Tapio Lehtinen finished fifth in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. He is now back for 2022, determined to put his barnacle blight, which slowed him down in the last race, behind him
NOTE: On Friday 18th November 2022 Tapio Lehtinen is subject to a search and rescue operation after his boat sank in a matter of minutes. Follow our story about Tapio Lehtinen’s rescue situation.
Tapio Lehtinen, 64, has been racing competitively for most of his sailing career.
The 64-year-old Finnish skipper has strong offshore credentials, having raced in the 1981-82 Whitbread Round the World Race, the Round Gotland Race, now AF Offshore Race, the Azores and Back Race (AZAB), and the 2018 Golden Globe Race.
He came fifth in the race, taking 322 days to circumnavigate the world solo, longer than Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner of the 1968-69 Sunday Time Golden Globe Race.
His Benello Gaia 36, Asteria, suffered with barnacle growth on the hull, affecting the boat’s speed. He also experienced electrical problems.
The Sparkman and Stephens designed yacht, which was built in 1965, is being fitted with a new electrical system for the 2022 Golden Globe Race. Changes are also being made to the rig and the windvane self-steering.
The round the word race is a retro Whitbread race to mark the 50 years since the first 1973 regatta, and is being run by Don McIntyre, chairman of the Golden Globe Race. Crews will race legs using only the equipment available to the sailors in the 1973 race.
Lehtinen has secured sponsorship to crew the yacht with young sailors, aged between 19 and 32. He hopes this will help launch a new generation of ocean racing Finnish sailors.
Why race in the 2022 Golden Globe Race?
Tapio Lehtinen: First of all, I like sailing and I enjoyed it the first time so why not do it another time? And of course the barnacles give me a good excuse.
In addition to enjoying sailing and being at sea, I have been racing all my life and I also like and love competitive sailing and it was a huge disappointment to see the barnacles on the bottom of the boat when I jumped over the side before entering Hobart; I partly motivated myself to continue to the finish by promising myself that I would do it again.
What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I learned to try and get prepared better but I did know that beforehand.
The fact Asteria is unfinished 4 weeks before she is being shipped to Spain [to Gijón for the SITran Challenge race, the prologue to the Golden Globe Race 2022] is a testament that I didn’t really learn anything! But, I definitely have more experience.
You will be racing in your Gaia 36, Asteria. Why do you think she is the right boat for the 2022 Golden Globe Race?
Tapio Lehtinen: She is a beautiful, seaworthy and fast boat and I have always been a big fan of Olin Stephens.
I have always loved my boats and it is quite easy to fall in love with a Gaia 36.
How are you preparing her for the 2022 race? Have you changed much about the boat since taking part in the 2018 race?
Tapio Lehtinen: No dramatic changes but a few more improvements and corrections.
On the rig, I’ve put a third furler to the forestay but not in order to be able to reef like I do with a yankee sail and a staysail, but for a combination of a reacher and a genoa which I will have on the forestay. It will be a hanked-on sail with a Bartels furler which is either on or off; it will make sailing the boat easier and more simple.
The whole electric system is being renewed and there is nothing left of the old system. I will be using a hydro-generator.
I’ve also modified the shape of the rudder blades according to the original design so it now has a bit more surface area, and that combined with the use of the Hydrovane, relieves the boat’s own rudder from steering so I can use the blade as a trim tab.
Sailing downwind, I can lock it straight which I hope improves the directional stability of the boat.
With the previous windvane, the yaw was quite big so that the direction of the boat was fluctuating plus or minus 15°, at the worse 30° which meant that the sails were never properly sheeted, and were either too loose or too tight.
If the boat holds direction better than that, it will be possible to sheet the sails correctly for the appropriate wind angle, and that will improve the speed but also shortens the distance, so I will sail less miles at a slightly better speed.
What will your sail plan be?
Tapio Lehtinen: We are allowed to have 11 sails on a sloop-rigged Golden Globe Race boat, and I will have three new sails and use eight of the original sails again, including the mainsail, the yankee and the staysail.
The new sails will be the combination Number 1 genoa/reacher and then a Code 0 and possibly a symmetrical spinnaker.
There will be four reefs in the main and I will have a trysail.
What storm tactics do you plan to use?
Tapio Lehtinen: Similar as last time, so following Vito Dumas‘s principle from the 1930s; so sailing with the wind [keeping sail up, keeping slightly off the wind, going as fast as possible and outrunning breaking waves].
I didn’t use my Jordan Series Drogue at all in the last race and I will try to avoid it this time too.
Drogues or warps?
