THE FINAL SUBTERFUGE – A LOW BLOW AFTER THE BELL
Many’s the time I thought perhaps a return to dry land would help Istvan straighten out the facts in his head and re-engage with reality. It turned out, when he did finally come ashore on the 21rd of March 2019 after 263 days at sea, that he remains as attached to his fictions as ever. This probably shouldn’t surprise me, but I just cannot seem to find a way to understand how someone can consistently behave with such a lack of respect, honour and ethics and be happy treating social interaction as strictly a one-way street.
I should never have become involved with the Puffin campaign. As soon as it started to become apparent that my role was to be scapegoat rather than supporter and sponsor, I began publishing my accounts here to defend myself. I conclude, from the way the attacks via Facebook, Twitter and the podcasts steadily ramped up over the course of the event, that my messages must have reached the man – and by turns shaken and enraged him. Eventually he ended up blaming me for pretty much everything unsatisfactory about his race: “Windpilot killed my GGR“.
The fact is, from the 29 June 2018 to this day I have not received any communication – not a single request for assistance with a supposedly misbehaving system – from Istvan. Traffic in the other direction has been heavy: I presented a whole series of suggestions as to how to improve things on Puffin both to Istvan’s shore team and the GGR organiser (all of which are accessible to everyone via my blog). My advice must have been of some use because the man arrived safe and sound at the finish, bright-eyed and fingernails looking good.
THE PUFFIN RIDDLE
Having had nine months to ponder on it and regular barbed reminders to keep it uppermost in my mind, I think I have started to make some sense of the Puffin riddle. And the picture that has emerged as I join the dots is not a pretty one. I doubt whether Istvan will ever explain exactly why he chose to take the path he did, but some fairly strong pointers have now emerged. I wonder if the true story perhaps goes something like this…
Setting off for England on what represented the first real test of his new boat, Istvan soon recognised that he had made a mistake in his choice of wheel steering system. Transmission from wheel to rudder was too direct, making the system unsuitable for open water use. Someone of Istvan’s great sailing experience would have understood the implications of this more or less straight away. But what to do about it? All the advice in the world wouldn’t help in the absence of funds in the kitty and in any case, there was no time to fit a different wheel steering system or switch over to a tiller before the start. The challenge, then, was to find a solution that would explain away any shortcomings in performance without in any way tarnishing the star of a man who had signed up to the GGR with the avowed intention of winning it. A cunning plan was required – and a plan was promptly devised.
Istvan gave me no inkling of what was afoot prior to the start; in fact, he even threatened to swap his Windpilot for something else when he reached Southampton. It puzzled me for months that he didn’t mention anything about the wheel issues until after the start, but perhaps it was no oversight: waiting until the leg down to Lanzarote and the first round of race podcasts to start the drum beat of public condemnation was always going to make a much bigger media splash. It was a massive shock to find myself suddenly being blamed for Istvan’s difficulties and I threw myself headlong into the job of trying to put together some useful advice for him and work out what he might be able to try to make things better. It never crossed my mind for a moment then that this might all be part of a bigger picture.
What I remember most strongly from that time was a sense of dizzying astonishment that in all the days we spent together in Les Sables, he hadn’t breathed a word to me of his concerns about the steering. If I had known, I might have been able to help. Now, I suspect he had already decided how I was going to help: by taking the blame!
Istvan’s pre-race threat to swap to a different windvane self-steering system left me seething at the time, but from today’s perspective it looks much more like a calculated misdirection than a serious ultimatum. Although he continued throughout the race to suggest that he only took the free option – my Pacific – because he couldn’t afford the Monitor, he is actually on record before the start saying quite clearly that the Windpilot was his first choice.
Istvan put pressure on his campaign through his own actions. He seems to have set out to style himself a special kind of American sailing hero, introducing himself on his website with the alternative facts “Istvan Kopar is one of only 30 elite sailors in the world who have been selected to participate in the 2018 Golden Globe Race” and even going so far as to put himself on a level with Joshua Slocum at the GGR prizegiving party on 22 April 2019:
Quote from Istvan at 29:00 minutes:
I feel very much close like Joshua Slocum (he was American!) … no radio, no wind vane … almost everything broke down …
He also mentioned at the same time:
I just got a tweet from the WHITE HOUSE congratulating me a couple of minutes ago …
Mr. President is known to be a prolific tweeter, but would a fourth-place finish in a low-profile retro yacht race really be enough to set his thumbs twitching? There’s no sign of any presidential intervention on Twitter or FB (although when curating your own reality online there must always be a danger that the truth also sometimes gets deleted for being too fanciful). That he “only” finished fourth is of course squarely down to me (see above).
