Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Race: The First Nonstop, Round-the-World, No-Holds-Barred Sailing Competition

The Race: The First Nonstop, Round-the-World, No-Holds-Barred Sailing Competition

by Tim Zimmermann

Why saw the handle off your toothbrush? Why tackle the world's stormiest waters in a fragile craft that has never weathered such seas before?
The answer to both these questions is the same: to sail faster than anyone ever has before. In engrossing, suspenseful detail, THE RACE relates how and why participants in the first running of The Race risked millions


Why saw the handle off your toothbrush? Why tackle the world's stormiest waters in a fragile craft that has never weathered such seas before?
The answer to both these questions is the same: to sail faster than anyone ever has before. In engrossing, suspenseful detail, THE RACE relates how and why participants in the first running of The Race risked millions of dollars and their lives to dash around the world in record time.
Other contests have pushed people and boats past their limits, but no race has ever left so little margin for error. For this very reason, The Race attracted the world's best sailors, among them a Chicago multimillionaire who has set more than twenty records in competitions ranging from ballooning to flying to sailing, a young Briton best known for risking his life to fish a competitor out of the Southern Ocean during a solo round-the-world race, and a hard-nosed New Zealander with virtually no experience skippering multihulls—the huge, fast, notoriously unstable boats that ran The Race.
Zimmermann also chronicles the tumultuous history of extreme sailing, in craft from nineteenth-century clipper ships to today's dangerous, high-tech marvels with masts fifteen stories tall, which are capable of making up to fifty miles per hour. He spotlights the protean personalities that have driven the sport: Joshua Slocum, who completed the first solo voyage around the world, aided by hallucinations of an old salt beside him at the helm; "Blondie" Hasler, an iconoclastic World War II hero who outraged the risk-averse sailing establishment by organizing the first single-handed transatlantic race; and Francis Chichester, the sailor who won it, despite weighing his small craft down with such luxuries as bottles of claret and a smoking jacket.
Tim Zimmermann, an experienced blue-water sailor, graces this high-tension saga with rich atmosphere, historical depth, and singular emotional intensity.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Zimmermann has turned a daring race of unthinkably fast, high-tech sailing machines into an electrifying page-turner."—Bruce Knecht, author of THE PROVING GROUND

"The Race was a wild ride, and The Race is a fine read."—Herb McCormick, sailing correspondent for the New York Times, editor of Cruising World Magazine

"The Race is probably the finest account of the history of the circumnavigator's quest yet written."—Lincoln P. Paine, author of Ships of the World

"A sophisticated chronicle that keeps the drama thrumming along nicely....told with just the kind of finesse the contest deserves." Kirkus Reviews

"Zimmermann keeps the action continuous and tense...An exciting and fascinating story."—Derek Lundy, author of GODFORSAKEN SEA.

Publishers Weekly
Experienced sailor and Outside correspondent Zimmermann brings readers to a maritime marathon that circumnavigates the globe in sailing ships that travel up to 50 mph. With winning skippers grabbing monthly purses in excess of $20,000 and massive corporate sponsorship (PlayStation, Team Phillips and Club Med were some of the ships in the running), it should be no surprise that the event drew international recognition. Zimmermann elucidates the technical advancements of racing vessels from clipper ships to yachts to today's high-tech "maxi-catamarans." Armed with GPS systems, the personalities of multimillionaires and crews of 20, six such ships embarked from Barcelona on New Year's Eve 2000, racing past the equator and through the treacherous Southern Ocean to round Cape Horn and onward to port in Marseilles. Zimmermann keeps up the pace with a rapid play-by-play of the race as its contenders fight doldrums, stomach bland diets and dodge gigantic icebergs; he describes how the delicately balanced twin hulls of the maxi-catamarans faced easy damage in severe waves and poor weather. In the end, only two of the ships completed the voyage. Despite Zimmermann's technical moxie, the dramatic flair here is surprisingly lackluster and the story floods into an obligatory tale of man's embittered drive to conquer the elements. A sure bet for maritime racing fans and extreme sporting enthusiasts, the book might not have enough ballast to float the open waters of mainstream readers. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Practiced sailor Zimmerman here expands on his treatment of the Race, a challenging nonstop global circuit that he has already covered for Sports Illustrated and Outside. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sophisticated chronicle that keeps the drama thrumming along nicely. The Race, as it was dubbed, is pegged as a nonstop sail around the globe by a crewed boat, with sailors and boat designers in charge rather than a race committee. The unrestrained freedom in design led to what became known as maxi-cats: catamarans of prodigious length and sail area. The boats are capable of astonishing speed, over 40 knots, but, as sports journalist Zimmermann (Sports Illustrated, Outside) explains it, the race is about safety as much as speed, or at least about the line between dangerous and reckless (as when a skipper "wanted to be sensible, but . . . couldn't really afford to be"). Zimmermann tries to put The Race in the context of sailing's big-race history-from Joshua Slocum to the single-handlers of today's Whitbread, Around Alone, and the Vendee Globe, such as Bernard Moitessier and Pete Goss (who sails in The Race as well)--though there is really nothing like the maxi-cats, brittle speedsters that allow for little margin of error, ready to slip down a wave face and bury their snoot into the forerunning wave and pitch head over heels; because of the weight distribution, no cat is righted after capsizing. Zimmermann invests the type of tactical and material information that readers familiar with sailboats will thirst for-the extraordinary prototype design features, the clever responses to problems, the talents of weather routers and navigators-with an urgency and awe that non-sailors should enjoy. And he delivers an exhilarating sense of surfing a weather system for days at a time. In the end, The Race comes down to a question of attrition, Zimmermann suggests, as the boats begin to disintegrateunder the punishing speed and conditions, and the outcome grows more into a question of tact than of force majeure. A story told with just the kind of finesse the contest deserves.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.16(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt


I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
—G. K. Chesterton

At first it looked like a cloud, stretched low and benign along the
horizon. From the helm of Team Adventure, a twin-hulled sailing
catamaran hissing across the Southern Ocean, skipper Cam Lewis peered
forward and muttered, "What the hell is that?" He took a distracted
swipe at his goggles to clear the salt spray that 35-knot winds had
speckled across the lens. He was rewarded with a glint of blue.
Suddenly it wasn't a cloud at all. It was an iceberg, directly ahead.
Team Adventure was closing at 30 knots, just minutes from a collision
with the frozen mass.

