Dafydd Hughes was the second sailor to register for the Global Solo Challenge. He shares how he’s getting ready to cruise around the world on his S&S 34
The Global Solo Challenge is billed as a race like no other: a chance for small 34ft boats to compete fairly against 55ft yachts.
Vessels are grouped by performance characteristics before departing in staggered departures over an 11-week period, with the fastest boats attempting to catch up with the slower boats; the first yacht to cross the finish line wins.
Dafydd Hughes became the second skipper to pay the €7,500 entry fee for the solo, unassisted around-the-world yacht race, which starts in September 2023 in A Coruña, Spain.
The 62-year-old had previously sailed on board as a crew in the 2007-08 Clipper Round the World Race Glasgowdirected by Hannah Jenner.
He bought his Sparkman and Stephens 34, Bendigedig 18 months ago; it had been sitting on the hard drive in a shed for a decade.
“I basically just bought a hull and deck. I did the work myself so I know every inch of this boat. I installed two watertight bulkheads. I moved the diesel tanks forward so they are above the keel.
“I’ve worked quite a bit on Class 40s, so I applied some of the principles of that design to the S&S 34. So the galley is in the middle and the navigation desk is on one side. All the teak and brass is gone. Every tube and wire is new. I have new sails, a new mast. All deck fittings are new. I caulked the windows by taking the windows out and applying GRP and epoxy backed marine grade waterproofing. I also built a solid GRP spray hood,” explained Hughes, who is a Yachtmaster.
Finding the right boat for the Global Solo Challenge
He originally planned to buy a Sigma 36 for the race, but a friend persuaded him to go with the S&S 34.
There was a catch, however. The smallest boat allowed in the Global Solo Challenge was 35 feet. Organizers agreed to make an exception for Hughes due to the S&S 34’s offshore credentials.
The boat has definitely proven to be race ready. Recently at Cork Week, Hughes and his crew won the Prince of Wales Cup in the Classics class.
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Hughes admits he has little experience of single-handed sailing, especially in heavy weather, but he’s slowly building up. He is currently completing his 2,000 mile qualification for the race (BENDIGEDIG 232037050, for those who want to follow him).
“I will drive the boat out in a controlled manner to build trust in the boat and in myself. In these times you just have to sail conservatively. I’m not worried about sailing around the world alone; I’m pretty happy in my own company, although I might have a different answer given my qualifications,” he said.
Hughes aims to complete the Global Solo Challenge in 200 days and sail an average speed of 5 knots while covering around 120 miles per day.
At the 2018 Golden Globe Race, winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede finished the race in 211 days aboard his Rustler 36; Sir Robin Knox-Johnston completed the original 1968-69 Sunday Time Golden Globe Race in 313 days aboard his 32-foot Bermuda ketch. Suhaili.
In search of speed
Hughes added a bowsprit Bendigedig and has a code zero and an A2 to race as fast as possible. He will also have weather routing and has a Simrad DD15 autopilot fitted to the yacht.
He thinks he has a chance to win.
“I will be leaving 11 weeks before the Super Zero class so we will be sailing in completely different weather systems and we should be in a completely different hemisphere when they start. Because of the speed of the boat, I intend to stay on the rum line using the shortest possible route and go as far south as I dare.”
He also researches the best assault tactics for the boat, favoring warps over drogues; a method favored by Australian circumnavigator Jon Sanders as he completed numerous circumnavigations of the world in his S&S 34.
Hughes is “cautiously confident” about sailing the Southern Ocean solo and believes “if you set sail with too much confidence, that’s not a very good thing.”
All boats competing in the Global Solo Challenge must meet minimum stability criteria, including adequate watertight bulkheads. In addition to a 2,000-mile qualifying passage on the boat entered for the race, the 40 entered skippers must also have completed a World Sailing/ISAF-approved offshore survival training course.
Hughes started sailing at 45 and bought his first boat – a Hunter Duet – just days after his first sailing experience.
His enthusiasm for sailing has also earned him the support of Sir Robin.
“It is always a great pleasure when I hear that a former Clipper crew member is embarking on more challenging adventures in life. I have seen many previous crews and skippers achieve new goals. This time it’s ex-crew member Dafydd Hughes who has committed himself fully to the ultimate test of sailing, a solo circumnavigation, with his entry Bendigedig, an S&S 34 in the 2023/24 Global Solo Challenge,” wrote Sir Robin.
“I first met Dafydd in 2007 when he was a Glasgow crew member at the 07/08 edition of the Clipper Race. He not only finished the race but did so as the Round the World Watch Leader and helped lead Glasgow to an overall podium position. Since the completion of Clipper 07/08, Dafydd has won his RYA Yachtmaster and scaled Mt Blanc, now he’s sailing around the world again.’
Hughes estimates it will cost around £75,000 to take part in the Global Solo Challenge and he is hoping to secure £50,000 through sponsorship; So far he has pledges of £25,000.
Ultimately, Hughes looks forward to the adventure of the Global Solo Challenge and the sole goal of sailing around the world alone in a 34-foot boat.
“The highlight of the race will be the finish and the solo circumnavigation of Cape Horn; this is a huge milestone to conquer. The day I turn north is also going to be quite an epic day,” he noted.
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