Mike Golding has been talking about retiring from racing boats around the world since before some of the children visiting his boat on the pontoon were born, so it would be a surprise to see him here at the start line for his fourth consecutive Vendée Globe – unless you know him. The desire to win the most extreme sailing race in the world keeps bringing him back and the pain of being defeated by technical failures when leading the last two editions is evident. At 52, the former fireman, born in Great Yarmouth, is definitely not here just for the adventure and the terrier instinct is perhaps even keener.
“It crossed my mind, can I really do this? But I did two years on the Extreme 40s (catamarans in 2009-10), which isn't exactly a wimp’s circuit, so I kind of proved my point that I’m still pretty fit,” he says. “And I enjoy doing the Vendée, when you come back into the canal after sailing around the world there’s no greater feeling than that.”
© Vincent Curutchet / DPPI“I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity I’d be absolutely barking mad to miss it. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it in any way, I only wanted to do it with a competitive entry. It’s not a notch in the headboard.”
He would make one if you won it though?
“I would if I won it (he laughs). I think I’d underline the notch.”
Would the Steve Redgrave’s line about shooting you if we ever saw you in a boat again apply?
I don’t quite believe him. He has said similar things before and Michel Desjoyeaux (2000 and 2008) and Vincent Riou (2004) have shown that winning the Vendée does not sate the hunger. There is something about the Vendée Globe that gets under the skin.
Does it feel possible, close even, this time?
“It’s close, but there are a lot of good guys, a lot of good boats and I’m not immune to the scale of the challenge, it’s significant. In a way because it’s the first time I’ve arrived in a boat I did the previous Vendée in (he had new boats in 2004 and 2008), that’s a new feeling. Normally I’m one of the new boats and that jumps you up the favourites list immediately. I feel we’re here in quite a low profile, but I quite like that, I think a lot of the French guys would rule us out on the basis that I dropped out of the scene for two years because I was on the Extreme 40s and I just did the two races last year, we didn’t have a great time on the TJV (Transat Jacque Vabre), we did better on the B2B solo race. But I think they’re clutching at straws because, the reality is I can still sail the boat like I sailed it four years ago. I feel I’ll be in the game.”
If not him, who does he think will win?
“I think Armel (Cléac’h). He is a steady performer, consistent, sensible, mature, experienced. He’s got all the right parts and now he’s got a great boat. Also, Jean-Pierre (Dick, Virbac-Paprec). Jean-Pierre has more experience in this field but Armel is very steady. Since I’ve been here (in Les Sables for the last three weeks), I’ve moved away from boats at the extreme, like PRB, only because I feel they may not finish the race.”
“The new are boats are quicker. But this race is about getting home. The new boats have achieved their performance by means of weight savings and weight savings mean their factor of safety has gone down. We’ve seen the effects of that in the TJV and B2B and since then with boats having bulkheads coming out and major cracks in the hulls. Eventually you get to a point where you’ve gone too light. If this is a benign Vendée they might be fine and have the perfect boat for it. But if it’s not I’m going to feel more confident than they’re going to feel when the chips are down.”
Gamesa has a new mast, rigging, weight off the bulb, a completely new cockpit, new coachroof, new sailplan and sails, new hydrogenerator and new solar power generation systems meaning it can carry less fuel. Of the last generation boats it is definitely one of the most optimised
“We’ve concentrated on optimising the boat without penalising it,” Golding says. “It’s significantly lighter, we have more sail area and the same power as we had previously. It’s generally said that the new boats are 5% quicker than the previous generation, but we’ve closed that. There may be a gap but we think it’s small. Being the fastest boat is not necessarily the route to winning the Vendée.”
“The thing about the Vendée is when you start you think you’re perfectly prepared but it can always surprise you with something. In the last Vendée that was the case, I was leading and then suddenly something like that happens (the mast came down), yes, it happened in a lot of wind but the reality is the rig shouldn’t have come down. The rig we’ve chosen now is a very secure, classic rig. The Vendée is a very long race and the last two editions I’ve led at key points and I’ve been let down technically (in 2004 two halyard failures held him back and then his keel fell off with 50 miles to go to the finish, almost robbing him of third place). So, if I lead this race (and don't go on to win) I’d rather like it to be something that I do rather than something breaking on the boat.”
One of the ironies of this edition of a French-dominated race is that the most experienced hands, the only two lining up for their fourth Vendée Globes, Dominique Wavre (57, Mirabaud) and Golding, are foreigners.
“Yes, a Swiss and an Englishman,” Golding muses. “We’ve been part of the set-up for so long we don’t feel French - certainly not French - but it feels like we belong to it and we’re always greeted in a very friendly way.”
“When you’re here the first time you’re full of excitement for the unknown when you come the second time you’re full of anticipation of what you’re going to achieve and now it’s becoming even more enjoyable as it’s getting closer. But the long wait to get to the start of the Vendée is very long and when you’ve done it three previous times it’s even longer, sometimes you just want to get on with it.”
He has less than three days to go for his first wish to come true.