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Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters

Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters

4.1 6
by Derek Lundy

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"The best book ever written about the terrifying business of single-handed sailing—.  Lundy tells a harrowing tale, as tight and gripping as The Perfect Storm or Into Thin Air."—San Francisco Chronicle

A chilling account of the world's most dangerous sailing race, the Vendée Globe, Godforsaken Sea is


"The best book ever written about the terrifying business of single-handed sailing—.  Lundy tells a harrowing tale, as tight and gripping as The Perfect Storm or Into Thin Air."—San Francisco Chronicle

A chilling account of the world's most dangerous sailing race, the Vendée Globe, Godforsaken Sea is at once a hair-raising adventure story, a graceful evocation of the sailing life, and a thoughtful meditation on danger and those who seek it.

This is the story of the 1996-1997 Vendée Globe, a solo sailing race that binds its competitors to just a few, cruelly simple rules: around the world from France by way of Antarctica, no help, no stopping, one boat, one sailor. The majority of the race takes place in the Southern Ocean, where icebergs and gale-force winds are a constant threat, and the waves build to almost unimaginable heights.  As author Derek Lundy puts it: "try to visualize a never-ending series of five- or six-story buildings moving toward you at about forty miles an hour."

The experiences of the racers reveal the spirit of the men and women who push themselves to the limits of human endeavor—even if it means never returning home.  You'll meet the gallant Brit who beats miles back through the worst seas to save a fellow racer, the sailing veteran who calmly smokes cigarette after cigarette as his boat capsizes, and the Canadian who, hours before he disappears forever, dispatches this message: "If you drag things out too long here, you're sure to come to grief."

Derek Lundy elevates the story of one race into an appreciation of those thrill-seekers who embody the most heroic and eccentric aspects of the human condition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the best books ever written about sailing—Lundy's knowledge of sea lore and history is rich, his pace perfect, his intelligence full of energy."—Time

"Incomparable—a profound and brilliantly executed book."—National Review

"Eloquent—Lundy not only makes stirring narrative drama but also draws the lineaments of an archetypal hero, a human driven by fear, addicted to adrenaline, in need of the edge."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

"A mixture of history, gripping narrative, and provocative meditation."—The New Yorker

"Godforsaken Sea goes beyond the events at hand to explore our fascination with the sea, and, as [Lundy] quotes Melville, 'the tiger that pants beneath it.'"—Outside

"Crisp and taut—. Should not be missed—[by sailors or] by readers who love the thrill of going on a bone-chilling adventure without leaving home."—Times-Union (Jacksonville)

"Brilliantly captures the objective, and at times monumental dangers facing sailors who compete in these grueling events, far from any kind of rescue."—Sailing

