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Mark Sinclair – Naval Chart Expert – GGR Entrant

Mark Sinclair

Mark Sinclair is a Hydrographic Survey Commander with a passion for shorthanded sailing and is an entrant in the Golden Globe Race or GGR. Mark knows Nautical Charts. In this Podcast interview Mark will entertain and educate you with his easy to listen to dialog. Mark will share with you what it was like growing up in the southern part of Australia, life in the Royal Australian Navy and some great insight into the preparations for his Golden Globe Race adventure.


LINDSAY: Today I’m interviewing Mark Sinclair who’s an entrant in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. A single-handed, non-stop race around the world using low tech 1969 technology. The race is expected to take up to nine months to complete. It’s a pretty massive challenge.


Hello Mark and welcome.


MARK: G’day Lindsay. How you going?


LINDSAY: I’m very good.


To help people get to know you, I’d like to take you back to when you were young and tell us a bit about the feelings you had growing up and when you first started wanting to be on the sea, or got an interest in boats.

MARK: I guess I’ve got to declare something at the start though, and that is although I’ve got a good strong Australian accent, I’m actually a Pom. I emigrated from England in 1960 when I was two years old with my parents on the Fairsky, and so maybe that’s when my interest in marine things started. Apparently, they were as sick as dogs but I just kept eating the whole way across. That’s where it all started I guess. I was only two years old, so I don’t remember any of that.

Mum and Dad moved to Australia and sort of established a life, and part of that was an outdoor life. We got a Hartley TS16 along the way and had no idea about sailing, and sort of clumsily taught ourselves some things. Over the years we had different boats – a TS16 then followed by a Red Witch which is a 19’6 boat – small keel boat, and then a Top Hat which is a 26 footer. We got bigger and bigger boats, but although we were members of yacht clubs and things, and we did a little bit of social racing, it was more about the exploring and the finding out about things. We taught ourselves, but also got help from others. We basically, over a period, learnt the ropes.


It was all simple stuff. We used to go out every day in winter because that’s what we did. We enjoyed it. Mum used to make the wet weather gear on the sewing machine. It wasn’t very good. It leaked a little bit but that’s what we did. It was all bottom up type of stuff, but it created an enjoyment of being on the water and also of reading. We had a good library of books of Knox-Johnston and these types of things, that I think created this interest in the sea, that developed through my life. I guess, although I was sailing on weekends as I went through schooling, the passion that it created in the marine environment I think was the catalyst for me joining the Navy. That was just all about ships and the sea. I had this passion, I joined the Navy. It was partly because of that, it was partly because of moving away from home as young people need to do and find their way in life.


LINDSAY: Whereabouts in Australia did you do this sailing?


MARK: It was mainly on Port Phillip in Melbourne. The Northern parts of Port Phillip and then ventured further afield to the Gippsland Lakes and up around there.


LINDSAY:  A lot of people aren’t familiar with those places in Australia. Whereabouts geographically in Australia is that? The north or the south or?


MARK: Port Phillip is Melbourne. It’s a large bay 30 miles north-south, 20 miles east-west I guess. The northern part is Hobson’s Bay where there’s – Melbourne, St Kilda, Brighton, Sandringham, Williamstown – those types of marine places.


LINDSAY: So it’s right down the bottom end of Australia.


MARK: Yep.


LINDSAY: And quite cool down that end of Australia in winter time.


MARK: Oh in Winter yeah, that’s right. I think Melbourne’s 38 south, so you’re not quite in the roaring 40’s but the south-westerlies in winter are pretty cold and wet, and when you’re in a little 19’6 boat with home made wet weather gear out every weekend, you get wet and cold and you certainly learn to tough it out. We were out there every weekend. That’s what we did and we loved it. That’s just what we did. It was a love of the sailing and the adventure as much as anything.


I think it wasn’t that Mum and Dad were particularly marine people, we used to do camping, we used to do various things, but I think the boat thing came to the top because we just enjoyed it. You could spend family time together, it was an adventure, you were camping, you could do various things. We made so many mistakes and whatever, but we learned from the bottom up and taught ourselves. Then through lots of reading and a couple of little courses, but not particularly a lot, and other friends and people you acquire the knowledge over the years.


LINDSAY: That’s fantastic.


I’d like to take you now to the next phase of your life when you joined the Navy. You’re now a very accomplished mariner. You got to Commander rank in the Navy. Can you tell us a bit about your experience by giving us an overview of your life on the sea.


MARK: I really enjoyed my time in the Navy. It taught me so many things. I found that every 18 months or two years I’d get posted to a new job that I knew nothing about and it was daunting. In that time you blunder through for a little while and then after six months you’d know it quite well. After a year you’d be an expert and after 18 months you’d be ready for the next challenge. It was a matter of just continual immersion and development in things. I think the military life is really good for young people because it actually gives them those experiences.


I did my training and whatever…I joined in 1977. Did all my training and then I went to sea on a tanker – HMAS Supply and we went to Hawaii in 1980. That was basically your basic training and stuff. Then a bit more shore based training, and then for my watch keeping certificate I was actually posted to the Royal Navy and I joined HMAS Endurance out of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands and we went down to Antarctica a couple of times. That was really eye opening because obviously the Royal Navy is very professional, it’s a much bigger pond and just do a lot of interesting things. I did that, and then returned to the UK and then was on a fishery protection vessel in the north sea – HMS Alderney.


