Steve White is the last Briton to cross the finish line
Triumphing over the prolonged easterly headwinds in the Bay of Biscay, British skipper Steve White sailed his Open 60 Toe in the Water across the finish line in light NE’ly winds and brilliant sunshine at Les Sables d’Olonne at 12:38:55 hours GMT to take eighth place in the Vendée Globe.
White averaged 10.78 knots on the water covering 28,197 miles. He sailed the 24,840 theoretical miles at an average speed of 9.49 knots.
Tired but triumphant, 109 days 00 hours, 36 minutes and 55 seconds after leaving Les Sables d’Olonne on Sunday 9 November, White was greeted by his wife Kim, and his three sons Jason, 19, Isaac 9, and Euan 6. He is the fourth British skipper to complete the race. Of the 30 skippers who started, 19 had to abandon.
Of the seven British skippers who started the race, three were forced to retire. As White finishes, British skippers occupy four of the top eight places, a level of success for overseas soloists which is unprecedented in the legendary non-stop solo round the world race which was first contested in 1989.
White’s result is much more than he imagined when he set off. While others were in peak fitness and had up to three or four years of preparation behind them White’s last minute preparations had left him on the verge of exhaustion. He only started sailing 12 years ago before becoming a career sailor in 1999-2000 when he worked his way up from crew to become a training skipper for Chay Blyth’s Challenge Business – going on to compete in three Transatlantic races, two solo.
Despite the pre-race handicaps of lack of funding, preparation and time, White’s circumnavigation has been impressive since the first Bay of Biscay storm, which immediately accounted for four boats. He has always pushed to his limits in all conditions, light moderate and strong winds, consistently re-affirming that he was out there to race hard and be competitive. That he outlasted many more fancied, highly seeded skippers is down to his prudence, seamanship, and ability to keep on top of the regular maintenance and be able to deal with the bigger issue which might have ended the race for other skippers – a broken gooseneck in the Southern Ocean.
His eleven-year-old Finot Conq designed boat completed its third circumnavigation. Previously Gartmore – which also completed the Around Alone as Emma Richards’ Pindar – as Toe in the Water White also bettered Josh Hall’s 2001 race time for the boat (111days 19hrs 48 minutes) by more than two days on a course which is made more than 1200 miles (or four to five days) longer due to the ice security gates.
Along the way his humour was irrepressible – with his Crikey!, Cor! and ‘I’m dying for a beer’ – while his keen, often wry observations made his blogs both informative and entertaining, always on the right side of self indulgence and always written with wide-eyed spontaneity.
While others either ripped blithely through the Southern Ocean dealing with familiar territory or simply struggled with it, White positively loved it and says that his sailing will never be the same. He remained patient and level headed throughout, well able to stay on top of his emotions, save perhaps Christmas Day when he missed his kids and was frustrated with not being able to push his boat hard enough.
His ambition at the start was to get round in one piece; short term it was to ride out the storm and finish his preparations, gradually building up his race pace. But at Cape Finisterre he was in 17th place, just less than 90 miles behind the leader and he simply kept a good steady pace, and sailed an astute course battling it out on the way down the Atlantic between compatriots Jonny Malbon and Dee Caffari. He passed the Cape Verde Islands in 16th and was 19th at the Equator, as the newer boats slowly extended their lead. He was simply unlucky to miss the window of opportunity in the Doldrums and lost 200 miles.
By the time he approached the first ice gate he was within 62 miles of Arnaud Boissières and Dee Caffari and having a great race. He lost a little after the gate, and then compounded his losses slightly at the second gate when he failed to plot the new positions and had to double back. By the Kerguelen Islands he was in 14th place and sailing a generally safe, intelligent course, occasionally battling with his capricious autopilots which cause him to wipe out many times and lose him many miles.
In some respects the Southern Pacific offered White some of the highs and lows. He was trapped by a high pressure system which let Caffari and Boissières gain more than 350 miles in three days. Until then he certainly was driving hard with a belief he could catch them. But after that he hit is stride, lovingly describing the long surfs with his boat on song in the Pacific as some of the best sensations ever.
After rounding Cape Horn in ninth place, the Atlantic weather was both cruel and kind to White. Consistently sailing upwind virtually until the finish line in a boat which was never designed nor optimised for windward sailing, if he struggled for motivation he never let it be known and he continued to work hard with no other boat within 500 miles of him. He may have avoided the big low pressure systems in the South Atlantic, but he would have given his eye teeth to have ridden home on the heels of one in the North Atlantic this last frustrating week.
Steve White’s Race:
9 November: The start of the race, but for Steve it was a late night: ” I didn’t get to bed until 2am because we were still fiddling around down here.”
11 November: While several boats were seriously damaged on the first night and on the day after the start, Steve makes it through relatively unscathed with a cautious beginning and can celebrate his 36th birthday.