Lance Morrow
Godforsaken Sea is one of the best books ever written about sailing... in this case the extreme sailing required to go around the world solo in the toughtest of all sailboat races, the 1996-97 Vendee Globe. It gives readers the adrenaline rush of what Lundy calls "apocalyptic sailing."
William Buckley
That terrible race with its hideous suffering deserved a poet, and found one in Derek Lundy.
National Review
NY Times Book Review
In Lundy's account, you are swept up....[He] sketches [the] incidents early on in the book, then makes us wait, filling in the details of the stories along the way.
William F. Buckley Jr.
That terrible race with its hideous suffering deserved a poet, and found one in Derek Lundy.
National Review
William Buckley Jr.
That terrible race with its hideous suffering deserved a poet, and found one in Derek Lundy.
National Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On November 3, 1996, the 16 solo sailboat racers of the third Vende Globe contest left the little French port of Les Sables dOlonne for a four-month round trip whose most trying feature would be a circumnavigation of Antarctica. Lundy, an experienced amateur sailor, followed the race on its Web site, on which the race organizers provided regular updates and on which some of the sailors posted bulletins. From the beginning, its obvious that the competitors are a bit more committed than your average weekend sailor. They hire sleep specialists to determine their personal best-sleep periods so theyll know when to put their boats on automatic pilot for a quick catnap. One sailor, Pete Goss, took a scalpel to his inflamed elbow, following a doctors faxed instructions while his boat heeled and all his instruments slid off their tray (so now Im frothing at the mouth, and it was quite funny, really). As Lundy describes these sailors encounters with the raging southern ocean and waves like a never-ending series of five- or six-story buildings... moving towards [the boat] at about forty miles an hour, readers will get caught up in the race and in the fates of the 16 racers. Despite all the excitement, the book has a buffered feel. Quite simply, Lundy wasnt there. Its a measure of his skill, then, that he manages to make the action as palpable as he does, lacing his report of the race with a little maritime history, ocean science and allusions to the likes of Conrad and Joyce. This literate adventure book was a bestseller in Canada. $50,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection; author tour. (May)
Library Journal
The Vend e Globe is a nonstop, around-the-world, solo sailing race for monohull sailing yachts from 50' to 60' in length. It begins in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, in early November and finishes there in February, up to 120 days later. Though the course is through the summer seas south of the equator, racers must drop into the higher latitudes near Antarctica to shorten the sailing distance. In doing so, they put themselves and their boats into violent storm seas (60' to 80' waves) in frigid, iceberg-ridden waters. Lundy, an amateur sailor himself, is able to describe in vivid detail the 1986-87 Vend e Globe and the men and women driven to risk their lives to survive the southern oceans alone on a 60' sailboat. Lundy captures the essence of their impetus to sail this great adventure. The audio is excellently read by Michael Tezla. Near nonstop action, with iron men and iron women. Highly recommended. Just in time to prime the pump for Vend e Globe 2000/2001.--Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-Arguably the most extreme sporting activity of any kind, the Vendee Globe is the "Everest of sailing races." In this four-month, single-handed circumnavigation, the competitors follow a hazardous route down through the Atlantic to the bottom of the world, around Antarctica, and back again. In the "godforsaken" Southern Sea, it is difficult just to survive, let alone race. In continuous gales unimpeded by land masses, hurricane-force winds whip up waves several stories tall. Freezing temperatures, poor visibility, icebergs, and sleep deprivation compound the challenge to the sailors, who hurtle through these waters at top speeds in lightweight 60-foot boats. To stay in the race, competitors must not accept help with repairs or stop for supplies. Lundy relates the suspenseful tale of the 1996-97 race, in which there were a string of disasters, several thrilling rescues, and one competitor lost at sea. Radical new boat designs were put to the test and humans were pushed beyond what would seem possible (one even performed emergency surgery upon himself). The author writes with such skill that even non-sailors will appreciate the conditions and feats he describes. He is equally adept at showing the personalities, motivations, and gifts of the men and women drawn to this challenge, and brings these unusual individuals to life. Musing on the meaning of it all, Lundy extends the perspective beyond the world of sports, and gives readers plenty to think about. This fine work of journalism should have broad and strong appeal.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
William F. Buckley, Jr.
That terrible race with its hideous suffering deserved a poet, and found one in Derek Lundy.
National Review
The New Yorker
A mixture of history, gripping narrative, and provocative meditation, Lundy's book conveys a wilderness both fascinating and appalling, which has changed little since Coleridge wrote about it in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'
Kirkus Reviews
"They surfed at breakneck speeds of twenty-five knots or more down waves like steep hills in winds of near-hurricane strength": Just another day on the Vendée Globe, one of those single-handed, round-the-world sailing races that "answer to the needs of sailors eager to reach their uttermost limits," vibrantly captured by Lundy (Scott Turow: Meeting the Enemy, not reviewed). The Vendée Globe demands that sailors take their boats 27,000 miles, unassisted and nonstop (the winner takes about 15 weeks), from France down to Antarctica, pull a clockwise turn about the Pole, then beat it back to France. This means that most of the time the boats will be in the Southern Ocean, Lundy points out, that malevolent stew of relentless, homicidal low-pressure systems that are also known as the roaring forties, furious fifties, and screaming sixties. Lundy follows the 1996–97 race, which featured the surreal contemporaneity of some boats finding the charmed path while others were so piteously beaten by heavy weather they would have been happy with 80-foot waves and at least a part of their masts. Call it apocalyptic sailing in what one sailor terms "a miserable, mean, vicious place," the kind that attracts sailors not given to solemn ecstasy; they court this insanity and it all feels a little pathological. Few got to enjoy "the exhilarating flat-out, downwind rush of Southern Ocean sledding"; more typical were acts of extreme heroism. You don't abandon someone in trouble in so remote a place; at one moment they sail through the point on earth farthest from land, some 1,660 miles out. "Only a few astronauts have ever been farther from land than a person on a vessel at thatposition." And the astronauts weren't in a capsized sailboat, with a finger chopped off, up to their neck on a freezing ocean, and without food or water. Lundy does a marvelous job of keeping all the contestants in the action and unspooling this tale of high-seas terror with flair rather than melodrama. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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5.15(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

