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WHAT IS HF and SSB? Is it winning the 2018 GGR?

Australia is a BIG place and being brought up in South Australia you must sail through the Southern Ocean getting out to sail the world

In the 70s when I started sailing, your only safety link was High Frequency long range radio. You needed to radio long distances. EPIRBS did NOT exist. During my 1990 BOC Challenge there were EPIRBS, but NO Iridium sat phones. Nearly every day for eight months, I called Sydney Radio direct from anywhere in the world on my trusty High Frequency (HF) Single Side band (SSB) long range radio. My early experience helped. I won a communications award because of it. 22 years earlier in the first Golden Globe, HF radios were basic and unreliable.

In Europe HF SSB radios were never popular. You only need to call short distance and now with Sat phones they have virtually disappeared. Most GGR entrants had NEVER used an HF SSB before entering. They are mandatory for the Race. We stressed to entrants their importance for safety between the fleet. For group communications in an emergency, they could be vital. All had mandatory radio performance tests, but I have to say some were installed better than others.

The first seven weeks and the last seven weeks of this GGR are tactically VERY important if you hope to win. Weather planning is vital. Get it wrong and you stop. The rest of the voyage is more hanging on for the ride as you sail in a narrow band through the Southern Ocean.

Entrants with Good HF SSB radios, and who know how to use them have a HUGE advantage by receiving accurate weather data and even discussing computer weather information with friends. This kind of information is potentially worth more than the best sails. It could win you the race after rounding Cape Horn. It is allowed under the rules. They cannot accept weather ROUTING which is someone else telling the entrant where to go to get the best winds.

As they race south to meet the Southern Ocean for the first time, weather info will be about missing storms rather than sailing fast. Realistically they are so slow they will not miss many, but one thing you can be sure of, is that every entrant will be relying on his/her HF SSB radio for more than they ever imagined when they were planning for the race. Twice a day they can chat with each other to give encouragement and feel not so alone. I remember in my BOC this was amazing. Many have not spoken to family and friends since they left. Their sense of isolation and being at the end of the world will grow. Their ability to call anyone on the radio is a HUGE plus.

Loic has serious problems with his radio and will climb the mast soon to try and fix it. He talks to no one. Others have little issues. Some make the daily chat session, others not. We have direct satellite links to them all, but in an emergency, we may need them to use HF SSB radio too.

The GGR is all about individual human endeavour and personal challenge. In 1968 most entrants took HF radios. Bernard Moitessier did not. In 1968, only official GOVT. radio weather broadcasts were available. Those same reports are all still available today. Nothing fancy like Windyty? It is enough to get you safely around the world. Maybe in the 2022 GGR (open for entries in three weeks) we should only allow the Official Weather reports and give no access to private information from onshore computer weather like Windyty etc? It may create a more level playing field and bring it even closer to 1969? If that was the case now, Mark Slats may not be on his own in the west!

Windvanes are a BIG DEAL!

Windvanes, those funny gadgets on the back of the boats that steer 24hrs a day and eat no food can make or break any solo sailor. They are vital in the GGR. There are two basic principles, Servo pendulum systems and Auxiliary rudder systems. If you want to see how they work, GGR YOUTUBE Channel has a VIDEO tutorial I made, so check it out. The mayhem and disaster they have caused in the GGR is surprising and created a lot of news and comment, but now it is settling down. ANTOINE is talking about heading to Cape Town with continuing Windpilot issues and ISTVAN just had a servo paddle failure with his Windpilot he was able to eventually fix.

My first windvane was a Navik in 1975. I was the ARIES agent in Australia for decades. I have sailed with most types and understand them all and have advised sailors for the last 30 years on best types for different boats. Here is a rundown and my opinion on what has happened so far. HYDROVANE are a sponsor of the GGR, but have nothing to do with this story, or my opinions and only offer a 25% discount to GGR entrants.

NABILBEAUFORTNEWNOT OK. Welds broken on critical part.
TAPIOWINDPILOTNEWOK. After a week settling in.
  • 6 Hydrovane: all working fine!
  • 5 Windpilot: 2 working fine, one ok (after a week of frustration) and two not OK
  • 3 Beaufort: 2 working fine and one destroyed
  • 2 Aries: both working fine
  • 2 Monitors: both working fine

The stories of doom and gloom came from ISTVAN, ANTOINE, NABIL, TAPIO and KEVIN with everyone else quickly settling down to satisfactory operation of their windvanes. Windvanes do a good job, but they cannot do everything. A skipper can overpower them striving for Max. performance, but all the brands represented have happily cruised sailors around the world.

So what happened?

ISTVAN: chose a windvane he did not know, possibly because it was free. 1st mistake! He had previously sailed around the world with a Monitor with no problems? He then had problems with Windpilot sailing across the Atlantic to the start, threatened to chuck it, but never did. Maybe 2nd problem? Neither he, nor the manufacture sorted the issues before the start, even after a visit to the Race Village. Too late once you leave, so whatever it was, could have and should have been avoided.

ANTOINE: Sailed into Les Sables d’Olonne just one month before the start of the GGR and hand steered all night, because he could not get his windvane working? After that it appears he was thinking of other things. One bolt dropped out of the Vane head just after the start and another bolt a week later. He hand steered for a week to the Canaries, but the fix at the Marina took less than an hour using bolts he had onboard. After advice and adjustments, he left with it working, but now news gets back, that he may be considering a stop in Cape Town, with ongoing windvane issues. This would be the end of his GGR?

NABIL: The steering line post on his Beaufort windvane broke clean off and was impossible to fix. Failure of the SS welding and tube. (Philippe has the same system) Nabil Quit the GGR.

TAPIO: Was stressed leading into the start, still building his boat at the Race Village. His early frustrations with his Windpilot in the first week were no doubt in my mind, Operator issues and now all is going OK.

KEVIN: This Hydrovane unit was rebuilt to new spec. before the start with new parts and is the original 20-year-old unit that had already sailed halfway around the world. I sold it to Kevin with the boat. I checked it on arrival in Canaries and it is fine. It steers the boat. This too seems to be Operator issues.
In my opinion the most important thing in the GGR after a good boat is a good windvane, that has a proven track record in the Southern Ocean and importantly, knowing how to use it. There is also a lot to be said for Auxiliary Rudder systems on heavy displacement full keel boats like all GGR boats, that track reasonably well. These boats may not need the fast response of a servo pendulum, Nor all its moving parts, associated ropes, pulleys and wheel drums, all working the ships rudder for nine months. A Hydrovane has none of that. Maybe IGOR is now thinking the same thing?

But that is the interesting part of the GGR. 17 sailors from 13 countries, in different boats with different equipment and different ideas. Only some will cross the finish line and we are all watching! It is a grand adventure, and all are winners, but only one will be first!



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