The 2018 Golden Globe Race is no mean feat. A race that remains stoically true to the rules and spirit of the original 1968 race, won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, it demands absolutely everything of its competitors. As Sir Robin says, “It’s going back to the era of adventure sailing.” Not only are the boats limited in size (and therefore speed), the competitors can’t use modern GPS navigation equipment. The level of equipment is the same as in 1968. That means Susie had to use a sextant, paper maps, the sun and stars to navigate – just like Sir Robin did 50 years ago.
In the first race, Sir Robin was not only the winner but the only competitor out of nine to even make it to the finish line. Of the 2018 version he says, “They won’t all get round. We know that. The question is how many will get round.” And two months into the race, his question was confirmed with seven of the 18 skippers already having dropped out. A month later and only eight were left. These extreme conditions are what has led the competition to be referred to as the most difficult challenge in the world, with one book about the race referring to it as a 'voyage for madmen’.
To prepare for this epic 30,000-mile expedition, Susie sailed for months in the Atlantic Ocean. During that time, she really got to know her boat, DHL Starlight, discovering its strengths and faults – so she was able to make improvements before the main event. But raw talent and determination alone weren’t enough to get Susie to the start line. Not only did she need to draw on all the expertise and experience that she’d gained from sailing since the age of three, but she needed a partner to support her dream, and who better than DHL, the most global company in the world?
Ken Allen, the former CEO of DHL Express, explained how the company helped get Susie’s ship into shape: “She needed things flying in from all over the world, solar panels from various countries, so all the logistical things that go along with building and refurbishing a boat like that.” He also described how Susie would receive messages via DHL from her family to keep her motivated on the journey. Susie said, “Just having DHL employees rooting for me is pretty cool.”
After setting off from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France on 1 July, Susie’s first big test came just before Cape Town. She decided to go east instead of south and ended up without a breath of air to sail on for more than two weeks – something she’s been kicking herself about ever since. At her film drop in Hobart, Australia, she confessed that this had been the worst part of her journey so far, and while she did have fuel on board that she could have used to motor out of the doldrums, she thought it was too early on in the race to risk using it up.
The Indian Ocean was a different story. The freak storm Susie faced, which caused two of her competitors to resign, saw waves coming at her from all directions. “My lips were blue after that storm,” she said – and it took her days to get warm again, stuffing all her blankets into her sleeping bag and piling on as many clothes as possible. Even the hot water bottles weren’t helping, and she had to stay in her bunk for two days straight to get the cold out of her bones.
Besides bad weather, another challenge was food. With a starting supply of hundreds of cans, by the time Susie got to Hobart, although she had plenty of supplies left, she had eaten all the tastiest things and was “left with oats and rice.” Not surprisingly then, when asked what she missed most apart from family and friends, she said, “Fresh food!” And with a lot of time to herself, she put a great deal of thought into what she wanted her first meal back home to be – a giant salad, steamed broccoli and a pizza.
When she left Hobart, Susie’s wish was for plain sailing through the Southern Ocean but she knew that this wasn’t likely to come true. On day 157 of the race, Susie was positioned 2,000 miles off Cape Horn in the South Pacific, where she encountered severe 60-knot winds and towering eight-meter waves. DHL Starlight pitchpoled (somersaulted stern over bow) and her mast broke off. Susie was also knocked out for a short time below deck and sustained some cuts and bruises.The incident left her without power, fresh water or any means of continuing the race – she had to make a distress call.
On her emergency satellite phone, she spoke to race HQ stating, “The boat is destroyed. I can’t make up a jury rig. The only thing left is the hull and deck.” Fortunately, the boat righted itself and her safety equipment remained intact with pumps handling the small amounts of water coming in.
After drifting for two days, Susie was successfully evacuated from her boat on 7 December at 15:35 UTC. She then made her journey back to land on the Tian Fu – the Hong Kong-registered cargo ship that was sent to rescue her by MRCC Chile – and arrived in Punta Arenas a week later on 14 December at 12:05 GMT / 09:05 CLST. Thankfully, a hospital checkup has now confirmed none of her injuries were serious.
Never before has a race like this been so closely documented by its fans. Supporters around the world have been able to follow Susie’s incredible voyage via the live race tracker, her Instagram account, and real-time satellite message updates on the race’s official twitter page.
As a result, Susie has received thousands of supportive comments from every corner of the globe. And while her fans were clearly disappointed that she had to retire from the race early, there’s no doubting the shared sentiment that this has been a truly heroic and inspirational adventure for everyone.
For our part, the entire DHL team is incredibly proud to have played a role in Susie’s incredible adventure. And we can’t wait to see what she’ll get up to next.