Britain's enduring sailing hero is preparing for his first solo ocean race since the 1996 Vendée
One of Britain’s most enduring – and endearing – solo sailing figures is getting ready to make his comeback in a few weeks’ time. At the end of the month Pete Goss will set off on the Route du Rhum transatlantic race from St Malo to Guadeloupe in a Class 40 yacht.
It will be Goss’s first solo ocean race since the Vendée Globe in 1996 when he became a British and French national hero for his rescue of Raphael Dinelli. Goss turned back into the teeth of a Southern Ocean storm to rescue his fellow competitor from his upturned and sinking yacht, managing to do so as the waves tore over Dinelli and only the last few feet of hull were still awash.
In the 14 years since then a lot has happened. Goss was on the verge of Ellen MacArthur-scale stardom and invention as a brand (I still have a polo shirt with the Goss name and swoosh logo embroidered on the sleeve) but then came the Team Philips disaster and its financial fallout and things took a different and less public turn.
But Goss’s entry in the Route du Rhum is not some kind of Damascene conversion; it’s the latest of an assortment of projects that share Goss’s only rule: ventures that appeal to him. This ad hoc masterplan has shaped his adventures in the meantime, from expeditions to 60°N, speaking tours, the odd bit of building and farming work and the two-handed Round Britain & Ireland Race that he did with his old Team Philips mate Paul Larsen in 2006.
The owner of the Class 40 he is saiing, Tony Lawson, called Goss up to suggest the idea and that’s where the Route du Rhum project started. Goss says it has not been difficult to get to grips with the boat or returning to solo sailing: “I just get into a boat and sail,” he says, adding: “The Class 40 is great isn’t as advanced as Aqua Quorum [his Vendée Open 50] was.”
But although he’s put in the miles of training, including Plymouth across Biscay and south to Gijon on his qualifier, he says he hasn’t seen any serious weather. More importantly, given that you’d never worry about Pete’s seamanship in a storm, he’s never, ever lined up against any other Class 40s.
So how does he think he’ll do, and what are his ambitions for the race. Goss just laughs. “I’d like to be the first Brit,” he says. That won’t be hard. For the first time ever in the Route du Rhum, there aren’t any other British skippers.
It will be an interesting contest to follow, that’s for sure. The Class 40 fleet is the biggest in the race with 46 entries. And in an event where the giant no-limits class could become a procession ending in under a week, the Class 40s are where the long story will be played out.
I also think Pete could be in for a shock at how much sharper the competition in the solo ocean fleets has become in the last 14 years. The adventurers of not so long ago have been overtaken in every sense by multiple new intakes, from former multihull legends to mustard-keen Mini and Figaro diehards.
Where will he stand in this field? I can’t wait to find out. But two things I’d bet on: Pete Goss is a finisher; and he will give us another first-rate vicarious ocean experience.