September 8, 2009

What did they do right?

THE LATEST ISSUE of the Walnut Street Gazeout (should be Gazette) just came my way. A letter to the editor says:

Dear Sir,
My cousin Mick recently sent me a copy of John Rousmaniere’s book, Fastnet, Force 10, which he stole from the library. (Mick, that is, not Rousmaniere.) I read it with great interest, having the ambition (as you know) to sail around the world once I get outta here. (Well, at least to Hawaii, anyhow. Do the girls still wear grass skirts over there?)

The book is all about how 15 guys died on various boats taking part in a sailboat race from Britain to Ireland and back in 1979. (Yeah, I know it’s all a bit stale by now, but Mick is kinda slow at his work.)

Anyway, this guy Rousmaniere goes into great detail about how boats capsized and lost their rudders and their masts and all that in the 65-knot winds. He tells us everything they did wrong, including how they panicked and got into their rubber dinghies when they didn’t really need to.

But I was disappointed that he never interviewed the sailors who got it right, the ones who sailed right through this horrific gale. I mean, c’mon, 85 boats raced through this storm; another 194 retired, but weathered the storm. Only 10 boats out of more than 300 starters were abandoned and recovered, and only five sank.

Why didn’t the author tell us what the skippers did right, especially the small-boat skippers? That would have been more helpful to us than learning what the others did wrong.

In particular, I would like to know how one of the smallest boats in the Fastnet fleet managed not only to survive, but also to finish. As a matter of interest, a Contessa 32 called Assent, owned by Willy Ker, was the only boat to finish out of the 58 starters in Class V, 28 to 32 feet. You’d think an author writing a book about the race would have smelled a story there, wouldn’t you? But nah, not a mention of this brave Contessa.

I’ve asked Mick to check if this Rousemaniere guy ever wrote anything more about the Fastnet after 1979, but (as this could take some time) I would appreciate any information your readers might have in the meantime.

Your fellow incarceree,
(Floor 3, Row B, Cell 9)

Today’s Thought
We know accurately only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.
— Goethe, Sprüche in Prosa

“What’s you favorite winter sport, doctor?”
“No — I mean apart from business.”


JohnP said...

Your point is spot on. No storm destroys every boat, a lot of crews do things right(or at least keep their mistakes small), and the most important decision may be the one made long ago--to ignore the rating rule and buy a good boat. I hope at least some of that comes across in my book about the Fastnet storm that caused the abandonment of two dozen boats and many deaths. Luckily, I was in one of the crews that did things pretty well -- like others, learning while confronting appalling conditions.

Thanks for the reminder.

John Rousmaniere

Penny Valentine said...

Hello John Vigor

The Walnut Street Gazeout (gazette) indeed! The first time I have logged in to your blog for yonks and there is a trip down Walnut Road lane.... It's a long time since I read a column from the Gazeout.

Old Scarface raises an interesting question - and I hope he finds some of the success stories from Fastnet 1979.

Some yachting news from Down Under...Fremantle, port city to Perth, Western Australia (once home, briefly, to the America's Cup)will be hosting the ISAF World Championships in December 2011. The welcome mat is already out as 80 yachting nations start thinking about their teams for the 2012 Olympics. Perhaps Scarface would like to report on the event as a special correspondent? We can arrange a spectacular billet - there's a 19th century gaol in Fremantle, hewn from the local limestone by convict labor. Our summer winds are legendary and our hospitality even better. Have a look at for the latest news.