Then when I came back to Australia – so I was a year away, I went to a destroyer HMAS Swan, and we went back to Hawaii in 1982. Then it was really interesting. I got a job as the navigator of a minesweeper – HMAS Curlew, and that was an old wooden vessel, almost a World War II type vintage and although there was a gyro and a radar, half the time they weren’t working so you were on magnetic compass. We circumnavigated Australia. That was all on astro navigation because GPS was only coming into some vessels at the time. That was fantastic and I was there for two and a half years.


Then after that I went to Yarra as the navigator. After that there was an opportunity to change over to hydrographic surveyor and a few of my friends were surveyors and I looked at that, and I was sort of in a navigation stream. For various reasons I found out a bit more about it and went on a survey vessel – Moresby, as a bit of a look see and basically I ended up changing to hydrographic surveyor and then I did my basic training there. Then went to HMAS Cook which was an oceanographic ship as a navigator, HMAS Moresby as the navigator and then I was fortunate to get posted in command of a landing craft which was HMAS Brunei. That was fitted out as an interim survey ship. We just had echo sounders bolted on the side and HF positioning systems up the mast and a container on the deck, which we turned into a chart room. I took that up to New Guinea and we were surveying up there on the north coast of New Guinea. That was a fantastic experience.


Then after that I commanded a new ship – HMAS Paluma I went and commanded the hydrographic school for awhile and then took over the Laser Airborne Depth Sounder in Cairns in 1994. That was this technology was first developing. I did that for three years. At the end of that, that was 20 years in the Navy. Although I never really intended to leave the Navy because I was enjoying it, a couple of things happened: One – my wife and family and three kids, moving around all the time was getting a bit more difficult. Secondly a job came up as a result of me working in this new technology – Laser Airborne Depth Sounder, to be a survey manager of this technology around the world. It was almost like the commercial equivalent of the uniformed job that I was doing. I thought, “That’s my job.” So even though I had no intention of leaving the Navy, I left at that stage because it was a compelling opportunity, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years.


LINDSAY: You certainly got around a little bit while you’re in the Navy. There’s lots of different vessels there – the Endurance, Fisheries Protection, Curlew, the Minesweeper, Yarra, Moresby, Brunei, Paluma – what a wonderful life at sea. That’s something I can relate to as well in that I was in the hydrographic branch in the New Zealand Navy for 15 years at the start of my Navy career. It was certainly a great branch to be in, actually getting out there and making navigation charts, and doing something useful, and doing it real. It wasn’t just exercising it was doing something for real and creating something that was going to be used to help keep other mariners safe. I found that a very rewarding job.


Well that’s really interesting. This Laser Airborne Depth Sounding that you were doing, can you tell us a bit more about that. That sounds pretty high tech.


MARK: It was developed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation basically from the requirement of Australia’s waters vast great barrier reef. Full of reefs and whatever. Very hard to survey and taking many tens of years to do. It was a technology where it was noticed that laser light from aircraft could infect reflect off the sea surface at the infra-red frequency. In the green frequency could penetrate to the sea bed in clear water. It was a matter of developing a scanning system that operated from an aircraft to be the equivalent if you like of an echo sounder on a vessel which uses acoustics. The benefit of having an aircraft means it’s faster, it’s safer, you can survey around rocks and things but you’re flying over top as opposed to navigating in amongst it and it can get to remote areas etcetera. It has certain advantages in where the water is clear – where the water is very dirty it doesn’t work because you’re using light as the medium to measure the depth.


This was developed for the Navy and I ran that system as officer in charge for two and a half years as my last job in the Navy. The company continues to support the Navy, but as a result of building and supporting their requirements we built systems to go and survey commercially around the world for other hydrographic offices that didn’t have the capability. Our first commercial work in 1997 was in Norway for the Norwegian Hydrographic Service and we were surveying remote areas on the Norwegian coast in basically the north sea. That’s full of rocks and islands and very interesting.


The next job after that we were on the north-west shelf around Karratha, and then we went over to New Zealand and we were surveying over there.


Over the last 20 years we’ve just been continually going around the world – surveying in the middle east, we’ve surveyed the whole of the red sea, many surveys in the UK and Ireland, in the Baltic, in the Canary’s, and also in the US we went to Alaska on the Alaskan Peninsula for 10 consecutive years and surveyed for NOAA.


We’ve been doing these surveys around the world, so although we’ve been flying aircraft it’s very much a marine activity because you’ve still got tides, you’ve still got positioning, you’ve still got all the weather and environmental factors that go with doing a survey. The end result is a nautical chart which is for the mariner anyway. Following 20 years in the Navy, I’ve now been doing this for the last 20 years. You know, one has followed on from the other and it’s just in the marine environment. It’s very satisfying because as you said Lindsay, the job of a hydrographic surveyor is a real job. You’re not exercising. There’s a real outcome from the work you do that is visible and interesting, because I think people love maps and people love charts. It’s an interesting thing to look at. When your job is actually doing that and producing these things it’s a very satisfying thing to do.


LINDSAY: That’s fantastic. Really incredible the way technology has moved on since I was there. I know LADS was just starting as I was doing my survey recorder course on HMAS Penguin. It’s incredible that it’s gone from strength to strength. You’ve covered so much area in that time. The old way we were doing it when we were doing small surveys in harbours, we were still using horizontal sextant angles and beach surveys using Theodolites and things like that. It’s quite incredible the way things have moved on.


I’m going to change tact a little bit here. Look a little bit into the future. I know you’re an entrant in the Golden Globe race and I’ve one question for you. Why?


MARK: I think a lot of us harbour a desire to sail around the world. It’s just something that you want to do, but I think practically – it’s not a practical thing to do. Firstly, you’ve got to have the resources to do it, you’ve got to have the time to do it. It’s a bit of a selfish thing to do. Although you sort of think, “Wow. Wouldn’t it be great to cast off the lines and sail around the world?” In fact, it’s a dream.