12 November: Steve talks about a small electrical fire, and a damaged hose on his generator filling his boat with a mix of diesel fumes and steam.
16 November: Steve finds himself battling it out with two of his compatriots -Dee Caffari (Aviva) and Jonny Malbon (Artemis), but the newer boats will slowly extend their lead.
19 November: Steve begins to suffer from the heat 400 miles from the Equator, but in spite of autopilot worries can be pleased that everything is more or less working.
20 November: Steve hangs on to Dee, but just watches Mich Desj go by
21 November: Steve slowed in the Doldrums and loses over 200 miles to the leaders in two days
24 November: Steve crosses the Equator. Toasts Neptune with some wine Norbert Sedlacek gave him, but does not cover himself in porridge.
28 – 29 November: Passing Trinidade Island, Toe in the Water is among the fastest in the fleet and claws back some miles on the leaders, although he doesn’t realise it at the time.
1 December: Steve executes his short time penalty and is back in a battle with Jonny Malbon
2 December: Steve had never spent more than 22 consecutive days at sea before
7 December: Steve White discovers the southern ocean “I am a Southern Ocean ‘virgin’ yes, and I have been thinking a lot about that. And when you read what people write about being down here, about them being conservative and what sails they have had up I think ‘wow that really is conservative, what are they doing?’ and now I am down here it is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. The swell is relentless, driving swell which is very, very much in charge, and it does things to the boat handling if you slow down and it drives your boat speed up and up and up. You just have to keep a handle on it, because anything that does go wrong could go very, very wrong. Hence the reason I am not really getting into bed very much”
8 December: Toe in the Water passes the longitude of the cape of Good Hope and enters the Indian Ocean (18th skipper)
11 December: After some confusion over its position Steve passes the second Ice Gate. “I would like to say there was something technical but there wasn’t I forgot to re-route it. What happened was I got the e-mail that said the ice gate had been moved and I registered it and then when it came to putting the ice gates on to the MaxSea from the sailing instructions I forgot it had been moved.”
18-19 December: Due to pilot problems Toe in the Water is repeatedly wiped out and Steve loses precious miles.
24 December: Winds in excess of 50 knots. Gooseneck pin breaks, but has to wait to carry out repairs
25 December: Phones home many times, has a tough time on Christmas Day missing his family
26 December: Sailed 367 miles, the highest average in the fleet over the last day, despite a broken goose-neck.
29 December: 310 miles SW of South Island New Zealand, in 13th place Steve is now finding time to learn French from the popular audio lessons of Michel Thomas?
30 December: Steve starts preparing the repairs for his gooseneck fitting
January: 1st January: Steve the first to enter 2009! But he is busy fixing his autopilots
5 January: Finally calmer conditions and good speeds. “Downstairs is a bit in chaos ? it’s quite like a student flat at the moment, I’m trying to dry out a load of things so there’s clothing spread all over the place, bits of the gooseneck repair and I had some plumbing to do, but I’m gradually tidying up.”
7-9 January. Toe in the Water slowed in a Pacific high. Steve loses 350 miles in three days to Arnaud Boissières and Dee Caffari
9 January: After Riou and Le Cam are forced out of the race, Steve is up in ninth place. “It’s incredible to be where I am position-wise, but it takes a bit of getting used to be here at the expense of so many other people who have gone out in various unfortunate ways. It’s incredible though, if I had the money and entries were open I’d be paying now to secure my slot for next time.”
12 January: After repairing his pilots, Steve can enjoy some excellent surfing, knowing nothing better than this sweet sensation.
16 January: While Dee, Brian and Arnaud shelter at Cape Horn, Steve White take advantage of the strong winds to the south of the low to achieve some of the best speeds in the fleet.
17 January: Headboard car problems as he approaches Cape Horn.
19 January Steve rounds Cape Horn.
20 January: Three miles off Island de los Estados) was being hailed on the VHF by a nearby cargo vessel and admitted he had no running backstay on?. “I am juggling a bit just now?can you call me back?..”
23 January: After a couple of days of strong upwind conditions, Steve is now reaching up the coast of South America.
25 Januury: The old boat does not do well in the Atlantic climb. “I am absolutely hard on the wind. It is pretty painful stuff really. It doesn’t seem like there is an end in sight. We are in that weather that the boat does not work very well. 16-22 knots upwind.”
30 January: With the repeated upwind or light conditions off Brazil, Arnaud Boissières extends his lead as Steve approaches Rio staying well off shore.
4 February: Brilliant sunshine, but rather monotonous sailing and no rivals within 500 miles.
6 February: As Armel finishes in second place, Steve is about to enter the Doldrums.
8 February: Toe in the Water back in the north.