Ice is one of the Southern Ocean's most lethal and
unpredictable dangers. Calving off the Antarctic ice pack, icebergs
larger than Rhode Island sometimes wander hundreds of miles north
into the shipping lanes around the bottom of the world, carried by
fingers of current from the frozen Weddell and Ross Seas. The berg in
Team Adventure's way was a baby compared to some of the monsters
recorded over the years, but massive nevertheless, perhaps four
hundred feet long and one hundred feet high. Running into it would be
like driving a bus into the side of an apartment building. That was
not the only concern. Big icebergs often leave a trail of crumbling
smaller chunks bobbing at the surface like floating mines.
These "growlers," some the size and weight of a minivan, are
virtually invisible to radar and all but the sharpest lookout. Atthe
speed Team Adventure was sailing, even a fifty-pound chunk of ice
could shatter her brittle carbon-fiber skin or tear away a rudder.
Anything bigger could rip her hulls right open, crippling her and
stranding the fourteen-man crew halfway between Africa and South
America, almost fifteen hundred miles from assistance.
Barely twenty-four hours earlier, Team Adventure crossed
latitude 40° south, the line that serves in sailors' minds as the
informal gateway to the Southern Ocean, the uninterrupted belt of
stormy water encircling Antarctica. Finding a large iceberg at 45°
south, in water that measured 12°C, well above freezing, was an
unwelcome danger. "They are just as hard whether they are melting or
not," observed conavigator Larry Rosenfeld.
The last thing Lewis and his crew wanted was to be dodging
ice. They were racing nonstop around the world in a high-tech
catamaran that they had sailed for the first time just two months
earlier. Surviving ten thousand miles of windy, frigid Southern Ocean
intact and alive to Cape Horn was going to be difficult enough
without ice appearing where no ice was expected. Lewis, at forty-
three one of America's top multihull sailors, had in fact hoped that
Team Adventure might get all the way through the Southern Ocean's
austral summer — it was January 2001 — without ever seeing the
telltale flash of sun on frozen water. But it would be hard to make a
living predicting the anomalies of one of the globe's least
understood bodies of water. Ice, like any other danger in the
Southern Ocean, simply had to be accepted and endured. In "the
South," as sailors liked to call it, stoicism was a necessary virtue.
The crew, almost exclusively professionals who sailed for a
living, knew enough to respect the Southern Ocean. They were also out
to conquer it. Team Adventure was one of three identical sister ships
that had been designed to sail around the world faster than any boat
in history. At 110 feet in length, she was one of the largest
catamarans ever built. Her mast soared almost 150 feet above the
water, tall as a fourteen-story building, and her rig could carry
enough sail to blanket three tennis courts. The result was a
theoretical top speed greater than 40 knots, faster than all but the
swiftest passenger liners. That sort of power was hard on the crew.
The mainsail alone weighed around a thousand pounds. In heavy winds
it put a fifteen-ton load on the lines that controlled it, a load
that could crush body parts and rip skin off hands if it was not
handled carefully. Routine procedures — changing the headsails up
front, reducing or increasing the size of the mainsail by lowering or
raising it, adjusting the sails to come to a new course — required
brute muscle power and the mechanical advantage of multiple giant
The crew was divided into watches, with each sailor spending
four hours on then four hours off. In theory, that meant twelve hours
a day on deck and up to twelve hours resting. But weather and the big
catamaran had little respect for neat schedules. Sail handling was so
labor intensive that sleeping crew were frequently roused from their
bunks to help out on deck. Cooking, cleaning, and routine maintenance
also ate into spare hours. Meals were something of a chore too, a
bland parade of freeze-dried entrées, scooped out of bowls and
formulated to deliver maximum nutrition for minimum stored weight.
Even so, it was hard to choke down enough to replace the constant
calorie burn of racing the big boat. When the chance for sleep did
arrive, the tired sailors wedged themselves into bunks stacked
closely together in tiers of three. Everyone slept with his feet
forward to protect against the danger of a broken neck if the boat
slammed into anything at high speed. Just outside, the ocean rushed
by with a dull roar that earplugs — not usually standard sailing
gear — could only muffle. In rough seas the boat launched off waves
and crashed back into the water with a violence that bounced bodies
around in the bunks like popcorn. For some, silence was even worse.
It meant that the hull you were trying to sleep in had lifted clear
of the water. If it kept going, the boat would flip over. Time slowed
until it came back down. If you were in the hull and a sudden gust or
freak wave capsized the boat, you faced a potential death sentence.
On deck, where you could see what was happening, the cat seemed more
stable and secure. Down below, in the tomblike confines of the living
spaces, it was sometimes harder to convince yourself.
If Team Adventure was grueling and at times unnerving to
sail, she was also exhilarating. The twin hulls accelerated with the
quick surge of a high-performance car. In the right conditions,
sailing seven hundred miles in one day was not impossible, and
average speeds of 20 knots or more were routine. For the first time
in sailing history, a boat could play the weather systems sweeping
across the oceans, running from dangerous storms and seas or
sprinting into the path of favorable winds. Once hooked into a
weather system, the catamaran had the raw speed to "surf" it for
days. The only hard question was whether Team Adventure, a prototype
design, could survive the constant abuse of sailing at high velocity
over twenty-eight thousand miles of open ocean. Cam Lewis and the
crew had been learning more every day about Team Adventure's handling
and performance, but it takes months, even years, to truly know a
boat's nuances and limits. With just a few weeks of experience behind
them, the crew was now facing the wind, waves, and ice of the globe's
most unforgiving test tank.
The transition to the Southern Ocean had been abrupt. Just
two days earlier, the crew had been bouncing across the enormous
trampoline nets stretched between the catamaran's hulls in shorts and
T-shirts, doing laundry and drying clothes in the warm, almost
windless torpor of a high-pressure bubble planted off the South
American coast. Jacques Vincent, a thirty-eight-year-old veteran
ocean racer from France who had sailed the Southern Ocean with Lewis
once before, stripped down on the starboard hull to take what might
be his last full-body scrub for a month. The light weather was also a
final opportunity to ready the boat for the ten-thousand-mile sleigh
ride that lay ahead. The mainsail was dropped so that the worn strop
that locked it in place at the top of the mast could be replaced. It
took seventeen minutes and all fourteen crew taking turns at the
winch handles to get the huge sail back up, and that was a boat
record. Steering systems were double-checked. Rob Myles, a thirty-
three-year-old rigger from Newport, Rhode Island, worked into the
night by the light of a headlamp to fashion spare halyards and lines.
Smaller storm sails were brought out on deck for the first time,
ready for use.
From a racing perspective, though, the calm winds had been
slow torture. Rolling swells from weather systems long gone or far
away slopped the giant boat around with such force that sail battens
broke, and the crew sometimes had to crawl on hands and knees to get
around safely. Speeds dropped into the single digits. Team Adventure
had arrived in this weather divot after seventeen days of flat-out
dueling with Club Med, one of her sister ships. Since the New Year's
Eve start in Barcelona, the two boats had dogged each other the
length of the Atlantic, trading the lead back and forth over
thousands of miles, rarely finding themselves more than a few hours'
sailing time apart. Winning the headlong sprint to the South's
powerful west winds was perhaps the single most important strategic
goal in the race. Those winds would slingshot the boats eastward
around Antarctica toward Cape Horn. The first boat that caught them
would likely be the first to escape the Southern Ocean. Any lead
after Cape Horn meant a big tactical advantage during the stretch run
up the Atlantic toward the Mediterranean finish in Marseilles.
Entering the Southern Ocean had been a blessed relief, like
crossing into another ocean world. The Global Positioning System
steadily ticked off the minutes of latitude toward 40° south. As if
on cue, albatrosses appeared overhead, soaring on nearly motionless
wings in the rapidly accelerating winds. Air temperatures started to
drop toward freezing, beading areas of Team Adventure's minimalist
interior with cold condensation. On deck, the chill wind and stinging
spray required a complete change of uniform. A layer of fleece
replaced thin summer clothing. Waterproof ocean suits were piled on
top to keep the frigid water from sneaking close to the skin. A wild
assortment of headgear — a garish lime-green neoprene hood, a
sensible balaclava, a favorite baseball cap — was enlisted in a never-
ending battle to stay warm and dry.
The real battle had just started, though. Club Med's highly
experienced crew had somehow managed to sniff out a faster route into
the South. For twelve hours, while Team Adventure continued to wallow
in light winds, Club Med sailed into a corridor of solid breezes that
quickly rose to 35 knots and rocketed her away to a lead approaching
two hundred miles. Cam Lewis was a world-champion small-boat sailor
four times over, known for his love of speed, his competitive fire,
and an instinctive skill for making boats sail really fast. Club
Med's coup was galling. Over the length of the Atlantic, Team
Adventure had shown flashes of a slight but critical speed edge. Now
Club Med had sneaked — or lucked — into a commanding lead and was
threatening to break a tight race wide open. Lewis was used to boats
chasing him, not the other way around. When Team Adventure finally
felt the 25-knot punch from the westerly winds that had carried Club
Med away, he set off in hot pursuit. A lot of the sailors on board
had spent most of their careers on slower, more stable, monohull
boats. The sensation of sailing at 25 to 35 knots in Southern Ocean
conditions was unsettling, even shocking, and took some getting used
to. When the call came to reduce sail after a night of hurtling over