To be honest I was heading off in a way to do that, because when initially my parents – we had boats and when I joined the Navy I talked my Dad into selling the Top Hat that we had at the time and we went into partnership and we bought a Roberts 39’ foot Ketch. Basically, we shared it and when I was around I used to take it up to Sydney or Cairns, or wherever I was based and have it there for some sailing. When I went overseas or I was away for a long time or couldn’t look after it, we’d sail it down to Metung which is in the Gippsland Lakes where my parents then lived, and that’s on Bass Strait and we used to sail it down there and I used to leave it with him.


So we shared it for that period. In 1984 I was 26 years old, so I sailed to New Zealand and back. I departed from Metung, cleared it, Eden in the bottom of New South Wales and then sailed across. I was going around the top of the North Island but I had north-easterly’s the whole way across. I ended up going into West Port – the top of the South Island there on the west coast. I didn’t even have a chart of West Port. The only chart I had of West Port also had Australia in it, so it was a pretty small scale chart.


What that said was at that time I was sort of starting to venture further afield in sailing. Life didn’t allow it to develop much further than that. I was in the Navy, I enjoyed my work, I was loyal to the Navy and so I kept doing that. I had a family and then I joined LADS and it still kept on going.


I think what’s happened is the Golden Globe Race all of a sudden was a catalyst to, “Hang on, hang on, hang on. Here’s an opportunity to go around the world that starts on a date.” The first thing you need is a date because that that provides is a focus and there are 30 other like-minded people doing it. Not only that, it’s on the anniversary of Knox-Johnson’s – 50th anniversary of him doing it and I read about that as a kid. I was 10 years old when he did that, so I’ve always seen that as a marvellous thing. Then it’s using the technology that he used. So what it’s done, it’s created a simple race in simple boats. Just a challenge and adventure at a time and I think it’s just worked with the time of my life. Also, in simple terms, I did 20 years of schooling if you like, and 20 years in the military, and 20 years working in corporate life in LADS – although doing lots of surveys, and in 20 more years I’m going to be dead. There’s no time to waste Lindsay and I thought this is a pretty compelling thing to do and it was a catalyst I think to action, whereas this was an unfulfilled dream that was dormant.


I’ve been doing sailing and I was actually going to go in Trans-Tasman in the 1st of April next year.


LINDSAY: That’s the single-handed Trans-Tasman?


MARK: Yeah. That’s right.


The boat I had, I was planning to do that. What I was doing is, is as I was getting older I was re-awakening my sailing dream back from that trip I did in 1984 and building up, building up, building it up, but when the Golden Globe came, and I found out about it a year after everyone else. I found out in June last year, just by a chance and I thought, “My god,” and at the time I was the ninth on a wait list. I was almost too late. I thought, “This is absolutely marvellous.” I got in contact with Don McIntyre and got myself on the race and found a boat and whatever, and as time goes on a few entrants have dropped off the list for various reasons and just recently I actually made my way onto the list. Now in fact there’s even spots. A few other people have dropped out and there’s even spots. Any listeners who are ambitious and they want to jump in, there’s still an opportunity on next year’s race.


LINDSAY: What yacht did you choose and why? There’s only a very small selection of yachts that are available that were designed before 1968 I think it was? Was it?


MARK: You were right right at the start where you said…Knox-Johnson did it in 1968/1969 and it’s trying to create a race using the same technology. The reason for that is, the words, “The Golden Age of Sailing” have been coined for that era. It was simple. People didn’t have vast amounts of sponsorship. It was simple technology. Whereas these days on the #00:20:58.86# Globe that’s a huge race with a lot of following and very, very interesting, but it’s a high tech race. Millions of dollars go into it. It’s not for your every man. Whereas this one by virtue of the low technology and using old, small, simple boats – one it goes for a long time, two it’s a real test because you’re out there for nine months. Also, it brings it down to what a reasonable man can get involved in, or a reasonable person because there’s two females participating as well.


The choice of boat, basically I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t practical to…This was a great idea and what a wonderful thing but practically am I going to be able to get a boat and do it. There were as you said, a number of vessels that were pre-qualified and what they’re trying to do is have a race that are people on similar boats. It’s not a handicap race. Everyone is on a boat that’s sort of the same. It’s a long keel boat, similar to what Suhaili was when Knox-Johnston did it. What they said is, when did long keel boats, where they about. It had to be designed prior to 1988 because after that there was a lot more thin keels and a lot more different technologies came along. Also it’s got to be a production boat. What they don’t want is someone who’s got a one off. It’s got to be a boat that anyone can get hold of. Production boats that have built more than 20 means that they’re regular boats, they sail around, any Mum or Dad type sailor can get their hands on them.


A number of vessels were pre-qualified and there’s a list if you go to the Golden Globe website you can see the list of vessels. One of them which was lately qualified was a Lello 34. A Lello 34 was designed by Brian Lello in South Africa for the Cape Town to Rio race in the 1960’s. There was a number of those built. I formed a view that this was a great idea this race, but how can I get a boat and fit it out in Australia. But I just found by chance there was a Lello 34 for sale in Australia. Not only that, it was for sale in Adelaide half an hour drive down the road. I just went around immediately to see it and basically bought it. It was was really opportunity. I was ninth on the waitlist, I had a chance if I was quick and decisive and was able to grab a boat and prepare it. Because there was a boat here in Adelaide I almost thought, “Gee the stars are aligning here. I’ve just got to do this.”


