Canadian skipper and diabetic, 58 year old John Dennis, affectionately known as 'Pops' to the rest of the Around Alone competitors, yesterday sadly announced his retirement from Around Alone 2002-03.
Late on Saturday 21st December, while sailing Leg 3 of the race, he turned the bow of his Open 50 Bayer Ascensia and set a course back to Cape Town. In an initial email to the Race HQ he explained that the bearings on the alternator shaft and ballast pump had ceased to work, and that he felt it would be unsafe to continue to New Zealand if he was unable to charge batteries or pump water ballast.
The next email from John confirmed his course of action: "It is with great regret and enormous disappointment that I announce my retirement from the race. From the start I've experienced equipment issues, and it's now too late for repairs to get to New Zealand safely and in time for the next leg. I want to thank Bayer Diagnostics for all their support and sponsorship, and Grant International and other supporters for their help and encouragement. I have tried hard to complete this voyage. I am personally defeated, devastated, and disappointed also for my sponsor. To my wife Penny and children Stephanie and Frank I love you and treasure you and I am so sorry for the hardship I have caused you. To all those following me, I am sorry too. My diabetes did not defeat me -- diabetics can compete."
Race Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said in a brief statement: "We are very sad to hear John's news. He has been a great competitor and his compassion will be missed. Race rules state that a competitor must sail to the next port in order to remain officially in the race. If John were to restart from Cape Town he would be trailing the fleet by thousands of miles and many days, and therefore would have no realistic safety cover in the Southern Ocean. He would also unlikely make it to New Zealand in time for the next leg. Retiring from a race like this takes a certain courage and we commend him for making a tough decision."
Every skipper who starts Around Alone is a winner considering that half the battle is making the start line in the first place. It was literally hours before the final entry deadline when John signed up his sponsor, Bayer Diagnostics, and became an official entrant in the Around Alone on his Open 50 named 'Bayer Ascensia'. His message was compelling: To raise awareness for diabetes worldwide and to inspire other people with diabetes to actively self-manage their condition and to live a full life. The slogan on his hull said it all: "Your Life. Your Way." John spent much time in each port talking to school and hospitals groups, and everyone who passed his boat always left with a lasting impression of a dedicated sailor. On the race course he came a creditable 4th in Leg 1, and in Leg 2 he finished just 20 minutes behind Alan Paris on BTC Velocity on the water in 6th place, but was reinstated to 5th position after penalties. He was lying joint 4th with Spirit of yukoh in Class 2 overall rankings after two legs.
Bayer Diagnostics released the following: "We salute John Dennis, his dream, and the epoch journey we were fortunate enough to embark upon with him over the past six months. John came to us with his life-long dream, to participate in a single-handed global sail, and he wasn't going to let his diabetes limit him. And it was that determination that made Bayer decide to sponsor John as skipper of the Bayer Ascensia. Ascensia means to "ascend and achieve," and in John's case, it's been just that - a journey of achievement and effort. John's sheer participation in this race - becoming the first person with diabetes to set records for both crossing the Atlantic and finishing the Cape Town leg - speaks volumes to the mental and physical obstacles he had to overcome and ultimately the winning attitude that got him here today. We're honored to be associated with John for not only making history, but for serving as an inspiration to people with diabetes worldwide about what can be achieved through active self-management."
John will arrive in Cape Town late on Christmas Eve, and berth at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, where he'll spend the holiday with close friends, conducting necessary repairs. Ongoing conversations ensue with Around Alone as to his further role as an honorary race participant, continuing to communicate the importance of diabetes self-management.