This past summer U.S. shorthanded veteran Jonathan Green won both his class and IRC overall in the fabled OSTAR race, from Plymouth, England to Newport, Rhode Island, aboard his Beneteau Oceanis 351 Jeroboam, beating a varied fleet that included a high-octane Open 60 in the process. SAIL recently caught up with Green.
SAIL: What prompted to you to start racing singlehanded?
Jonathan Green: I raced on some fully crewed boats, but never felt I was making a material contribution to the effort. When I started contemplating racing Jeroboam, it seemed obvious that three people could easily race it—after all, there were only two winches on the entire boat! Even then, the third person probably wouldn’t have a lot to do. So Jeroboam’s first race was doublehanded, and I never looked back. The reason I continue to race singlehanded, long distance, offshore is because it’s a true test, both mentally and physically. No other sport comes close.
SAIL: Your boat is also your home. Does that make it easier or harder to race it?
JG: Both! It’s easier in that every night and weekend, I’m on the boat and able to work on the maintenance and upkeep required to be competitive, where most boatowners may only spend one day a week on their boats. It’s harder in that I have to keep my material possessions to an absolute minimum and offload them every time I want to race. It’s a lifestyle that doesn’t allow for “stuff” to accumulate and requires sacrifice, but it works well for me.
SAIL: You’ve beaten many bigger, faster boats. What’s your secret?
JG: To be competitive in a small cruising boat, you first must take a very close look at your handicap and seek ways to improve your rating. I didn’t grow up sailing or racing, which means my competition will usually have me on experience, so I try to outdo them in preparation, training and aggressiveness on the racecourse. One must also have an absolute devotion to the sport and boat, and be willing and able to make material sacrifices in all other areas of your life. This keen focus is no different than the approach taken by professional teams and has allowed me to eke out wins against some serious competitors.
SAIL: What modifications have you made to Jeroboam?
JG: The biggest change was replacing the mast, which I only just did last summer prior to OSTAR. The old in-mast furling rig worked fine for the Bermuda 1-2 races I did in 2009 and 2011, but I always considered the mast to be the weakest point of the boat that was worthy of investment prior to attempting a transatlantic race. I also added some deck tack points for staysails, a proper ram-style autopilot, watermaker and a laptop with the latest weather analysis and routing software.
SAIL: What mental strengths does a solo ocean racer need?
JG: Self-confidence and self-sufficiency are a state of mind. Things will always go wrong, and equipment will always break. When faced with a task I’ve never done or problem I’ve never before had to solve, the attitude must always be an unhesitating “I can figure this out.” Offshore repairs require a mental catalog of everything on board and the creativity to apply unusual hardware and techniques to the repair. A healthy respect for the sea and your own insignificance by comparison are required, but there the line must be drawn, as there’s no room for fear.
SAIL: What’s in your sailing future?
JG: Jeroboam and I have done about all we can do on my own dime, so to get to the next level I’m seeking corporate partners with whom I can work toward our goals: theirs is penetrating new markets through sports sponsorship opportunities, and mine is providing them market presence through event exposure. This is a difficult proposition for any American, as sports sponsorships in the world of sailing are few, but I’ve enlisted a solid team of pros to help, so hopes are high.