Lars Kyprian and Rüdiger Böhm wanted to sail from Gibraltar to Palermo in 30 days, but their voyage ended in San Remo after more than 2,070 km. We take a look back at the GP Challenge 2020, and the two sailors explain why giving up was never an option, whatever setbacks they endured.
August 27 was a momentous day as Lars and Rüdiger set sail from Gibraltar, bound for a big adventure in their little 2.6 x 6-meter sport catamaran. They had taken on a huge challenge. Every stage was planned out in meticulous detail, and the weather conditions had been studied with the utmost care. Then, barely 100 meters in, they heard a loud bang. Extremely high winds had torn the mainsheet block from its mounting, meaning that the catamaran could only sail in one direction. The team worked really hard and succeeded in repairing the damage, but the incident was a foretaste of the ups and downs that were to follow.
Sustaining damage before leaving port was just the first in a series of setbacks. Shortly before Málaga, the waves were so high that a rudder blade broke off, and it took a lot of skill and some acrobatics for the duo to avoid capsizing. Later, they collided with a large underwater object that snapped one of the boat’s daggerboards. Was it some sort of container or maybe a fish? We’ll never know. Unforeseen events like this came to define the whole Challenge. At the start especially, Lars and Rüdiger had to contend with strong winds and terrible weather. This made for slow progress, causing them to fall behind schedule.
As time went on, though, the wind turned in their favor. They covered an unbelievable distance of 123 km on their best day. Lars sums up their outstanding achievement: “Even with a second professional on board, we’d have been no more than a day further along by the end of the Challenge.”
2,070 km in just 29 days: figures that belie a great deal of doubts and sweat, but also a lot of happy moments. Despite the huge physical and mental strain, the two men had plenty of opportunity to enjoy their adventure to the full. They have particularly fond memories of the dolphins swimming so close to the boat that they could almost touch their fins, not to mention their support crew surprising them by taking a motorboat out to serenade them with the Marseillaise at the exact moment when the GPS showed them crossing from Spanish into French waters. Rüdiger says that, in the end, every day was a highlight: “Every day turned out to be completely different than how we’d imagined it when we got up.”
“Despite all the setbacks, giving up was never an option for us!”
So how did they manage to keep their eyes on the prize in spite of their inauspicious start, weather troubles, and COVID-19? By trusting in their own strengths and not getting distracted by things they couldn’t change, says Rüdiger. “Especially at the start, there were lots of times when the wind was against us, and we weren’t making as much progress as we’d planned. We kept getting reminded of just how difficult the challenge we’d chosen was,” he admits candidly. Despite the difficulties in the early stages and the pandemic, giving up was never an option for them. “We always knew what our goal was, and we never lost sight of that. That makes it easier to focus on the here and now,” says Lars emphatically.
Lars and Rüdiger’s crew also played a vital part in their success, ensuring that equipment was transported, building the camp every day, and providing an ample supply of food and good humor. Rüdiger recalls being impressed by how quickly the team came together as one and how every member excelled themselves.
On September 24, the crew had left the French coast behind and was heading toward Italy just as the Italian government decided to impose new emergency measures in response to a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Lars and Rüdiger were already well on the way to San Remo. As they came into port, however, they were told that new travel restrictions prevented them from setting foot on the mainland. They had two options: either spend five days stuck in quarantine on Italian soil or make their way back to France. They chose the latter,
but it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. Violent storms, high waves, and extreme gusts of wind meant that they couldn’t just sail straight back. They were forced to take shelter in a small harbor that was still under construction. Having weathered the storm, they finally steered their catamaran safely into the harbor at Menton. After so much bad luck, the journey finally reached the happy ending it deserved as the two intrepid sailors were welcomed by a glorious rainbow.
Due to circumstances beyond their control, they fell short of their ambitious goal of reaching Palermo, but they were still delighted that they had dared to tackle the GP Challenge 2020 in the first place. “If I hadn’t already done the Challenge, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a try,” says Lars with a chuckle. He knows that he and his sailing partner were physically and mentally strong enough to make it to Palermo, and that’s a great source of pride. Rüdiger also has only positive things to say: “We experienced so much together, learned so much, and got so many people excited about what we were doing – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” He knows that their Challenge motivated lots of people to step out of their comfort zone and tackle their own amazing projects.