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Day 250

By Brian Hancock

I grew up in a middle class neighbourhood in a leafy suburb of South Africa. Families were “normal”. Pick your own definition for the word normal. I guess that what I am trying to say is that we were all the same except Mr. Culverwell. He kept birds, hundreds of them, and his spare time was devoted to raising and racing homing pigeons. These are quite crafty little birds that can fly a good 500 miles a day for lunch and always return to Mr. Culverwell’s aviary for an evening snack. He was an eccentric man and I use that word even though back when I was a child I had no clue what it meant. It just sounded like it went with his personality.

Mr. Culverwell dressed in loose fitting pyjama shorts (a little too loose if you ask me), and he always wore a threadbare (what once was) white undervest. He was a fanatic about his birds, knew everyone by name (all 800) and spent much time kissing his homing pigeons, especially last thing at night and first thing in the morning. As each year passed I was sure that he was starting to look more and more like some of his older birds; beady eyes, rumpled feathers, that sort of thing. His wife was much the same. I remember that her nightgown had once been red, bought perhaps in a bit of a flamboyant (it’s a Saturday night) move, but for most of our childhood it was a splotchy pink, a faded red if you will with areas where the bleach had sat for a little too long. In many ways, however, they were an endearing couple.

Even as a boy I could tell that Mr. Culverwell would worry each morning when he set his favourite pets free to find their lunch and own adventure for the day. I remember quite clearly that he would scratch his bum just before lifting each pigeon and tossing it. Perhaps the bum scratching was for good luck. I will never know. Mr. Culverwell and all 800 of his birds eventually went to see their maker.

Fast forward five decades and who do we have; our estimable leader, the one and only Don McIntyre, leader of the flock but up until now, not a bum scratcher (there is still time). Don and his “normal” wife Jane had this great idea to start a retro around-the-world race and it quickly became one of those ‘be careful what you wish for situations.’ Pigeons (err sorry) competitors perused the OGR website and one by one started to find their own path to the start which at that point was still a few years distant. Just like for Don and Jane, each potential competitor came to the realisation that “by damn and the grace of wind and weather gods” they would be there on the start line, and many of them were.

The inaugural Ocean Globe Race has now been written into the history books with new sailing personalities to wrap our collective heads around. There is the tall, sultry Marie Tabarly who had some huge shoes to fill but told me at the pre-start press conference that she was not the slightest bit daunted by the fact that her father was Eric the Great and she was about to fill his boots. Then there is the very unassuming Heather Thomas, skipper of the all female team Maiden. Clearly a born leader who led her team to overall victory.

The French have always shown up for a challenge and Lionel Regnier on L’Esprit d’équipe, Dominique Dubois on Evrika, Tanneguy Raffray on Neptune and Jean d’Arthuys on Triana all felt their French blood stir and there they were at the start geared up, stocked up and ready to take on a challenge that usually lies dormant for a few years until something/someone (Don) triggers it. They can’t help themselves.

The Finns also answered the call and provided us with some great racing and great adventures to follow. My old steed (formery Fazer Finland when I raced on board her) was in spic and span condition, new ‘aircraft carrier’ boom and all, and under the leadership of Jussi Paavoseppa trounced their way into 2nd position overall while the indomitable Tapio (no last name needed – like Madonna) gave us a fairly decent sight-seeing tour of both the North and South Atlantic oceans.

Let’s not forget Godspeed who didn’t get too far into the race but completed the hardest part of any around-the-world race; they made the start. The explorers on Explorer under the firm leadership of Captain Coconut (by the way who would take an order from a man named Coconut, seriously?) But again I digress. They kindly gave us the royal tour of places unknown as they took 60 something days to sail from Punte del Este to the closest pub in England.

This race would not have been the same without the South African team on Sterna. I wonder how many pairs of flip flops they got through and how many flipper the dolphins are out there prancing the bow waves wearing nothing but a pair of discarded flop-flops from Sterna. And by the way, they did not have a flat screen TV on board to watch rugby. Just their memories of when South Africa crushed all-comers. The outlaws under the leadership of Campbell Mackie won the Explorer Class by sailing under the radar and getting the job done. Same too with Jean Christophe Petite on White Shadow. Both these boats showed how to get the job done without any hoopla.

And lastly (and by far not least) are our friends on Translated 9. What can you say about the guts, grit and determination of this Italian team? Other than the fact that they are Italian and we know how they can be when it comes to a challenge. Co-skippers Marco Trombetti and Nico Malingri (inadvertently) captured the spirit of the Ocean Globe Race. In fact they distilled it all down into a neat valise of a powerful elixir. If they could figure out a way to bottle and sell it, they could almost afford to do the race again.

I hope that I have mentioned all the skippers, but by no means were the skippers the event. It’s the crew that showed up. Those who put their lives and families on hold to be a part of this adventure. They were there for each and every watch call, each and every sail that went over the side and those beautiful sunrises and sunsets that got seared into their collective memories. The crew, unwashed, unkempt and in many cases untamed were the backbone of all things OGR. Congratulations to all.

I missed the finishes due to health reasons but I sat at my desk imagining Don and Jane just waiting for their pigeons to come home to roost. Don is wearing a threadbare nightvest and shorts that left a little too much to the imagination. Jane is still in her pink nightgown. The evening is drawing to a close and one by one the birds start coming home. They are all home safely now. Let me leave you (not for the last time) with a very real thought. Race Organisers space these races four years apart and for good reason. It takes a year to get around, it takes a year to forget the cold and damp (say nothing of the smell), it takes just a few months to filter all that out and focus on the absolute beauty of the wild open ocean, the Wandering Albatross, the dolphins and whales and schools of flying fish and the sound the sun makes at the end of a long, hot tropical day as it sets spluttering and sizzling into the ocean and then you suddenly realise that you have less that a year to prepare for the next OGR. See you all in ‘27.

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