LINDSAY: Well that’s fantastic. It just sounds like it was meant to be. It all fell into place once you made that decision.


A little bit more of a personal question now. How are you funding the Golden Globe race? There’s still going to be costs although it’s all low tech and you don’t have GPS, all of that sort of thing, how are you going to fund it? It’s quite a big chunk of your life. You just using savings or are you getting sponsorship or what?


MARK: Basically, as I said I’d planned to go in the Trans-Tasman race. A number of years ago I’d spoken to my wife and I’d said…Basically we only had a little trailer sailor which was my Dad’s. Winding back a little bit, with my Dad we shared this Roberts 39 but because of circumstances and whatever, family’s moving around a lot, expenses, we decided to sell it. We sold it and split the money between us. He bought a little trailer sailor.


As time went on he sold that and eventually became ill and he subsequently passed away. Basically that boat came back to me – just a little trailer sailor – I was sailing it here, there and everywhere, and I thought, “Gee when I was younger we had this 39’ boat and I’m sailing this little 23 footer down around Kangaroo Island. I’m going to die doing this because it’s too little and not designed for those areas.” I spoke to my wife and we decided to get a bigger boat. I said, “I want a boat that can sail around the world.” I looked around and identified four potential boats around Australia. I flew. I had some frequent flyer points, arranged some flights. Flew around. Identified one in Hervey Bay which was a Sparkman and Stephens 41 built in aluminium that had been around the world and been in the Melbourne-Osaka race and that was the boat. I bought that. We just did it on debt. Mortgaged the house. Basically I was working full-time and paying off this boat. I was funding it through working and then doing the sailing at the same time. Just on holidays and bit of long service leave here and there.

When the Golden Globe race came up I bought the Lello 34, which wasn’t very expensive at all. It was just over $30,000. For a boat to go around the world that’s a reasonable price that people can get to for a vessel like that. I had obviously the other boat that I’ve subsequently sold very sadly – Star Wave was the name of the boat and that’s gone to a guy who is sailing it down in Hobart and Sydney with his family and friends. I funded it really out of the sale of the other boat, but in preparing a boat for this a lot of work is required. There’s labour and materials, and the materials cost a little bit but the labour costs a lot. It’s a lot of hard work and I do various work on the weekends and things but in fact I actually need boat builders and electricians and people to do some of the more serious work because we’re really having to do a lot of work on the boat. It’s a Lello 34. It’s called Coconut. The design is from the early 60’s. She’s been around the world herself. She’s had a lot of adventures but we’ve really had to re-build a lot of her. We’ve put in hanging knees down below. We’ve put new chain plates in, we’ve strengthened the main bulkhead and put a watertight door in there. It’s like a submarine down below with a water tight door with a crash bulkhead in the bow. We rebuilt the dog house on it and I put a new ocean rated hatch in the bow. We took the mast off and pulled everything off the mast and completely rebuilt everything. The guy that helped me with the mast is a guy called Ken Banwell. Ken, he’s retired and so he’s basically done it from his driveway in Modbury in South Australia and done everything on his lathe and done a fantastic job just rebuilding everything. He rigged the Josko Grubic Anaconda back in the late 70’s on that round the world race. He’s got a long history of rigging design and rigging vessels for hard work. He personally has done a lot of the work on the mast for me. And the list goes on. I’ve had a lot of really great help from a lot of expert people that’s helping me prepare this. It’s a lot of time and it is a lot of money, but substantially funded out of the sale of Star Wave which was for the other race.

LINDSAY: So that’s given us a bit of insight into some of the planning that’s going on for you to compete in this. Now it’s just a little over a year before the race starts. You’re down here in Australia. The race starts in England. Can you give us an idea of the preparation that you’re planning at the moment. The things that are going through your head. What sort of food are you going to eat? Nine months is a long time to be self sufficient. Most of us can’t last a week without having to go to the supermarket. Can you give us some insight into what you’re thinking along those lines please?

MARK: In some ways it’s a project management task as well as it is a sailing race. There’s an order in which things need to be done. Some of the big work has been the chainplates and the watertight door, re-rigging the mast, building the emergency rudder, electrics, batteries and all these types of things. New sails. Then testing and sailing and making sure it all works. That’s the process I’m in right now. Probably a lot of the hard work is done. There’s a lot of cosmetics to be done. Coconut’s a great solid little boat. A bit rough around the edges and we need some TLC and a lot of finishing off, and there’s only so much time and so much money. That’s the stuff now. The next biggest risk is getting it to the UK. I’ve had various quotes of how to do that. Leaving from Melbourne or Newcastle or Perth and I’ve now got one where it looks like we can pull the mast down, we’ll build a cradle and it will go on a container ship from Adelaide which is fantastic, and it will go to London and then go on a flatbed truck from London down to Plymouth and get unloaded there at Turnchapel which is just over the road from Queen Anne’s Battery where the race is going to start.

That looks like the perfect solution. I haven’t signed up to that yet but I’m working through that. That would require the boat to probably depart maybe at the start of December and then get to Turnchapel at the end of January. Which then gives me still a few months of preparations over there. I’ll be here working so I’ve got to get it there so that that risk is removed and then I might be able to get some people to do some little jobs for me. Then I’m going to have to be over there probably from the start of May next year.

Things like food and whatever – as I said, it’s a project management activity. I haven’t even got to that level of detail yet. I just know there’s going to be a trip to the supermarket with a big trolley. I have some relatives in Manchester who have been talking about coming down to see me off and I’m putting out my feelers going, “Hey guys I don’t need a bit of help. I need a lot of help here. I’m going to need boots on the ground.” Hopefully I’ve got some aunties and uncles, and nieces and nephews that will come down and help with some of those jobs.

