Series 2 - Ep15 - Skip Novak Part 1


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The worlds of offshore sailing and unbridled adventure meet head to head in this month's edition of Shirley Robertson's Sailing Podcast, as the two time Olympic gold medallist talks face to face with legendary American Whitbread skipper and off the grid sailing expedition pioneer Skip Novak.
Today, Novak is known throughout the sailing world as the go to man for sailing led polar exploration. For over three decades he has been running his famous "Pelagic' exploration yachts and is a man with much to say about his career exploring at high latitude, a passion that first came to him while racing around the planet in his first of four Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races.
"Not many people know this but as navigator I used to 'tweak' the course every now and again, saying 'we need to head up ten' only to see these places and come a little bit closer to get a view, something you wouldn't do today, but I loved to see these mountainous places coming up out of the mist and fog, and blowing like hell, and there was wildlife, seals jumping all over the place, and penguins, and I thought 'I have to go there one day, I have to see these places, and step on shore'".
That first Whitbread adventure took place in 1977, as the navigator onboard second place finisher 'King's Legend', but perhaps his most famous Whitbread entry was also one of the race's more unusual.
By 1985 British pop sensations Duran Duran were widely acknowledged as one of the decade's biggest super groups. A platinum album, world wide tours, Rolling Stone magazine covers, Grammy Awards, number ones either side of the Atlantic, the band had become a global phenomenon.
However, their meteoric rise to stardom had totally passed by a busy Skip Novak, but the global success of Simon Le Bon and his band were about to impact heavily on Novak's sailing career. Having unsuccessfully trawled the boardrooms of corporate America for sponsorship, Novak's Whitbread future looked uncertain, but a phone call from the eighties pop ensemble very quickly changed everything. It's an amusing tale, a story of how Novak was soon skippering the most famous band of the eighties around the world in a seventy seven foot maxi the band christened 'Drum'.
"We stuck (the hull) in the water and towed it across to Cowes, and we were all down below, Simon (Le Bon) came down for this of course, and we were all down below and somebody said 'Simon, what are we gonna call this thing, what are we gonna name it Simon', and he banged on the hull, and the whole hull reverberated like this and he said 'Let's call it Drum' and that's how that happened."
Duran Duran front man Simon Le Bon makes a guest appearance in Part 1 of this podcast, talking to Robertson about the band's exploits onboard 'Drum'. Before the Whitbread itself had even started, Novak, Le Bon and the crew had already taken an unwelcome visit to the front pages of the world's tabloid press, following a catastrophic capsize in the 1985 edition of the Fastnet Race. Novak's eloquent and dramatic account of the incident is typical of his laid back but descriptive style, "I got out as the water was pouring in through the hatch, I was like a salmon trying to swim upstream, the deck was coming down on top of me, I grabbed the rail and it went 'bang', like a coffin had shut!". The tales that follow are as amusing as they are compelling, and leave the listener pondering on whether such an oddball pairing of financial backing and sporting endeavour could ever possibly be beaten.

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