This is not about racing, this is about a GREAT sailor and a great man: Peter Goss is back
He is going to race the "Route du Rhum" on a brand new 40class racing boat, but that's not what I want to tell you guys, I want to tell you about an amazing feat of seamanship and about a man with a great heart.
The story goes back to the 1996/1997 edition of the Vendee Globe, a particularly nasty one. The Open boats were not as seaworthy has they are today and there were several nasty accidents on that race that claimed the lives of two sailors (only six of the sixteen starters finished the race).
This is about the accident than envolved Raphael Dinnely, a French sailor.
"I was in a group of four boats in the Southern Ocean. There was Catherine Chabot, Pete, me, and the Belgian skipper, all around 100 to 150 miles apart, and in touch with each other by radio. My accident happened when I encountered a huge storm that blew up very suddenly. I took all the sails down, but the boat was still going through 15 to 20m waves, taking off at 30 knots from the top and hitting the bottom at tremendous speed. I was in the cockpit, there was a violent shock, and the boat turned over. The mast broke and crashed through the boat, and all the porthole glasses broke free. Then the boat turned the right way round again, but with a huge hole right through it and all the interior smashed, so I set off the distress alarm. I then waited on top of the boat in 10 or 15 metre waves, in very low temperatures, no food, nothing, my feet rapidly freezing. It was 24 hours before I saw the Australian Air Force plane, one hour before the second night fell. I thought about everything, my wife, child, you know, playing through the film of my life ... I thought "Where is Catherine Chabot? Where is Pete Goss? Did the alarm signal work?" I wasn't afraid, I was angry, really angry. Not with the sea or the boat - I was angry because I knew death was coming and because nobody had arrived ... and I had to keep fighting mentally, because if you don't fight ceaselessly, you're finished.
The plane arrived and dropped a life raft. I got into it and 10 minutes later the boat sank. There was a message in the raft saying "Peter Goss, 10 hours south", so that restored my morale and made me really want to survive."
I hadn't met Raphael properly before the race, because he was a late entrant and wasn't hanging around [the starting port] Les Sables d'Olonne like all the rest of us. Then on the morning of the start, when everybody does a sort of round of all the competing boats, I jumped on board Raphael's yacht, grabbed his hand and said: "Take care, be safe and best of luck." I don't speak any French and he only speaks sort of pidgin English, so that was it. I only got a fleeting impression - the boat looked good, in good shape, you could tell he was a good skipper. And Raphael looked fit, positive, you know, shiny eyes, a good bloke.
I next saw him a month and a half later in the middle of the Southern Ocean, which is one of the most desolate places in the world - there's no shipping there, no vapour trails overhead ... nothing. Two days earlier, on Christmas Day, I had had notification of a mayday. Each boat has, in addition to its telecommunications equipment, a special button which you press only in a life-threatening situation, and then the race organisers notify the local rescue authorities. So I simply picked up a mayday notification on the screen in my cockpit; I didn't know who was in trouble. Then a little bit later, another emergency message came in to say it was Raphael. I immediately decided to turn round and go for him. There was another competitor only four hours away, but his communications had gone down in a storm, so as far as we knew it was up to me.
Turning round was hazardous. My boat, Aqua Quorum, wasn't built to go for long against the prevailing winds. I was knocked down lots of times, the boat lay over, mast in the water, and stuff like that. But she's a good boat and we plugged away all night and the following day the wind eased. I didn't have any sense of panic, but I did wonder whether Raph- ael would be alive. It's very, very cold in that part of the world, and I knew that, effectively, his clock was ticking away.
When I got near Raphael's position, I couldn't find him. It was rough, with 30ft waves and very poor visibility. An Australian Air Force plane flew over and flashed their landing lights when they were above him so I could get closer. Suddenly I saw this little glow of orange, popping up and then disappearing about a quarter of a mile away. As I got nearer, I did wonder if I was going to find a body and what I would tell his family; but 10 minutes before I arrived the Air Force plane said he was alive and able to move, and that took a huge weight off my mind.
The rescue itself was pretty much a clinical, professional job. Getting Raphael on board the boat took about 10 or 15 minutes. As the sea was pretty rough, I didn't have time to think about him; certainly we couldn't speak, everything was done by gesture. It wasn't until he was on the boat and I rolled him over onto the deck that we knew we'd cracked it, and the thing I'll always remember was his eyes. I'll never forget the emotion and gratitude in that pair of eyes: it's astonishing what can shine out of a hole in a survival suit, really. Then we had a little hug and got back to it, because we still had to get the boat going.
Raphael was in a bunk for about four or five days. I had to lift him out of the bunk to go to the toilet for the first three days and he needed feeding every four hours. At first, he talked endlessly about the disaster and the rescue: he had to get it out of his system. We had some problems communicating, but we drew pictures and diagrams and it worked okay. By the end of 10 days we could have quite a deep conversation. We talked about everything: the rescue, sailing, safety, life, everything.
It was strange having Raphael on board. It was partly a welcome relief after so much solitude, but it was an intrusion as well, in a way. I'd settled into a routine, then suddenly there was somebody else on the boat and I had to change. I didn't begrudge him, but the one bizarre thing was I felt I needed to tidy up the boat .
HOW WE MET: PETE GOSS AND RAPHAEL DINELLI - Arts & Entertainment - The Independent
Well, I remember well the story and I can ad one or two details:
Peter Goss is too modest, he says that he turned around and that was difficult but he does not say that the race organizers and many experienced sailors doubted that it was possible to do what he had done. Many thought that he was risking is life for nothing. He, alone, turned his boat in 80k winds and went against the wind on a huge storm, making way for 48 hours. A huge feat of seaworthiness and endurance. I doubt that he slept much on those two days
The other gallant feat comes from Dinnely, that half frozen managed to jump to Peter's boat, holding in his hand a BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE, that they later drank together. Cheers to them
Pete Goss : North Pole : SeaCart : Playing for Success : Spirit of Mystery
And good luck to Peter Goss on its come back to the racing scene, not that he takes himself much seriously, he says:
Asked if this race signals a return to a career as a solo ocean racer, Pete said: “I have never had a career, just a series of adventures and who knows where this one will lead. I never say never, so let’s see where this adventure takes us.”
Yes, the last of the romantic and adventurous racing sailors is back, and I am quite glad with his come back. We need more sailors like him
Pete Goss : North Pole : SeaCart : Playing for Success : Spirit of Mystery