GB: I guess I consider myself more an adventure-racer. I'm really not drawn to the short distance stuff. I like the long distance racing where I can concentrate on the weather and strategy. I think that all came from the schooner that I used to own. I raced that in the Chesapeake Bay schooner races five years in a row.
I guess that first win in 1994 really planted the seed for me. We were racing against Gary Jobson who owned a traditional schooner at the time. His boat was somewhat similar to mine although his was wooden, and he had a very professional crew on board. But we won on corrected time. That really got me going in the racing mode. When I first signed up for the race I told myself that I was going cruising in the company of other schooners, but my partner Peter said: "Look, Gary's going to be racing. We should be out there to win." And that did it.
GB: I like the challenge of having to do everything, the navigation, the sail changes, everything that you're responsible for on board. And no one is there to cause me self doubt. You just make a decision and you do it.
SN: Is there anyone you'd identify as a hero or mentor among solo sailors?
GB: I've been following Isabelle Autissier for quite a while. I was just very impressed with her determination through all the setbacks she endured. I've met her once, as a fan, not on a personal basis.
SN: Success in the solo sailing arena requires a broad range of skills from boat handling to meteorological wizardry to inventive maintenance. What areas would you say are particular strengths for you?
GB: I think my background of being a charter captain and doing deliveries and my experience as a marine surveyor gives me an edge over some of the younger competitors, it's just simple skills born of experience.
SN: Most sailors have never seen a 6.5 Meter boat, much less been aboard one of these water-ballasted speedsters. What's it like to sail?
GB: I was very surprised. You think a 21-foot boat will be a little unstable, but when I got it out on the ocean for the first time it was solid. It was like being on board a 30 or 40 foot boat, and it's so light that it surfs right away. In some ways it's like riding a surfboard. You get up on a wave and it just shoots off. I would say that it's very exhilarating.
SN: Tell us a little bit about the boat you'll be sailing?
GB: The boat I have was built by Albert Bargues who sailed it in the '99 Mini Transat and placed ninth. It's definitely a competitive boat. It's one of the prototype boats, of which only 25 will be allowed to enter the race. I've only had the boat for a year now, but I feel very comfortable as far as surviving on the boat and now the next stage is to optimize the performance, which is what I'm trying to accomplish in France. Apart from racing in those two preliminary events, my plan is to identify a training partner and conduct some two-boat testing so that we can do sail tests and quantify performance, that sort of stuff.
SN: So it's not guaranteed that your application for entry in the Mini Transat will be accepted?
GB: They're only allowing 55 entries this year, and only 25 of those spots are for the prototype boats like mine. They do have five places reserved for wild card entries, mostly last-minute entries from overseas. At this point, I have heard that over 100 sailors are trying to secure a spot in the race. I'm not guaranteed a place on the line, but I've lined up everything so that I should be able to get in. And, I think that I have a little bit of an advantage being the only one from America. So I could possibly be given a wild card spot if necessary. The organizers are trying to make this more of an international event.
GB: It kind of goes both ways. In the beginning before you're established it's hard to break in [as a woman], but once you're established, being a woman helps you get noticed. But if you're asking are there disadvantages about being a woman in a sport where mostly men compete, I think Ellen MacArthur answered that quite well in the Vendee Globe. She's a five-foot-two woman weighing about 100 pounds and she performed well enough to beat all but one person in that race.
SN: Tell us what you have planned for the future beyond the Mini Transat?
GB: What I'm building up to is the Around Alone race in 2006. I think it's important for any future marketing program that I try to incorporate a series of races so that when we put that program together I'll have a pretty solid resume.
To keep up with Gale's progress, log on to her website at www.2001minitransat.com.
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