Richard Shrubb, Sailing writing

Vendee Globe Grand Finale – a Geek’s View


Having had a whale of a time in the run up to and start of the Vendee Globe, and seeing that Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss had an outside chance of being the first non-Frenchman to win the race, on impulse I dropped everything and headed to Les Sables d’Olonne on the Tuesday before the race finish…

At the stage of the race, Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire were within just hours of one another, fighting an epic battle that had people enthralled since they passed South Africa. Banque Populaire had at one stage a lead of 800 or so miles and in interviews later Thomson had said that he had basically given up on victory but wanted to finish second.

Heading up where the South East Trades should have been, Armel Cleac’h hit a dead spot of wind. Thomson managed to find wind where his rival hadn’t and after a charge up the North Atlantic got within 30 miles of his rival.

Off we go…

As the gap closed, I couldn’t bear to be at home to miss history so told my clients I was going away and packed for France. I managed to get a hotel room for around £60 a night within a short ride of the village (one of the last – I met people who’d booked just hours later and had to travel much farther!) and the ferry wasn’t a bad price.

I live around 456 miles from Les Sables d’Olonne including a 420km drive down the autoroutes of France and a six hour ferry ride. Leaving at 0400 local I got there for 1900 local. A brute of a journey but well worth it!

In country

For the French, the Vendee Globe is a major national sporting event where, importantly the French still routinely win. The Tour de France by comparison has had a long drought since the French won that. Les Sables d’Olonne is otherwise known for its fantastic beach and small world atmosphere full of history (apart from anything it was part of Britain for many years). They construct a village for the event that includes a beer tent where for €13 a round you can swill as much beer as your wallet allows while listening to talks about the race from experts at different times of the day…

Over before it was over

The bizarre weather that sent the race off in its first ever nice sailing day put a high pressure over much of the area, so while sailors usually head in direct from the ocean, this time they were forced almost to Lizard Point in the UK before turning south. Alex had three problems – an increasingly malfunctioning autopilot (that slowed him down even while he got the race 24 hour record of 536 miles!) and his AIS transponder had gone down, meaning he had to warn ships he was coming at them by radio. Carbon fibre yachts have virtually no radar signal… In addition, for the final run in he would have to sail on the side where he had lost his hydrofoil off South America, just days into the race.

At 1700 on the Weds Armel Cleac’h found enough pressure to turn right for the finish, and Alex had to follow suit – overnight with his damaged AIS, wobbly autopilot and without the foil that would have made him competitive for the final run. Turning earlier geographically than Cleac’h, he had less wind too. That night, losing ground to his rival hand over first, he conceded defeat.

La Grand Finale

Crowds gathered up the coastline to see the returning hero aboard Banque Populaire cross the line at around 1600 having smashed the race record for completing the Vendee Globe by just over three days. At L’Armandeche lighthouse, we saw a shadow on the horizon. The tide would have to rise for around six hours before he arrived so there would be
plenty of time to get tired and emotional. Thousands did…

In quite a state of disrepair we arrived in the village just in time for the crowds to welcome the French hero. The village bar did very good business that night, and was full even when Cleac’h’s boat was escorted to the pontoon. My American friend and I were one row behind the barrier and a could hardly see a thing except on the big screen in front, despite being about 20 metres from the boat. A good 50,000 tired and emotional French were waiting too – quite a crowd…

At this stage, a very tired and emotional woman holding a load of balloons tried very hard to get to the barrier. The tired and emotional crowd matched her loud talking and she ended up on her backside with just the balloons marking her spot in the crowd. Perhaps aware that the security guards may take an interest, I said in my best British accent, “No rioting please, we’re English!” Despite the language barrier quite a few people understood the jollity in my voice, laughed and sent the barrier crasher back to the back of the crowd.

Not understanding much of what was going on, so we followed soon after and hit the bar.

