Agonising pain has forced Eero Lehtinen, the 40-year-old Finnish skipper of Global Challenge yacht SAIC, to hand over the reins

Agonising pain has forced Eero Lehtinen, the 40-year-old Finnish skipper of Global Challenge yacht SAIC, to hand over the reins to his able crew during the worst two weeks of the race. Fortunately Lehtinen was able to send this report from his sick bed.


The seas have eased and the wind has been down to comfortable 12-16 knots for a while. Additionally we are able to sail on course, after continuous beating into the wind for almost two weeks.

So, great relief? No, not for me. I am in great pain and life is really difficult, even in the lighter conditions. I am a passenger on board, the only paid person, looked after by the paying crew. So things are looking pretty weird from that point of view.

Luckily we have been a strong team from the very beginning, responsibility has been shared, early delegation has taken place and the boat does not stop or even slow down if one or two people are down, no matter who they are.

Yes, I am down, literally. I have a great pain in my bottom and no pain killers seem to bring a relief. I can only stay in my bunk, have a short udpdate with my ‘co’, John Wilkinson and the watch leaders Jez Message and Jules Colls. Jim Walker is also actively taking part in the running of the boat, tactics and managing the crew. And all the rest of them are working like animals night and day pushing through all sail changes, freezing night shifts and all the complicated routines due to rough conditions and lumpy seas. What a wonderful team and right now I need them more than ever before.

I joined Challenge Business exactly a year ago in Plymouth, arriving with a pale face and walking like an old man still trying to manage on his own. I had been through the medical assessment for the skippers some months earlier and the outcome was that I needed to have my haemorrhoids operated before I was going to qualify.

So, in last minute, only 10 days before flying from Cape Town to UK to the start I had the most unpleasant operation ever done to me.On the BA flight to Heathrow I was driving the cabin crew nuts with comments such as:

“Sir why don’t you sit down?

“Thanks I prefer standing…” I’d reply.

In Plymouth as we started getting into our jobs as a group of 12 skippers, I was not the hottest tip for a pre-race favourite, I believe the discussions were more about whether I would make it through Needles before throwing the towel in. My skipper colleague Andy Forbes was looking after me, driving me around and helping me in and out of his car like an 85-year-old war veteran. The recovery was slow but it finally happened and I was amazed how nice a pain-in-the-butt-free-life was!

On the first three legs of the race I felt some discomfort and light symptoms of the early problem but it always settled nicely in the port and I was not too worried about it. But now, on this king of all legs, it has come back big time, with the worst pain since the operation and nothing seems to help. I am eating painkillers like nuts but the pain remains there and has actually got worse.

All I can do is to stay in my bunk and get on with the very basics in life. The paying crew is sailing the boat while the paid skipper is travelling in First Class. They are doing it well and I am seeing my goal for the last leg happening already now, me being a passenger while the crew races the boat. I’m ahead of my plan, but that was not the plan. Thank God these guys are really good, and understanding. I couldn’t ask for a better bunch to join me in this rather unpleasant situation.

We are still very much in the race. Even if the skipper is temporarily down, don’t count this team off before the fat lady switches off the microphone. Racing is closer than ever (again!) and the second half of the leg will be interesting to say the least. We will for sure see some lighter winds involved with the high pressure systems a bit further north and ahead of us. Those ‘blue patches’ will certainly push the fleet together even more and most likely even the unlucky Kids will get a chance to join the gang again. BP has maintained a healthy lead for a while, but it’s very early days still. There are several hungry boats behind them, Dee & Imagine it. Done. and Clive with Team Stelmar are obviously hungry for success after the tough experiences on the earlier legs. Barclays Adventurer wants to prove that the victory on first leg was no lucky coincidence and all the rest of us have set targets on the top group finishing as well. Time will show, but there is no easy boat to beat out here.

Now it’s time to do my medical service again, for a change it’s all smoother and easier. In 35 knots placing the suppositorium into the sore spot is like having a rodeo and a tearful lonely rider in the toilet trying to get it done before fainting in cold sweat. No further details, I better climb back to the First Class, the cabin crew does not like standing passengers here either.

Eero, SAIC La Jolla