When Istvan (either through careful calculation or just because it turned out that way) found himself throwing his sponsor under the bus with real conviction in an attempt to salvage his own reputation, he appears not to have contemplated the possibility that I might stand and fight my corner, that I might make the effort to work my way through everything that happened patiently and logically and share my journey publicly through the online forum and press contacts at my disposal. As anyone who knows anything about the history of Windpilot (as recounted elsewhere on this blog) will be aware, I am quite accustomed to people trying to take advantage of my trusting nature and I have a long record of defending myself resolutely and successfully when they do.
THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE?
Not really. There’s no great moral lesson to the story and it’s a thoroughly unedifying tale I would prefer not to have to tell. An affair like this will inevitably have consequences, however, and I feel I have to write these lines to make sure those consequences come home to roost where they belong.
Set Twitter and Facebook accounts, podcasts and a well-oiled media machine (representing an organiser who is restricted in what he can say by his own sponsorship arrangements) against the accumulated evidence and expertise of a lone windvane self-steering manufacturer and blogger and there is sure to be some friction. I picked up a very strange vibe from the organiser from day one of my involvement helping prospective participants in the GGR. A headwind? Oncoming storm with hail and thunder would be more like it. I became a thorn in the side of a man who apparently had very strong views about the “right” self-steering for his event – views that differed wildly from my own – and never missed an opportunity to share them with his audience. But what was I to do? Quietly stand by and watch race-followers be fed duff information just so that I didn’t cause offence?
MY WATERLOO MOMENT
The unfortunate combination of a sailor eager to make me his fall guy and a race organiser part-funded by one of my competitors yielded a dangerous cocktail that dominated my days and nights for months. The only thing that mattered to me was to protect my brand and my life’s work. The result? A grand total of 23 GGR-related blogs (so far), a not entirely welcome education for the organiser in the finer details of transom ornamentation as we do it in the 21st century, the three Windvane Striptease blogs, which analyse the experiences of the GGR’s fearless competitors and, of course, my own observations on related topics like sponsorship and (the lack of) media scrutiny.
I carried on fighting my corner all the way through the race. The drip drip drip of accusations against Windpilot was relentless but as my initial shock faded and I came to terms with the new rules of the game, I could at least comfort myself with the thought that, with the assistance of the organiser and a tame journalist, I should be able to recover all of Puffin’s Windpilot equipment when the boat returned to Les Sables. What was I thinking?
It turned out there was still one more high-risk, all-or-nothing tall tale lurking in the locker. First came a few rounds of phone-tag between Windpilot, Istvan’s shore team, the boat and the organiser. Exactly how Istvan came by his information I still have not been able to determine; in fact at one point I even drifted into wondering whether his wife might have accidentally left her satellite phone aboard when she said goodbye (obviously I don’t really believe that)! Anyway, a few days before Istvan was due back into Les Sables I sent a circular to Istvan’s team, his wife Eva Kovacz, his manager Ian Gumprecht, Robert Farrelly, Don McIntyre and Barry Pickthall in which I reaffirmed my expectation that my equipment would be returned. A short time later, when Puffin was 24 hours from the finish, a most revealing dialogue occurred – this comes from thePodcast on 20 March 2019: Don was just ending the call (08:55 minutes in) when Istvan made it clear he had something to add:
I definitely want to share an experience with Tapio when I get the chance … I am hoping … or if you want … just tell him ( Tapio ) to replace the windpilot with the spare one … when the weather is really good … because he doesn´t want to have that experience that I had because I needed to handsteer 24 hours straight to get the chance to replace it …
is it the servo blade that shore off or the wind vane? …
oh, oh … this is the vane unit, its the wind vane. Okay … I started in New York some 30.000 nm ago … I think the best thing is to advise Tapio he should replace the ( Windpilot ) unit with the spare one … everyone got a spare unit … there is no way to repair the unit because its the same as like the steering ( pedestal ), it has „cog wheels“ inside the tube and you can’t repair it … that´s the reason why Peter gave us a spare one, because seemingly he ( Peter ) knew that the cog wheels will not last …
I could hardly believe my ears. Here was a seemingly throwaway remark in a public forum that not only thoroughly trashed my product but also asserted I had intentionally supplied substandard equipment to people I knew would be sailing alone through potentially life-threatening conditions. Actually, I don’t think Istvan can have thought this claim through very well: what possible reason could I have to give equipment to people in a relatively high-profile event if I knew it was likely to fail on a grand scale? It seems the claim must have been premeditated to some extent though because, quite simply, there is no reason to believe the failure described actually happened. The rest of the story is pretty straightforward and largely in the public domain already.
