'Can-do' veteran Goss returns to the ocean race track

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The Independent Online

If you could bottle Pete Goss' optimism you would make a fortune and change the world. It wells up with such force that even BP could not cap it. So, it is no surprise that, at the age of 48, he is making a comeback to the ocean race track.

Goss is a "can-do" ex-Royal Marine who has experienced the highs and the lows. He was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by a grateful French President Chirac after he turned round in the depths of the Southern Ocean to rescue Raphael Dinelli.

He dropped him off in Hobart, took on food, took two days but no help to make some repairs, continued racing, and finished fifth of only six finishers from 16 starters. He was the first Brit to finish a race which was to make a national hero of Ellen MacArthur.

He went on to attract the backing of the Dutch electronics giant Philips for a truly radical catamaran to take part in the The Race, a non-stop round the world race. It broke.

Since then he has done a few walks to the North Pole and built a replica Cornish fishing boat to go to Australia but, on 31 October, he will be on the start line for a race which captures the heart of the French nation, ranks alongside the round-the-world solo Vendee Globe, and scarcely enters the public consciousness in Britain, the Route du Rhum.

Goss lives in an obscure village on the Cornish side of the River Tamar. If you can find his house, you are lost. He first attracted national attention as skipper of one of the boats, Hofbrau, in the original, 1992, British Steel round the world race for paying amateurs.

He found a friend and inspiration in yacht designer Adrian Thompson, who put the 50-foot Aqua Corum together for the Vendee and then designed what was the longest racing catamaran in the world, Team Philips. It was launched by the Queen on the Thames, fell apart in the North Atlantic on a training run, and the crew survived a really hairy rescue, thanks to a diverted freighter, as the boat broke up underneath them.

One hull was never found, the other beached itself in Iceland, but Goss says: "That was a project I will always be proud of. It was cutting edge, revolutionary, and 1.2m visitors came to see it being built in Totnes. I am drawn to things like that. It’s where you learn. You move on and learn the lessons."

His next big sailing project was only a couple of years ago when he built a replica of a 37-foot fishing lugger, the Spirit of Mystery. Mystery had left Newlyn in 1854 with seven Cornishmen who were broke, desperate, and wanted to join the gold rush in Australia.

Goss started with a chain saw, a search for some oak trees which had already toppled over, and put the whole thing together in a shed at Millbrook, an estuary huddle of houses off the Tamar.

The original crew were all related by blood and marriage; Goss's smaller and relatively inexperienced crew was his 14-year old son Eliot, his brother-in-law Mark Maidment, and his younger brother Andy.

They went via Cape Town, survived a complete knockdown in a Southern Ocean storm, though Mark broke a leg, and arrived in Melbourne using a sextant for navigation, a wood burning stove and oil lamps, a solar panel-powered satnav for safety's sake and the schools programme for the project.

When walking up to the dock in Melbourne, they were met with pints of beer, pasties, and handshakes from some Australian relatives of the original seven from Newlyn. "I had nothing but respect before I left and ten-fold after," says Goss.

For years he has been working on a project to retrace, with fellow Royal Marine Alan Chambers, the steps of Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, including several treks to the North pole and the Greenland Icecap. Bureaucratic hurdles and the need for sponsorship will surely not deter him.

Now he is focussed on the race to Guadeloupe. "It's one of the greats," he says, "and I haven't done it. I've partnered with Tony Lawson's Team Concise, done my 1,000 mile qualifier, and I can't wait, yeah, yeah. It's exciting and I'm doing it because I love it. I'm the old dog of the fleet at 48, which is quite funny, and I will be 49 in December. But I am ready to go and I've never been to the Caribbean."

Meanwhile at Cowes Week the trouncing of America's Cup holder BMW Oracle continued in the opening foray of late afternoon match races. Already leading 2-0, Britain's Team Origin made no mistake in scoring their third win by a margin of 44 seconds.

The second race was neck and neck all the way with the lead changing twice before going into the final leg. The Americans, with the later, newer of the two boats they have supplied, are not enjoying the thought of being beaten by the Brits in what should be a slower boat.

But skipper Ben Ainslie, with tactician Iain Percy and the additional trimming expertise of Simon Daubney held on to win by five seconds and go 4-0 up.

On a Cowes Week day that saw brisk wind, pouring rain, hail and sunshine, Origin supporter Charles Dunstone, with New Zealander Ray Davies as tactician, lifted the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup in his 52-foot Rio.

In the 88-strong X One Design class, Neil Payne took over at the top in Lizz Whizz after the previous leader, Stuart Jardine, added a 16th to Tuesday’s 32nd, pushing him back to fourth overall.

But there was no stopping the unrelated pairing of Graham Bailey and Stephen Bailey, who remain unbeaten in the Etchells class with five straight bullets.

As Mitch Booth withdrew from the Extreme 40 series with a cracked forward beam, Yann Guichard won a morning five-mile race in Groupe Edmond de Rothschild.

On the second, 416-mile leg from Gijon to Brest Britain’s Jonny Malbon was lying 43rd of 45 going into the second night at sea.

Tomorrow, the forecasters expect 12 to 15 knots from the north-west for the 1851 Cup on a course which takes Team Origin and BMW Oracle round the Isle of Wight clockwise, as did the fleet in 1851 when the New York Yacht Club’s schooner America beat the best that Britain could muster.

Chris Stanmore-Major, from Cowes, and Simon Chalk, from Leicester, will each carry the British flag in the Velux 5 Oceans singlehanded round the world race, which starts from La Rochelle on 17 October.