Two thousand miles off South America’s Cape Horn in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Susie Goodall woke from the blow that knocked her unconscious. Steep 25-foot waves had pitchpoled her sailboat, somersaulting it bow over stern and tossing her through the cabin like a rag doll. She staggered up the gangway to discover the mast had been ripped from its rigging. The crippled boat heaved sickeningly in the huge swell as the storm raged. Goodall was alone, participating in the Golden Globe Race, a solo, non-stop, around-the-world sailing competition.
The 28-year-old Brit was alone in the vast, angry sea. The nearest help was two days away.
In 1967, Sir Francis Chichester became the first person to sail solo around the world. But he stopped halfway in Australia to perform major repairs to his boat that had been battered by months on the open sea. His feat left one great challenge on the oceans: to become the first to sail solo non-stop around the globe. No one knew if a boat could survive 30,000 miles straight at sea, or if humans could remain sane for that long with only their own solitary company.
But nine men began preparing to try it anyway.
The Sunday Times caught wind of it and created the Golden Globe Race in March 1968. It had virtually no requirements or regulations, as the nine competitors were already planning their attempts—but in offering a trophy for the first to complete the challenge and another 5,000 pounds for the fastest time, the Times instantly created both a race and one of the greatest adventure stories of the day.
Only one man returned.
312 days after launching from England, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston sailed triumphantly again into Falmouth. His slow 32-foot boat Suhaili had been considered the long shot—unlike his competitors, he had no sponsor willing to bet on his victory—but the heavy double-edged teak ketch was sturdy. He sailed with only a radio, wind-up chronometer and barograph, catching rain as his sole fresh water source.
Robin Knox-Johnston became a legend. The rest weren’t so lucky. The other eight competitors sank, abandoned the journey, or committed suicide. The Golden Globe race was deemed a voyage for madmen, and it was never repeated.
Susie Goodall learned to sail the same way other children learn to walk, born into a family of sailors in the United Kingdom. By age 11 she had her own Laser, a tiny racing boat, and was hooked on the thrill of the race. By 17 she was a sailing instructor on the Isle of Wight, and by 21 was hitchhiking as crew on yachts. She honed her skill and command of wind and water to move up to skipper with Rubicon 3, an outfit running sail training and expedition trips, and voyaged to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and the Baltic. In the back of Goodall’s mind, she dreamt of sailing around the world solo, like the larger-than-life characters in the sailing lore that entranced her.
When she heard of the re-run of the infamous Golden Globe on its 50th anniversary, she says, she made up her mind that she would be on that start line.
On June 14, 2018, 18 skippers bobbed in the pre-dawn dark of the Falmouth harbor. Their boats were limited to the same class as Suhaili, between 32 and 38 feet in length and designed before 1988. They would navigate with paper charts and sextant, foregoing modern satellite technology. They’d catch rain for water, hand-write their logs, forecast their own weather, and communicate only by radio. There was no outside assistance. The race was a celebration of the original trek, the intrepid Suhaili and her indomitable skipper, and its requirements were a nod to that first epic accomplishment. The Golden Globe was about the adventure as much as the competition: thousands of miles of ocean, the five great capes, and days on end in the wilderness of their own thoughts lay ahead, with only the wind for company.
At the helm of DHL Starlight, a little red Rustler 36 sailboat with gold sails like a beacon, sat Susie Goodall: the youngest skipper and sole woman on the second voyage for madmen.
On December 4, Goodall called into the race headquarters from the satellite phone she’s only allowed to use for weekly safety checks. She’d passed the Canaries, crossed the equator, and been becalmed on an infuriatingly glassy sea for days before catching wind and rounding the Cape of Good Hope. She’d seen her first albatross in the South Atlantic, and those mighty birds, shearwaters, and petrels were her only company. The boredom of the vast nothingness that characterizes the middle of the ocean can be enough to drive a person crazy—if it weren’t for the map of stars on a clear night, the elusive green flash as the sun sets on an ocean horizon, the endless shades of blue and silver flickering across big swells and tiny ripples, the myriad moods of the wind, and all the notes that make up the siren song of the sea that’s captivated sailors across centuries.
Goodall reported that she was running low on fresh water—which also meant running out of food. She had enough freeze-dried stores to sail the world twice over, but without fresh water for cooking, her backup of tins and jars was disappearing fast. She prayed for rain, but storms can also bring high seas—like the one in September that knocked out two of her competitors who lost their masts in 70-knot winds. She signed off, laughing ruefully at her lack of any other exciting updates.
The mast-wrecking storm hit on December 5.
Despite the pain from the blow that knocked her out, Goodall activated her emergency beacon while DHL Starlight pitched dangerously without her mast. Goodall spent a few hours clearing the rigging from the maimed boat to prevent further damage, then sent out a truncated message.
DISMASTED. HULL OK. NO FORM OF JURY RIG. TOTAL LOSS. INTERIOR TOTAL WRECK.
Over the next hours, she discovered the somersault destroyed her emergency water supply. Water streamed into the boat from damage to the deck, requiring her to pump the bilge continually. A massive Hong Kong cargo ship that was bound for Argentina altered course to come for her, two days’ journey and 480 miles southwest from her current location.
It was the end of the race for the young Brit. Devastation traveled the radio waves: TOTALLY & UTTERLY GUTTED.
As the cargo ship, Tian Fu, approached, it was clear the seas were too rough to deploy their man-overboard rescue boat. The crew and Goodall worked out a daring alternative plan. She ran her engine to keep pace with the much larger vessel, while the Tian Fu’s crew used a crane, while pitching and rolling in heavy seas, to pluck Goodall from her crippled boat, abandoning DHL Starlight for good.
On December 7, Goodall’s family released this statement:
“Susie left DHL Starlight to fend for herself, before she fills with water and rests on the Pacific Ocean floor. DHL Starlight has been her home for the past few years; a faithful friend who stood up valiantly to all the elements, a guardian until their last moments together.”
The Golden Globe continues with seven skippers still in the running. The race might be over for Goodall, but she’s already entered the annals of sailing legends as one of the great adventurers of her time, with more chapters yet to be written.
Photos: Global Gate Race/Goodall