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 Birdwatching goes both ways 

Tapio Lehtinen is a sailor born in 1958 with a life long experience of sailing a wide variety of boats. During the 2018 Golden Globe Race, Tapio was disappointed to see the dramatically diminished numbers of birds, whales and other sea mammals in the oceans. This has lead him to use the media visibility of the coming races to increase the awareness of the different solutions for the environmental challenges which are being offered. Tapio is also a long time proponent of youth sailing and will sail the OGR with one of the youngest teams.


by Tapio Lehtinen

On 19 November 2022, I woke up to a loud crash from the stern of my boat. Something had hit us, water was rushing in and six minutes later I was in my life raft, watching my S&S Gaia 36 Asteria classic sailboat sink in the Indian Ocean about 500 nautical miles south-east of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. For a while, I felt quite sad and lonely, 360° of empty horizon around me, having just lost my beloved boat and the dream of winning the Golden Globe Race (GGR).  

I have long had an addiction to the Southern Ocean, which started in the 1981 Whitbread Race. During the long months of the GGR 2018 race, my boat slowed down with massive barnacle growth. One way I kept my spirits up was to watch the albatrosses which followed me day after day. They would glide so close to me I could almost touch the tips of their wings. Soon I could recognise individuals. I could watch them gliding around me and above the waves, soaring up by the wave tops hour after hour, envious of their effortless and graceful movement, having a third dimension to their movement compared to my two dimensional movement across the ocean. 

But this time, in my life raft, I had turned from the subject to the object, something stationary to be studied by the inhabitants of the ocean. My loneliness was cut short when, after half an hour in the raft, the first giant petrel landed next to me. In five minutes, another one, and a quarter of an hour later, maybe twenty. One of them was clearly the boss, so I reached out my hand and the bird swam directly to me, taking hold of my index finger. I introduced myself: “I’m Lehtinen from Finland.”

Soon after, a flock of shearwaters appeared, followed by some albatrosses. It was funny – as the new kid on the block, everybody wanted to come and see me. The albatrosses were the kings. The other birds clearly respected them and gave them space. 

As the sun set on the (luckily) sunny and fairly warm day, the temperature started dropping and the wind picked up. I crawled into my hypothermia bag and fell asleep in the tiny 1.6m2 raft.  

I was woken up at 3am to a clicking sound coming from outside the raft. 

I zipped open the small hatch in the tent cover of the raft and saw the bright starry sky with the Milky Way arching straight over me, ending with the Southern Cross above the southern horizon. On the leeward side, protected from the wind by the raft, two albatrosses were sitting on the water. The clicking sound, coming from their beaks, seemed like affectionate kissing. After a while they would start rubbing their wings against each other, followed by more kissing. What a romantic and charming sight in my distress! 

Later, from a distance of less than two metres, I followed an albatross kicking the water a couple times with his giant flippers, unfolding his majestic wings, and with only two or three wingstrokes, he started gliding above the wave tops. It was magical! 

I was finally rescued and after a glass of rum, transferred to the bulk carrier Darya Gayatri to cross the Indian Ocean for the next two and a half weeks. 

I love the ocean and the life on and in it. 25 hours in a life raft took me closer to it than ever before. And so I’ll start the next world race on 10 September this year with a young team onboard Swan 55 yawl Galiana. My aim is to not get as close to the ocean this time but to take advantage of the bigger boat and bigger team to better document our encounters with albatrosses. Stay tuned! 

The Ocean Globe Race (OGR) took to the high seas with 14 teams on September 10th. The Ocean Globe Race (OGR) is a fully crewed retro race in the spirit of the 1973 Whitbread Round the World Race. It marks the the 50th anniversary of the original event. It follows the same route as the clipper ships.

Ville Nora, has been part of the Finnish National Opera Choir and now entertains the crowds singing “At Sea” as Tapio and his crew leave to sail around the world aboard Galiana WithSecure FI (06) Credit: Tim Bishop/PPL