Addled mind, addled decision

I was a little addled when I went to bed and got into my head that the next high tide would be around 0500 so was up at 0430 and full of caffeine, rode to the village. No one was at the gate so I went through it anyway and after five minutes wondering why there was no security personnel found a security guard who seemed to think I shouldn’t be there. Through the language barrier we established that Alex was due in around 10 that morning and he escorted me out… As it turned out, Alex was two hours sailing from the finish at that point!

The Brit arrives

One more hour in bed, some breakfast and I was on the dock with a very good view of dawn at around 0900 on Friday. It was -8 degrees C at sunrise, rather cold even for an addled and sleep deprived Brit. Maybe a thousand people were there to welcome him, a large part from the UK, Netherlands and Germany. You can see the video of him below. After such an enthralling race, it was privilege to see him indeed.

Overall?

Was the trip worth it? I got to hang out with friends connected to the race. I enjoyed the buzz even if I didn’t understand most of the French being spoken. (Next time I had better start speaking expert sailing French to really appreciate it!). Finally, I saw the Brit entry who had given his all to win the race and but for equipment issues didn’t quite ruin the French day.

Will I be back in 2020? Definitely! There will be at least two foreign contenders and potentially another Brit in the mix to win it. It would be great to have a foreign 1-2 in the foremost French round the world yacht race, and I will be definitely there to witness history!

Richard Shrubb, Sailing writing

Steve White – round the world the wrong way

Steve plans to sail round the world on a boat like this

A central Dorset sailor is planning to break the record for sailing solo the wrong way round the world next November. Steve White is an experienced solo sailor having come 8th of the 9 skippers to complete the Vendee Globe in 2008-09. 30 boats started the race, showing what an achievement it is to even make it home solo the ‘right way around’. He plans to sail 24,000 miles on his own on a former Volvo Ocean 70 Grand Prix racing yacht, against the prevailing winds of the Southern Ocean.

This is no mean feat. Where the east about record is 57 days 13 hours, the west about round the world record is 122 days and 14 hours. This requires great feats of physical and mental endurance and success will allow him to join a group of only four who have broken that record.

What is the wrong way?

Weather systems travel around the Southern Ocean from west to east, meaning that the ‘right way’ is to follow the weather systems on their endless path around Antarctica. Over 200 people have done this as a solo trip, with the fastest solo east about round the world time being just over 57 days.

Where 200 sailors have sailed around the world ‘the right way’, only five have attempted to sail around the world solo the wrong way – west round the world. You need a totally different set of kit to do this – where the right way can be done on a huge trimaran you can only really sail the other way on a mono hull as they can sail so much closer to the wind.

Another thing about going the right way round the world is that because the current record is so fast, Steve White explained to me, “there are a lot of people building very huge trimarans for this, and you could spend many millions of pounds and make it around only to be 10 minutes too slow!”

This is not to say that going into the wind for over 12,000 miles is a gentle stroll. The winds and waves are hammering the boat and it will be extremely uncomfortable. If it was easy, many more would have attempted it – as is, more people have walked on the Moon than have made this record attempt.

Who is Steve?

I met Steve a few weeks back the night before the start of the Vendee Globe solo round the world yacht race in Les Sables d’Olonne on the Biscay coast of France. I was introduced to him by my hosts, who have lived in the small fishing town for many years and are connected to the race. Beers were drunk and he came back to my hosts’ place for dinner where he told some of his back story.

Steve wasn’t born to sailing. He was a professional horse rider based in Mid Dorset for many years and one day bought himself a small boat to sail with a friend. He got into sailing for fun, and one day his boss at the stables offered him a chance to sail on a BT Global Challenge 60 footer as a passenger. To cut a long story short, Steve loved it so much he quit his day job and became a professional sailor.

Fully qualified and with many thousands of miles’ experience under his belt, Steve signed up to race the Vendee Globe in 2008. To survive that race and make it home is no mean feat. To be one of the nine who made it with a 70% attrition rate among the fleet shows just what an achievement this is.

The 2017 round the world campaign

This is the boat's cockpit as she is now. Needs a lot of changes for Steve White to sail round the world alone...

