The single handed sailors of today are extremely professional and they take what they do very seriously. Many of them do not particularly like the solo aspect of the race, but it comes as part of the challenge and they rise to the task.
One only has to spend time around the likes of Brad van Liew or Bernard Stamm to realize that there is more to these men than just the desire to avoid the realities of a real job by going sailing. For them this is a real job, and one which they, and indeed all the competitors, take very seriously.
Yes they need to be good sailors and more so, good seamen, and they need to know the rules of the road and how to trim a headsail, but the single ingredient they need the most of all is a good sense of humour. No, a great sense of humor, and fortunately all of the skippers in this current race are well endowed with that critical ingredient. I mention this because I just got two emails; one from Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal, and one from Alan Paris on BTC Velocity. These to men, perhaps more than the others, have had to call upon their sense of humor many times since the race started. Tim has been plagued by financial problems that would make the rest of us crumble, and Alan has been at sea so long that Geronimo could have circumnavigated the world more than two times in the space it has taken Alan to sail this far. So while Bernard is dodging icebergs and Emma's pleasant ride has come to an end, let's take a look at these two logs and see how the skippers are holding up.
Tim Kent is currently lying second in Class 2. He is struggling to match the speed of Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, but for a first-time solo sailor he is doing extremely well and his sense of humor is still intact. Here is part of Tim's log: "I was about to write a rhapsodic note about how stunning the Southern Ocean is on a day like this," he wrote. "25 knots of wind on the beam, bright sun, albatross wheeling in the breeze...when for the second time in two days, HAL (the autopilot) blew up. Yesterday, HAL announced his displeasure at his work environment by tossing me into an all-standing gybe in 28 knots of wind. With the main pinned against the runners and the jib back-winded, EVEREST HORIZONTAL was...horizontal. That is we were flat on our side, water in the cockpit, just like when we did the inclination test in Newport. Of course I was down below in fleece, so I had to collect my foul weather gear and boots with pots and pans raining on me from the galley. I got on my pants, boots and harness, leaving my jacket below, and went on deck to sort things out. I rolled up the headsail, which let the boat come up off of its side." Tim then related how he was able to get the boat back upright and sailing again but not before getting soaked. " I took a huge wave over the top of the doghouse right on my head - with no jacket on! I was whooping and hollering as lovely, icy, Southern Ocean salt water soaked me all the way to my boots." This was not the last of Tim's problems. A moment later he was thrown into another gybe and Tim's log continues. "I won't bore you with the details. Go back and read the last paragraph; the only difference was that this time the headsail wasn't out." By the end of the day after numerous phone calls, Tim finally had the problem sorted. It might have been the technical advice, or possibly the admonition he gave the autopilot after its continual misbehavior. "C'mon, HAL, think of Brazil," he begged.
Further back in Class 2 Alan Paris was enjoying life. It's hard for us to understand how Alan keeps his immense sense of humor after such a long time at sea, but if you are ever fortunate enough to meet him you will see that behind that constant smile is one very decent guy. A true gentleman in every sense. "So here we are, BTC Velocity and I, deep in the formidable Southern Oceans," he wrote. "Far away from land and approaching for the first time the latitude of 50 degrees south, known affectionately as the Furious Fifties, but there is something wrong. I am having fun !! I am at the Nav station in my comfy chair, recently reupholstered in a fabric that feels like long underwear, reading a book." Most of the skippers do read books while racing despite the constant need to sail the boat. Alan is no exception. His log continued: "The only lingering point to contend with is the exceptionally high incidence of icebergs and growlers that have been seen as far north as 51.30 degrees. So although I am tempted in these benign conditions to head further south, I will not as icebergs I would rather see in someone else's photo's than in real life while sailing through them." Only Paris would find the idea of sailing in the deep south with icebergs in the water and gales imminent, an enjoyable experience.
Humor comes from strength of character and all the skippers in this race have amazing strength of character. Since the Around Alone started five months ago we have all come to know them better through their skippers logs and the stories from the race course. If you are ever lucky enough to meet any of them you will soon agree that they are unique people molded by a common desire; to fulfill a dream and in doing so enrich not only their own lives, but the lives of many people who follow the event. Much sailing lies ahead. There will be many more stories to tell before this event sails into the history books.