the dark seas, there were more than a few private sighs of relief.
Still, hour after hour Lewis and the crew pressed for as much
pace as they dared, driving, tweaking the trim of the enormous sails,
sleeping only sporadically. With every gust of wind the liquid-
crystal digits of the speed readout cycled rapidly toward 40 knots.
The twin bows sliced the tops off waves, flinging sheets of salt
spray back to the cockpits, stinging bare skin and testing the
waterproof seals of the crew's dry suits. To protect their eyes, some
drivers wore ski goggles. Crossing almost sixty feet of trampoline
from one hull to the other became a game of both skill and chance.
Waves shot up through the netting with enough force to knock a
crewman down or even wash him over the stern. You had to tether your
harness to the safety line, pick your moment, and sprint. Sometimes
you made it safely. Sometimes you were dumped by a wave. And
sometimes you called for a "taxi," signaling the driver at the helm
to slow the boat for a few brief seconds to make it all easier.
Every four hours new position reports arrived via satellite.
Almost every update had Team Adventure averaging a knot or two faster
than Club Med. The effort and concentration were paying off. Team
Adventure had sailed almost 615 miles in twenty-four hours, the best
run of the race so far and just 10 miles shy of the world record, set
by Club Med during training seven months earlier.
But now there was ice, and ice warranted caution. Lewis, for
the first time in a long sailing career, was responsible for thirteen
other lives. A bad decision or bad luck could put those lives in
jeopardy. He ordered the headsail dropped to the deck. Team Adventure
immediately slowed, and Lewis maneuvered to pass upwind of the
floating mountain. It meant a detour, but the easier downwind side
was growler territory. Rosenfeld dutifully contacted race
headquarters in France with an ice warning for the area. Soon Team
Adventure came upon a second iceberg and then a third. One was
enormous, perhaps a mile long. To get to the windward side meant an
even longer detour. The crew pressed their luck and passed to
leeward. It was a mistake. Growlers slid past the hulls.
The unsettling run through the ice was a perfect example of
the relentless dilemma the Southern Ocean throws at racing sailors:
how to balance speed against safety. The sailing conditions — large
waves to surf on and strong following winds — are an almost
irresistible invitation to push boats to the limit. That's why
sailors love to go there. But high speed means escalating loads on
masts, rigging, and mechanical hardware and the risk of breakage. It
means less time to see and avoid ice, debris, even whales, and more
damage if there is a collision. And, particularly on a catamaran that
might be surfing down a wave face at almost 40 knots, it means the
possibility that the boat will bury its bows in the wave just ahead.
Southern Ocean sailors laconically call this "going down the mine,"
which doesn't quite do justice to the violence of the event. As the
bows submarine, the boat sharply slows and the sterns start to lift
from the water. The sudden deceleration sends an enormous shock
through the rig as the mast tries to whip forward. Sometimes it is
enough to snap the mast in two. Any sailors not well braced or safely
in their bunks are sent tumbling. The boat might even have enough
momentum or enough assistance from the wave behind to somersault over
its own bows, coming to a stop upside down. This is known as
pitchpoling, and for any multihull it is the end of the game. With
mast, sails, and rigging hanging into the depths like a sea anchor,
the boat is more stable upside down than right side up. A flipped
catamaran tends to stay that way.
Team Adventure had been designed for speed above all else,
and it was hard to resist that pedigree. Lewis had matched well-
designed sails, made out of a superlight, superstrong material called
Cuben Fiber, with skilled drivers. One of them, a forty-six-year-old
American named Randy Smyth, a.k.a. "Dr. Speed," was a two-time
Olympic silver medalist and one of the best multihull sailors in the
world. No one on board doubted Team Adventure could run Club Med
down. But Lewis initially sounded a cautious note. "Where can we
expect to compress on them? Where is a passing lane?" he mused in an
e-mail as he sat in one of the custom-built racecar seats installed
in Team Adventure's navigation station. "You have to finish to win.
We must use good seamanship and enjoy good luck."
As Lewis saw it, he had two choices. Team Adventure could
play it safe and try to nibble away at Club Med's lead—after all, ten
thousand miles of Southern Ocean sailing lay ahead. Or he could press
Club Med hard, perhaps forcing her to throttle back or risk
breakdown. The two boats were locked in a game of high-seas chicken,
and Lewis got to choose the pace. Mostly he just wanted to stay in
the same weather system to prevent a decisive breakaway. But he also
knew the Southern Ocean was a drag race. And in any drag race Lewis
was determined to be as fast or faster than the competition. Nibbling
wasn't his style. Soon after Team Adventure cleared the third iceberg
she was back up to top speed, carving through the waves at 25 to 30
knots, all her lines stretched rigid, the hulls creaking and groaning.
And here the boat offered a warning. For the first time since
arriving in the South, she buried the bows. Everyone held his breath
as the catamaran slowed sharply and then relaxed as she took off
again, the buoyancy of the bows bringing them back to the surface.
Rick Deppe, a Southern Ocean veteran and full-time racing sailor who
was shooting film and photos for the voyage, was safely in his bunk
at the time. But he was starting to worry that the catamaran was
being pushed past sensible limits. Deppe had no illusions about the
dangers of the Southern Ocean. He knew that any sailor who agreed to
race here was putting his or her life on the line. Still, the sudden
encounter with ice had crystallized a nagging sense that the big
catamaran had not yet found the right balance between speed and
Icebergs are unpredictable, and sailors have to nurture a
certain degree of fatalism: if you hit one, you hit one. But good
sailors will also do whatever they can to minimize the risks. The
first line of defense, especially at night, is radar, which can be
set to sound an alarm if it detects an obstacle at predetermined
ranges. When the first iceberg appeared directly in Team Adventure's
path, Deppe ran below to the wall of instruments in the nav station
to see whether the iceberg was visible on the screen. He was shocked
to discover that the radar wasn't even turned on.
Deppe once told a reporter that his credo was "Scare yourself
at least once a day." He could live with the risk of ice, but he had
a harder time dealing with his concern that Team Adventure seemed
unprepared for it. The chances of hitting ice at high speed so early
in the Southern Ocean were small, but the consequences would have
been catastrophic. The dormant radar symbolized to Deppe a lack of
discipline regarding the dangers Team Adventure faced. "I was
flabbergasted, horrified. Words can't explain what I was thinking. If
it had been at night we would have hit it, we would have sailed
straight smack down into it," he recalled. "That really had a big
effect on me." Deppe was thirty-six, with a wife and two young
children. He was looking to get out of professional sailboat racing
and begin a more stable career in video and film. He had done a lot
of dangerous sailing in his life, yet he had always promised his
family that he would not be reckless.
Racing a brand-new maxi-catamaran design to the edge of its
potential in the Southern Ocean was beginning to scare him more than
once a day. He was having trouble sleeping during his off watch,
sometimes imagining the dark, the panic, the icy water down below if
the boat flipped over. He developed a gnawing premonition that
signing on with Team Adventure had been a fateful, spur-of-the-moment
mistake. Just before the start in Barcelona, Deppe had landed
awkwardly on the deck, severely injuring his right ankle (he later
discovered it was broken). Even after he went to the hospital, he
resisted the inner voice urging him to pull out. Now, careening
around the bottom of the world, he regretted his stubbornness and
joked morbidly to himself that the leering gargoyles he had seen in
the old quarter of Barcelona had been trying to warn him.
With each watch, the wind kept building and Team Adventure's
average speeds kept increasing. When Deppe next came on deck, Randy
Smyth was at the helm doing what he did best — pushing a multihull at
maximum speed, in this case 30 knots and more. Deppe sat in the
cockpit worrying that the boat was being pressed too hard for the
conditions and was in danger of wiping out. "Jackie," he called out
over the roar of the wind to Jacques Vincent, the watch leader on
deck. "What about reducing some sail to slow down a bit or finding a
different angle through the waves?"
Vincent was one of the most experienced ocean racers in the
world, with four circumnavigations to his credit and a swashbuckling
style that reflected his pure love of sailing. He considered the wind
and the boat's violent passage through the roaring seas. "Yeah, yeah,
you are probably right." He paused, then added, "Maybe we will wait a
little while." And finally came "It's okay. I think it is okay."
Deppe couldn't contain his nervous energy. "Whatever," he
muttered under his breath. He left the cockpit to help shift some
sails on the trampoline.
Down below, Cam Lewis was lying awake in his bunk, listening
to the loud thrum of water racing past the hull. It was a sound that
meant the catamaran was devouring the miles. The boat was going
really fast, maybe too fast. There is a fine line between racing hard
and racing recklessly. Lewis wasn't on deck, but he was in charge.
And he too was starting to wonder whether Team Adventure was speeding
into danger.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, in Paris, a man named
Bruno Peyron was closely monitoring the high-speed duel under way
between Team Adventure and Club Med in the South. Peyron, a record-
setting multihull sailor himself, could almost feel the stress and
doubt that Lewis and his crew were experiencing as they juggled
speed, safety, racing tactics, and the unpredictable waters. As a
survivor of Southern Ocean sailing, Peyron empathized. As an
observer, he was thrilled. This was exactly the sort of drama — the
test of sailor versus sailor, of technology versus the elements, the
demonstration of pure speed — he had in mind years earlier when he
first envisioned this round-the-world sprint, which had come to be
known simply as The Race.

