Simon Curwen is first home in the Golden Globe Race, solo around the world race - but not eligible for the overall prize

British solo sailor Simon Curwen has crossed the finish line of the Golden Globe Race, the single-handed around the world ‘retro’ event, after 234 days and 22 hours of racing.

Curwen, who is from Emsworth in the UK but also a resident of Brittany, France, crossed the line off Les Sables d’Olonne at midday today in his 1976-built Biscay 36 Clara. Fans from the French Atlantic town turned out to welcome him home, and Curwen took time to enjoy the moment, sailing up Les Sables’ famous Channel with his spinnaker flying, flares in hand.

Curwen is the first solo skipper to complete the course, having set off on September 4, 2022. However, he is not eligible to win the event, which is a non-stop race, as he had to put into Puerto Montt in Chile to make repairs to his windvane system. This demoted him to ‘Chichester’ class, although he resumed racing after making repairs ashore.

He was unaware that he was first home until his arrival, as skippers can’t use modern communication devices such as AIS which would show his competitors’ position.

“That’s fantastic!” he said after being told. “I need to look and see how that happened because I must’ve been 10 days behind [the race leaders] at the Cape [Horn].

“I wasn’t in the race, it’s not a race, but it’s very nice to be back first!”

“It’s fantastic, getting back to civilization,” he added on arrival on the dock. “The race was fantastic. There were times when it was tough – not so much physically tough, and the weather wasn’t particularly extreme except for one wave – but just the fact of being on the boat for so long. 

“And particularly being on these boats downwind for so long because you’re just rocking and rolling, you can’t relax, you’re just being thrown about. And there was a lot of downwind on the race!”

Simon Curwen on Clara sailing before the Golden Globe Race start in Les Sables d’Olonne.

His scariest moment, he said, was not in the deep Southern Ocean, but passing Finisterre in fog. “There were dozens of ships around Finisterre, and not being able to see them on AIS

I was calling them up and saying ‘can you see little me?’. That was probably the scariest moment because some of them came really close, and some of the ones in thick fog I just couldn’t see at all.”

Today’s arrival will likely be bittersweet for Curwen, who led the fleet from the Bay of Biscay until some 1,000 miles off Cape Horn. In late January Curwen was sailing in 40 knot winds and 6-metre seas when his Biscay 36, Clara was knocked down; the boat’s dodger ripped off and the Hydrovane head sheared off. The mainsail batten cars were also pulled from the mast track.

He tweeted at the time: ‘Disaster, as concerns the race. Early today Clara was knocked down. Sailing with just tiny headsail. The windvane head sheared off. Boat and skipper fine. Working on a plan.’

The windvane part was irreparable, and Curwen was not carrying a spare windvane in order to save weight, so he had to retire from the race in order to make repairs.

Simon Curwen on the Biscay Clara, sponsored by Howdens, was 1st through Golden Globe Race’s Hobart Gate on Christmas Eve 2022.

Once Curwen set off to complete the course, he sailed an impressively fast return Atlantic leg. “I am ahead of my best expectations in terms of speed up the Atlantic,” he reported last week. “It is partly because the boat is still in very good nick. 

“The sails are pretty much as good as at the start, and the antifoul [he used Nautix A9000 SPC Self-Polishing Copolymer] is good and the boat is lighter, as I’ve eaten a lot of food, so the boat has been going well. 

“I have also been fortunate with the weather, and my routing, I think, has worked well. I have not done anything extraordinary at all, just kept to very straight lines, but I am a few days ahead of my most optimistic expectations for coming up the Atlantic.”

Curwen is an experienced racer, having competed on the RORC and JOG offshore circuits as well as a Mini Transat (he still holds the best Mini Transat result of any British singlehanded sailor, coming second in the 2000-2001 event). He prepared his boat assiduously, setting up base in Lorient ahead of the Golden Globe Race, and repeatedly demonstrated not only impressive seamanship on his first circumnavigation, but both his and Clara’s competitiveness again in the race.

Despite not being eligible for the race win, he was relaxed and jovial on arrival, bantering with the waiting journalists in French. The 2018 race winner Jean Luc van den Heede also awarded Curwen a pennant as a verified ‘Cape Horner’.

“What’s next? Well, food, and people probably will want me to have a shower given I’ve only used 250 litres of water the whole trip!” he added.

The first non-stop skipper in the race, Kirsten Neuschafer, is expected to arrive in Les Sables later tonight, with 2nd placed Abhilash Tomy predicted tomorrow morning.