Until Christmas Day, 1996, the race had been a typically robust version of previous Vendée Globe and boc races. If anything, it had been easier on the competitors than most of the earlier events. None of the collisions with flotsam or ice in this Vendée Globe had put the sailors' lives on the line. It was true that the Southern Ocean had behaved as usual-its chain of low-pressure systems moving relentlessly along the racers' path. Storm- and often hurricane—force wind had piled waves up to heights of fifty or sixty feet. At times, the boats had surfed down wave faces at thirty knots, almost out of control. They had struggled through the dangerous and chaotic cross-seas that followed quick changes in wind direction and had been knocked down often. For several weeks, the skippers endured this trial by wind and cold, ice and breaking waves, skirting the edge of catastrophe as they threaded their way through the great wilderness of the southern seas.

True, it was still a long way to Cape Horn. The greater extent of the Southern Ocean still lay ahead for most of the boats. There was a lot of time left for something to happen. At some point in every one of these races, most often in the Southern Ocean, a sailor's life becomes problematic, hangs by a thread. Sometimes, a life is snuffed out: by inference at first, as contact is suddenly ended; later with certainty, as enough silent time goes by or the searchers find a boat, drifting and unmanned. Some names: Jacques de Roux (1986), Mike Plant (1992), Nigel Burgess (1992), Harry Mitchell (1995)-a few of the ones who have been wiped off the planet. Who knew exactly how? What were the circumstances? An unendurable rogue wave capsizing the boat? Ice? Or a sudden, treacherous slip over the side and into the sea, _followed by a final minute or two treading the frigid water, watching the boat (with acceptance? anger? terror?) _intermittently visible on the wave crests, surfing farther and farther away, its autopilot functioning perfectly.

There hadn't been any of that yet in this Vendée Globe. But the dragons were certainly there. The "quakin' and shakin' " was about to begin. During the twelve days of Christmas, the race changed utterly.

From approximately the other side of the earth, at about the same latitude north of the equator as the Vendée Globe sailors were south of it, five hundred miles from the North Atlantic Ocean, sliding deeper into the Canadian winter, I followed the race. There was the occasional wire story in the Toronto newspapers. Nothing much on television. The Quebec media, especially the French-language side, provided more coverage because the race originated in France. More important, one of the skippers, Gerry Roufs, was from Quebec. He'd grown up in Montreal and had sailed at the Hudson Yacht Club, just outside the city. He'd been a junior sailing champion-a dinghy prodigy-and had sailed for several years as a member of the Canadian Olympic yachting team.

I was intrigued by the Vendée Globe for a couple of reasons: I'd been an avid-although amateur-sailor myself over the years, and I found it impossible not to be fascinated by the race's audacity-its embrace of the most difficult kind of sailing (single-handed), through the most dangerous waters in the world (the Southern Ocean), in the most extreme form possible (unassisted and non-stop).

I also felt a connection to the race because of Gerry Roufs. He was the first Canadian to have entered the Vendée Globe, and he had a good chance of winning. There was a small but significant affinity between us. Like me, he had trained to be a lawyer, and had then found something different to do with his life, though in his case, something precarious and uncertain, far removed from the affluent safety of the law. After a year, he left his law practice to become a professional sailor, and spent the next twenty years working towards his eventual membership in the single-handed, round-the-world elite.