Clippers, Toffs, and an American Original

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.
—Arthur Hugh Clough

The inspiration for what would become The Race can be traced to the
cramped navigation station of a boat heaving itself through the same
waters Team Adventure and Club Med now faced. It was an environment
unlikely to evoke casual inspiration, but Bruno Peyron was not the
sort of man, or sailor, to let his thinking be restricted by noise
and discomfort. In 1993 he was skipper of Commodore Explorer, an
eighty-six-foot catamaran chasing after a literary ghost named
Phileas Fogg. Fogg, in Jules Verne's popular nineteenth-century novel
Around the World in Eighty Days, used trains, ships, a balloon, and
an elephant to circle the globe. Peyron was out to match or exceed
Fogg's feat using only a state-of-the-art racing catamaran, launched
in 1987.
Circumnavigating by sailboat in eighty days, even with the
technology available in 1993, was an ambitious goal. Advances in sail
design and materials technology had by the 1980s produced light,
powerful racing multihulls that could easily exceed the estimated
average of 14 knots or so that the record-setting trip would require.
But as with Fogg's proposition, it was widely considered to be a
fool's errand.
Sailing a catamaran at blistering speeds for a few days, or
even across the Atlantic, was one thing; racing it nonstop around the
world through storms and calms for eighty days was quite another.
Engineers design gear to withstand predicted loads, but predicting
the stress and wear inflicted on a delicate racing machine by every
extreme of weather over the course of a circumnavigation is a black
art. If a fast-moving multihull sailed through an average of just
fifteen waves a minute, its hulls would be twisted and its rig pumped
like a wand almost two million times in a voyage around the globe.
Some sea conditions would of course be much worse than others. But
every passing swell would exert some part of its considerable power
on the complex, highly integrated structure of the boat, inexorably
prodding and probing every connection and bond for weaknesses to
exploit. These dynamic loads are extremely difficult to model
accurately and therefore difficult to predict.
Before 1993 at least four sailors had attempted to sail
multihulls around the world nonstop. All failed. The extant record
for a nonstop circumnavigation, set in 1990 by a monohull, stood at
109 days and 8 hours. If Bruno Peyron could whip Commodore Explorer
around the globe in eighty days while keeping the boat in one piece,
he would not only become the first multihull sailor ever to complete
a nonstop circumnavigation (a major sailing milestone in itself), he
would also improve the existing circumnavigation record by a nearly
unbelievable 27 percent.
It would be an extreme test of speed sailing skills and
seamanship, which meant knowing when to throttle back at times. If
anyone could pull it off, however, Bruno Peyron was a reasonable
gamble. He was the son of a tanker captain, and grew up on the west
coast of France, near the border between the Brittany and Loire
regions, a breeding ground for many of France's greatest offshore
sailors. Peyron became one of them. Thirty-seven years old in 1993,
he had sailed across the Atlantic almost thirty times — more than ten
times solo — and in both 1987 and 1990 he claimed the single-handed
west-to-east transatlantic record, completing the 1990 voyage in just
under ten days.
To chase after Phileas Fogg, Peyron scraped together enough
money to buy a seventy-five-foot transatlantic record-setting
catamaran named Jet Services V (which he intended to lengthen by
about eleven feet) and recruited a small crew of four crack sailors.
One of the four was Jacques Vincent. Another was Cam Lewis. That
Peyron chose an American was a reflection of his belief in sailing as
a sport that breaks down national barriers. Lewis was also one of the
fastest multihull drivers anywhere, and well known in France. In 1986
he had hooked up with Randy Smyth to win the Formula 40 championship,
the top French multihull racing circuit. This stunned fiercely
partisan French enthusiasts, but they could recognize talent when it
went sailing by. Peyron and Lewis became friends and started doing
some racing together.
When Peyron bought Jet Services— which he renamed Commodore
Explorer, for her new sponsor — to chase after Phileas Fogg, his
friend Cam seemed a natural choice to help him. But Peyron hesitated
at first. Building good crew chemistry is a critical and somewhat
mystical art. On a long, stressful voyage there is plenty of time for
minor personality differences to erupt into confrontations that can
undermine morale and the efficiency of crew work. Lewis had a high-
energy style that Peyron thought might be painfully amplified in the
catamaran's narrow hulls. Still, there weren't many sailors who could
drive the boat as fast, and speed was what the voyage was all about,
so Lewis was invited to join the five-man crew. To keep him humble,
he was also put in charge of cooking, a decision that his French
crewmates sometimes regretted.
On January 31, 1993, Commodore Explorer crossed an imaginary
line that runs north across the English Channel from Île d'Ouessant,
at France's northwest corner, to the Lizard, Great Britain's
southernmost point. Fewer than nine days later, she had sailed from
the channel to the equator, faster than any boat in history (a good
passage to the equator for the clipper ships of the nineteenth
century was twenty-one days). Thirty days later, she was deep in the
Southern Ocean, running hard between Africa and Australia and on
course to break the eighty-day target. The miles had not been easy
for either the boat or the crew. In the South Atlantic the cat was
almost pitchpoled. In the South Indian Ocean two rogue waves cracked
the starboard hull. Peyron was spending a lot of time in what Lewis
called the office, in the starboard hull, chasing after more
sponsorship dollars over the telex and worrying that any more damage
to the boat — like a toppled mast — would leave him destitute, a near
pioneer with a large and debilitating debt. To take his mind off his
woes, Peyron would drift off into a fantasy he had nurtured for
years: building a futuristic maxi-catamaran that was more than a
hundred feet long and could sail faster than anyone believed
possible. In 1985 he had asked Commodore's designer, Gilles Ollier,
to draw up the lines for such a multihull, but the project had never
been completed. Now, holed up in Commodore Explorer's cramped
instrument space, suffering constant back and neck pain from the
punishing motion of the boat as the Southern Ocean roared by the
hulls, he doodled sketches of fantastic craft worthy of Jules Verne.
The best thing to do with spectacular boats is set them
against one another in a test. And Peyron also started to imagine a
race around the world over this same route, a race between giant
multihulls created by the world's best designers and sailed by the
world's top sailors. There would be no design restrictions, no speed
limits, and no stopping. The Race, as Peyron began to think of it,
would be unprecedented: the first organized nonstop, fully crewed
sailing sprint around the world. If he could pull it off, The Race
would be an exciting test of how far technology and skill could push
the art of sailing. It would launch the sport into a new millennium,
but it would also pay tribute to what had come before. The crews,
despite sophisticated navigational software and weather forecasting
technology, would follow routes first sailed 150 years earlier by
another generation of tough, adventurous seafarers, the clipper men.
They would be engaged in a form of competition — racing nonstop —
that had been pioneered decades earlier by single-handers, the
eccentrics of the sport. And they would race in a design class —
multihulls — that had been elevated to premier ocean-racing status,
despite concerns about safety, thanks to a persistent clique of
sailors dedicated above all else to the pursuit of speed across the