Steve plans to convert a Volvo Ocean 70, not unlike the former Telefonica boat in the images here, to be sailable by one person. These boats are designed to be sailed by 10 people and are blisteringly fast in the right hands – they sail on ‘apparent wind’ in much the same way as the Americas Cup catamarans do, and can sail at speeds in excess of 25 knots in 20 knots of wind.

Doing this won’t be cheap, but will be chicken feed by comparison to a typical Volvo Ocean Race campaign for example. Where Steve estimates the total cost will be in the region of £1.4 million to get the boat ready for a solo sailor, to pay for a personal trainer to get Steve physically up to the job, do a trans-Atlantic shakedown trip and then to do the record attempt itself, a Volvo Ocean race campaign will cost in the region of £12 million. Steve joked, “No one’s getting fat off this campaign!”

Those sponsoring it should see very good returns – on Ellen MacArthur’s 2004-05 solo round the world campaign it is estimated that the sponsors Kingfisher got £100 in publicity for every £1 spent on her campaign. Not a bad return on investment!

There is no fixed date for the record attempt – he will wait for the right weather and then set off. The weather needs to be just right for Steve to blast out of the English Channel and south west across the Atlantic to catch the Trade Winds south to the Equator. It needs to be in the Southern Hemisphere summer so he will leave in around November 2017. He explained to me, “We will go on standby on October the 12th for a November start. Ideally I need to go in November as recently there have been little Low Pressure areas in the South East Trade Winds in the early part of the year that could delay me coming back from the South Atlantic.”

A large part of the campaign is being on the right side of the weather and given that he plans on making time on the record attempt by getting maximum speeds in the charge south to the Southern Ocean and then north back to Portland in Dorset, problems with the weather could stymie his attempt.

The calling…

The sea gets under your skin and as I have found, once you have been out there you want to go back time and again. Where I am a very experienced cruising sailor I am pleased just to walk in the shadow of the giants who race around the world singlehanded.

It seems for them too, once you have done a solo round the world race you get called back to do it by something mysterious and greater than yourself. Even at the age of 44 Steve wants to do another Vendee Globe campaign in 2020 when he’s 48, beginning his preparations as soon as he returns from the record attempt.

Age isn’t a problem when it comes to racing around the world – indeed it can be an advantage. Pointing out that the oldest skipper on the current Vendee Globe is Jean Le Cam who is 57 years old (and currently in 8th spot on the fleet), Steve said to me, “It is not only a physical sport but a cerebral sport and to that extent you get better as you get older. If you look at the ultra-marathon runners and other endurance sports competitors they tend to be older and that comes with mental toughness!”

Wishing him luck!

As with all major feats like Steve White’s, you can prepare for every eventuality but it is down to the cooperation of the weather and sea whether you make it or not. I for one hopes he achieves this – if he manages to beat the current record he will be among the upper tier of the giants of ocean racing.

Watch this space for developments in his campaign – I for one will be following it closely… For more details of Steve’s campaign visit www.whiteoceanracing.com or watch this video

Other writing, Richard Shrubb, Sailing writing

This is no get rich quick story – how to become a successful writer!

How do you become a successful writer? Be modest and hardworking. It will come.

In the modern world we writers are just as challenged by celebrity and success as almost any other field. Let’s face it – most people won’t make £100 an hour unless they are very lucky and skilled. After 10 years in the business I am making a living – I can meet all my bills and feed my family from the work I do. Here is an honest and realistic set of tips and tricks to work toward the level of modest and honest success I have achieved over the years.

1. Be prepared to work hard

There is no way to succeed in life without really going at it. To be a successful writer you will begin by earning far less than you want, but in doing so you are developing your skills. Very few people can honestly say they started out as a brilliant writer and developed from there – everyone starts at a baseline and as they get more commissions, so their skills improve.

2. Invest time in your clients.

Don’t be afraid to work silly hours to produce the quality you want to impress your new clients. I call that time spent, ‘investing in the client’. With all new clients you will have to spend that extra bit of time to get what they want from you. In return you should get a loyal and regular client – loyal and regular clients pay your bills at the end of the day! Equally be sensible – don’t work for less than £7 an hour and work on the basis that as you get to know your client’s business, you will speed up!

