(Correne Coetzer) As professional Sailor and Trainer, Alex Alley has a wealth of knowledge and experience on sailboats. He is preparing for an around-the-world record attempt in three years, a record that was set in 2013. This particular record has only ever been attempted once before, Alex told Explorersweb.
He explains the Rules for such an attempt, and tells about his previous solo sailing experience, his best sailing and the most dangerous sailing he had encountered, how he manages sleep alone on a boat, and the skills and personality a solo sailor should have.
Explorersweb: What world record attempts do you plan before your 2018 solo around-the-world attempt?
Alex: I'm planning to set/break about 8 records over the next 4 years. I can’t say too much about what they are just yet, but watch this space and you will certainly hear about them. The ‘big one’ is the solo non-stop around the world which I will be attempting in 2018/19.
Explorersweb: What are the Rules for (solo) around-the-world nonstop record attempt?
Alex: All the sailing world records are officially ratified by the WSSRC (World Sailing Speed Record Council) and there are all sorts of rules and classes of record, whether it is solo, double handed or fully crewed, the type of boat (multihull or monohull) and the size of the boat.
I will be looking at the ‘Offshore’ records, which involve certified routes, with a clearly defined start and finish.
The official Round the World Record is defined as:To sail around the World, a vessel must start from and return to the same point, must cross all meridians of longitude and must cross the Equator. It may cross some but not all meridians more than once (i.e. two rounding’s of Antarctica do not count). The shortest orthodromic track of the vessel must be at least 21,600 nautical miles in length calculated based on a 'perfect sphere'. In calculating this distance, it is to be assumed that the vessel will sail around Antarctica in latitude 63 degrees south.
A vessel starting from any point where the direct orthodromic distance is too short shall pass one single island or other fixed point on a required side so as to lengthen his orthodromic track to the minimum distance.
No starting point will be permitted more south than 45° south.
Explorersweb: What is the current record time, when was it set and by who? What type of boat?
Alex: The current record (‘Around the World, Singlehanded. 40ft Division’) is 137 days, 20 hours, 1 minute and 57 secs set by Guo Chuan onboard his Akilaria RC2 Class 40 (exactly the same type of boat that I will be using). It was set in 2013. This particular record has only ever been attempted once before and this is the record I am aiming to beat.
Explorersweb: What solo sailing have you done?
Alex: When I returned from the Global Challenge I became involved in the Open 650 class. Affectionately known as Mini’s due to their diminutive size of only 21’. They are fantastic fun and handle just like big dinghies. Very fast and very rewarding to sail, they are designed for single and double handed racing.
I have also been involved in racing the bigger, faster and more powerful Class 40’s. Although 40’ in length, they have the sail area that many 60’ yachts would be happy with and they weigh the same as a typical 30’ yacht, so the power to weight ratio is phenomenal, allowing the boats to plane and surf down waves; reaching speeds approaching 30 knots is not uncommon.
Explorersweb: Sailing solo seems to me you have to sleep with one eye closed and one eye open. How do you manage your sleep, in particular in difficult conditions?
Alex: Sleeping is one of the parts of the challenge that I get asked about most often. The Class 40’s have an autopilot (in fact it has 2), which keep the boat heading where you want it to. It can be set to either follow a compass heading or to follow the wind. Each has its pros and cons, either way, you only get to sleep for an hour or two at the most. (Unlike the Mini where we would only sleep for up to 18 minutes at a time!)
One of the biggest issues is hitting another boat, so we can set up an exclusion zone using the radar – if it detects another ship or land an alarm will sound and wake you up.
The other issue with sleeping, is that the boat will not be sailing at its most efficient if you are not constantly trimming the sails. So if you are racing, or trying to set records, you need to be going as fast as possible, so sleep management is a critical part of the preparation.
Contrary to what most people would expect, the rough times are often the best time to get some rest and the calm weather is when you need to be up making the most of every little puff of wind. It’s easy to make the boat go fast when it’s windy, races are won and lost in light airs!
Explorersweb: Sailboats are small and the oceans are big and overwhelming. What skills and personality should a solo sailor have?
Alex: Good question ;) I would say the biggest asset you could have, is resilience and determination. With nobody else there to drive you, you need incredible self drive and a belief that you will succeed.
I never feel lonely, there is always just so much going on. Also nowadays the satellite communications are excellent and I can always pick up the phone or send an email if I need to find out anything. One thing is for sure – I don’t have time to sit and read a book! I'm certainly not a loner and love being around people.
Explorersweb: What were the most dangerous situations you were in at sea?
Alex: Any time at sea is potentially dangerous, but the most dangerous is probably in the Southern Ocean. That vast expanse of water around Antarctica where the storms and waves circle the planet unchecked by any land mass to break them up. You can feel very exposed and very very small in such a huge place. It’s cold and bleak and you are very vulnerable.
If anything serious was to happen then you have to deal with it yourself – rescue is likely to be many days away in the best case! Hitting an iceberg and puncturing the hull would be pretty serious.
Explorersweb: What was you best sailing?
Alex: Best sailing I have done so far was probably racing the Class 40 ‘Palanad II’ back from the Azores to Les Sables in France. It was a double handed race and after a couple of days we managed to get hooked in to a low pressure system and virtually rode it all the way to the finish.
We were constantly sailing at well over 20 knots for extended periods of time, both day and night. It was hugely exhilarating, neither of us got much sleep as we were pushing the boat so hard.
Explorersweb: Anything else?
Alex: One of the unique features of this campaign is that I will never be alone on the boat! I plan to cover the side of the hull in thousands of pictures of people. Anyone can upload a picture which we will print onto the hull. They can then tell their friends that they are on the World Record setting boat with me :) Upload your pic via my website and come and break some records with me.
Biography from his website:
Alex earns a living as a Professional Sailor and Trainer, specialising in Leadership and Team building as well as running his own program called VMG. He also works as an Inspirational speaker and is a commercial yacht skipper. His 15 years as a national sales manager and trainer also gives him a strong background to deliver coaching to sales teams.
In 2005 he returned from competing in the 'Global Challenge' as Watch Leader on Team Stelmar. Dubbed 'The Worlds Toughest Yacht Race', it sails the 'wrong' way round the world against the prevailing winds and currents. Alex stepped in as a last minute replacement after the previous Watch Leader left just 2 days before leaving for the Southern Ocean. Alex took on a de-motivated and disillusioned watch and then had the job of converting them into an effective, high performing team. On top of all this, Alex had to deal with the trauma and emotional loss of not 1, but 2 crew due to medical evacuations around the notorious Cape Horn. Then to keep the watch motivated for the remainder of the 54 day leg in the freezing cold expanse, took all his skill and effort. This leg saw them achieve 1 of several 24 hour distance records.
During the 10 months of the race, Alex covered some 35,700 miles in some of the world's most hostile oceans. This now takes his total racing mileage to almost 100,000.
Alex's next adventure is to set as many sailing World Records as possible, culminating in the solo non-stop round the world record.
See more about Alex here.
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