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Old 05-09-2002
John Rousmaniere John Rousmaniere is offline
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Seamanship and the VOR

John Rousmaniere's article More Lessons from the Volvo Ocean Race mentions seamanship in connection with the Volvo Ocean Race. It has long been my opinion that modern professional ocean racing is the antithesis of seamanship. Other than the fact that the boats so often need to be rescued or jury-rigged, there seems to be few lessons which should be learned from these ventures.

It certainly appears that the standard of construction is that "if the boat doesn't break, it was built too strongly." The way Amer Sports Too lost her mast in 12 knots of wind is just the lastest debacle associated with this "sport."

I think that the professional offshore racing events are giving the sailing community a bad reputation. I would appreciate your comments regarding the issue of whether you feel professional offshore racing is setting a good example of seamanship?"

John Rousmaniere responds:
So seamanship is a closed book whose guidelines can never be advanced or at least tested? If we don't want to race across the Southern Ocean, or any ocean for that matter (and I don't), we can at least learn a thing or two from the experience second-hand. It's important to appreciate that there really is a brother- and sisterhood of the sea. Competent sailors (professionals and amateurs) all put on their foul-weather gear one leg at a time and face the same demanding, changeable conditions to which they usually respond with admirable caution.

I think you're mistaken in believing that I'm encouraging people to sail at 25 knots under spinnakers in gales. You also confuse these particular boats that I wrote about (the crewed VO 60s, designed and built under stringent rules) with the truly lousy Open 60 single-handed boats that used to be raced in the Southern Ocean.

These hard-boiled professional sailors take cares that every amateur sailor should take. They wear PFDs and safety harnesses; they prepare for emergencies, even carrying trained medics and spare rudders (how many cruising boats go that far?); and in rough stuff these sailors adapt to their conditions. And like anybody heading offshore, these sailors are often humbled by storms, flattened by seasickness, and make the best of nasty weather by seeking out small satisfactions. Yes, Amer Sports Too lost her mast in moderate conditions, undoubtedly due to gear failure.  That puts her in excellent companyand (when the details are known) it should provide one more lesson learned.

(Eds. Note: Sailors in the northeastern US may want to know that John Rousmaniere will be making a series of appearances in this region to promote his new book, After the Storm. Hereafter follows a schedule of his appearances from early to mid summer: 

May 30, 2002—Stamford, CT, Ferguson Library, 7:00 p.m.
June 6, 2002—Salem, MA, Peabody-Essex Museum, 8:00 p.m.
June 12, 2002—Stamford, CT, Borders Bookstore, 6:30 p.m.
July 9, 2002—Bristol, RI, Herreshoff Marine Museum, 7:00 p.m.
July 11, 2002—Toms River, NJ, Ocean County Public Library, 6:00 p.m.
July 12, 2002—Bay Head, NJ, Bay Head Bookshop, 3:00 p.m.
July 17, 2002—Searsport, ME, Penobscot Marine Museum, 3:30 p.m.)