 

3. People Per Hour

Over the years one of the best sources of work for me has been through People Per Hour. There are other portals such as Guru.com. Focus on one of these and bid for work. Though many of them can be criticised for allowing a race to the bottom in rates, they are a source of good work. Don’t be frightened to bid relatively low at first – your aim is to develop your portfolio at the end of the day and by winning bids so you can get that essential paid portfolio under your belt. I still use the same portal and charge the rates I need to live on, which are certainly not £7 an hour!

Bid regularly for your work. If you are on Tax Credits or the Jobcentre is breathing down your neck, you can justify the time bidding as time working – if you don’t bid at the end of the day you won’t get commissions.

Another point to consider is to write original bids every time. People hiring get used to seeing the standard format approaches. Make it personal to them!

 

4. Get in with an agency

If you can get writing for an online copy agency early on in your career, this may well be a good idea. They chuck all sorts of commissions at you and you can develop your ability as a general copywriter from there. Their chief weakness is that they can only charge so much for the copy you write for them, so you will get a relatively small income. They can really help you develop your portfolio however, and get you used to writing good copy under some time pressure.

Though not something you want to be doing in 10 years’ time as a writer, agencies are a very good bunch to write for. They take away the need to constantly pitch for work, and can leave you just focusing on quality output. It is that quality output that you can use to drive your career forward.

A lot of agencies come looking for writers through portals such as People Per Hour. Regular writing gigs are what you want at the end of the day!

 

5. Website

You need a strong online presence to show off your work. Start with a free website such as wordpress.com and show off your best work from there. My own website here is a development from that. It shows my best work over the years for a huge range of titles I have written for. Ideally it should be search engine optimised – considering much of your work will include key words and human readable text for Google you should be fairly good at optimising your own work!

 

6. What are your niches?

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Write about you know is an age old adage that still holds true to this day! The better and more specialised your niche the better your chances at getting work. I used to be a top UK mental health writer but honestly, this is where thousands of others compete in. I am now a reliable sailing writer that many people contact direct for my knowledge and skills. I maintain an interest in parcels and global logistics writing – these have always brought home the bacon.

Try to tread the untrodden path. Millions write in fashion, health, diet and automotive. Do you have an interest in writing about heavy goods vehicles? What about gardening? Could you write about the latest fiction books on the market every day? Find a couple of tight little niches and make them your own!

 

7. Get a lot of clients

We all dream of that golden client we can rely on who gives us piles of copy. This isn’t always a good idea. Relationships change and things get stale. My oldest writing relationship is 10 years old this year but I hardly produce anything for them as my interests are elsewhere. Many of my current clients are 2-3 years old and we’re going great guns, and I still have the bug to write for them. One used to give me £300 a month worth of work but now it is less than £100 as their needs changed. By having 15 clients so your different relationships can change and you can better survive the peaks and troughs of work. Some disappear for months and then reappear to give me piles of the stuff! It soon mounts up.

Will you be a millionaire?

I’d love it one day if a client felt that my work was worth £100 an hour and they wanted ten hours work a week from me. It hasn’t happened yet! I’m comfortable enough from what I produce from my online copywriting that I don’t worry how I’ll pay the rent this month. I’m actually saving for my retirement and planning for the future now. If you go through this life telling yourself you’re not good enough, you’ll go nowhere fast. If you constantly seek to improve? You won’t do badly!

Adventure sports, Richard Shrubb, Sailing writing

Richard Shrubb’s adventure sports writing

Richard's adventure sports writing comes from his need to get out and explore the world.

It is all very well watching something – many get a thrill from that – but what about doing it? What is it like for your body and mind to scream “NO MORE!” yet to still push to your destination? At sea, far from the nearest port there is no way of getting off the boat unless you’re so hopeless you decide to quicken your demise by going over the side. Far out in the countryside on your mountain bike you could be miles from mobile phone reception when it goes tits up so you just need to repair and recover.

