‘Voyage for Madmen’

A Kerry sailor is hoping to become the first Irish person to complete an around-the-world sailing race known as the ‘Voyage for Madmen’.

Pat Lawless is among a field of 28 international competitors attempting the treacherous challenge of sailing solo around the world without stopping in the Golden Globe Yacht Race.

The 30,000 nautical mile voyage is regarded as the toughest and most dangerous race in sailing.

Keeping with the spirit of the very first Golden Globe Yacht Race competitors are restricted to using technology that was available in 1968 and will not be permitted to communicate with family or friends during the nine-month voyage.

The 65-year-old carpenter from Baile an Fheirtéaraigh in west Kerry has officially registered his 36 foot (10 metre) Saltram Saga in the race which is set to depart Les Sables-d’Olonne in France on 4 September next year.

This will be only the third Golden Globe Race in the history of the event, the most recent taking place in 2018.

In 1968 Robin Knox Johnston became the first man to sail solo nonstop unassisted around the world.

He was the only one of nine competitors to finish in that inaugural race. The rest either sank, retired or took their own lives.

“The Golden Globe Race is the ultimate test in sailing. It’s as pure as you’ll get,” Mr. Lawless said.

“No modern equipment, no GPS or satellite-based navigation is allowed so you are relying on the old techniques such as using compass and sextant, navigating with the stars and sun.

“This is sailing by the seat of your trousers. It’s one man against the ocean,” he explained.

Competitors face a gruelling nine month voyage, taking them past the five great capes and will not be permitted to land during the race.

They must carry enough food and water to sustain them for the duration of the voyage.

“The mental challenge will be the biggest test. Nine months at sea on your own can play havoc with the mind, but I think I can handle it,” said Mr. Lawless.

“Of course I’ll miss my wife and the family and all the creature comforts. I know in the last race some of the competitors felt very cold for the four months in the Southern Ocean – their feet never really warmed up. Christmas will be a lonely time I presume, thinking of everyone. I’ll miss the grandchildren,” he said.

Sailing is very much in Mr. Lawless’s blood. His late father Pat was an experienced long-distance sailor who instilled a love of the sea in his family.

“From a young age he reared us on the sea and he sailed around the world himself single-handed with stops at the age of 70,” he said.

“It took him three attempts but he stuck with it and eventually made it. He is my main inspiration. I have a photo of him hanging below deck. His spirit will be with me, looking down on me. I won’t feel alone.”

During the race Mr Lawless will tackle some of the world’s most dangerous seas, including the treacherous Southern Ocean.

In the last Golden Globe Race held in 2018 only five of the eighteen competitors managed to finish the race. Five of the thirteen boats that failed sank.

“Pitchpoling would be the big danger. That means in a storm the waves are so powerful that they throw the boat head over heels and under the water. Your mast is likely to snap under the pressure of that so it must be very strong to survive.”

“I’m not too worried about the storms. I’m quite comfortable sailing in a storm. It’s an exhilarating feeling as long as you can stay in control. But I know from my father’s stories that the doldrums will test me. Sitting all alone for days on end with no wind will definitely test me mentally.”

Mr Lawless has been preparing for the race for the last two years, reinforcing the structure of his boat and replacing his sails and rigging in order to withstand the violent storms which he will encounter.

He says the modifications and his participation in the race is costing in the region of €240,000.

“I’ve officially entered the race now, so there’s no going back. I have a good team around me and a lot of good sponsors have come on board to help me to achieve this dream. We still have to raise another few bob but we’ll get there. I’m going to do this no matter what it takes.”

Mr Lawless is hoping to become the first Irish sailor to complete the iconic race. He believes a seven-and-a-half-month voyage is possible and if he succeeds in achieving that it will give him an excellent chance of winning the race.

“I believe my boat is good enough to win the race. I believe I have the sea-miles and I think I’m one of the most experienced sailors competing.

“The only reason I’m going around the world is because it’s a race, to try and win. It doesn’t mean I’m going to win but I’m certainly going to try.”

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