The Hard Route: Jeffrey MacFarlane
The Hard Route: Jeffrey MacFarlane
Sailing the Mini Transat is arguably one of the most difficult, testing challenges a solo racing sailor can inflict upon him or herself. It gets even harder when your Mini starts to break up underneath you just five months from the start, and you are forced to abandon to a Spanish Coast Guard helicopter. The was the fate suffered by Jeffrey MacFarlane, the latest U.S. sailor to enter into Mini Transat world. It was a fate made crueler by the fact that MacFarlane was the #1 ranked Mini sailor at the time, so looked to be a candidate for the podium.
Here’s MacFarlane sailing in last year’s Atlantic Cup:
But then it was back to Mini sailing, and the Mini sailing gods decided to play rough. MacFarlane was pounding through his 1000-mile qualifier in late April, in about 35 knots of wind, when his boat literally started to crack apart, with the failure of the deck structure, mast structure, and keel box. The result was a boat that was thrown violently around by the big waves, which resulted in MacFarlane’s left hand getting brutally crushed. MacFarlane did his best to try and stabilize the situation, and managed to keep it all together until he was airlifted off the boat. Here is what the carnage looked like:
Sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness is perhaps the most important quality in any Mini sailor. After a stay in the hospital, MacFarlane set about resurrecting his Mini campaign. He's back in France, racing to learn and prepare a new, leased Mini. I checked in with him to see how things are going.
What is the state of your campaign and your efforts to sail the 2013 Mini Transat?
JM: My campaign has certainly taken a detour … At the time of the incident I had a world ranking of #1. But since then my ranking has slipped three places since I missed some important races. I spent the last month in New York, rearranging my plans and trying to salvage my Mini Transat efforts. I arranged to rent a new boat. My new boat is #759, it is a Sam Manuard design. I am excited to start sailing it.
How did you recover from losing your Mini in April? What was your state of mind, and what physical issues did you face?
JM: I spent most of my time recovering in New York. I was in and out of doctors’ offices to address my broken hand. My hand was broken in two spots and not set properly in Spain. After seeing several doctors, the consensus was that I needed to have surgery. They wanted to re-break the bones and set them with pins and screws. Doing this surgery would have meant, at best, two months before I could sail again … I opted to postpone the surgery until after the Mini Transat and had them re-break and re-set the bones without the surgery. While I do not have the full range of motion at this point, I will be able to start sailing again.
The loss of my Mini was a huge setback, but I am still very focused and determined to compete in the 2013 Mini Transat. I have to admit: In the beginning it was discouraging. Not knowing if I would be able to compete (while I was trying to find a boat and determine if my hand would be healed in time) was not a pleasant feeling. However, now that I’ve overcome those difficulties, the circumstances have made me more determined than ever, and I am excited to start training and racing again.
716 in better days.
Did you find another boat, or did you manage to salvage the first boat? How have you managed to deal with the unexpected financial costs?
JM: Unfortunately, I had to charter a new boat. This changes things, and of course, it has increased my costs by a fair amount. Because I am without a title sponsor, my campaign is funded completely through private donations (through my website) and personal contributions, so the additional cost of chartering a new boat has been difficult. I am still really hoping for a corporate sponsorship to come through … The personal sacrifices I’ve had to make are difficult, but worthwhile.
How much do you think the setback cost you in terms of your Mini Transat preparation? Is there anything about the experience that you think will help you in the Mini Transat?
JM: Losing the boat and the time I spent learning/preparing the boat (716) is without a doubt a huge setback. In order to compete in the Mini Transat there are a number of qualifications that you must do in the boat you intend to race the Mini Transat in. One of those criteria is racing 1000nm in Mini Class races and doing a 1000nm passage by July 15. Normally this would not be an issue. I had already completed about 1600nm racing with 716. However with a new boat, I will have to redo those miles. Since there are only three races left (just over 1000nm) on the 2013 calendar, it is imperative that nothing breaks and I finish all of the races. This puts added pressure on my campaign. I will also be more cautious--I will not be able to push the boat as hard in those races to ensure the boat’s safety.