Skip is an old friend. I would not dare to compare myself to Skip and his accomplishments. We are however part of a sailing generation that, as you will read, remember the sport in a different light. There was still humor and diversity.

23 May 2011Share |
Novak latest Legends Ambassador

Skip Novak, skipper of Whitbread 1985-86 entry, Drum (famously owned by British rock star Simon Le Bon), is now an Ambassador to the Volvo Ocean Race Legends.

“My genre of deep water sailor men, and I do mean ‘men’ as this was before women joined in earnest with Maiden in 1989, were generally characters of the first degree. Vagabonds, misfits, rebels without cause and pub test-pilots manned the sheets.”
The American has completed four races, his first time finishing second as navigator with King’s Legend at the age of 25 in 1977-78. Novak is the fourth Ambassador to the event, joining Lady Pippa Blake, Magnus Olsson and Sir Chay Blyth CBE, BEM.

“I admit to becoming an ‘addict’ back in the early Whitbread era when, for the best part of 15 years, my life by-and-large revolved around four circumnavigations between the second instalment of the Whitbread until after the 1989-90 race,” says Novak.

“Very few people back then made a living out of the Whitbread race; rather a living was made in between the races with a view to be in a position to do the next one. This meant full time employment with commitment was an anathema, and the possibility of not getting a berth was an emotional crisis.

“My genre of deep water sailor men, and I do mean ‘men’ as this was before women joined in earnest with Maiden in 1989, were generally characters of the first degree. Vagabonds, misfits, rebels without cause and pub test-pilots manned the sheets. They were not the top racing technicians of the day (who looked upon the likes of us as having a screw loose), but instead were generally good seamen offshore, looking for an adventure and a bit of fun onshore and the Whitbread race provided all of that and more.

“Alas, there is no room in today’s fleet for the likes of that lot and certainly not their hi-jinks, some of which still cannot be printed nor repeated in mixed company!

“For a variety of reasons I have never enjoyed a fully-funded completely professional campaign. Instead, my Whitbread history has revolved around eleventh-hour, marginal entries that were less about making a boat go fast and more about crisis management. Because they were newsworthy in themselves they have, however, helped to shape the Volvo Ocean Race we see today.

“Although there were no victories on my score sheets, I have a collection of memories that would be hard to beat. It is true that nostalgia has no place in today’s Volvo Ocean Race, but those of us who were there can still enjoy turning the clocks back, and that is what the Legends Regatta and Reunion is all about. I am proud to be a part of it.”

About Skip Novak:

Born: USA 1952 (58)
1977-78 King’s Legend
1981-82 Alaska Eagle
1985-86 Drum
1989-90 Fazisi

In 2001 he co-skippered the 33-metre French catamaran Innovation Explorer with Loïck Peyron to second place in the millennium non-stop, no limits circumnavigation

Novak is the author of One Watch at a Time (account of Drum’s race around the world in 1985-86) and Fazisi – The Joint Venture(1989-90)

Novak is a mountaineer and expedition leader, spending most of his time in the Antarctic waters onboard his two expedition yachts, Pelagic and Pelagic Australis, leading climbing and filming projects

Novak’s home is now South Africa

This article first appeared in issue 37 of Life at the Extreme Magazine.

Skip is interviewed in this week’s Volvo Sailing Podcast. Listen to it here.

Published by

ws lirakis

a sailor who carries a camera


  1. In the southern hemisphere winter of 1979 I was in Freo. WA working on Australia prior to Bondy’s Challenge in 1980. Skip Novak, Skip Lissiman (who later joined us on Australia and then sailed on later of Aust. 2 in’83) and a few others were participating in The Parmelia Race, a re-creation of the course taken by an early settler sailing ship bringing emigres to Western Australia in the 1800’s. July in Freo is cool, not cold by NE USA standards but plenty raw. A bunch of my fellow 12 meter mates were following the race and we knew pretty well when the lead boat, a Swan 65 skippered by Novak might be on the horizon (obviously well before today’s instant comms- we got updates from the paper and they via SSB from the yacht)
    Duly notified we boarded someone sports fishing boat, and headed out in the teeth of a howling SW breeze, an ugly day for oing to sea for it had been blowing in the high 30’s for several days I recall. Temps were in the high 40’s I guess and it was a pretty brisk day. Out by Rotto Island, we finally saw them, out to the SW of us, looming out of the murk of a squall. Smallish blood red kite I remember, with perhaps a reef in the main rolling gunnel down in the hard following breeze. They were obviously pushing hard for the barn. We motored over to what we reckoned was an intercept and watched them rolling their way to wards us. A few minutes they passed us at full speed, about 10-12 knots on a Swan 65. We powered up and motored alongside them exchanging bon-mots. We were astonished to see them mostly almost naked, all with the same red “board shorts” on. The board shorts turned out to be their version of Polynesian wraps skirts fabricated from the wreckage of the last kite they blew up a few days previous. Some were wearing bandanas from the same wreckage. The were all in high spirits as befitting the first place boat finishing a 15,000 mile race in front not to mention emerging from the icy wastes of winter in the Roaring Forties a few days earlier. Thus too was the reason for scanty clothing- they had been in 32 degree weather for 3 weeks and sailed out of a snow storm a day or two before. The whole was a slightly surrealistic scene full of grey tones of cresting seas, flying spume, clouds and misty rain dotted with spots of red rushing around the deck preparatory to dropping the kite. Later secured to the dock at perhaps Freo Yacht Club, freshly bathed and attired in patched jeans and sweaters and drinking a few beers we were introduced to the rest of the crew which was in deed a motley mob of Aussies Brits French and the odd Yank. No Kleig lights, no fans, no TV, just a bunch of guys bound in the common experience of the sea-The tone was so low key that they might have just washed in from a delivery down the coast. No drama, no muss, no fuss, just another yacht race mate, with lots of new stories to tell the girls at the pub.


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