Since it began last July, we’ve been calling the 50th anniversary of the Golden Globe Race the most grueling ocean racing event in recent memory.
We can’t believe how much we’ve been understating it.
Last Thursday, Hungarian American Istvan Kopar sailed across the finish line in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, to take fourth place — and more importantly, to finish alive.
The 66-year-old Kopar suffered steering problems “almost from Day 1,” according to a GGR press release, and “overcame setback after setback throughout the race. The water tanks in his Tradewind 35 yacht Puffin became contaminated soon after he sailed down into the Southern Ocean, and by Cape Horn, the black mold growing inside the boat became so bad that his health began to suffer.”
But, like a movie where we watch the main character endure sadistic torture, this was just the beginning of Kopar’s (and other mariners’) troubles.
“He happened to arrive back in the Bay of Biscay shortly after the container ship Great American had caught fire and sunk, 180 miles due west of Les Sables -d’Olonne, generating large tracks of oil and chemical pollution on the surface being blown onshore. And if that was not enough, Kopar had to pick his way through a web of ship’s containers floating on or near the surface. On Tuesday, he was down to his last litre of drinking water but dared not process any sea water through his emergency desalinator, fearing the pollution would clog up the unit’s membrane.”
“His steering problems centred around Puffin’s wind vane self steering which Kopar admits he had failed to test adequately during sailing trials before the race start on July 1st. He first reported the problem on July 10, but continued for another seven days before announcing that he was exhausted by lack of sleep and would stop in the Cape Verde Islands to replace the unit. He pulled into Sao Vincente on July 19 and joined the Chichester Class for making one stop, only to find that the replacement wind vane would take a further week to arrive.
“A night’s reflection at anchor led Kopar to realise that his Windpilot wind vane had been wrongly assembled, and once this had been corrected, and knowing that he had not stepped ashore or gained any outside assistance, he applied to return to the GGR classification. This was granted, but the GGR Committee awarded him a six-hour penalty for going into port and a further 18 hours for using his emergency satellite phone.
“On November 20, a navigation error led him into the Southern Ocean no-go zone, which led to another six-hour 40-minute penalty – 24 hours 40 minutes in total. Kopar should have served this in a ‘penalty box’ at sea, but because of continued issues with steering and health problems he faced from all the mold growing inside the boat, the GGR Committee ruled that this additional time would be added at the finish.”
When he rounded Cape Horn on January 1st, Kopar scattered his father’s ashes. “That is one of my best memories” he said.
“It was torture for me. My self steering failed almost from day one. The boat itself did not have a problem. It was I who had the problems. Luck was just not with me. I think I’m done with sailing now and will take up gardening instead” he joked.
And so, finally, the Golden Globe Race 2018 is finally over . . .
. . . Wait, this just in . . .
“Kopar’s return leaves just one more skipper at sea — Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen and his Gaia 36 Asteria, who is still 4,227 miles from the finish. He is not expected to finish before mid-May.”
Bummer. The GGR award ceremony is in April. Hopefully they will let Lehtinen use his satellite phone to listen in — and maybe airdrop him some of the champagne.