Reports 25 February
February 25 - Newswire reports - Crikey - How did we get here?.
Steve White is due in to Les Sables d'Olonne on Thursday morning and after a battle with the Bay of Biscay's contrary easterly winds he is more than ready to complete his remarkable race and collect eighth place, outlasting many fancied, more famous skippers.
Eighth is beyond the wildest dreams of the grounded, unpretentious skipper from Dorchester in Dorset, England.
His race has drawn widespread praise from fellow skippers and his regular, often humorous communications from the engine have made him one of the most popular characters in this race.
As it did for the seven skippers who finished ahead of him in this remarkable Vendee Globe, the champagne will flow like water when British skipper Steve White crosses the finish line on Thursday morning to having scaled the highest peak in solo ocean racing only 12 years after he first took up sailing, but White, a father of four, will celebrate seriously with a few bottles of Theakston's Old Peculier and a home cooked vegetable stew. . Brewed to a traditional recipe in Masham, North Yorkshire since 1890, the traditional English ale is much more in keeping with White's simple tastes and down to earth outlook than champagne.
Unendingly self-deprecating, he may give the impression of being slightly prone to adversity and the odd misadventure but they mask his talent as a solo skipper, his seamanship, planning and sheer dogged hard work. He is determined to be back for the 2012 Vendee Globe and develop continuously until then.
His success is not just a triumph over fiscal adversity, sailing so close to the wind financially that when he arrived in October in Les Sables d'Olonne three weeks before the start not only did he not have the money to race, but he was on the verge of losing the family home and his Open 60.
Indeed it was only during that morning before he arrived at the Vendee port with the then Spirit of Weymouth that he got the news that a promised sponsorship had fallen through. While he was doing the passage to Les Sables d'Olonne his wife Kim had to borrow enough money to get to London to get his children's passports.
But on the return train journey she was breaking the sad news to the kids that not only was the Vendee Globe project off, but they might end up living somewhere else, when she had the call that a private individual would support them in the name of the Toe in the Water injured service personnel's charity.
"It was a bit of an incredible day really, but we have always been positive. We have never really known brick walls stop us and just kept going and going. The voice at the end of the phone just told us to just get on and get the boat ready and he would take care of everything." "I had tears in my eyes at the start and now I am already in a party mood, I can't wait to see him back." Kim recalls
As soon as he had the promise of money he had to squeeze a three month re-fit into three weeks.
Even on the morning of the start, as Dee Caffari lead the fleet out on her immaculately prepared Aviva, Toe in the Water looked more like the aftermath of Boy Scout's jumble sale - stores and equipment piled improbably high on her decks - and White was almost at his wits end with his team stowing materials until the last seconds.
Software for his computers was loaded on the way to the start.
For all that his funding landed at the 11th hour and preparations last gasp were last gasp,
White has sailed a prudent, passionate race, along with Sam Davies the race's most natural communicators, relaying his sheer pleasure to be out there, living the dream he had fought for nearly 10 years to realise.
He trained as a jockey before he took to sailing, got into the sport with his friend Richard Heaton who needed someone with a towbar to get his plywood 17 foot Lysander to the water. Slightly typically White ended up driving home in his boxer shorts. The pair taught themselves to sail in a dinghy, the 'Invincible' which a rudimentary sail which was simply a triangle cut from a caravan awning. Richard has been first on each of White's new boats and was an essential part of the shore crew in Les Sables d'Olonne back in November.
His father was an engineer with Rolls Royce aviation. He recalls that from a very young age, around four, Steve had a predilection for taking things to bits and putting them back together. And as he got older his mechanical and engineering skills graduated through lawn mowers, motor bike and cars.
Latterly he was a specialist car restorer, working with pre war, high value vintage Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, accomplished in every area from coachworks to fine tuning engines, before the sea infected his blood.
He transferred his skills to a local boatyard in Weymouth where he learned more about composite boatbuilding and repairs, before working for more than three years with Pete Goss where he worked on the ill fated Team Philips and other projects. From there he went to work with Chay Blyth's Challenge Business - alma mater for Mike Golding, Dee Caffari, Jonny Malbon, where he worked his way up from being crew to a training skipper. Over the four years he was there he did more than 24 trips to the Fastnet Rock and set the fastest time on the Plymouth to Boston Challenge Transat. His vegetarian food was left behind and he survived on potatoes and eggs for the trip.
White's fellow skippers from the Challenge Business days have always been fulsome in their praise, not only for White's seamanship skills and determination, but his ability to get an extra half knot from his boat in many circumstances.
A long night's discussion with Kim saw them decide Steve would pursue his solo racing career seriously. They drove to Plymouth and handed in his notice with Challenge Business and that afternoon arranged the charter of Mark Taylor's Open 50 Olympian Challenger, max-ing out a fistful of credit cards to make the payments and pay for his entry to the 2005 OSTAR, landing a small sponsor on the morning of the race.
The deadline was down to a matter of 15 minutes when he finally purchased the Open 60 from Josh Hall which has taken him around the world. At 1145hrs on D-Day he had all but decided Hall's midday deadline was not going to be achievable, but a chance phone call from Shally Suri, a Nottingham chemist shop owner who had sailed as a Challenge crew with White as skipper, who agreed spontaneously to be guarantor to the required loan and just after midday he was confirmed as owner of his Vendee Globe Open 60.
Eighth place will be a just reward for White who has moved mountains to be in this race. Typical of his determination, he arrived in Paris in the summer for a Meteo France weather briefing for all the Vendee Globe skippers, and had so little money that when he spent his few Euros getting the train in to the wrong part of the City, he had to walk two and a half hours to the other side of Paris to get to the venue. He had already prepared himself to sleep rough in the adjacent park afterwards, before Brian Thompson offered him a floor in his hotel room and gave him a lift back to the airport.