Why Ocean Racing is important
Why Ocean Racing is important
While we impatiently await the re-start of the MiniTransat and the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, it seems appropriate to explore what we find so compelling about this sport. What is it about men and women confronting the ocean and each other in a sailboat race - alone or in pairs - that excites and amazes us - that gets our attention?
Of course, it is their stories - we love the incredible stories they bring back. Beyond that however - beyond the love of a good story - beyond its simple enjoyment - is a universal need. We need those stories. Indeed, we have created offshore sailboat racing because we absolutely need the stories it tells.
Offshore racing - perhaps more than any other sport - generates incredible stories of human endeavor, endurance, skill and courage. Sailors careen across the wild, wastes of the ocean locked in red-hot rivalry that can change in a moment - with a failed keel, a broken mast or a capsized boat - from competition to rescue - from victory to tragedy. Along the way, is built a brotherhood - a fraternity - a camaraderie - of sport, experience and survival. A camaraderie so strong, so vital that the entire enterprise will mobilize at a moments notice to rescue one of its own from the furthest reaches of the most remote oceans on earth. We want to be like them. We want to be as strong, stalwart, skillful as they. We are inspired by their perseverance in the face of horrendous conditions - stealing life from the jaws of the wild, howling sea - for the sake of sport.
As in all classic sea stories, the ocean itself plays a part - it is one of the characters. The ocean holds the ultimate power of life and death over the racers, with no remorse - in fact, it is not capable of remorse nor intelligence or emotion of any kind. Suppose a Formula 1 race track could change constantly, and make capricious and inscrutable judgements about the fate of each driver every second of the race. Such is the ocean in an offshore sailboat race.
Some say the ocean is merciless, but to be merciless the ocean must have the ability to know mercy - which it doesnt. It is worse than merciless - it is indifferent. It is un-sentient, yet it can strike with a cold fury and reward with abundance and overwhelming beauty. It is infinite, majestic, powerful and beyond our understanding.
The adventure of offshore sailing highlights our humanity against that cold, dark sea - our mortality versus the dark, unknowable infinity - our fragile light against the ultimate darkness.
We need these stories. We need to know that mankind is capable of the efforts required by these race/adventures.
This sport - the Vendee, Transat, Barcelona, Rhoute - sends men and women across vast reaches of ocean in pairs or alone, careening down monumental waves in fantastic sailing machines to bring back tales of adventure and wonder. To show us the time scale of the infinite ocean. To let us know that wild whales, dolphin and albatross still live and breath, fly and swim. To show us the solidarity of comrades in sport. To show us how amazing humanity can be in the face of unconscious wilderness. It is why we created these events in the first place - to tell stories that are beyond our imagination. To tell stories that make us weep with despair, leap for joy and shake our heads in wonder. To tell stories that illuminate our magnificence and our frailty.
That is why this sport is important - that is why it is necessary to continue racing across oceans - that is why we follow offshore racing. This sport, this adventure, this ocean dream gives us reason to believe.
Special thanks to Team Macif and 11th Hour Racing for the great photos.
By Barry Warburton
Originally published in Sea Gypsy Journal.