Adventure sports are not always great for TV. Indeed, there are at least two sailing events I know (The R2AK boat race annually, the Golden Globe next year) that eschew continuous coverage altogether. They do need covering though, and who has done adventure sports before and has a passion for the genre can write about it in a way that brings it to life.

Over this piece I will write about my own experiences and show that someone who has been out there can be the best adventure sports writer for your website or magazine…

Life at the edge

Some kids find that they are good at sprints. They may have good agility and be able to do great things with a football. They worship teams of men who get paid millions to chase a ball around a pitch. I understand the camaraderie having stood at the Fratton End of Fratton Park watching Portsmouth play.

Others like a bit more substance. They are loping, long distance runners, cyclists and sailors. They enjoy asking questions of themselves – can I climb that mountain? What’s in that bay? Can I run 15 miles at a rate of 5 minutes per mile? Once you take those first few steps to answer those questions, so a physiological and psychological battle begins. Initially you’re going well, and then the pain sets in, grinding you down and asks your mind, “Can I do this?” Your mind has to respond, “I will assess in a few miles” or you could end up finding your way home with your tail between your legs.

I had a collision with a runner while on my bike last summer. He ran in front of me, I locked up and we both went down. I shouted, “Jesus Christ! You OK?” as he ran off. I thought my arm was a bit bruised but felt alright otherwise, and cycled on another 14 miles. It wasn’t until I had had a bath and tried to drive my car later that I discovered the adrenalin had got me home and that something wasn’t right – an hour later I was treated for a broken elbow at the local hospital.

Over longer distances and journeys, the weather and nature will play a part. You need then to assess whether your body is good enough to tackle the new conditions and progress. It is safer to run for port than get your arse kicked at times. Others? You believe you have the skills to make it. Crossing the Bay of Biscay in 2005 over two days and two nights in a 32ft yacht with 30-40 knots of wind on the nose, seemingly every other wave breaking over the cockpit, we knew we could do it slowly and gently. Dodging 500ft tankers that were driven by autopilot and getting far too close for comfort in the middle of the night sharpened the senses, and extreme tiredness made it a lot harder. You walk away from that and you believe in yourself a lot more than before the adventure.

spirit-1It ain’t all bad!

There are real highs to be had – blasting up the west coast of Scotland on a brisk, sunny day with waves breaking 50 feet up the deck from the bow of the schooner, spray flying and the crew grinning like Cheshire cats. A day crossing Lake Erie aboard a 186ft square rigged sailing ship (and my home for a year) in perfect winds in 30 degrees C of heat, all sails set and the crew thinking collectively, “This is what I signed up for!” Seeing parts of Dorset that few others have the privilege of seeing, only an hour’s ride from home.

At the end of the best adventures you walk tall. You know the challenges you have faced, scrapes you have got into, and know that nothing will stand in your way in the real world. If you can walk the length of the topsail yard, 75 feet above the deck while in a rolling sea without using your hands to balance you, you may have a little too much confidence, but the respect of the trainee you have just spent half an hour guiding up to that point.

How does all this translate?

Those who know what they go through to achieve their own adventures can get a good idea as to what others must do to achieve their own. If your legs feel like fire as you climb a 400 metre climb on your mountain bike then you look on in awe at Chris Froome who leads the peloton by half a mile as he climbs Alpe D’Huez. If you’ve crossed Biscay in a storm then you can imagine what your hero is doing on Hugo Boss in the Southern Ocean on the Vendee Globe single handed round the world race.

Get in touch today!

Among the adventure sports I have done, I have done kite buggying, sailing, cross country mountain biking, hang gliding, run half marathons, and climbed mountains. I have canoed down the Shenandoah River over five days. I have done all this in Europe, the Falklands, Caribbean, and the US. I am a paramotoring writer, cycling writer and sailing journalist. From these references I can write about your adventure sport too!

Contact me via my contact page and I will be to discuss your requirements!