10 years ago Michael Guggenberger learnt to sail. Since then his focus has been on competing in the Golden Globe Race. He shares how he is getting himself ready for his greatest sailing challenge to date

Michael Guggenberger originally planned to compete in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, but pulled out a year before the start, believing he could not properly prepare in time.

The Austrian solo skipper was one of the first sailors to sign up for the 2022 edition, and has spent years honing his sailing skills and refitting his Biscay 36 masthead ketch, Nina for the rigours of offshore ocean racing.

He started sailing 10 years ago, but has quickly built experience, and now has over 10,000 sailing miles, 4,000 sailing solo offshore.

He is a YCA offshore sailing instructor, an RYA Yachtmaster Offshore and for two years, helmed a UFO 22 at regattas at Attersee.

A Biscay 36 with a gold hull being sailed with white sails offshore by 2022 Golden Globe Race skipper Michael Guggenberger

The Biscay 36 masthead ketch, Nina was designed by Alan Hill and built by Robert Ives and Falmouth Boat Construction. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

Originally, the 44-year-old carpenter had planned to race in a Belliure Endurance 35, but two days before the boat was to be moved from Slovenia to Austria for refit, Europe was closed down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He decided to find a boat that was closer to being race ready and chose the Biscay 36, which had been previously sailed by 2018 Golden Globe Race skipper Antoine Cousot.

The boat was refitted for the 2018 race, with the hull and deck structure being reinforced, and the installation of a new rig and engine.

Michael Guggenberger has sailed 4,000 miles solo in his Biscay 36, mostly offshore to prepare for the race. Credit: Petra Rautenstrauch

Michael Guggenberger has sailed 4,000 miles solo in his Biscay 36, mostly offshore to prepare for the race. Credit: Petra Rautenstrauch

Michael Guggenberger has gone on to finish a second refit, remounting the interior to make it more secure and installing a new electric system.

His philosophy is ‘sailing is a matter of feeling’.

‘With sound knowledge you are not yet a complete sailor – only the right feeling and the ability to participate in what comes next make you a good sailor,’ he wrote on his website.

‘When it comes to sailing, there is always something for me to research, practice, or talk about, and that keeps me under a magical spell.’

Michael Guggenberger wearing a hat sitting on s dock working with rope

Michael Guggenberger has spent years preparing for the 2022 Golden Globe Race. Credit: Jean Luc Lhomond

Why enter the Golden Globe Race 2022?

Michael Guggenberger: Because of the passion – I love sailing so much and I love the oceans, and I ike the idea of doing something freaky.

For me, it is like the masterpiece of sailing. I enjoy solo sailing more than with crew. I am just so happy sailing singlehanded.

It is also the Golden Globe Race family, it is just lovely to be a part of that.

What did you learn from the 2018 Golden Globe Race?

Michael Guggenberger: The important thing is preparation, preparation, preparation.

I think everyone who was stressed out were those with less experience, and that was actually the reason why I didn’t do the 2018 race. I was short on preparation time and was a relatively inexperienced sailor in 2018 compared to rest of the fleet.

The boat I had bought – a Belliure Endurance 35 – was very well taken care of but was still not fit for the Southern Ocean and needed a lot of refit work.

I had a plan but no money to do it.

I decided in early 2017 that I would not be making the 2018 start and decided to do everything I could to be better prepared for 2022.

I was sailing everything I could. I was helmsman on a UFO 22 for two years of regatta racing. I became a sailing instructor, and started working as an instructor and a skipper; I hold the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. I also sail with Mirno More ( a socio-educational sailing project which takes socially disadvantaged children and young people sailing for a week every year.)

Sailor Michael Guggenberger on the deck of a Biscay 36

Michael Guggenberger has completed his 2,000 miles solo qualifying voyage under sextant navigation and windvane steering, sailing Nina into the Atlantic. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

COVID-19 stopped my original plans.

The boat was due to be moved from Slovenia to Austria in March 2020 for refit and then the pandemic came.

I decided to sell the boat and go for another boat which was closer to being ready for the 2022 start, and bought the Biscay 36, Nina.

The really experienced sailors in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, who had no personal stress before the race, were the ones who succeeded.

All the waypoints for the 2022 race also make this edition more competitive somehow as the fleet will stay closer together.