The Clipper Way

By the mid-nineteenth century, trade with three disparate parts of
the world demanded, as never before, fast sailing ships. In Europe
and the United States, the growing thirst for China tea placed an
enormous premium on the first and freshest cargoes of the year to
reach London and New York. The discovery of gold in California and
Australia and the ensuing explosion of immigration and economic
growth had shipping companies scrambling to build vessels that could
shorten the long voyages from Europe and the eastern United States.
The result, first from the drawing boards and yards of the American
shipping industry and then from Europe as well, was a spectacular
refinement in nautical design: the clipper ship.
The clippers — so called, it is believed, for their ability
to move at such a rapid clip — were sharp-bowed, narrow in the hull,
and carried an enormous press of sail, usually on three masts. They
were an elegant fusion of form and function, ranging in size from 120
feet overall to around 300 feet. The Sea Witch, launched in New York
City in 1846 for the China run and considered by many historians to
be the first true American clipper, was almost 200 feet overall and
capable of sailing 16 knots or more. Over a good ten days' run she
might average more than 12 knots, faster than most sailing ships of
the previous decade could manage even in a brief burst.
The speed and beauty of the clippers caught the public
imagination and inspired a frenzy of wagering and record-keeping that
remains the basis for many sailing-record routes today. In March 1849
Sea Witch sailed home to New York with a cargo of tea from Hong Kong
after a voyage of seventy-four days and fourteen hours. An older
packet ship might take four or five months to complete the 15,500-
mile voyage. At first the semaphore operator at Navesink Highlands,
off the entrance to New York Harbor, refused to believe the ship was
a tea clipper. It seemed impossible for any ship to be in so soon
with China's January crop. "Never in the United States has the brain
of man conceived or the hand of man fashioned so perfect a thing as
the clipper ship," the noted historian Samuel Eliot Morison observed.
The discovery of gold in California in 1848, and in Australia
in 1851, only intensified the boom in clipper ship building and
design. From April 1847 to April 1848, a total of 2 ships and 9
whalers from the eastern seaboard put in to San Francisco Harbor. In
1849, after President James Polk's December 1848 announcement that
gold had been found in California, 775 ships sailed out of Atlantic
ports bound for San Francisco, carrying more than 91,000 immigrants.
By 1852 the number was 220,000. Shipping companies and builders
rushed to meet the insatiable demand for both cargo capacity and
speed. New York shipbuilders turned out 13 clippers in 1850 and 54 in
The stormy fifteen-thousand-mile route around Cape Horn,
which before the clippers often took 150 days or more, became a
celebrated passage. Clipper ship captains who made the run in record
time became public figures and were encouraged by shipowners and
their own egos to drive their ships harder than any that had ever
been sailed. Passage logs for the voyage around Cape Horn are replete
with accounts of falling masts, shredded sails, and drowned crew.
Captain Robert Waterman, well known as the skipper of the Sea Witch,
was said to padlock the sheets and halyards that controlled the
sails, to prevent nervous crew from reducing sail before he gave the
order. The clippers and their fantastic voyages came to symbolize
America's rising maritime achievement. When in 1851 the Flying Cloud
sailed from New York to San Francisco in a record eighty-nine days,
it was front-page news.
In Australia it was much the same. Before 1851, immigration
to the Australian colonies averaged about 100,000 people a year.
Between 1851 and 1854, the number jumped to almost 350,000 a year.
With the population boom came a boom in shipping, and the profits
associated with fast passages once again rewarded clippers and the
companies that built them. British ships had been making the passage
to Australia and New Zealand for years, carrying emigrants and
finished goods on the way out and wool and other raw materials on the
way back. The most direct route out and back, recommended by the
British Admiralty, took these ships close to the Cape of Good Hope,
at Africa's southern tip, where they could put in to Cape Town for
additional cargo or repairs, if necessary. Just as the clipper ships
were starting to make the Australia run in the 1850s, though, the
preferred route was undergoing a dramatic revision, thanks to an
obscure U.S. Navy lieutenant named Matthew Maury. Without skippering
a single clipper, Maury, from the musty archives of the Depot of
Charts and Instruments in Washington, D.C., revolutionized the routes
on which first merchant ships and eventually racing sailors attacked
the world's oceans.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, deep-ocean sailors
were familiar with some of the earth's more obvious weather patterns
and currents, such as the trade winds, the Pacific monsoon, and the
Gulf Stream. But navigators knew less when it came to the nuances of
myriad local currents and wind patterns that might affect a ship's
passage time. Much of what passed for conventional wisdom about
routes was a mix of lore and gut instinct, with only a smattering of
real science and direct observation. But in 1839 a stagecoach crash
started a chain of events that would change all that.
In the accident, Matthew Maury broke his leg, putting an end
to his seagoing career in the navy. Maury, then thirty-three, was a
dedicated student of navigation who already had some important
treatises on the subject to his name. He passed his convalescence
writing a series of pseudonymous articles, published in the Southern
Literary Messenger, which took the navy to task over such things as
graft and the need for a naval academy analogous to the army's West
Point. Not surprisingly, the articles irritated the navy leadership,
and when Maury's true identity was eventually revealed he had good
reason to fear that even his shorebound naval career would end.
Instead, the navy decided in 1842 to appoint the fractious
Maury to its Depot of Charts and Instruments. Whether this
represented mercy on the part of the navy brass or a desire to punish
Maury by exiling him to the dungeons of the navy's vast bureaucracy,
it was a fortuitous decision. The depot's main purpose was to provide
accurate time for the navy's shipboard chronometers, which were used
to find longitude at sea. It was also a haphazard repository for
navigational instruments and old logs collected from warships. The
logs contained daily, even hourly, reports of the ships' tracks and
locations, along with observations about winds, currents, and any
other notable oceanographic characteristics.
No one in the navy had much use for the growing shelves of
logs; a previous depot administrator had in fact contemplated selling
them as scrap paper. But Maury, with his long interest in navigation
and sailing routes, quickly grasped the hidden value of the
information he now had under his supervision. He and his staff began
collating the logs by area and converting the data in them into
pictorial representations of the currents, average wind speeds, and
wind directions experienced by U.S. Navy ships over all the routes
they had sailed since the service's inception. Maury assembled these
pictorial representations into easily readable charts, using arrows
of various sizes to depict average wind speeds, strengths, and
directions for specific locations during different seasons of the
year. Maury's first Wind and Current Charts were produced in 1847.
They were accompanied by an explanation and analysis that came to be
called Sailing Directions.
At first Maury offered his charts and directions only to U.S.
Navy ships. A few commercial skippers heard talk about them and,
always on the lookout for any advantage, asked for copies. One,
Captain Jackson of the bark W.H.D.C. Wright, used them during an 1848
voyage from Baltimore to Rio de Janeiro. They helped him decide where
best to cross the Doldrums, the windless belt that lies across the
equator, and encouraged him to hug the Brazilian coast while rounding
Cape São Roque (virtually every captain and navigator of the time
would do the opposite, sailing across the South Atlantic toward
Africa, then doubling back, fearful of being trapped against the
cape). Jackson tucked in along the coast, dramatically shortening his
route, and, contrary to received wisdom, found favorable wind and
current. The W.H.D.C. Wright made it to Rio in just thirty-eight
days, a voyage that usually took Jackson about fifty-five days. His
return trip took just thirty-seven.
When Jackson arrived home in Baltimore more than a month
ahead of schedule, the news quickly spread. Commercial skippers up
and down the Atlantic coast, including the highly competitive clipper
captains, fast became Maury converts and requested copies of his
charts and Sailing Directions. Maury distributed about five thousand
copies of the first edition of his work. In return, he shrewdly asked
skippers using his charts to fill out an abstract log he had designed
so he could compile even more information about wind and current
