The Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team beats out past the Needles not long after the start of the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race.
**There are times when boredom, struggle, and monotony will strains a sailor’s relationships with his sport. **He, or she, may find frustration with the conditions, competitors, money, boats, and maybe even friends and/or teammates. It is hard for me to think of another sport with so many facets, so many variables that must all line up in the search for success. But there are times, maybe when we least expect it, that sailing can thrill us and fill us with an appreciation and respect for the sea and our comrades. When we find ourselves faced with adversity and are able to connect with what makes us tick, the bond between sailors and their sport is sealed in granite.
Why do we do it? It could be as simple as the satisfaction of a well-executed fleet race. It could be as complex as a round-the-world challenge. However, I think when sailors find themselves in adverse conditions, when competitors fall, there is both a solemn respect for our competitors, and a solid will to push forward and succeed. There’s an old joke that I tell from time to time. “What is the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale? The fairy tale begins, ‘Once upon a time.” And the sea story begins, ‘And oh sh** there we were!’” There’s often truth in humor.
So there we were, 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race, 27 to 32 knots of breeze, a true wind angle of 85 degrees, 10- to 14-foot waves. Our STP 65 Vanquish, double-reefed with a No. 4 jib, was making 13 to 16 knots and bucking like a stabbed racehorse! Some waves would lift us and send us screeching down their sharp and narrow backs, others would smack us with fists of water, dousing the crew with the Celtic Sea.
It was around this time that we began to hear of casualties in the fleet. The first was the Farr 80 Beau Geste with cracking in its deck. The next was the Mills 68 Allegre, also sustaining controllable, but race-ending, damage. Then came the call: “Sailors in the water, personal epirbs activated.” And then we received news that Rambler 100, a yacht that we have raced against all season and come to revere as the ultimate weapon, had lost its keel and turtled! At once, the jovial and voluble attitude on board turned severe and respectfully resolute. We knew that being 2 hours or more from Rambler meant that we were much farther away than other competitors, and rescue helicopters, but that did not dilute our worry for our competitors, and our will to help in any way we could.
In news that has undoubtedly reached the majority of the sailing world by now, all crew members, including those who found themselves in the water, are alive, safe, and uninjured. Indeed, this news came to us as an incredible relief. [Ed's note: For more on the Rambler capsize, click here to listen to a podcast with Peter Isler, Rambler 100 navigator] Still, I think that all through that rough night, rounding Fastnet Rock and pushing hard toward Plymouth, sobering thoughts of catastrophe passed through the minds of all of our crew.
At the end of the day, the same conditions that ended others’ races proved favorable for our relatively quick boat. We finished the race with an elapsed time of 2d:11h:29m:35s. As I write this, the rest of the 350-strong fleet is trickling in. And we’re waiting to find out how we did on overall IRC scoring. But the outlook is good, very good. With any luck, we’ll correct into the top 5 overall and score second in class behind the indomitable J/V 72 Rán.
If so, it’ll be a successful finale for the first season of the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team. We’ve started something here, and I’m extremely proud to have been a part of it. What began as a pipe dream has generated an extremely solid performance in one of the largest, most competitive, and demanding ocean races in the world. Personally, the Fastnet Race was one of those moments, those rare and hard-won moments, where I love my sport. I really love my sport!