As Global Challenge yacht SAIC La Jolla reaches milestone Eero Lehtinen reflects on the good and bad parts of previous round the world races

Another milestone was reached on board SAIC La Jolla yesterday as we crossed our track from the first leg, some seven months and 25,000 miles earlier.

For me personally it was the second complete circumnavigation, the third one was only a half one, and also the one to follow the tropical route, the real gin and tonic concept.

Out of the three round the world races I have taken part in, quite surprisingly it’s the gin and tonic one which has the most dramatic but also the most beautiful memories for me.

During the four months on the Beneteau First 51 as co-skipper I experienced a fatal man over board and a loss of a close friend, I met my wife Tonya, and to everyone’s surprise during the off watches, I progressed with my studies.I prepared myself for five exams on my return to Finland an passed them all.

During the race one yacht was captured by pirates, and the owner of the boat which my wife was on crashed into the sea on an inter-island flight in Marquesas and was one of the lucky survivors as sharks killed half of the passengers. So aside of the fact that we actually had regular G&T’s on board even that race (Europa 92 Rallye) was far from just easy going.

This third one has clearly been a full-on challenge for me and already now I can say that as a life experience and an exercise it is above anything else I ever have been part of. I will walk off this project a new person, a lot more self-aware and experienced but also more mature, appreciating and positive. It has been an eye-opener through all the challenges within the challenge – the social, the physical, the mental and the technical sides of it. As an adventure and travel experience the previous races meant much more for me, this one has been mainly a grand tour in the universe of human characters, team work, self-control and balancing between enjoying myself and achieving set goals through hard work. Sailing has just been the arena for all of it, but quite frankly – sailing is the easy part in the whole show.

From the very beginning I have paid a lot of attention to the people side of the campaign and we probably didn’t look like the slickest racing team last summer. We have been moving slowly, setting achievable goals and putting emphasis on the learning curve rather than making shortcuts. Perhaps I am lazy or selfish as I always planned to make myself redundant on board, but I believe it is bringing nice results on both team and individual levels. The learning curves have been very steep for some of the people but everyone is making progress even now that we are on the ‘home stretch’ already. And we will actively look for better ways of doing things and living together until we can spot the spinnaker tower of Gunwharf in Portsmouth. Perhaps I will bring a deck chair for myself for the last leg.

I also believe that this race has helped my whole family to be stronger individuals and to perform better as a team. My wife has been running our little import business in Cape Town and will probably continue doing so even after my return in a couple of months time. When she closed her third deal during my absence the export manager of the company sent me an e-mail saying: “Our new country manager is doing a cunning job, you might as well carry on sailing.” She has had an opportunity to clarify her own priorities and goals for life and she has put the whole family onto a new track both financially and philosophically. I think we will be on a much healthier basis from now on and we can better pull to the same direction as we move on. All three children have developed so beautifully that I had to just sit and watch them while I was at home and I kept telling myself that I am a bloody lucky guy! The pain of being separated for such a long time is compensated by the tight bonding between all of us, we really appreciate the days together and the kids know I will always come back to them and they will never be second to any other plan or project in my life. Even if there is some 10,000 miles between us.

All in all I will be one of the richest men of the world after this experience. And don’t get me wrong, Sir Chay’s policy on salaries has not changed but what I mean is the experience itself, the friends and team mates for life and the million lessons learnt on this voyage.