Danger and the Volvo Race

Author:
Publish date:
A-W1772_Musto_BANNERS_02
The Volvo Ocean Race is about a whole lot more than just the boats’ finish order

The Volvo Ocean Race is about a whole lot more than just the boats’ finish order

With the boats now crossing the finish line in Itajaí, Brazil, it only seems right that we take a moment to stop and think about the tragedy that was Leg 7, and what it means for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race in general. The VOR is, of course, an event that prides itself on its “extreme” nature. It intentionally sends its fleets off into some of the roughest waters on the planet. The boats also offer minimal protection for their crews, and the competitive nature of the event is such that the very idea of, say, bearing away to make things easier during a sail change is out of the question.

But what about when that same extremism starts getting people killed, as it did with Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag crewman John Fisher?

In fact, Fisher’s death represents the sixth death of a competitor since the VOR first began as the Whitbread in 1973, and the second fatality in the current VOR following the death of a commercial fisherman whose boat was hit by Vestas 11th Hour Racing just before the end of Leg 4.

Not only that, Leg 7, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajaí has been an especially brutal one in general. At this moment, team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag’s boat is still in Chile where the crew diverted after Fisher was lost, while the hard-luck Vestas crew remains in the Falklands, figuring out what to do after the rig came down just 1,500 miles short of the finish.

Similarly, Spain’s Mapfre had to suspend racing for a few hours while it worked with its short team to repair an exploded mainsail, and Turn the Tide on Plastic, is nursing a damaged spreader toward what it hopes will be a fourth-place on Saturday. Even leg winner Team Brunel did not come away unscathed as it hit a submerged object just shy of the Horn that briefly put it out of commission as the boat’s steering had to be repaired in the middle of a Southern Ocean gale.

In taking on an adventure like the VOR, the late John Fisher most certainly did not live his life in vain

In taking on an adventure like the VOR, the late John Fisher most certainly did not live his life in vain

None of this, however, should cause anyone to in any way question the basic wisdom of an event like the VOR. Nor is there anything wrong with the race going on in the wake of Fisher’s death. For one thing, although I never met the man, I suspect he’d be outraged at the very idea of such a thing. For another, like it or not, death and very real danger are not just what makes the VOR what it is, they’re what truly make the VOR an example of humanity at its best.

It’s important to remember that there are races and then there are adventures, and while the VOR is very much a race, it is very much the latter as well. The VOR is an event that truly pushes the envelope in the best sense of the word, and that means not just physical hardship, but true physical danger. It’s not just silly YouTube stunts. It’s organization, it’s preparation, its seamanship of the highest order, it’s courage and it’s perseverance of a kind most can scarcely imagine. It’s getting up in the middle night when you’re already cold and wet to stand your watch, but that’s just what you do. It’s helping out your teammates when the going gets rough. Again, it’s nothing less than the best that humanity has to offer, and if that excellence happens to take place in the context of a sailboat race, then so be it.

At this moment there’s a lot of pain and soul-searching going on within the Volvo Ocean Race family. This is especially true for the crew of Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. Nonetheless, for all that they must feel terrible, I very hope they return for Leg 8. There is nothing silly or feckless about the VOR. It’s certainly not just some kind of game. It’s life at its best, and as such in some crazy way it also somehow makes the world a better place for us all.

John Fisher was a brave man, by all accounts a great shipmate, and in taking on the Volvo Ocean Race, he was not only living life to the fullest, he was truly living a dream. The VOR is a race, but it’s also somehow much more, and in giving his life to this event Fisher most definitely did not give his life in vain.

April 2018 

A-W1772_Musto_02

Related

arc18-3981

Stories from the Cruisers of the ARC

Each December, the docks at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia are abuzz as the fleet of the ARC—the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers—arrives to much fanfare. No matter what time of day or night, the staff of the World Cruising Club, organizers of the 33-year-old rally, are there to ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com A sign from outside the box  Rev counters on modern engines are driven electronically from a terminal on the alternator. If all is well, as soon as the engine fires up the revs will read true. If, ...read more

emSelf-tacking-jib

Ask Sail: Are Self-trackers Worth It?

Q: I’m seeing more and more self-tacking jibs out on the water (and in the pages of SAIL) these days. I can’t help thinking these boats are all hopelessly underpowered, especially off the wind, when compared to boats with even slightly overlapping headsails. But I could be ...read more

01-LEAD-hose-leak-CREDIT-BoatUS

Know how: Is Your Bilge Pump up to the Job?

Without much reflection, I recently replaced my broken bilge pump with a slightly larger model. After all, I thought, surely an 800 gallon-per-hour (gph) pump will outperform the previous 500gph unit? Well, yes, but that’s no reason to feel much safer, as I soon discovered. The ...read more

190314-viddy

St. Maarten Heineken Regatta: A Source of Hope

The tagline for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is "serious sailing, serious fun." However, for the inhabitants of St. Maarten, the event is more than just a festival of great music and some of the best sailing around. Local blogger Angie Soeffker explains the impact the race ...read more

SPOTX-1500x1500_front

Gear: SPOT-X Satellite

Hits the SPOT The SPOT-X two-way satellite messenger is an economical way of staying connected to the outside world via text or e-mail when you’re at sea. As well as the messaging service, it has a distress function that not only alerts authorities if you’re in trouble, but lets ...read more

_8105684

A Kid’s Take on the Northwest Passage

Going North—and West Crack! Crunch! I woke with a start to the sound of ice scraping the hull of our 60ft sailboat, Dogbark. In a drowsy daze, I hobbled out of the small cabin I was sharing with my little sister. As I emerged into the cockpit, I swiveled my head, searching for ...read more