Man plans to tackle the ‘impossible voyage’

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ATLANTA — More than twice as many people have walked on the moon as have tackled this perilous journey — no wonder it is called “the impossible voyage.”

A decade after the last person attempted it, Britain’s Steve White will bid to sail solo around the world nonstop, going in the wrong direction.

The Westabout, as it is called, is a race against the elements, traveling the opposite way to the prevailing winds.

At times White will have stormy Southern Ocean squalls powering him along, while at others the dominant currents will halt his progress.

“It’s a bit like my driving,” he says of the challenge, “in that it’ll either be flat out or parked up.”

For all White’s humor, he acknowledges there’s a serious threat to his safety. “I’m apprehensive,” he says. “You have to be respectful of it.”

When Chay Blyth became the first man to attempt it on October 18, 1970, the media declared him a mad man and said he would die while making the global voyage. Some 292 days later, the Scot had completed his task on board the 59-foot yacht British Steel.

“Hundreds of people have gone the classic route but just a few have completed this route,” Blyth, now 75, tells CNN. “That speaks for itself, don’t you think?

“People have gone quicker but I like being the first. Once something has been done, that’s it — all people can do is try to do it faster. All credit to them.”

The next successful attempt was English sailor Mike Golding in 1994 before Philipp Monnet completed the task in 2000 despite suffering from malaria.

The record is held by another Frenchman, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, who took 122 days, 14 hours, three minutes and 49 seconds for his 2004 attempt.

“Sure I’m going for the record, it’s there for the taking. There’s no reason why we can’t beat it,” says White, who will be the sixth person to take on the trip. The last was Dee Caffari in 2006, the only woman to do so.

White announced plans to undertake the venture in June, and the window for him to tackle that record begins on October 2016 when the perfect time will be selected for the best conditions on the high seas.

A title sponsor is set to be announced for a project that White says will cost him £800,000 ($1.2 million).

No-one would dare question White’s dedication to the high seas. He has remortgaged his house four times to fund projects, including another round-the-world adventure, the Vendee Globe, in 2008-09.

He injured himself in the buildup to that race but still managed to be one of only 11 finishers from the 30-strong field in eighth place overall.

“It might not sound like much but try sailing a boat by yourself with that sort of pain,” he recalls.

The Vendee Globe is seen as one of sailing’s sternest tests, but White argues the Westabout is infinitely harder.

“There’s no safety net of there being another boat near you if something goes wrong,” he says. “If anything goes wrong, I’m 1,000 miles or more from the nearest vessel, so you’re aware you can be dead from exposure if anything goes wrong.”

So why, as a father of four, has he opted for such a risky undertaking?

“We all have our grand plans and this is one I just can’t shake off,” White explains.

“This isn’t something I’ve dreamed up overnight, it’s had a 15-year gestating period. Everything I’ve done has been geared up to this, to getting a track record to have the credibility with sponsors and the like.”

White argues there are better sailors on the planet, but that the Westabout “plays to my limited strengths.”

In his mind, he is a jack of all trades, which is typified by his past jobs. A jockey in his early days, he quit horse racing because of fears over animal cruelty, and then took to repairing vintage cars — having had a penchant for fixing things from an early age.

He has done building work and repaired boats — skills that will be invaluable when he takes a battering in the Southern Ocean.

“My boat is basically a big bus that will take a massive pounding, so much of the record attempt is a boat-preservation exercise,” White says. “There will be constant running repairs, which I believe I can cope with.”

The boat usually has 10 people on board but is being adapted for a single sailor. Among its quirky innovations are “a bike on board,” effectively a pedal mechanism to enable him to let out the sails should he sustain an arm injury of any kind as he did on the Vendee.

On board, he expects to burn at least 3,000 calories a day and has no great expectation of sleep.

During the Vendee, he slept no more than four or five hours in any given 24-hour period and this time around admits: “I have no idea what sort of sleep I’ll get. I guess I’ll find out.”

It also means spending Christmas on board away from his children next year, a sacrifice he is willing to take to become the latest to complete “the impossible voyage” and hopefully the quickest.

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