Lying in sixth place in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe, the solo, non-stop round the world race, this rounding marks the British skipper’s remarkable achievement of racing around the tip of South America for the sixth time. Golding’s passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic today is his third time solo in a Vendée Globe, rounding west to east in 2001, 2005 and now 2013. And this time – which will probably be his last solo racing passage – the relief has been considerable.
A punishing few days
After taking something of a beating in the east Pacific Ocean over recent days, with stormy gusts to 45 knots and very big and confused seas, Golding has had to use all his experience to manage his IMOCA Open 60 Gamesa in the boat-breaking conditions. The proliferation of ice, which has drifted north on to the race track, made this his most stressful rounding yet.
"I think there has probably been ice before, but we just did not know about it and went around blissfully unaware in years gone by. But now with the ice-tracking technology available to the race, we are all the more aware and it is much more stressful," Golding explained.
Six races round Cape Horn
A former professional fireman, Golding cut his teeth on Sir Chay Blyth’s Global Challenge races, westabout against the prevailing winds and currents. Competing in two editions, Golding skippered two crewed east to west passages of the hardest Cape of all. Golding first rounded 20 years ago during the 1992-1993 British Steel Challenge. He rounded again when he set a new record in his solo east to west circumnavigation in 1993-1994 backed by Group 4. He returned again in 1996-1997 en route to winning the BT Global Challenge. Now with his third Vendée Globe rounding solo, he extends his existing record.
"The first time we had the most wind - 55-60 knots - but it was from the east. Photographer Barry Pickthall was on Cape Horn; we passed a mile and a half away under a poled out yankee and were just flying. I think I was the only person to get a Challenge yacht making over 21kts. The second time was on my own and it was relatively benign. I was on a long starboard reaching tack. But the third time was fully crewed and as we got down towards Diego Ramirez island there was an incredible feeding frenzy with birds attacking fish, fish being chased by seals and dolphins and killer whales circling. It was the full food chain in action in front of us. Of course the crew all thought it was always like this! I had never seen it before, or since!
"On my first Vendée Globe it was relatively quiet and I got up close again. What is amazing is that you go around the corner into Le Maire Strait and it is all quiet and flat water and you suddenly smell land, the heather and the lavender and it is quite the sweetest smell after you have not been close to land for so long. The sea state changes so quickly and you are in the Atlantic. But then you pass out towards the Falklands and you can be getting hammered again.”
The double hat-trick
Commenting on Golding’s achievement, Sir Chay Blyth CBE, BEM said, "Mike's hat trick in both directions is a unique achievement .... it's quite amazing and I know on his return, Mike will personally share his tales and experiences with all of us to inspire the younger generation of future ocean racers.
"Solo, offshore racing today is incredibly tough. While we all believe that technology is helping us, and it is, it also adds to the pressure of ocean racing. Now so many people can monitor your performance from the shore, it makes it much harder for the skippers as they have to drive themselves and their boats even harder.
"Mike should be very proud of all his sailing achievements. It was clear to me from the time Mike skippered the British Steel Challenge yacht that he was a very determined individual and when he asked if he could 'borrow' the Challenge yacht to attempt to break my record, circumnavigating the wrong way, solo and non-stop, I knew he would go on to achieve great things... "
Golding is the only skipper in this current Vendée Globe to have rounded The Horn in both directions.
Golding also retains his record
Despite the extraordinary speeds of the front runners in this year's Vendée Globe, Golding retains the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) record from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Horn of 16 days, 5 hours and 26 minutes set during the Vendée Globe 2004-05.
Commenting on the retention of his record, Golding said “That is extraordinary. It must have been a real glamour run. My abiding memory is that things just lined up one after another. It was one weather system to another, much like Francois [Gabart] has just had, making high average all the time. And I never had anything on the bowsprit. It was always fore and aft sails, that is to say we were reaching and pointing directly at the mark. I didn't expect to come out of this race with half my crown intact! I'm delighted to still hold the record.”