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 or watch this video

1 comment

Haroulla Epiphaniou Fanos 24th November 2016

Wonderful piece of writing! As a non sailor this piece was exciting & well expressed. Good luck to 'superman' Steve!

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