With respect to coming up with a menu; I’ll have no refrigeration, there’ll be restricted water because I’ll only have 400 litres and I’ll have to catch rain water. You can have dehydrated but you can only have so much dehydrated. If there’s anyone out there with some really good ideas currently I haven’t started on the menu. I do note that in some of the books though Knox-Johnson and whatever, those guys have the food that they took and lists of that. I imagine plenty of spam, beans, pancakes and pasta, tinned meat and things like that. I had 20 years in the military so I can get used to sea tucker. It’ll be what it will be.

LINDSAY: That’s a very good answer.

It really is a true adventure. You don’t have all the answers yet but you’re treating it as a project and tackling each obstacle as it comes.

There’s not going to be any GPS, any electronics or anything like that, can you tell us a bit about celestial navigation? You’re obviously have some knowledge of it?

MARK: I guess I’m fortunate in that I studied that in the Navy, but also I had to do it. As you said before when you said going back with your survey time you were using Theodolites and horizontal sextant angles and I’m from the same vintage. I did that with surveying but we also did that with navigation. I’ve come from an era where you used sextant in anger. I navigated Curlew as I said. We circumnavigated Australia on astro navigation. Went up to Indonesia and did various things. I guess that knowledge is there.

Sextant and Chronometer to be used in the GGR

Timepieces are interesting. Basically the old ship’s chronometers are hard to come by these days because we can’t have electronic watches and things like that so I need to have a chronometer. Some people have bought fancy watches that are chronometers. What I did was I was able to track down an eight day chronometer, a US Navy chronometer from 1904 so I’ve got that and that’s being cleaned at the moment in a watch maker in Adelaide. I also found a little two day deck watch which was a 1946 US Navy one and that’s also being cleaned. Basically an eight day chronometer and a one or a two day deck watch for timing. I can use HF to get time signals to rate those, but we’ll try and set those to one or two seconds fast a day, so as they slow down over time they’ll get more accurate before they get less accurate.

LINDSAY: For those that aren’t sure why the chronometer or the watch is so significant is that when you’re doing celestial navigation the longitude position is very dependent on the accuracy of the time that you take the sight. That’s why an accurate watch is very important. Carry on with what you were saying before I butted in.

MARK: There are two elements to it. One is you have a sextant and you measure the angle to the horizon of a heavenly body and that can be the sun, the moon, some of the planets or some of the more significant stars. You measure that angle and take the time, and then you’ve got a spherical trigonometry problem to solve. Once again, there are no calculators here or computers so you’ve got to use log tables and have a signs and get out the pencil and the rubber. You measure the angle and then take the time and you do the computation. You end up with a line which is basically perpendicular to the direction of the heavenly body. If the sun is to the north of you, you’ll get an east-west line. In the morning if the sun is to the north east of you, you’ll get a line which is sort of like north-west, south east. In the afternoon if the sun is to the west, you’ll get more of a north-south line. Perpendicular. So by taking either simultaneous stars or the sun throughout the day and running those positions on you’re able to determine where you are.

When I was navigating Curlew and that was back in I guess 1982 – 1984, because I was a pretty keen navigator at that time I bought myself a sextant and that was a Tamaya aluminium and brass sextant that I’ve had the whole time. I used that in 1984 when I sailed Kaleidoscope to New Zealand and back with astro. I went to Lord Howe and back as well. I did Lord Howe for the Yachtmaster offshore and I did the New Zealand for the Yachtmaster ocean certificate. So I’ve got my own sextant and recently I needed to get the mirrors resealed and there’s only a couple of places in the world where you can do it. It’s overseas and it’s difficult. I just kept poking around and I actually found a guy who does mirrors and glass in Adelaide. He’s actually walking distance from my home in Glenside. Providing I took the mirrors out, he re-silvered them and he half silvered the horizon mirror and silvered the index mirror. It cost me $35 dollars each and did a really good job. I thought, “How about that!”

LINDSAY: Woah. That’s another little win.

MARK: And one of the grub screws that holds the mirrors in was corroded in and I snapped it, but one of the guys – the technicians at work kindly was able to extract it for me and put it another screw. I’ve got like a brand-new sextant again which is great.

LINDSAY: Yeah fantastic. It sounds like it’s all coming together for you but what challenges do you see coming as your biggest to overcome with the Golden Globe race campaign? What’s going to be the hardest thing for you?

MARK: Getting to the start then getting to the end I reckon.

LINDSAY: Yeah okay. None of it’s easy. Is that what you’re saying?

MARK: Getting to the start is actually pretty tough. It’s like any adventure and this is quite a big one. The first thing is working full-time and doing this. By virtue of my work I’m doing a lot of travel. We’re doing contracts up in Papua New Guinea and so on quite frequently, and over to Perth, or Singapore, or over to Wellington. Land information New Zealand has some contracts and things. I’m doing a lot of travel and a lot of work, and I need to do that to pay the bills. Getting the boat ready in time and getting enough practice on the boat – not practice for me, but practice to make sure the things work and are suitable, because once I cast off on the 30th of June there’s no stopping. I’m stuck with what I’ve got.

I guess the hardest thing is adequate preparation. In a way, it’s an adventure and if you over plan it, it’ll be too easy. The fact that there’s limited time and a lot of conflicting things sort of makes it a bit of fun. But look you don’t want to be underprepared and I’m not going to have too many cracks at this, so I want to give it a crack and I want to get around. We’ve done a lot of work on the boat strengthening it. It’s not a flash boat. It’s not a show boat. It’s a work boat. Anyone who’s down there they say, “What sort of finish do you want?” Strong. It’s a work boat.

