiller to attach directly to the head of the stock.
The cockpit rebuild entails some major work in addition to removing the pedestal. The huge lazarette currently drains into the bilge – a potential boat-threatening state of affairs if pooped by a Southern Ocean wave – so Tim plans to raise the bulkhead and install a floor to the locker, making it sealed from the bilge. Allied to this, he also plans to increase the size of the boat’s gas locker, which will need to hold more bottles to last 300-odd days around the globe.
The cockpit coamings, capped with teak, were leaking, so Tim removed the woodwork in order to seal them up. He also moved the deck gear to suit single-handed sailing, re-siting the winches and cleats to better suit the new cockpit layout.
Tim has a Monitor windvane self-steering system for the boat – no autopilots are allowed – and will remove the other instruments for the race, although depth-sounders are allowed. While
there will be a tracker on board, there will be no GPS. That worries Tim less than you might expect – he runs his sailing school to specialise in traditional navigation, and is a fan of using celestial navigation. Besides which, of course, he’ll have plenty of time to practise en route!
Further forward, the race rules stipulate that there must be a watertight crash bulkhead. For this, Tim removed the rotten plywood that formed the existing bulkhead, and also the aft end of the chain locker. He replaced this, and will fill the cavity forward of it with foam. He also plans, if funds allow, to install a secondary aluminium watertight bulkhead, just forward of the heads compartment. This will have a watertight door that will allow access to the sail locker, but be strong enough to withstand a major leak.
To comply with the rules, Tim has filled and glassed up the anchor well and removed the anchor windlass, its chain pipe and switch holes. This he plans to re-site further aft, with the
chain stored in a self-draining locker beneath the V-berth – which will also help keepweight out of the bow.
The boat’s substantial timber bowsprit was, superficially, in good condition – but the glue joints were failing. Tim removed it and split it apart, and employed Collars, the famous oar maker, to glue it back together and scarf on a new section to replace an area which was split. Tim plans to replace the cranse iron around the bowsprit, adding a gammon iron to allow the inner forestay
to attach directly to the stem – regardless of whether the bowsprit becomes damaged.
The race rules state: ‘Entrants must show prior ocean sailing experience of at least 8,000 miles and another 2,000 miles solo, in any boat, by 1 March 2018.’ Tim says that he’s covered plenty of miles in Black Sheep already, but plans to get her in the water by the summer and head up to Norway to practise his sextant work and get some miles in – and also plans to enter the OSTAR in 2017. ‘Nothing will give me as much experience in such a short time as another solo race,’ he says, and he plans to use the race to work out what sail configuration suits Black Sheep best in every condition.
Tim also plans to overhaul the rig. ‘Ideally, I’d replace the mast before the trip – it’s 30 years old, and who knows what stresses it has faced,’ he says, ‘but it depends on the budget.’
‘A new generation of sailors’
‘I’m really excited,’ says Tim. ‘I’m hoping that it will encourage a new generation of sailors.’ That’s a worthy aim. Back when Chichester and Knox-Johnston circumnavigated, they did it in boats that were very much like those to which the average weekend sailor could aspire. These days, hi-tech offshore racing yachts exemplify the application of amazing technology – but they bear little relation to most people’s experience of sailing. Chichester and Knox-Johnston’s voyages ignited a huge passion for sailing in the general public, and Tim hopes that the 2018 re-
run will do the same. It may be a voyage for madmen, but it has sparked a huge amount of interest – and with the waiting list full, there’s no shortage of sailors who are attracted by the challenge and the adventure. With onboard trackers, we followers ashore will be able to track the racers in far more detail than that offered by the weekly newspaper reports of 1968. It’ll be easier for us to see where competitors are than for it will be for them to find their position. Tim and Black Sheep are well on their way to the start – but there are many hurdles ahead. We look forward to following the race!
You can follow Tim’s progress at his website