Andy Rice talks to Vendée Globe and Global Challenge skipper Mike Golding about how to ready your yacht for all eventualities

You don’t need to tell Mike Golding about the importance of making your boat bulletproof. After all, this is the man whose keel dropped off his IMOCA 60 when 50 miles out from the finish of the Vendée Globe in 2005. He still finished, coming into Les Sables d’Olonne in a very impressive 3rd place.

Modern IMOCA 60s are complex, cutting-edge machines operating at the boundaries of reliability, but even when sailing a more run-of-the-mill boat, Mike would always run a series of checks before embarking on any kind of long-distance offshore race, even a hop across the Channel.

Aside from big Vendée moments like keels falling off and masts falling down, Mike has suffered his minor mishaps too: filling up his IMOCA 60 from a fuel tanker in Southampton Water only to pick up a dreaded bacterial bug that turned his diesel into jelly. Here are Mike’s five vital tips before you go offshore.

1. Start your engine

You need to start with the engine because you need power. Whatever your charging system it must be bombproof, so ensure the engine is regularly serviced, make sure your fuel is clean, and carry necessary spares.

Next on the list is electrics. Do the lights come on, do your nav lights work? If you have an alternator, what’s your backup? These things have to work if you’re to be in a position to finish a long-distance race.

2. Points of entry

Is the boat watertight? Make sure all skin fittings are properly fitted. I’ve learned from bitter experience: when I was pounding across Biscay in a nasty aboard one of the steel 67ft Challenge boats the hose popped off one of the skin fittings. The bilge pump was barely coping with the amount of water pouring in. If the pump had failed the boat would have gone down like a stone.

Double-clip through-hull fittings and have emergency bungs readily available – I tie the correct sized bung to each fitting with a piece of string. Modern boats have ever more complex steering linkages and compartments are not always easily accessible. Understand the steering system while the boat is on shore.

I cannot overstress the importance of regularly inspecting the keel and its attachment at least once a year, and always after a grounding.

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3. Chafe and turnbuckles

Look at the sailing systems. Wear you find now will multiply exponentially when you’ve been sailing for days at a time offshore. Treat signs of chafe as an early warning system for something that needs resolving before you go to sea. Pay particular attention to halyards and anything else that, if it broke, would require someone to go up the rig. You really don’t want to have to do that in a big sea.

I’ve learned from personal experience about turnbuckle failures, and a lot of times it’s down to there being insufficient articulation in the metal fittings. IMOCA 60s have virtually solved this problem with soft connections – to the point where I feel safer having a rope lashing than a turnbuckle because it articulates 100 per cent.

With modern materials, a rope junction is superior to a wire junction, provided they’re well maintained and periodically changed. Spectra is the most reliable option for most applications.

When you’re in harbour make sure you have enough length in furling gear systems to be able to take four turns of sheet around the winch – because that’s what you’ll need in a storm.

4. The weakest links

With every system on the boat, ask yourself the question: ‘What will be the first thing to fail?’ Either have a spare or at the very least be aware of which part of the system is likely to fail first. Have your plan of action before you need it.

Make sure you have lots of spare lengths of high-modulus rope – you can fix almost any problem with this stuff. If a metal fitting fails, you can tie it back on. The other obvious ones to take are lots of duct tape and Sikaflex: with these you can repair almost any sail.

5. Bulletproof your crew

Establish a routine that all the crew understands, but be flexible to change if circumstances require. You don’t set out in shorts and T-shirt to do a Channel race, so have the right clothing for all conditions. Equip everyone with head torches, and have plenty of spares.

Make sure you’ve got food that can be served without complicated cooking: hot food is really important for toughing out the worst moments.

And allow people to rest where possible. My mantra is that you should always ‘Wrap up before you get cold, eat before you get hungry and sleep before you get tired’.

About the author

Mike Golding is one of the most experienced offshore sailors on the planet. He skippered Group 4 to victory in 1997’s British Steel Challenge, held the solo record for sailing round the world westabout between 1994 and 2000, and has completed three gruelling editions of the Vendée Globe.