On April 5, longtime friend and fellow Rambler crewman Peter “Spike” Doriean died of apparent blunt-force trauma when he slipped and fell in his hotel bathroom.
Spike was one week shy of his 39th birthday; he was married with two small children. This isn’t a column I wanted to write, but it’s necessary to talk about Spike’s death because of what sailors must learn from it.
Spike grew up in Melbourne, Australia. A severe case of dyslexia made school a challenge. He immersed himself in the sport of sailing, starting his career at North Sails at the age of 16. He eventually became one of the best Australian sailors of his generation. There wasn’t a sail that he couldn’t make faster by trimming or by tweaking.
He sailed the 2001-’02 Volvo Ocean Race aboard d’juice dragons and Team News Corp. In 2005, he stepped off Movistar into a life raft when the crew abandoned ship in the Atlantic.
On the grand-prix big-boat circuit, Spike was one of the trimmers over which the major projects fought. Rambler, George David’s 90-foot maxi, was one of Spike’s primary projects for the past several years, and I had the honor and privilege of sailing many miles with him aboard that boat. He had multiple championships to his credit. But he was never cocky and always wore the same crazy smile. He was as nice and easy-going as they come.
I don’t know how many Sydney Hobart Races he sailed, but we always had a laugh when he brought up “The Great Race.”
“Who dubbed the Hobart Race The Great Race?” I would ask. “I always thought the Around Conanicut [R.I.] Island Race was The Great Race.”
That would set off a comical half-hour dissertation from Spike on the Sydney Hobart. Why real men did it. And why I was a “half-bake” because I hadn’t. He’d deliver it all with a smile. He was an easy guy to like.
His death rocked the Rambler family, as well as the wider world of sailing. Spike was to help bring the boat from St. Maartin to St. Barths for Les Voiles de St. Barths. Before the regatta started, he was gone.
Our instinct was to cancel. But Spike’s wife was unequivocal that the boat should sail in his honor. Nicki Doriean arrived in St. Barths halfway through the regatta, hoping to find some closure. She sailed on Rambler the last day and steered across the finish. There wasn’t a dry eye on the boat.
Nicki is an incredibly strong girl. Wives of professional sailors have to be. While Spike was on the road for 200 days a year, Nicki kept the household together and raised their two children, Fox and Jemima.
Spike sailed around the world twice. He was at the top of his game. Like a lot of us, he probably thought that having lived through the worst the Southern Ocean could serve up, he could live through anything. I wouldn’t have argued that point. He was one of the toughest guys I have sailed with. But then came the bathroom floor. How fragile we all are.
Within all the sadness there lies a lesson. Spike had no life insurance. For all the sailors out there—especially the professionals who work day-to-day as private contractors—if you haven’t already, it’s time to get your financial house in order.
Losing one of our sport’s best is a difficult way to reinforce this important point. Insurance comes in several necessary forms, including health insurance, temporary disability, and life insurance. I hate paying the premiums as much as the rest of the world, but it’s a safety net that each of us must have in case of the unthinkable.
If you haven’t purchased the necessary policies to take care of your loved ones, do so now. And take the time to set up a will.
Spike, I wish all of us had the opportunity to say goodbye. You were a great mate, sailor, husband, and father. You will be missed more than anyone can say, and by more than you could’ve imagined.