But it is not only about preparing your boat and your skills, but about preparing your mind.

My big goal is to be ready by the end of June and have a month off before the race.

What storm tactics do you plan to use?

Michael Guggenberger: I am making myself a wave sail, basically a two metre triangle and I will have it amidships to bring the speed of the boat down.

After talking to Gregor McGuckin (2018 Golden Globe Race skipper who sailed a Biscay 36), I’ve decided once the conditions are over 30-35 knots I am undoing everything on the mizzen – the sail, the boom and the lazy bags – and lashing them to the cockpit floor.

I am having cleats and pad eyes on the stern of the boat to support towing a 225m coil of 25mm rope to slow the boat down.

A windvane steering system on the back of a yacht

Michael Guggenberger has chosen a Hydrovane – the same windvane steering used by the winner of the 2018 Golden Globe Race, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

I think speed is still the key, but you need to slow the boat down. Having worked with a drogue once on a different boat, it locks everything in solidly and I think if I have to stop the boat I am going move into the heave-to position, but I think stopping is not really an option.

Running always feels better to me.

With the ropes, you can adjust the slowing moment. I tried it with a bight from both sides of the stern and with just one line, which lets you choose the angle of the boat.

I will always try to go 6-7 knots

What did you learn from Jean-Luc Van Den Heede‘s win in the last race?

Michael Guggenberger: Jean-Luc bought his cruising boat at the same marina as I bought Nina so we met up and talked a few times.

The most important thing with this race, with self steering gear, is to be continuous. It is about continuous speed.

Michael Guggenberger has kept his boat in Les Sables d'Olonne, commuting from Austria to prepare the boat. Credit: Jean Luc Lhomond

Michael Guggenberger has kept his boat in Les Sables d’Olonne, commuting from Austria to prepare the boat. Credit: Jean Luc Lhomond

It makes a big difference to keep the boat going straight but you only manage it with lower speeds rather than top speeds.

I have already managed to shave up to 10% of distance off a route just by keeping the boat straight.

Why did you choose a Biscay 36 for the 2022 Golden Globe Race?

Michael Guggenberger: It was down to money. If I had more money I might have had a Rustler.

A Biscay is a pretty quick boat; it is one of the longest waterlines you can find on a 36 footer. The Rustler is heavy, and needs a lot of power to get going, as I found out from Ertan Beskardes (2022 Golden Globe Race skipper) on his Rustler 36, Lazy Otter.

The Biscay feels lighter and more slick through the water.

How are you preparing Nina for the 2022 race?

Michael Guggenberger: I bought the boat from Antoine Cousot (a skipper in the 2018 race) so the boat was pretty well prepared in terms of her hull and deck, with chainplates and watertight compartments.

The yard that did the work ripped out all of the furniture and they just glued it back with Sicoflex, so everything was moving inside the boat when I test sailed it.

I have taken out all of the furniture, varnished everything as it was all mouldy as the boat was very airtight. I put it back in and laminated everything so things stay where they should stay. I also put in lots of attachment points to lash everything down.

A portrait of a man with a beard, half lit

Michael Guggenberger is a carpenter and so carried out a lot of the work on Nina himself. Credit: Petra Rautenstrauch

I am a carpenter so I did a lot of the work.

I’ve put in a new electrical system.

Hopefully, I will have new standing rigging, new running rigging and new sails.

The standing rigging will be changed and I will have a new genoa as I am getting rid of the hank-on sails on the forestay. I will have a new genoa and staysail.

I moved the roller furling on the staysail to the forestay and have a hank-on staysail as I learnt from sailing the boat that I never had the staysail down, even in winds of up to 40 knots.

I feel the boat is well prepared.

What is her sail plan?

Michael Guggenberger: The only change to the sail plan will be a slightly smaller genoa and roller furling. The staysail is the same, with one reef to tie in; the mainsail has three reefs.

I have them high up as with a ketch rig, the mainsail is in the middle of the sail plan so you don’t have to reef it a lot.

A biscay 36 with a gold hull being sailed offshore with white sails

The Biscay 36, Nina was raced by professional French sailor Antoine Cousot in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

With the mizzen sail, I have an asymmetrical spinnaker and symmetrical spinnaker and hopefully a Code 0. I have a mizzen staysail and a storm jib.