Puffin was completely cleared out within 24 hours of arrival, cleaned and put up for sale, which is probably why Don took the trouble to film a complete record of the boat and its equipment on the pontoon.
@isIstvan Kopar Solo Circumnavigator was in a hurry to clean and pack…and leave so we will do a BIG LIVE in about 10 days!!..Istvan house keeping #GGR2018
Gepostet von Golden Globe Race am Freitag, 22. März 2019
The supposedly “broken” Pacific, which appears to be complete and undamaged, is quite obvious and the reserve system is ready in place at the back of the boat.
A FIGMENT OF THE IMAGINATION?
After all the many horror stories shared with the world about a Windpilot system that had done for a Whitlock Cobra, there was no sign of damage to the Cobra pedestal or base plate in Puffin’s cockpit on arrival in Les Sables. Remarkably, even though interested race-followers on FB were promised a question and answer session, we still don’t have any details at all. Sadly I have to accept that the important questions have probably still not been posed by either knowledgeable journalists or the organiser. The boat has now quietly changed hands (I hear the new owner plans to fit a Hydrovane) and words are still the only evidence we have had of all the damage and disaster reported so regularly over the months of the race.
Facts tend to be very useful in clarifying unresolved issues and disputes and a Windpilot system with broken bevel gears would have been a compelling argument that everyone – me included – would have accepted without question.
Istvan though seems determined to keep the facts to himself. When, on 19 April 2019, the time came to return Puffin’s complement of Windpilot gear, he refused to hand over the supposedly broken Pacific on the grounds that he needed to keep it as “personal evidence” – evidence he was not even prepared to let anyone see…
I realise it’s pointless to speculate on the reasons behind all this manoeuvring however much my surfeit of experience with the man tempts me to risk it.
To summarize: my Windpilot Pacific patiently took Puffin and Skipper 30,000 nm across the ocean, enduring twelve severe storms with winds in excess of 50 kn and three knockdowns, as disclosed in Robin Knox-Johnston’s report. All of the spare parts provided to the skipper in case of need were returned to me unused. There was ample opportunity for the corpus delicti – a Pacific with “broken cog wheels” – to surface but nothing of the sort ever appeared.
Will I one day hear a thank you, or even an apology, from Istvan? Frankly I think it’s unlikely. The protagonist surviving is the only happy ending the fairy story of Istvan’s GGR is likely to see. I can only hope that people with an interest take the time to read my thoughts and understand the damage this affair has done in the already sensitive area of sponsorship in sailing (and, let’s not forget, the GGR has struggled throughout to attract sponsors).
What has gone on here seems quite extraordinary to me and I am astounded at the response of certain journalists, who must either have slept through the whole thing or are limited by cost considerations to copying and pasting the reports dished up to them by the event media agent. Istvan’s behaviour has a certain (albeit rather twisted) logic to it and I hope my own response – presenting the facts and joining the dots – appears logical too. But there’s something else rotten about this whole business. Self-steering is a big issue for the bluewater community, so why has the sailing media shown so very little interest? Where is the independent analysis? Where is the sailors’ pen-wielding champion to shine a light in the darkness? Have our journalists really nothing more to offer us now than regurgitated press releases and infomercials?
I feel another session at the keyboard coming on…
Hamburg, 28 April 2019
Windpilot uses a copper-aluminium alloy (German designation “GK-CuAl10Ni”) for its bevel gears. This is a very tough material that is not at all easy to process but produces components that are almost indestructible. We have been using it since the current Windpilot series launched 23 years ago and across all the thousands of bluewater boats equipped and millions of miles sailed in that time, we are not aware of a single instance of damage to the gears.
WIND VANE STRIPTEASE 1 – 3