patterns. He used the results to update subsequent editions of his
charts and Sailing Directions and expand their coverage beyond the
Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. By 1851, he was receiving abstract logs
from about one thousand American ships. By 1856, captains and
officers from thousands of ships in navies and merchant marines in
Europe were also participating in Maury's project, and the picture of
the world's oceans, currents, and winds steadily grew more detailed
(today's popular Pilot Charts are direct descendants of Maury's
original work).
Estimates of how much Maury's Wind and Current Charts shaved
passage times are somewhat subjective. Some historians claim that his
charts helped reduce the tricky passage from northern ports to the
equator by about ten days. In 1859 shipping reports from San
Francisco indicated that in that year 124 ships sailed direct to San
Francisco from the U.S. Atlantic coast via Cape Horn. Of those ships,
70 were known to have carried the Wind and Current Charts. Their
average passage was 135 days, 11 days faster than ships arriving
without the charts. One business magazine in 1854 argued that as a
result of faster passages, Maury's Sailing Directions was saving
American ships $2.5 million a year, and the global fleets perhaps
more than $10 million a year.
It was on voyages to Australia that Maury's advice proved
particularly valuable. Instead of the usual route past the Cape of
Good Hope, Maury directed captains and navigators to head well to the
south in the Atlantic, all the way to latitude 48°, before turning
east. That kept ships clear of the capricious winds in the middle of
the South Atlantic and on a direct route to the booming westerlies of
the Southern Ocean. With the wind favorably behind them, the ships
could "run their easting down" over the thousands of miles to
Melbourne and Sydney. Instead of reversing course for the passage
home, Maury suggested it would be faster just to keep going east, to
ride the great westerly winds all the way to Cape Horn and then turn
Sailing out to Australia and back via the Cape of Good Hope
could take 120 days or more each way, a sometimes tortuous passage in
crowded ships with poor food and water. Maury's directions and
charts, in the hands of the clipper sailors, markedly reduced the
total sailing time. The first British clipper built specifically for
the Australia run was the Marco Polo, launched in 1851 at 185 feet
long. She sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne in July and arrived
there in just 68 days, making a best day's run of 364 miles. Her
return journey, via Cape Horn, was made in 74 days. Not only did her
fast passages net higher freight rates, a ship like the Marco Polo
could now make the Australia run twice in one year. That ships on the
Australia run ended up sailing around the world was a coincidence;
captains and shipping companies cared only about getting their
cargoes home faster. But year after year the clipper ships defined
and refined the fastest sailing route around the world, work that did
not pass unnoticed by sailboat racers more than a century later.
Maury's Australia route also introduced sailing ships and
their crews to the harsh realm of the Southern Ocean. American
clippers rounding Cape Horn on the passage to California and back
battled the frigid, stormy climes, sometimes for weeks, during the
middle third of their voyage. A clipper on the Australia run endured
Southern Ocean conditions for months. The ships were massively built
and brutal to work. The 244-foot-long Lightning, which once sailed a
record 436 miles in twenty-four hours, had a mainmast that was 3 1/2
feet in diameter and towered 164 feet above the deck. Her lower
stays, which held up the mast, were made of hemp rope 11 1/2 inches
in diameter. She could spread more than an acre of sail before the
wind. Almost every square foot of it had to be set and taken in by
her crew, high above the deck, as they clung precariously to
footropes suspended below the massive horizontal yards to which the
sails were attached.
Much of the work was done in freezing temperatures, and
skippers on the Australia run — obsessed only with making a fast
passage — would steer their ships deep to the south in order to sail
the shortest route possible. Wool clothing and stiff oilskins were
all the sailors had to protect themselves from rain, snow, sleet, and
winds that sometimes reached hurricane force. Richard Henry Dana, in
Two Years Before the Mast, described how, even in freezing weather,
the sailors had to work aloft with bare hands because they couldn't
grasp the frozen ropes with mittens. Volleys of heavy hail frequently
rained down, cutting open their hands and the exposed skin of their
faces. In the high Southern Ocean latitudes, the noise of the wind
through the rigging was oppressive and unrelenting. Sailors started
referring to the "Roaring Forties," "Furious Fifties," and "Screaming
Sixties." Clipper captains flew as much sail as the ships could
stand, calling for sail changes to match every variation in wind
strength. The constant slog stole sleep from the off watches and
exhausted the crews to the point of collapse.
Full of cargo, the clippers sailed very low to the water.
Large waves frequently swept the decks, threatening to wash over the
side any sailor too slow to leap for the rigging. Seas in the
Southern Ocean, with no land masses to stop them and plenty of wind
to fuel them, are higher on average than anywhere in the world.
Thirty-footers are not uncommon, and freak waves of one hundred feet
or more have been reported. "It is strange but true: in the high
southern latitudes, where the seas can be 50 feet high and 2000 feet
long, they roll forward in endless procession, with occasionally one
sea of abnormal size towering above the others," reported Captain
W.H.S. Jones in The Cape Horn Breed. Sometimes the mountains of water
rushing up from behind were so intimidating that captains ordered
their helmsmen not to look back. The deeper south the ships went, the
more dangerous the sailing became, as they encountered ice fields and
fog. Sometimes ships simply disappeared.
These conditions demanded the toughest of men. One of them,
Captain Alan Villiers, described what it was like to try to survive
aloft while handling sails in a Southern Ocean storm: "We dug our
fingers — or tried to dig our fingers — into that canvas until it was
wet with our blood in parts, as well as with the sprays and the rain;
and always we had to try again . . . Perhaps it took a little courage
to carry on up there, with a suspicion of ice about the rigging, and
hands that were blue with cold and wet with blood. We had not time to
think of courage then; we had only time to fight on." Villiers
recounted one incident in which a whipping steel cable knocked one of
the crew senseless, leaving him unconscious across the yard high
above the deck. His mates only had time to lash him to the yard
before returning to their struggles. When they thought to glance at
him a short while later, they found that he had come to and was
working away again. "Game? I don't know," Villiers wrote. "It was no
use any being in the ship-of-sails who was not like that."
With passage after clipper passage, the myth and lore of the
Southern Ocean grew. "Below 40 degrees south there is no law; below
50 degrees south there is no God," the clipper sailors liked to say.
Veterans of Cape Horn proudly took to piercing their left ear with an
earring, the ear closest to the cape when rounding west to east, to
signify their accomplishment. Tales of Southern Ocean sailing, many
no doubt apocryphal, circulated in ports around the world. When in
1854 the Lightning made a torrid record run from Melbourne to Cape
Horn in just over nineteen days, passengers disembarking in Liverpool
claimed that her captain, "Bully" Forbes, had stationed himself on
deck with a pistol in each hand to keep his petrified crew from
shortening sail. Yet for all the dangers, for all the hardships,
injuries, and deaths, there was also the clear sense that Southern
Ocean sailing was the most exhilarating sailing on the planet. "How
the wind roars through the sailing ship's rigging! How magnificent is
its sound!" Villiers wrote. "Though it brings us only work—hard,
dangerous, tremendous, Herculean work of a kind people ashore can
never know — we yet can feel the glory of the roar of the wind."
Offshore yacht racing, in its infancy during the clipper era,
was cause for excitement in the yachting world. Yet Captain Arthur
Clark, a clipper veteran and historian of the era, could not bring
himself to concede more than a token acknowledgment of the growing
sport: "It must be frankly admitted that yacht racing, even across
the Atlantic, in comparison with the old clipper ship racing,
resembles snipe shooting as compared with big game in the wilds of
Africa, while the gold and silver yacht cups appear as mere baubles
beside the momentous stake of commercial supremacy for which the
clippers stretched their wings." Clark would no doubt be more
respectful of the ocean racers who eventually set out across the
clipper tracks in the Southern Ocean. But that sort of racing would
not begin for almost a century after the clippers first dramatized
the thrills and risks of Southern Ocean sailing.