Are you looking to win or get round?

Michael Guggenberger: Well…I will try my best. For me it is not the winning, for me there is no good reason why I can’t be fast. There will be a focus on being quick.

If someone pulls off I won’t go and hunt them. I will just try to keep the speed consistent.

For this race there will be no HAM radio transmissions allowed only registered, licensed maritime-approved HF Single Side Band (SSB) Radio, with discussions limited to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) weather. Weather Fax will be allowed for the race. Some of the 2018 Golden Globe Race skippers raised concerns about picking up GMDSS in the Southern Ocean. Do you share these concerns?

Michael Guggenberger: We can listen to HAM radio, we are not allowed to transmit.

I’ve found a really good radio technician in Germany who is coming to visit me on the boat, and he is opening up the HAM radio channels so I can listen to them.

It is about the hustle and the game. If you are late in sorting out your HF radio, then you will have problems.

Continues below…

My plan is to spend a lot of money on getting the radio set up properly and be taught how to use it properly.

I am not concerned about picking up GMDSS, and I’ve already received charts on my weather fax

You can only position yourself, it is not like you are able to outrun any weather system.

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede consulted meteorologists and studied the weather to choose the best route which helped him make early gains in the 2018 race. Do you plan to do the same?

Michael Guggenberger: This time, it is not so much of an importance as there are all these waypoints.

It is very different to the 2018 edition when you could really choose your tactics.

You have finished your 2,000 mile qualifying passage for the race. What did you learn?

Michael Guggenberger: I am always looking for the bad weather, but when I did the qualifying sail in November in the Bay of Biscay there wasn’t any.

I always leave Biscay with fair weather.

I sailed from Les Sables d’Olonne  to Lanzarote in 10 days so it was really fast sailing. I kicked the boat really hard.

The skippers can only sail in pre-1988 production long-keeled 32-36ft boats, like the Biscay 36. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

The 2022 Golden Globe Race skippers can only sail in pre-1988 production long-keeled 32-36ft boats, like the Biscay 36. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

I was into the wind for 11 days which was super harsh before  I jumped into a low weather system, with swell of 7-8 metres and went back into Biscay.

What windvane self-steering set up are you planning on using?

Michael Guggenberger: Hydrovane

What antifouling will you be using?

Michael Guggenberger:  I am going for Seajet, which is the same brand Jean-Luc used in 2018.

How is your celestial navigation going?

Michael Guggenberger: Medium to good. If there is enough water around me I will feel happy

Are you confident you will be on the start line for 2022?

Michael Guggenberger: I am. There is no question

Mentally, how are you preparing for the race?

Michael Guggenberger: I finished the qualifier in November and December and went back to Les Sables d’Olonne.

Even though I wasn’t happy with the hank-on sails (he is changing them) I realised I could start the race with this boat.

A man standing on the bow of a Biscay 36 with white water spray

Michael Guggenberger plans to keep a steady fast speed as he sails around the world. Credit: Julia Eder Martin Kadlez

It is just a question of giving yourself honest answers and not being afraid of crying or realising you’ve done something stupid.

It is all about honesty.

Is coping with isolation an issue?

Michael Guggenberger: It will be one of the things that I will find out while going around,  but I think I will be pretty good.

I like to be alone but I know there will be times when I will struggle.

How will you motivate yourself on the way round?

Michael Guggenberger: I think it will be more about keeping myself in an average mode. I am preparing for getting into a routine in the day. I think it will be a lot about the food.

What will you miss most during the race?

Michael Guggenberger: People. I’ve spent months in France and what I found hard was the being alone but not being alone. I see people but no contact (he struggled with the language). I have never had that on the boat.

What treat will you be taking?

Michael Guggenberger: Sweet stuff. For me, a classic treat is orange lemonade. It makes me happy. So I will have a can of orange lemonade every day.

GGR 2018 was a celebration of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. The Golden Globe Race 2022 is a celebration of Bernard Moitessier. What words of wisdom from Moitessier will you be following in the race?

Michael Guggenberger: I am probably more like Moitessier, for me it is about the spirit and the craftsmanship; the spiritual sense of being alone on your boat, working with nature.

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