I think getting there in getting everything ready and getting the boat over there, and getting me over there in time for the race, having done the prerequisite courses with as much sailing on her as I can do and preparation. That’s why I said you know the food, well that’s a problem to solve another day and I’m not there yet because I’ve got a lot of hurdles to get between now and then.

For the race itself, I’m looking forward to it. You know, so we’ve got the horse and we’re preparing the horse, but whether the jockey’s up to it. That’s a bit of a personal challenge and I think we’d all like to think that we are. Time will tell. We’ll see how we go there but I’m pretty determined. I just hope I’m up to it because I think it’s an exciting thing to do.

I think the next thing to do is, people go, “Well what’s your plans next?” The race is not something to be rushed through.  I think it’s something to be savoured. Even the preparation is probably something to be savoured. I think you have to enjoy the here and now, and not put out the enjoyment to the end. I think the danger is once you finish, what’s next? People do ask me, “Well what are you doing then? Are you bringing the boat home? Are you sailing it home? Are you putting it on a ship? What are you doing?” and I go, “Look I don’t know. I’ve got to get to the start line and then I’ve got to get to the finish line.” There’s a lot of challenges to the start line. The race itself I think will be fantastic and I think it’s to be savoured. I think the biggest thing in finishing it will be what next. That’s a good problem to have. I think by the time I get to the end I’ll know the answer to that problem so I’m not going to spend too much time working on it now.

LINDSAY: Absolutely. Nine months by yourself I’m sure the answer will come to you.

A question I ask everybody that goes to sea is, do you get seasick?

MARK: No I don’t and Mum and Dad did but right from my time on the Fair Sky when I was two years old, I was eating the whole time coming over and that’s probably why I was a chubby little kid. I don’t get sick. I don’t get queasy. What I do notice was in the Navy you’d go out and it’d be rough as anything, and there’d be a couple of guys who would be able to just carry on and some people would carry on and be limited in some ways. Then there’d be some people who just couldn’t operate at all. You’d do it and you’d pull into Jervis Bay or somewhere and you’d be absolutely dead on your feet because you’d been at it for a number of days. You’d been doing one in two or whatever the watch routine was, and you’d be absolutely tired, and fatigued, and you’d go down for something to eat and all of a sudden the place would be absolutely full. As soon as you went into flat water everyone would feel good, come out of their bunks and you’d go, “Hey! Come on guys. We’ve been busting our arses. You come in at the back of the queue! How does this work out?”

LINDSAY: How do you deal with people that are seasick on your crews? Do you encourage them to get up or do you give them advice? Autocratic leadership style or what?

MARK: People generally try their hardest and you know, I go sailing with a mate Rob Man quite often and he gets a bit sick at the start. He just tough it out. We do what we do and we work around each other. I’ve tended to find with other people, if someone is really debilitated they’re debilitated and you help them as best you can. If they’re really not up to it, other people will cover for them. I think each person’s gotta reach deep from within themselves and in general they wouldn’t be there if they don’t do that. Most people tough it out and get on with it. It’s that attitude that gets them through. When it gets rough obviously it affects more. At the start if affects some. Some medication and patches can be quite effective, but no, there’s no autocracy here. If at the end of the day you’ve got to sail the boat yourself, or two of you sail it, you’ll sail it. People generally will step up and do the best they can, and they’re almost apologising for their condition. You’re just trying to help them along with it to make sure they do eat a bit of food and they keep themselves warm, and they do take some medication, and you don’t shove them up in the bow to sleep where it’s not going to work. We’re all in the same boat and you’ve got to really help them along. At the end of the day it’s their struggle. There’s only so much you can do for them.

LINDSAY: That’s a fantastic answer. The only question I’d add to that would be, do you find that people eventually overcome their seasickness? Do they get better after they’ve been at sea for a while?

MARK: Yes. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t overcome it. It’s funny – some sailors and some of the people in the Navy do get sick, even though they have great levels of skill and highly admired, they just get on with it and it’s just a thing. It’s a physiological thing that affects some people to a greater degree than others. I don’t get sick but I do feel the fatigue. In rough weather, you do get tired. You also get the ability to sleep in short snatches, but you just manage it as best you can.

LINDSAY: I’m just going to ask you if you can think back, now I know this is quite a hard question because you tend to forget what I’m about to ask you, but if you can think back and tell us what’s the worst experience you’ve had at sea, or when did you feel bad about a situation that you were in?

MARK: There are two things really. One is when I was the navigator of Curlew and the executive officer, a guy called Ted who is a clearance diver, died during operations on board the vessel. That was pretty tough for all of us I think. He was a very capable guy and dedicated, and doing his job and passed away through circumstances which was pretty bad. That sort of had an effect on me.

With respect to just normal type stuff – I’d just bought Star Wave in Hervey Bay in Queensland. I sailed it down to Brisbane. Left it there for a few weeks. Sailed. Went back to work. Flew back, went back to work. Flew up. Sailing it from Brisbane to Sydney I was by myself. I was somewhere off Port Macquarie/Coffs Harbour somewhere like that, and I was hard on the wind, starboard tack, was like two o’clock in the morning, and there was a vessel – a light fine on my port bow behind the head saw. I was coming down the coast, probably 10 to 15 miles offshore, probably doing about 6 knots. There must have been a south-easterly breeze of about 15 to 20 knots. I just couldn’t make out the lights on this vessel. I just kept standing on. I was monitoring it.