The traditional sources of information about sailing races-yachting magazines published in Europe, the U.S. and Canada-were always months out of date by the time they were available. The Internet was the real mother-lode. The Vendée Globe organizers had set up a Web site. It contained good background information about the race, the sailors and the boats. The best part was the stream of bulletins posted by headquarters each day during the race, sometimes as many as five or six in a twenty-four-hour period. They were all in French, although a truncated English summary, often in an endearingly eccentric translation, was issued once a day or so. Periodically, the skippers themselves would send a few paragraphs about their daily experience from their boats via _satellite fax, e-mail or single-sideband radio, and there were regular reports of latitude-longitude positions for each boat. Like several other competitors, Roufs set up his own Web site as well, on which he posted intermittent journal entries, in both French and English, describing his activities.

Each day, I could read about the homely details of life on board these swiftest of ocean racers, the weather each boat was going through, its progress-through Biscay, the horse latitudes, the doldrums, the long swing around the South Atlantic High, and then to the southeast, below the Cape of Good Hope, and into the roaring forties of the Southern Ocean. It was an electronic feast of information.

"The sea is as near as we come to another world," wrote the poet Anne Stevenson. She called it "the planet ocean." As the Vendée Globe boats made their hard, hazardous journey through the outlandish sea, I watched them from the haven of the planet earth.

Copyright (c) 1998 by Beara Inc., excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited

Meet the Author

Derek Lundy is the bestselling author of Godforsaken Sea: Racing The World's Most Dangerous Waters, The Way of a Ship: A Square-Rigger Voyage in the Last Days of Sail, and The Bloody Red Hand: A Journey Through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland. He lives and rides on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

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Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
NoahCre More than 1 year ago
As exciting as the topic of the book is, it lacks continuity and tends to be highly-repetitive.  While I learned a lot and felt like I went on a good adventure with these sailors, the poor writing truly distracts from the content.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a FANTASTIC read! I am not a sailor but I've been thinking about learning the sport in my OLD age....so I thought why not buy a book about it to see if I can scare myself out of the idea? This is the story of the Vendee Globe sailors who single-handedly circumnativigated the globe. I can't tell you how exciting this book is. This is a very good book for armchair sailors, wannabes and those interested in racing! I wanted to see what the extremes would be with regard to sailing...and did I ever find out! This was one of the first sailing books I've read and it won't be my last!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I often will stop by the airport bookstore when heading out of town. A good book can turn a 2-hour, totally boring, flight into an eye blink of a jet ride. And I¿ll say the ¿Godforsaken Sea¿ turned my 2-hour flight into an eye blink. The book presents a factual account of the 1996-97 Vendee Globe Race. The Vendee Globe is, in my opinion, the beast of offshore racing. It starts in November off the coast of France, heads south for a grand tour of the Southern Ocean and then heads back to the finish line in France some five months later. It¿s a single handed, around the world, nonstop, no outside assistance race, and this book lays it all out. It give glimpses of the preparations, provides a good description of the boats, the weather, and just the incredible awesomeness of the whole thing, and the aftermath. In addition, it provides some background on the racers and gives glimpses into their personalities and some insights into what drives these larger than life sailors. The book is based on personal interviews with the racers and the race director, Philippe Jeantot. It was this race where one boat lost its keel and the skipper spent several days in his up-turned boat until he was successfully rescued. Another boat was rolled over and never righted itself. The skipper spent several days on the hull waiting for rescue. A final competitor was lost at sea and never found although some months later his boat turned up off the coast of South America. I will admit to some personal bias regarding this book as this type of sailing fascinates me. This is a book I couldn¿t put down. If you enjoy reading about the challenges of extreme sailing or about single handed sailing then this is a book I recommend. Although the writing is a bit lacking in its imagery and avoids long diversions into the meaning of it all, it does eloquent justice in providing an interesting and factual account of the 1996-97 Vendee Globe. For me this book is a keeper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lundy's admiration for the Vendee sailor's is communicated loudly and repetitively. His book offers insight into an amazing single-sailor around-the-world race. The author is a bit heavy on descriptions of racer's personalities and light on vivid scenic narratives. The book offers a similar sailing experience for the reader as the author following it on his PC or later questioning the sailors during interviews. In the end, the reader gets an exciting glimpse into probably the most extreme sailing experience on earth and an itch for the open ocean.