Schwab Lured Back to the Open Ocean

Bruce Schwab, with his Open 60 /OceanPlanet/, is trying to jumpstart American interest in the French-dominated world of singlehanded ocean racing. From our April 2006 issue.

Two days before the first race of Acura Key West Race Week, a cold front swept over the Florida Keys. The ensuing 35-knot winds battered boats berthed in the Truman Annex Navy Basin. Among them was Bruce Schwab's Open 60 OceanPlanet, which sustained serious damage to its starboard rail. Schwab, who'd sold crew positions on the boat to raise funds for his OceanPlanet Foundation, was forced to bow out of the regatta without sailing a race. "I was a mess," says the 45-year-old Schwab, the only American to finish the solo non-stop Vendee Globe. "The people that did the most to bring me out of my funk were the people there to race on the boat." Repairs should be finished in time for OceanPlanet to compete in this month's Charleston Race Week, with many of the Key West crew onboard. Meanwhile, Schwab is pushing an aggressive program-a sailing academy, a domestic circuit of singlehanded events, and a new Open 60-he hopes will put an American on top of the French-dominated world of singlehanded ocean racing. What surprises most average sailors when they sail on OceanPlanet?How easily driven the boat is; 20 knots is not that big a deal. With the unstayed rig, even experienced sailors, it takes them a while to grasp how the boat is rigged. The way we jibe is very different. You don't even pull the mainsheet in, you let the sail out and then you turn the boat. The boom comes whipping across. You don't bother to control the boom?We bring the windward runner forward. You let the main out to 80 or 90 degrees and then you spin the boat down on the wave. The main takes a long time to come across and as it does you continue to spin into the wind. If you do it right the main never reaches the end of the sheet, it goes into a luff. It's very anticlimactic when it looks like all hell is going to break loose. Then the battens pop through, you head down, and off you go.What's next for the boat and the OceanPlanet Foundation?We're going to create an offshore sailing academy for regular sailors to improve their own skills, taking what I've learned and what the other people involved have learned for shorthanded offshore sailing. We have this special boat, we want to make it available to other people.How does this connect with developing an American Open 60 program?Part of what we want to do with the OceanPlanet Foundation is be tied to a successful racing program. That's real important for growing and bringing sponsorship into the sport. I thought it would be a waste if I didn't utilize the success of the Vendee Globe and go out and get sponsors, even if it wasn't me on the boat. And you're willing to give the posh ride to whomever is most qualified?Yes, except it's not a posh ride. And that's something that everyone's going to learn. The flat-out racer guys have to learn a lot of stuff about keeping the machine going. Lifelong boat maintenance people have to refine their competitive game. And everyone has to be on top of the weather analysis. You said you'd never do another Vendee. What changed your mind?It's complex. There's the desire for speed and for the boat. I'm a lifelong rigger and lifelong tinkerer. I'm nuts about fast boats and Open 60s and I can't resist the pull. I would like to be in a competitive situation. I would like to prepare myself. There's just as much value in preparing for that, in my own improvement, as there is doing the race myself.Would this require a new boat?OceanPlanet was the perfect boat for a limited budget, but it's never going to win against a modern Open 60. The concept wasn't as far out there as people think. But if you want to go to the next level now you need to approach the Open 60 rule with a different framework.Would it look like the latest Open 60s?We have to look at all the options with two perspectives: to be competitive and to actually finish. It's going to be wider, it's going to have a canting keel, it'll look more like the other boats. But that's not to say myself and the design people I'm working with don't have some new ideas.What ideas would you carry over from OceanPlanet?My pet area is the rig design and I think that's the area of the most likely results. OceanPlanet's unstayed rig is just a first generation. We have a lot of ideas on how to do a more competitive option that would keep the desirable features.