I got closer and closer, and I still couldn’t work it out. What was hard to interpret was he had sort of like a deck light halfway up his mast and it was illuminating behind his head saw. The head saw was sort of illuminated with this glow of the deck light which threw me and I didn’t know what I was looking at. I thought I was coming up astern of this guy, but I was actually on his starboard bow. He was the giveaway boat and it was hard to see him. I was heeled over and he was behind the head saw and I was just on the wind vane. It was getting closer and I thought, “I’m not happy about this.” I jumped behind, I pulled the pin out, I’m sort of steering with my feet, I’m trying to look with binoculars. I finally got the orientation of it and he was actually really close. We were getting close to collide, so I had pulled the pin out and I was steering. I was watching it and assessing it. Getting closer and closer, and closer, and I thought, “Holy shit!” I just went hard a bow under his starboard bow and shouted out to him as he went past and he called out and he goes, “Oh I can’t undo…My helm’s lashed.” Whatever. The two beams passed probably about a foot apart from each other when we were parallel. As I came to starboard and he eventually started and came to port, we had to ease the helm otherwise the sterns would’ve smacked into each other. You go, “My god. I’ve just bought this boat and I’m sailing down from Brisbane to Sydney and disaster could’ve happened so easily. Here I am a mariner with all this time at sea, and it came so close and it could’ve been so much worse.” He wasn’t keeping a good look out. I was but I misinterpreted the lights by virtue of his illuminated sail. I didn’t work out that I was on his starboard bow beam type of thing.

So anyway, that sort of put the wind up me a little bit and was a bit of a lesson It was good that I was keeping a good look out, and I did the right things, but I think I just left it a little too late. If a vessel’s on a steady bearing, you’ve got a problem and you’ve got to do something about it. The problem is you’d be coming up astern of someone, they could also be on a steady bearing but not necessarily…Once you work out that that range  is closing you’ve got to do something about it.

LINDSAY: Yeah. That’s a real heart stopping moment. That’s not a lot of distance between the two boats either if they connected it could’ve been quite a bit of damage.

That sort of leads me into another question. Here you are planning to sail around the world by yourself in a little yacht. Based on a situation that was 50 years ago. Shipping has increased phenomenally since then. There’s going to be a lot more traffic out there and you’re going to have to get some sleep at some stage. People are going to think you’re mad. How are you going to deal with this? What are your plans to get enough sleep and still keep a good look out?

MARK: There’s two things to it. One is the routine that you’re keeping, and secondly it’s using some technology to keep you safe. Although we are back in 1968-1969, the race organiser Don McIntyre does accept the fact that there are safety considerations to be managed, and this is one of them. There is some technology that is allowed purely on safety. You know, you’ve still got to sail the boat, you’ve still got to navigate yourself, you’ve still got to do everything, but it’s to make you a little more visible.

Firstly on the technology side we’re allowed to use LED’s. We’re allowed to have solar charging for our batteries. That means that we’re going to be well lit and visible in the first instance. You’ve got to have a radar reflector and there’s a thing called an Echo Max that paints on radars. You’ve also got to have an active radar transponder. That active radar transponder actually does two things, one is on a ship’s radar it creates a big spoke on the radar rather than a little blip. It enhances you as a target. Secondly it sets off an alarm down below. It wakes you up and says that there’s a ship in the vicinity. You don’t exactly know where it is, but it’s within 12 miles probably. That increases your situational awareness.

They’re also looking at, and I don’t know the final state of it, is an AIS that doesn’t have your position that you can access but it actually indicates to the other vessel that you’re there. That is being trialled I understand and I don’t know what the status of it is.

There’s a bit of technology there that’s helping us. Then, it’s up to the individual as well. Even if you are enhanced on a radar someone’s got to look at it. Someone’s got to have their radar on. Someone’s got to have an AIS. There’ll be other vessels that aren’t doing the right thing. You need to be managing that risk and obviously when you’re in shipping lanes and heavy areas of traffic, you’re basically not off the deck for very long. Then once you’re offshore, and you might be on the deck at least every 15 minutes or something like that if there’s a vessel around and it’s not passed its closest point of approach, I always stay up there until I see it clear. Once the horizon’s clear and there’s nothing there, if I’m sailing down Investigator Strait say around here or where exiting the English channel even if there’s nothing around, you might be off the deck for no more than 15 minutes.

Obviously once you’re in the middle of the ocean and away from shipping lanes, the risk is a lot less so you can be off the deck for longer periods. You still have your passive radar reflector, you’ve still got your active transponder, you still have got your AIS type thing even if it’s got the position out of it from your point of view, and you’ve got VHF and HF and all that type of stuff as well.

So look I think the risk varies in different times and the combination of technology and your vigilance has got to see it through. That’s the approach to minimise the risk. I don’t think you can take it away completely but by managing it in that type of way you can reduce it to an acceptable level.

LINDSAY: Fantastic answer. Thank you very much for that.

Yacht Coconut at sunset GGR entrant

We’re getting close to the end of the questions now. I’d just like to ask you what’s the best experience that you’ve had when you were at sea and when were you the happiest?

MARK: Gee. I don’t know.

LINDSAY: So many no doubt.

MARK: I reckon going to Antarctica in HMS Endurance was a pretty amazing thing. I enjoyed that. Also I think when I was in HMS Moresby we used to set up boat camps in remote areas and you would disembark three boats, and on a little island somewhere you’d have tents and billy huts and you’d have a little chart room and you would survey by day or night, depending on what the conditions were, and ink in your work when you went out there. You know you might be away, in a remote place for three weeks or something living like that with a group of maybe a dozen people working and surviving and making a chart. That was a lot of fun.

