Holden ready to raise the trophy!

Holden ready to raise the trophy!

The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, Jul. 10 2014, 8:22 PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Jul. 11 2014, 8:26 PM EDT

In early October, about a month after Eric Holden and his crew set sail from London in a race around the world, the Henri Lloyd found itself following a migratory whale route. Whales, Holden said, were “popping up on all sides and not infrequently dead ahead.” It was during Race 2 of the Clipper Round the World yacht race, and the Henri Lloyd, with its 33-year-old skipper from Vancouver, was headed south from France to Rio de Janeiro. “The crew had an awareness of the potential consequences were we to hit (a whale), which tempered their usual hysterics at seeing any sort of marine mammals,” Holden wrote in his blog that day. It’s now been more than 10 months since Holden and his crew left London, and the Henri Lloyd has an insurmountable lead in the world’s longest ocean race. Holden will arrive victorious Saturday at the London finish line.

The event covers 16 individual races over 64,300 kilometres with an overall winner in a Formula 1-style scoring system. It joins together amateur sailors — some who’d never even been on a boat before — with an experienced skipper. Holden is the only Canadian skipper in the race. Over the course of 11 months, it also provides a lifetime of memories.

There was sailing out of Rio and past the Copacabana Beach, waking up to the lush green hills of Papua New Guinea, and the warm welcome they received when they sailed into Cape Town, South Africa. There was celebrating a race victory in Sydney, Australia, in mid-December, popping champagne while dressed in antlers and Santa hats.
“The greatest part of the experience is seeing the crew develop from amateurs, quite nervous and intimidated by what they’re getting into, to seeing their growth and seeing how confident and competent they now are as sailors,” Holden said. “I get a lot of pleasure and reward out of that. Leaving Leg 1 from London was my lasting memory just because we didn’t know each other or what we were capable of. . . a large learning curve for all the skippers, as well as the crew.”
Many of the crew members, who are allocated to teams to ensure a similar skill set across the fleet, had no previous sailing experience. They undergo 26 days of training before setting sail.

Holden’s crew includes two nurses, two lawyers, a visual effects artist, an interior designer and a software developer. The youngest member of the crew is 21. The oldest is 74.
The Canadians on board are nurse Fiona Garforth-Bies, heavy duty mechanic James Dick, construction inspector Michael Jauncey, recent college grad Morgen Watson, and finance executive Phil Driver. The race literature warns: “While the crew may be amateur, no one has told the ocean that. The sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices and if the Southern Ocean, the Pacific or the South Atlantic decides to throw down the gauntlet, the crews need to be ready to face exactly the same challenges as those experienced by the pro racer.”

Holden and the Henri Lloyd had an 18-point lead over second-placed Great Britain when they sailed out of Den Helder, the Netherlands on Thursday for the final leg. The Henri Lloyd has 155.9 points, Great Britain has 138, while OneDLL has 127. The 16th race takes the fleet almost 250 nautical miles to London, where the race will finish in the traditional Parade of Sails up the River Thames.

Holden, who was named Sail Canada’s sailor of the month for both April and May, sailed for Canada’s national team for five years. He was the weather forecaster for the Canadian sailing team at the 2012 London Olympics. Ken Dool, High Performance Director at Sail Canada remarks on Eric's stunning acheivement. "Eric Holden is on the brink of fulfilling one of his personal dreams "sailing around the world". He has done more than just "sail" around the World, he has lead his crew aboard Henri Lloyd on a life changing adventure and in so doing has captured the Clipper Around the World Race title. Sail Canada members and staff have been anxiously following Eric's exploits, and revelling in Eric's success. Sail Canada is immensely proud of Eric's accomplishments and congratulate Eric, his team and all of those teams that have successfully raced around the world."

Holden is proud of how well his crew has fared in the extreme conditions they’ve faced, saying they’ve developed a good respect for Mother Nature. They’ve seen everything from 86 knot winds (160 kilometres per hour) and “mountainous seas” in the Southern Ocean, to lightning, thunderstorms and waterspouts in the tropics, to the dead wind in the Doldrums — an equatorial region known for bringing boats to a halt. Holden’s isn’t sure of his immediate plans once the race ends, including whether or not he’ll be part of Canada’s sailing squad at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “Offshore yacht racing is what I do for a living, and when I’m not racing, I’m doing weather forecasting for other yachts,” he said. “This race has taken up all my energy for the past 18 months, so I haven’t had time to look past the end of this race.”