The Yachting Way

Clark's dismissal of yacht racing was biased but not entirely
gratuitous. At the time, sailboat racing in Europe and the United
States was mostly a coastal affair, dominated by industrialists who
raced mainly to build extravagantly gilded sailing yachts and hired
professional crew to run them. The American hub for most of this
racing — as well as the prodigious betting that went along with it —
was the New York Yacht Club. It was formed in 1844 on the initiative
of John Cox Stevens, a wealthy businessman, patron of the arts, and
avid sportsman, with the collaboration of eight of his wealthy, boat-
owning friends. The club organized races on the Hudson River, with
bets from enthusiastic punters running as high as $5,000.
Stevens's love of racing led to the formation, in 1850, of a
NYYC syndicate to build the schooner America, to be sailed across the
Atlantic in 1851 to race against England's fastest yachts. Her
builder, George Steers, was so confident of America's speed that he
proposed the NYYC pay him $30,000 if she beat every boat her size,
but agreed to take her back free of charge if she lost just once. In
a race around the Isle of Wight, with Queen Victoria and Prince
Albert among the spectators, the America crushed the gathered fleet
of fourteen English yachts, winning a silver ewer known as the
Hundred Guinea Cup.
Stevens perhaps overstayed his welcome, hanging around in
England for weeks and offering to take on any comers at wagers up to
$50,000. Eventually, he was forced to offer one-to-five odds to tempt
potential challengers (he got only one taker and happily pocketed
£200). On the strength of her reputation, America was then sold to an
English lord for $25,000. Stevens returned to New York with his
silver cup, which was renamed America's Cup and offered as a prize
for any yacht that could best the NYYC in a match race.
The America's Cup competition, staged every few years,
quickly became a focal point of top-level American yacht racing. But
the dearth of true ocean racing was not lost on New York newspapers,
ever in search of more exciting spectacles to cover. In 1866 they
started to complain that racing giant schooners across New York
Harbor was a tad ludicrous. Two NYYC members, George Osgood (married
to a Vanderbilt) and tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard, Jr., agreed.
In October of that year, over bowls of turtle soup at the Union Club,
Osgood and Lorillard got into a debate over whose sailboat was
faster. The argument grew heated, and possibly well lubricated with
drink. The only way to resolve it, they decided, was to wager $30,000
each (the equivalent of more than $300,000 today) on a transatlantic
race that would pit their two great schooners, Fleetwing and Vesta,
both well over one hundred feet long, against each other. The course
would run from Sandy Hook, New Jersey (just outside New York Harbor),
to the Needles, a rock formation off the Isle of Wight. The two
sportsmen blithely decided that the race would start on December 11,
subjecting the boats and their crews to the North Atlantic's fierce
winter weather. It was a decision made somewhat easier by the fact
that neither owner actually planned to be aboard for the race. They
were seeking prestige, not personal adventure.
Their proposal for the first transatlantic race — and the
obscene amount of money at stake — had dramatic appeal. As soon as he
got wind of it, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the twenty-five-year-old
son of the owner of the New York Herald, added $30,000 to the pot so
he could race his yacht, Henrietta. Bennett Sr., the man who would
send Stanley to the wilds of Africa to find Livingstone, assigned one
of his star reporters, Stephen Fisk, to be aboard with the following
terse instructions: "This race. Yachts. One of 'em me son's. Cover
it. No fooling about. Fall in the sea for all I care but get the
news. Properly. Understood?"
A $90,000 stake for a yacht race across the Atlantic sent the
public into a betting frenzy that added an estimated half million
dollars to the wagering. Fisk's friends were convinced that the
reporter would be killed at sea and tried to get him subpoenaed as a
witness in a court trial that was in progress. Fisk, however, was
more afraid of his boss than the North Atlantic in winter and managed
to steal onto the Henrietta with a succession of bribes and disguises
concocted to evade court officers.
More than two hundred steamers with spectators aboard were at
Sandy Hook for the start. Henrietta, under the command of another
Bully, retired merchant skipper "Bully" Samuels, arrived in Cowes, on
the Isle of Wight, just under fourteen days later, beating Fleetwing
and Vesta to the finish by about eight hours. Fisk and the New York
Herald managed to get 500,000 words out of the event, which was as
harrowing as expected. The schooners were repeatedly bludgeoned by
gale winds and high seas during the crossing. One storm sent a sluice
of solid water careening along Fleetwing's decks, sweeping eight men
overboard. Only six were recovered. In 1870 Bennett, now owner of the
117-foot Dauntless, raced the British America's Cup challenger
Cambria across the Atlantic east to west, finishing at New York's
Ambrose Lightship two hours behind Cambria. During the rough crossing
two sailors were plucked from Dauntless's bowsprit, adding to
transatlantic racing's death toll.
Despite the loss of life, or perhaps because of it, the
thrill of transatlantic racing proved hard to resist, and sporting
yachtsmen began keeping careful records of times and distances. In
March 1887 Dauntless, now owned by the firearms heir Caldwell H.
Colt, raced the 123-foot Coronet from New York to Ireland. Dauntless
lost but managed to post the best twenty-four-hour run yet recorded
by a yacht, 328 miles, a record that would last almost twenty years.
Rich men and rough racing produced some odd moments. About halfway
across the Atlantic, Dauntless lost most of her fresh water thanks to
a leaky tank, forcing the thirsty sailors to tap into Colt's abundant
champagne reserves for the remainder of the voyage.
Additional transatlantic races followed. The most famous was
a 1905 race from Sandy Hook to the Lizard, off Britain's southwest
coast. The race was organized by Wilhelm II of Germany, a yachting
enthusiast. He offered as a prize a gold cup, so the race became
known as the Kaiser's Cup. It received tremendous publicity in both
Europe and the United States. Eleven yachts, the largest
transatlantic race fleet to date, showed up at the starting line,
including a 185-foot, three-masted schooner called Atlantic, owned by
Wilson Marshall of New York. Marshall hired as captain a forty-one-
year-old Scottish immigrant, Charlie Barr, a three-time defender of
the America's Cup who was considered the world's top racing skipper.
Marshall and six of his friends went along for the ride, but left the
work to a professional crew of fifty.
The start off Sandy Hook on May 17 found the glamorous yachts
gliding along in very light winds. Shortly after the race began,
strong winds filled in, sending Atlantic and her rivals charging
across the North Atlantic at a record clip. Barr was notorious for
his fiercely competitive nature and ability to drive a boat hard.
Atlantic could carry a staggering 18,500 square feet of sail, and
despite the howling winds he was determined to make use of every
scrap he could. On the seventh day, Atlantic posted a run of 341
nautical miles, breaking Dauntless's 1887 record at an average speed
of more than 14 knots. By the eighth day, the North Atlantic was
serving up a full gale as Atlantic thundered east through huge seas
and ice, her leeward rail constantly underwater. Two men were lashed
to the wheel to try to keep her under control. At this point Marshall
ventured out on deck to advise Barr that perhaps it would be wise to
shorten sail. According to legend, Barr answered, "You hired me, sir,
to win this race, and by God that is what I am going to do," and
ordered the owner back below. And win the race Barr did, whipping
Atlantic to the finish in the astonishing time of twelve days and
four hours. It would take seventy-five years and a new generation of
professional sailors, racing with the latest in sailboat design and
technology, to eclipse that record.
Transatlantic racing possessed many of the elements that
would eventually lure adventurous sailors to around-the-world racing:
fast sailboats, driven crews, a preoccupation with records, and an
incessant battle between man and the seas. It was just that no one at
the time, particularly the rich men who preferred the comforts ashore
of Newport and Cowes to the hard life aboard a racing yacht at sea,
thought to race much beyond the Atlantic. Instead, it would take a
charismatic old sea captain named Joshua Slocum to open the sailing
world's imagination to distant horizons and the concept of sailing
for adventure itself.

