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Bob Fisher / PPL
In 1977 Skip Novak signed up with Kings Legend for his second, unforgettable race around the world.

...I will never forget the first squall that ripped through - we had full sail - yessirree, spinnaker, blooper, staysail, the works...

Words: Skip Novak.

It may be said by some that nostalgia has no place in today's Volvo Ocean Race, but for many of us who were there, we can still enjoy turning the clocks back.

Three men were lost at sea during that first Whitbread in 1973-74 but rather than acting as a deterrent, this probably heightened a macabre desire to be on the second instalment.

Recruitment for the British cutter Kings Legend was a matter of being in the right place at the right time - the Fountain Hotel in Cowes in my case - and the contract for a voyage around the world was a handshake over a pint of ale. The results of a phone call to America a few days later rounded out what became an Anglo team from five countries.

The remainder of the planning was done more or less on the ‘back of an envelope', much the same as Bill Tillman's mountaineering/sailing expeditions to high latitudes which I would try to emulate years later.

The fact was, we had a real boat race on our hands as the pre-race favourite, Flyer, had exactly the same rating. The wealthy Dutchman (Conny van Rietschoten) beat us into Cape Town by only two hours after a hard-fought upwind battle in the South Atlantic, but a really a poignant moment for me was seeing Table Mountain on the horizon from 50 miles out, having navigated there with a sextant and a ‘time piece'.

Recognised in the fleet as having a ‘crack' ocean racing crew dominated by Yanks, we were, however, sailing into the unknown - not least of all by the private owner, who would run out of campaign money by the early stages of the Cape Town stopover. He had to return to Britain during leg two to raise more funds while we carried on into the mighty Southern Ocean.

I will never forget the first squall that ripped through - we had full sail - yessirree, spinnaker, blooper, staysail, the works - and we decided to ride it out with much bravado. It took the crew of 12 five hours to clear up the mess after a chinese gybe and got pinned on our side in what can only be described as a snow storm.

Among other things, we blew the spinnaker and the blooper, broke the spinnaker pole, the halyard, the afterguy and shattered most of our egos. This early wakeup call to survival helped us beat the Dutchman into Auckland, which meant we were level-pegging halfway round the world.

The dominion feel of a New Zealand in 1977 with all its charms was difficult to leave but this link was really broken just after New Year in a broach when we lost our SSB radio. The water in the head had flung itself into the transmitter across the corridor. It may seem strange today, but no one, and I think this included the Race Committee, was in the least alarmed that we were completely cut off from any assistance that might be required - I mean we could have disappeared at sea and no one would have been the wiser ashore.

The only contact we had throughout the 121 days at sea was when the French tin can 33 Export hauled us up out of nowhere the morning after we rounded the Horn. In 40 knots of wind we surfed side-by-side, close enough to easily exchange Pythonesque obscenities in both languages for a time until we popped the storm kite and pulled them back below the horizon. By being one degree of latitude too far south, we had lost Flyer on the scorecard forever, but on the other hand, I had my first glimpse of the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, which I dreamed about for the next 10 years.

After further trials and tribulations both at sea and ashore, we arrived back in England in second place overall. I remember well the Conradian feel of that chill, grey, rainy morning in Portsmouth - the ragtag crew signing off without ceremony, most down and out (the last hurrah was the Rio Carnival) and few with any immediate prospects nor comforts, other than the camaraderie generated from an unforgettable circumnavigation.

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Bob Fisher / PPL

Crew work onboard Kings Legend 1977-78 Whitbread Round the World race