"In general, if you think about doing a race like this, it starts with having a boat that is capable and ready to do a passage like this one. In that regard, the prep is no different than if you were going to do the same course fully crewed or 1-2. The short handed aspects of this type of racing increase the demand on the skipper at having a multi-disciplinary skill set (navigator, sailor, sail maker, boat builder, electrician, mechanic, carpenter, composites engineer, etc.). And it adds the need to understand and be capable of sleep management. Other than that, my own experience is that short handed is more in your head than anything else
There are a few areas to focus on if you are wondering how-to. In no particular order:
- Sail inventory. Beyond a main that can be deep reefed and your primary Jib, you are going to need something to reach with (Jib Top or Code), something to run with (spin), a headsail to use in heavier breeze and a storm jib. They need to be in good repair, cuz who wants to be stuck out there trying to get to Bermuda and also repairing sails. And you have to be comfortable with changing them on your own. For cost alone, this is one of the more difficult things to get done,
- Deck hardware & rigging - make sure it is in good repair and serviced well. Check every nut, bolt, cotter pin, clevis ring, splice, and turnbuckle. Things that fail you inshore are typically an irritant. Things that fail you offshore can get you in deep trouble.
- Electronics - make sure you check every connection, every cable. If it looks a bit corroded at the dock, you can be sure it will short once you get out there, and then you won't be able to find it while you are wondering why your autopilot is behaving erratically.
- Spares. If you can not survive without it, you should have a spare. If you can survive without it, then you probably should not have it at all.
- Safety gear. You need to own a bunch of it. Or be able to borrow it. This can get pricey too.
- Comms. Plan on buying or renting a sat phone
- Auto pilot. Probably the most important piece of kit on the entire boat. Make sure you have one that works.
- What to wear. Remember, it is actually bloody cold between the Stream and shore. And then hot and muggy from the Stream to the Island. Spinlock vest & harness. Kong tether. Musto HPX bibs and jacket. Musto or Dubarry boots. fleece jacket. 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of long pants. Long sleeve wicking shirt (2 or 3 of them). Smart Wool long underwear. Underwear (the days you expect to take X .80). Hat for the sun, and a watch cap. That is it. Anything more is a waste of weight and space. Who cares if you stink like a goat.
- Navigation. You should have at least a basic understanding of weather systems and their impact on your routing. Ideally, you should be able to go into the Vendee Globe thread and have at least some grasp of the concepts that some of the posters are talking about when discussing the choices being made by the likes of Armel or Alex. You can plot your course on paper charts (and in some respects that is a great discipline to follow), or you can master Expedition, but none of it does you any good if you don't know what the weather is going to do with your boat. You can take classes to help with that, or borrow time from someone who knows how to do it.
- Learn about the Gulf Stream. There are lots of resources, starting with the background and prep sessions done for this race and the Newport Bermuda. But the Stream really is a unique aspect of this course, and is worth knowing how it impacts your race.
- Sleep Management. Roy used to arrange for a seminar for the skippers interested in doing the race, taught by Claudio Stampfe. I took it twice, and found it helpful. You need to learn how to nap, and how to nap well.
- Confidence. Get out there and sail solo as often as you can, in as many different conditions as you can
- Perspective. Just remember, its not like you are giving birth, climbing Everest or that world peace hinges on completing the course. You can always turn back. And it really is only a few days of sailing - its not like you are going to Mars on a 5 year journey. So don't turn it into something bigger in your head, and don't let it psych you out.
Above all, remember that it is a great adventure and you are surrounded by a great group of people even if you are alone out there."