On the sailing side – making landfall on New Zealand when I went across in 1984 was pretty satisfying. Even if it was Westport and it wasn’t where I was intending to go, I knew where I was and I think that was a very…Sometimes it’s not the sunniest day that makes it. I think quite often we get our rewards from hard work and hard things, and sometimes those rewards are more enjoyable by virtue of the difficulties in doing it.

They’re just a couple of little things. I imagine on this one there’ll be a great reward in finishing the race – sailing around the world. I think that is overlooking the actual doing of it, and I think I really want to get every ounce out of the doing of it because once it’s done, it’s done. The enjoyment has got to be in the activity itself. That’ll be the pleasurable thing and in some ways you won’t want it to end. I’ll be like Bernard Moitessier who decided to keep going. I can understand that.

LINDSAY: Yeah. That was a tough question and a very good answer so I really appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Now just for our final question, I’d like to ask is there anything more you can offer our listeners and readers to help them get started, gain momentum and realise their hopes and dreams of living a life on the sea, and becoming a mariner?

MARK: You can’t store up too much for the future or put things off for the future. That doesn’t mean you can’t do planning, and that doesn’t mean you can’t say even do things towards something in the future, but I think the danger of saying, “I’m going to work my whole life and I’m going to do it then.” I think there’s a risk of delaying it. I think a lot of the fun and interest and to have the wherewithal to do it is the knowledge and experience that you gain along the way. Even though I might not be able to cast off and sail around the world until I’m 60 years old, and I’ll be crossing the equator on my 60th birthday hopefully, it’s not a matter of delaying everything until then. I think the fact that it was sailing as a kid, it was starting to go do things single-handed, it was sailing to Lord Howe Island, going to New Zealand and back. These are things that I did while I was still in the Navy. You know, people go, “You’re either living the life at sea or doing something else,” and I’d sort of say, “Well no. You can do both.” and if you can do both as you go along that means you’re better prepared in the future when the opportunity does come to cast off completely if that’s what you decide to do, to do that.

I’d say get into it early in whatever way you can, because it’s that trove of experience that will one – enable you to do the next step, but also work out to you what that next step really is. Otherwise I think that the risk is that you might think it to be one thing, and when you actually go and do it, it’s not what you thought it to be. Start early and keep going with whatever means you have and if you can do it while you’re earning a living, great. Certainly for me that time in the Navy and even the commercial life doing hydrographic surveying has meant that I’ve been able to maintain a life with the sea in earning my income, as well as recreationally. That’s my take on it.

LINDSAY: What a great answer. Thank you very much.

It’s been very, very interesting listening to you Mark. I’m just wondering if you’ve got a website or somewhere where people can go and follow you, and just track your progress as you get closer to starting the race, and as you do the race. There probably won’t be too much that you’ll be able to publish while you’re racing but I’m sure the Golden Globe Race website will be covering quite a bit of where the boats are and what-have-you. Is there somewhere people can go and follow your progress while you prepare for the race?

MARK: Yes. Coconut is the name of the boat. We’ve got a facebook page. If you search for Coconut 2018 Golden Globe Race you’ll go to Coconut’s Facebook page. We put stuff up every couple of days. At the moment it’s largely focused on the preparations. Fitting radios and re-wiring this and emergency rudders that, and climbing the mast to do something-or-other. It’s mainly on the preparation at the moment, but there’s a lot of information there. We’ve been running it for almost a year now and the complete refit of Coconut is there. Hanging knees, watertight doors and whatever. You can also get to it from the Golden Globe webpage. If you go to Golden Globe 2018, you can go to the Skippers. You can go to the Skipper’s profile which is pretty brief but it connects to the Skippers Facebook page which is the Coconut 2018 Golden Globe Race.

LINDSAY: Well it’s been a pleasure Mark Sinclair. Thank you very much for giving me your time and we wish you the best of luck for your plans over the next year as you prepare for the race and also while you’re racing. I’m sure I’ll be in touch with you again before then. Really looking forward to see your progress and I hope you do really well in the race. It’d be nice if you win hey!

MARK: Well, you know, I think number one let’s get to the start. Number two, let’s get around in one piece. Number three, there’s plenty of hot shot French guys on this race, so I’m under no illusion but if I can get around in a neat and seaman like manner I’ll be really pleased and if I’m somewhere in the rankings, well that’s a good thing too.

LINDSAY: Awesome. Thank you very much and best of luck. We wish you well.

MARK: Thanks Lindsay. I’ve enjoyed this and I’ve enjoyed listening to some of your other podcasts. It’s an interesting thing and I’ve quite enjoyed hearing other people’s take on life at sea.

LINDSAY: Well I’ve got plenty more planned to so if you want to hear some more stories, go to toseethesea.com and visit the Podcast and Interview page, and we’re up to podcast number 10 coming up this weekend hopefully. There’ll be a lot more provided I can maintain my goals. Let’s call it quits at this and we’ll look forward to following your progress. We’ll see you later.

MARK: Thanks Lindsay. See you. Bye.

LINDSAY: Okay bye.

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Leave a Comment:

Brett Bishop says June 12, 2017

Great discussion. I would be really interested about the food preparation and how it worked after the race. Also got me keen to learn sextant navigation. Fantastic!

    Lindsay says June 12, 2017

    Thanks Brett. Yes, the food is an interesting one. Keep an eye out for the Podcast with Antoine Cousot. he gives some interesting insight into his food preparation experiments. The French love their food.
    Come over some time, I’ll dust off the VEB Freiburger yacht sextant, we can have a play.

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