The Real Salt

Slocum was born on a farm in Nova Scotia in 1844 but always had an
eye for the sea. At the age of twelve he was beaten for whittling a
ship model instead of sorting potatoes. Before long he turned his
back on the farm he considered an "anchor" and shipped out in the
local fishing fleet as a cook. By the age of thirty-five he was
master of the bark Washington, a salmon-fishing vessel out of Alaska.
Slocum's seafaring career then progressed in the usual pattern of
wide-ranging voyages, the occasional stranding and shipwreck, and a
succession of wives. By the 1880s he was part owner of one of
America's greatest clipper ships, Northern Light, which was followed
by full ownership of a fast bark named Aquidneck. In 1887 Slocum
wrecked the Aquidneck on a sandbar in Brazil. He and his family
survived and made their way back to the United States in a thirty-
five-foot sailing canoe, dubbed Liberdade, that Slocum had built from
the wreckage. That experience was more than enough for the current
Mrs. Slocum. Back in New England she announced that she had had
enough of the life afloat.
In 1894, at the age of fifty, Captain Slocum thus found
himself faced with a shipping recession, the steady replacement of
the commercial sailing fleet by unromantic steam-powered ships, and a
profound lack of direction in life. Herman Melville, whom Slocum much
admired, wrote at the beginning of Moby-Dick: "Whenever I find myself
growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November
in my soul . . . then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon
as I can." When a friend, a whaling captain, came across the brooding
Slocum in Boston and offered him a ship if Slocum would repair it —
it had been left to rot in the port of Fairhaven, Massachusetts — he
did not hesitate. Thirteen months of sweat (and $553.62 in cash for
materials) later, the thirty-seven-foot Spray, a trim little sloop,
was ready to sail again.
Slocum at first tried to fish for a living with his new
command. After discovering he had "not the cunning to properly bait a
hook," he resolved instead to set out around the world. Slocum never
explained how he hit upon this unique plan. Perhaps it seemed logical
to a man used to seeking out foreign ports, a man who was supremely
confident in his own seamanship and in need of some excitement. On
April 24, 1895, Slocum and the Spray set out from Boston, with his
friends and fellow sailors questioning his sanity. The resolute old
captain paid them no mind. "I felt that there could be no turning
back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I
thoroughly understood. I had taken little advice from any one, for I
had a right to my own opinions in matters pertaining to the sea," he
later wrote.
More than three years later Slocum returned to the United
States, having completed a westabout circumnavigation that wandered
over some 46,000 nautical miles, more than twice the earth's
circumference, which is 21,600 miles. He made harbor in Newport,
Rhode Island, one pound heavier and by his own reckoning "at least
ten years younger than the day I felled the first tree for the
construction of the Spray." Along the way, Slocum sailed with aplomb
in gales and calms, passed twice through the tricky Strait of
Magellan at the southern tip of South America (after being forced
back into the strait by hurricane-force winds in the Pacific), and
escaped from pirates and Fuegian marauders (he scattered tacks on the
deck as a primitive but effective alarm system). He stopped
everywhere, from the island of Juan Fernández in the South Pacific
(also known as Robinson Crusoe's island) to Cape Town in South
Africa, where President Kruger insisted Slocum's voyage was
impossible, since the earth was flat. Slocum gave lectures to raise
money, made dozens of friends, and was generally accorded the
astonishment his voyage warranted. The Sydney Morning Herald compared
him to the polar explorers and interpreted his wide popularity as a
statement on human nature: "This could hardly be the case if the
ideal were not still at the long last and in the deep inner heart of
humanity a more powerful motive than the real — if adventure and
danger, now as formerly were not regarded as finer qualities than
comfort and ease."
Slocum's wry and self-effacing account of his adventure made
no effort to bludgeon the reader with melodrama and
philosophizing. "The worst pirate I met on the whole voyage," he
insisted, was a goat (put aboard Spray on the island of St.
Helena), "which threatened to devour everything from flying-jib to
stern davits." The goat's feast included Slocum's West Indies chart
and straw hat, forcing him to make a sunburned landfall in the coral-
strewn Antilles from memory. Yet despite his Yankee humility, his
circumnavigation ranks as one of the greatest voyages ever completed.
Before his 1895 voyage, any number of explorers and commercial
captains had sailed ships around the globe, but Slocum was the first
sailor ever to circumnavigate alone, the first to do it in such a
small boat, and the first to do it for his own pleasure. Today's
sailing technology — black boxes spitting out pinpoint positions from
satellite navigation systems at the push of a button (or the click of
a mouse); electric winches that take most of the sweat out of
handling a boat; space-age materials that make sailboats and their
sails strong and light; Gore-Tex fabric, microwave ovens, and all the
other comforts that help keep sailors warm and dry — makes it easy to
underestimate Slocum's feat.
In his day, and up until the 1980s, finding a ship's position
in the middle of an ocean involved an elaborate procedure using a
sextant to calculate the altitude of the sun and other celestial
bodies above the horizon. A lot of trigonometry followed, made
somewhat easier for Slocum and his generation by precalculated tables
that eliminated the need to solve equations in longhand. Although the
science and mathematics behind this sort of navigation was sound, a
certain margin of error was inevitable because of the difficulty of
taking precise sextant readings at sea. A "sight" required the sailor
to hold the sextant steady enough to bring the target (whether sun,
moon, or stars) into focus and then manipulate the sextant so that
the target appears to brush the surface of the sea. That was easy
enough on a sunny day in a flat calm. But what about when the sun or
stars appeared fleetingly in an overcast sky or simply disappeared
for days? What if the ship was tossing about in a heavy sea? Or both?
In these sorts of conditions a skilled navigator was lucky if his fix
of the ship's position was only a few miles off. Even that margin of
error could make the difference between survival and shipwreck when
approaching a coast or an island.
Slocum, of course, had a lifetime of sextant navigation
behind him when he set out, but his ability to make a safe landfall
time after time along coastlines and amid islands bespoke a mastery
of his craft. He had such confidence in his skills that he left his
trusty chronometer behind when he discovered it would cost $15 to
service it so it would run accurately. Instead, he sailed with a tin
clock that he bought for a dollar in Nova Scotia. It had a smashed
face, and he had to dip it in boiling oil while crossing the Indian
Ocean to get it running. Such an unruly timepiece would have been the
death of many a sailor. Slocum resorted to calculating his longitude
using the lunar distance method, an extremely complicated procedure
that had largely been abandoned over the previous century as accurate
seagoing chronometers, which allowed for a simpler alternative,
became widely available. Slocum succeeded splendidly with the lunar
method, nailing a landfall at the small Pacific island of Nukahiva in
the Marquesas and in the process even identifying some errors in his
lunar tables. Typically, the further Slocum wandered from
conventional practice, the happier he became: "I was en rapport with
my surroundings, and was carried on a vast stream where I felt the
buoyancy of His hand who made all the worlds . . . The work of the
lunarian, though seldom practiced in these days of chronometers, is
beautifully edifying, and there is nothing in the realm of navigation
that lifts one's heart up more in adoration."
Although Slocum struggled on occasion, with only himself for
company, sailing solo had its benefits. "I found no fault with the
cook, and it was the rule of the voyage that the cook found no fault
with me. There was never a ship's crew so well agreed," he reported.
But with passages of up to seventy-two days (crossing the Pacific),
it was inevitable that loneliness would creep aboard. To ward it off
and keep his spirits above the waterline, Slocum read, sang, talked
to the man in the moon, and traded confidences with a ghostly alter
ego, the pilot of Columbus's ship Pinta, whom he first conjured while
ill in a gale. His solitude sometimes got the better of him, however.
Approaching the Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean after a twenty-
three-day passage, Slocum found himself overwhelmed with emotion and
sat crying on the deck. "To folks in a parlor on shore this may seem
weak indeed, but I am telling the story of a voyage alone," he
Loneliness, while sometimes profound, was not the least of
the challenges. Books provided diversion, but they could not help
Slocum sail the Spray. Seamanship is sometimes a vague concept, but
at its core it means taking good care of the ship. Even today, many
sailors consider sailing across oceans with a crew of one inherently
unseamanlike. Too much is required — sail handling, maintenance,
navigation, steering, keeping a good lookout, cooking — for one
person to handle easily. Slocum somehow juggled all these
responsibilities with calm efficiency.
Steering was perhaps the most obvious obstacle to sailing
solo, and he knew that no vessel had ever steered itself around the
globe. But a well-designed sailboat can be made to steer a straight
course with no hand on the helm if the sails are carefully trimmed so
that the rudder can be tied off in one position. Still, striking this
delicate balance over thousands of miles of open ocean seemed
impossible. Slocum and the Spray, to their credit, proved it was not.
He never had significant steering difficulties, sometimes sleeping
soundly as the Spray carved a steady course through narrow passages
(though he did run aground once, on the coast of Uruguay, and almost
drowned). Man and boat became so comfortable with each other that
Slocum claimed the 2,700-mile, twenty-three-day crossing of the
Indian Ocean required no more than an hour of his time at the
helm. "A delightful midsummer sail," he called it.
Slocum made it all sound pretty easy. But he encountered
skeptic after skeptic who refused to believe he was sailing alone.
Three friendly Samoans concluded that he had eaten the other members
of his crew, and port officials around the world scrutinized his
ship's papers for evidence of additional human cargo. Slocum
eventually settled on a somewhat offbeat solution to prove once and
for all that he sailed alone. While stopped at Ascension Island in
the South Atlantic, he invited a lieutenant from the local Royal Navy
base to fumigate the Spray so thoroughly that any crew hiding below
would be flushed out or asphyxiated. When none emerged, Slocum had a
certificate issued to that effect, and went on his way.
Like most adventurers, Slocum was less than articulate when
explaining his original motivations or ambitions in striking out to
do something so out of the ordinary. But after the hardships and
triumphs of the experience itself, he made it clear that his journey
bestowed a sort of enlightenment on an aging sailor. At sea he
frequently felt renewed, immortal. As he navigated by the sun, moon,
and stars, he learned to view the physical world with wonder. And
most important, he learned patience: "As for patience, the greatest
of all the virtues, even while sailing through the reaches of the
Strait of Magellan . . . where through intricate sailing I was
obliged to steer, I learned to sit by the wheel, content to make ten
miles a day beating against the tide, and when a month at that was
all lost, I could find some old tune to hum while I worked the route
all over again, beating as before . . . The days passed happily for
me wherever my ship sailed."
Slocum achieved something that probably no sailor had ever
attempted, thanks to his inventiveness, determination, and joyful
spirit. And it was natural that his voyage would speak to any sailor
since who suffered from wanderlust, wished to try something new, or
simply had an itch to confound conventional wisdom. "To young men
contemplating a voyage I would say go," he wrote. "The tales of rough
usage are for the most part exaggerations, as also are the stories of
sea danger . . . To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter
when the sea is in its grandest mood. You must then know the sea, and
know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed
Slocum spent many a subsequent year happily following his own
advice. Eventually, however, his unique lifestyle collided with one
of the sea's grand moods. In 1909 he set out to sail the aging,
rundown Spray through winter gales from Martha's Vineyard to the
Bahamas and on to South America. He was headed for the Orinoco River,
where he intended to work his way to the headwaters of the Amazon.
Perhaps Slocum contemplated the possibility that he was leaving for
the last time. Aboard Spray he carried a phonograph; he said if the
Indians he met mistook him for a god he would stay and set up in
business. Whatever his intentions, he never reached the Amazon.
Slocum and Spray disappeared without a trace.
Joshua Slocum set a compelling example of how amateur sailors
could make sailing an adventure that spanned all the world's oceans.
His voyage was also a parable on the rewards of bucking convention,
believing in one's own abilities, and pursuing a goal with unswerving
determination. He set a new standard that expanded the horizon for
any sailor dissatisfied with ordinary life or ordinary sport. At the
same time, his circumnavigation was such an incomparable feat of
seamanship that it was not a journey that many ordinary sailors could
duplicate or even contemplate.
Slocum was a professional seaman turned amateur by
circumstance. Yachting for decades remained a sport mostly for the
wealthy, a sport preoccupied with near-shore cruising and racing.
After two world wars and a global depression, though, amateur sailing
and racing spread to the middle class. And it was this generation,
the generation of postwar amateurs, that turned to Slocum's example
for inspiration. He had single-handedly created the sport of extreme
sailing. Now the new generation, looking for an antidote to the
banality of postwar life, was ready to expand the genre. Slocum had
voyaged alone. These sailors wanted to race alone.

Copyright © 2002 by Tim Zimmermann. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

Tim Zimmermann is a contributing editor for Outside and a former senior editor and senior diplomatic correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. He has written about the sailing world for Sports Illustrated, Sail, and others. He lives in Edgewater, Maryland.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews