There is something spine tingling about watching a yacht arrive in port after a circumnavigation and Bernard Stamm's arrival in Newport yesterday morning was just that kind of spine tingling arrival.
It started with a small speck of white sail outlined against an early dawn sky, but as Bobst Group Armor lux got closer to Newport the outline grew until it was silhouetted against a stunning sunrise. Crouched at the back of the boat, looking relaxed, and for a change, clean shaven, Bernard Stamm looked every bit in control of his destiny. The dark blue hull cut through the cold water as Stamm sailed across the finish line to win Class 1 of the 2002/03 Around Alone. It was a magnificent victory.
If there has been one sailor in this event that has really captured the essence of the race and the imagination of the public, it has to be Bernard Stamm. That's not to take anything away from the rest of the sailors, but instead to give credit where credit is due. Stamm has sailed an incredible race. From his comeback after breaking his boat at Cape Horn, to the horizon job he has done on the rest of his class since leaving Salvador, Bernard has proven himself to be one of the world's best single-handed sailors. And on top of that he's an all round good guy.
Aside from the Bernard's performance on the water, there is one image of the man that stands out for me. Arriving in Tauranga after enduring one of his worst nights at sea when fifty knots of wind and steep seas damaged his boat, Bernard was asked to hand out prizes at the local Blues, Brews and Barbecues festival. He might have been forgiven for begging out saying he was tired, but instead Bernard said simply, "no problem." Still in his foul weather gear with his shaggy hair crusted with salt, Bernard stepped onto the stage and in front of 5,000 people with great aplomb waved to the crowd and handed out the prizes. He's not a showman, but rather he's a gentleman and Bernard was not about to disappoint anyone by not showing up.
Winning the Around Alone must be a satisfying feeling for a man who has long sought a major ocean race title. This is not his first attempt at a solo circumnavigation. In 2000, with a boat that had just been launched, he set off in the Vendee Globe, but the newness of the boat and the almost-to-be-expected gear problems, he was forced to retire. Stamm was in the leading pack when his autopilot failed making it impossible for him to continue. Undeterred Bernard headed to New York and in February 2001, with a small crew, set a new monohull transatlantic record sailing between Sandy Hook, New Jersey and Lizard Point in England. He also set a 24-hour distance record sailing 420 miles at an incredible average speed of 17.49 knots. The boats ability to sustain an amazing pace was a precursor of things to come.
If anyone doubted the blistering speed that the Pierre Roland designed Bobst Group Armor lux was capable of, Stamm set those thoughts aside by setting a new solo transatlantic record on the first leg of the Around Alone. He rocketed into Torbay well ahead of his closest rival, Thierry Dubois on Solidaires, and with one win under his belt firmly established himself a force to be reckoned with. Leg 2 was no different. By the time the outline of Table Mountain came into view Bernard was almost half a day ahead of Dubois. But the real test of the race, the Southern Ocean, was ahead. The fleet left sunny South Africa and almost immediately Bobst Group Armor lux fell into a freefall south with Bernard in search of the strong westerlies. Before long he found them and once again rocketed into the lead where he remained until New Zealand.
Bernard Stamm (SUI) Winner of Around Alone 2002-2003 © Roy Riley - Marinepics
While we might be tempted to think Stamm is all business, there is piece of onboard footage shot during Leg 3 showing Christmas at sea. Stamm set the camera up in the corner of his cabin and with tape rolling he proceeded to open his presents. He had a funny Christmas hat on and ironically African music blaring from the speakers. His first gift was a bag of marshmallows followed by a slingshot. At the sight of the slingshot his eyes lit up. You could hear the water rushing by the boat and hear the beat of the African music, but most of all you could see the childlike glee in Bernard's face as he spent a happy hour shooting marshmallows at the camera.
Leg 4 was another repeat performance of Leg 3. A rocketship ride across the bottom of the planet that almost came to an end when his keel snapped after the boat crashed off a huge wave right at Cape Horn. In a short, to the point email Bernard wrote, "I've got a big problem with my keel. The upper part that I use to maneuver the keel has broken. I can hold the keel with ropes in the middle, but now I have to think about the best thing to do."
The best thing to do was to stop in the Falkland Islands and effect a repair. After 18 hours Stamm resumed racing." I will take it easy for the rest of the leg,"
he said, and then promptly racked up a 350 mile day.
Taking it easy is not something that comes naturally to Stamm. He is a man driven by speed and passion. When he arrives at the end of a leg you can see by the state of his boat and the tired look in his eyes that he has given it all he has to offer. When Bernard Stamm arrived in Newport early yesterday morning that same tired look was there, but it was masked by a more satisfied one. Bernard Stamm knew that his was a job well done. 30,000 miles of tough, relentless ocean racing was behind him and this slight, serious Swiss sailor can now add Around Alone winner to his long list of accomplishments.