Tapio Lehtinen: I guess warps will be whatever I have to hand onboard but last time I never used any.
Until now, I’ve never ended up in conditions where I have needed to slow down or stop the boat.
The important part of the storm tactics is that I have an inside steering position so I can sit under a dome at the main hatch and close the washboards behind me so I am totally protected from the elements.
I have pedal steering and I think that will work even better now than the 2018 race because the rudder is no longer connected to the windvane, so I can use the rudder independently. I can detach the windvane completely and just use the rudder and steer with my feet.
You were the only finisher in the 2018 Golden Globe Race whose boat didn’t get knocked down in the race. Why was that?
Tapio Lehtinen: I am humble enough to think the reason was probably luck and I didn’t end up in as bad conditions as the others.
On the other hand, I think I did my homework pretty thoroughly when choosing the boat.
It is a matter of personal opinion, but the reasons why I chose a Gaia 36 in addition to her good looks, is that together with the Lello 34, they are boats which had the biggest righting moment in the fleet.
They also have a low freeboard which, in my opinion, means that the boat is less prone to a knockdown due to the impact of a breaking wave on the side of the boat. The breaking waves tend to go over the hull of the boat rather than kicking the boat sideways.
Together with the Lello 34, the Gaia 36 is the narrowest boat which means that if it is knocked down to its side, then the side of the boat which is exposed against the breaking wave is still lower than the other boats, so it is less prone to go all the way upside down.
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Before the 2018 race, Asteria had a new rig. I wanted a rig that could tolerate a certain number of rollovers or pitchpolings so that the boat would right herself and come up with the rig intact so I could continue sailing.
All the dimensions are pretty overkill. I have a 40-45ft rig on a 36ft boat which means in addition to being extremely strong, it is also a lot heavier than the rigs on the other boats.
Many people think this is stupid and makes the boat slow and the righting moment will be worse, but having more weight aloft increases the moment of inertia of the boat so if you hit the boat from the side, it will stay upright better than lighter rigs, which are more easily knocked on their side.
For boats which race in coastal or inshore waters, it is a no brainer that the lighter the rig, the faster the boat, but people have forgotten that it is a different story when you go offshore and in extreme conditions, which was highlighted after the disastrous 1979 Fastnet Race, and its subsequent report; the committee was led by Olin Stephens who wrote in his report that this was one factor which decided if boats were knocked down or not.
How are you preparing yourself for the 2022 race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I have tried to go cross country ski-ing in the winter time but the winter wasn’t very good so I have only skied 300 km.
As I live in the centre of Helsinki, I try to avoid using my car so I use my bike. I have also been going to the gym. One Sunday evenings I do a workout with the Galiana team (Tapio’s Ocean Globe Race 2023 team).
I guess I am not in as good shape as I was four years ago but I am still in decent shape and I’ve passed my physical for the race.
How are you juggling preparing for the 2022 Golden Globe Race and the 2023 Ocean Globe Race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I am trying to get everything done but in the spring, the schedule with Galiana‘s refit was lagging behind and due to sponsorship committments I had to prioritise getting Galiana ready which left preparations for Asteria late.
Luckily I have good people working with me and I am confident that Asteria will be fit for the 2022 Golden Globe Race.
What did you learn from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s win in the 2018 Golden Globe Race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I have to remember to call Jean-Luc and ask for his advice about his methods for using a spinnaker, as due to problems with my windvane last time, I used my spinnakers very little.
It is a challenge as when you let the windward sheet go, the balance of the boat changes dramatically, and if I take it down in a squall when the wind starts blowing, then the boat will head up to wind before I have taken the spinnaker down.
I had one traumatically close call in the last race and I was lucky to get the spinnaker down without tearing it or hurting myself, but it was one hell of a wrestling match with the spinnaker and trying to control the halyard and pull the sail in.
Are you looking to win or get round?
Tapio Lehtinen: I am a competitive sailor and there is no point in racing if you don’t try to win. It is even impolite to your competitors to say you are not even trying to win.
I think it is part of the ethics that you need to say you are trying to win, and do your best and suffer the pain when you don’t win.
On the other hand, you deserve the right to celebrate if you happen to win. So, yes, I will try and win.
For this race there will be no HAM radio transmissions allowed only registered, licensed maritime-approved HF Single Side Band (SSB) Radio, with discussions limited to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) weather. Weather Fax will be allowed for the race. Some of the 2018 Golden Globe Race skippers raised concerns about picking up GMDSS in the Southern Ocean. Do you share these concerns?
Tapio Lehtinen: It is a pity that there is no HAM radio transmission allowed as in the last race I really enjoyed the contact and made some really good friend within the amateur radio community.
I do disagree with Don McIntyre (Race chairman) on that one but I fully accept his authority and will abide by that decision.
On the other hand, I think it will be interesting with even less communication because I do enjoy being alone and there is magic in being alone in a vast oceans.
Even though I enjoyed the communication with the radio amateurs it did break the spell of the solitude on the ocean, so I am glad to disagree with Don but still obey his orders.
I am not worried about picking up GMDSS as the boats are so slow anyway so we just have to take the weather as it is given and live with it.
I am hoping the weather fax will work as well as it did 40 years ago in the Whitbread Race when we were mostly relying on the isobar charts which we got through weather fax.
I am slightly worried that the system has been cut down as coastal radio stations but on the other hand, people have been sailing around the world before there was any kind of weather forecast or weather faxes so I think it is part of the game.
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede consulted meteorologists and studied the weather to choose the best route which helped him make early gains in the 2018 race. Do you plan to do the same?
Tapio Lehtinen: No, maybe just for the first week. I don’t think there is much to be learnt thinking [about the weather] of the whole route.
The two big things are the Azores High and the South Atlantic High and no matter how much I study them beforehand, it will still be impossible to predict which way they will be moving.
It is the same thing with crossing the Doldrums; there is an element of luck,
How is your celestial navigation going?
Tapio Lehtinen: It got better during the 2018 race and I haven’t been practicing so I will have to start from square one.
I will dig out Tom Cunliffe’s excellent and entertaining book on celestial navigation and will read it again.
What self-steering set up are you planning on using?
Tapio Lehtinen: This time I will be using a Hydrovane. I used the Wind Pilot last time.
What antifouling will you be using?
Tapio Lehtinen: I will be using a Jotun paint which is meant for ocean use, which I hope will be OK.
Are you confident you will be on the start line for 2022?
Tapio Lehtinen: Life is unpredictable, but at the moment I don’t see any reasons why I wouldn’t be.
You have plenty of solo miles. Is coping with isolation an issue?
Tapio Lehtinen: I enjoy being alone at sea and I am looking forward to it again.
I enjoy being with people, I enjoy working with these projects and I am really enthusiastic about the Golden Globe Race and the Ocean Globe Race and about both my boats, Asteria and Galiana, and the team.
We have a fantastic support team and partners for the project but of course it is pretty stressing too and after the spectator fleet has disappeared over the horizon, it will be a celebration to be alone!
How do you handle challenges while alone at sea? How do you keep yourself motivated?
Tapio Lehtinen: I guess it is in my nature that I don’t like giving up. Maybe, in some way, I enjoy the challenges.
I don’t consider myself to be especially tough but I do like the saying: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.
What or who will you miss while taking part in the race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I will miss all my loved ones in no special order.
What treat will you be taking?
Tapio Lehtinen: Good books to read and good music to listen to and Finnish Jaloviina brandy [a blend of French Cognac and Finnish white spirit/vodka] to have a sundowner, which is my habit and tradition.
I am agnostic, I don’t belong to the church and I have said I am life believer. My religion is life and I am thankful for being alive.
Ending the day by having a sundowner for the sun which is disappearing behind the horizon is showing thankfulness.
Jaloviina is considered a sacred drink of Finnish sailors and many other Finns.
I will re-read some of the best Russian classics, like Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace because I am so disappointed and disgusted with the war in Ukraine that I want to remind myself that there has been fine and valuable things in Russian culture which I hope will start prevailing.
I like classic music and jazz and rock. When I made a list of my favourite songs for a friend of mine who made me a tape for the 2018 race, I realised afterwards that there was very little music on it after 1970 which fitted in with the 50th anniversary race of the 1968 Golden Globe Race.
I am a patriot, so I am a big Sibelius fan, I have all of his symphonies and a lot of other Finnish music with me.
In the last race, I was listening to Bob Dylan tapes close to the equator and a big manta ray apparently liked Dylan because it came next to the boat when I was listening to it.
GGR 2018 was a celebration of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The GGR 2022 is a celebration of Bernard Moitessier. What words of wisdom from Moitessier will you be following in the race?
Tapio Lehtinen: I admire and understand how Moitessier communicated with the ocean. All of his books, and The Long Road, I’ve read a number of times.
I had both his book and Sir Robin’s book, A world of my own, on Asteria in the last race.
Before the start of the 2018 race, I read both books in the winter, and I also read them along the way so I was following and comparing how I felt at the same latitude and longitudes which was quite interesting.
I will probably be doing the same again for the 2022 race.
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