Ma­cho suf­fer­ing isn’t smart

Yachting Monthly - - COLUMN - PETE GOSS

Blown at 30 miles an hour, the snow makes a dis­tinct hiss as our skis rat­tle across the Green­land Ice­cap. It’s bar­ren here and the map… Well, there isn’t one, just an aerial photograph. My life, and ev­ery­thing re­quired to sus­tain it – packed in a sledge – is be­ing pulled along by the kite. Alan and I will be self-suf­fi­cient for five glo­ri­ous weeks as we train for a big ex­pe­di­tion, learn­ing to use the kites, de­vel­op­ing equip­ment and rou­tines to en­hance our per­for­mance and our safety.

Not un­til we are con­fi­dent in our abil­ity and equip­ment will we take on ‘the big one’. It’s this ap­proach that brings the Volvo Ocean Race to mind. As the man who lost the world’s big­gest cata­ma­ran, I’m not one to criticise. But I do have an opin­ion and ap­proach which has evolved across many dis­ci­plines.

As a naïve trainee Royal Ma­rine, I was stopped in my tracks by a sergeant lec­tur­ing on sur­vival. He ex­plained that be­ing a Ma­rine is about at­ti­tude and us­ing your in­tel­li­gence. ‘Any id­iot can be cold, that’s the easy bit.’ The clever ones that adapt and im­pro­vise are the ones left stand­ing. The roughy-toughy Dan Dare types are ground down by their own ig­no­rance. That in­sight was fas­ci­nat­ing to me be­cause it de­manded in­no­va­tion. Com­fort and pro­tec­tion was king.

In­ter­est­ingly, I found a much more in­hib­ited at­ti­tude when rub­bing shoul­ders with a new dis­ci­pline at the North Pole. Many el­e­vated suf­fer­ing into an end in it­self. If you didn’t come back with a fin­ger miss­ing, you weren’t a proper ex­plorer. You could smell it in the testos­terone-in­fused air. I found the women re­fresh­ing; with less phys­i­cal power, they were do­ing the same thing but with a thought­ful, open style. With more nu­anced views, they were of­ten more in­ter­est­ing to talk to. In my view, the goal is to de­sign and build a ve­hi­cle and its equip­ment such that you fin­ish an event fit­ter than when you started and in so do­ing so, beat the op­po­si­tion. This is some­thing short­handed com­peti­tors have been chas­ing since Blondie Hasler and Sir Fran­cis Chich­ester laid down the chal­lenge to fur­ther sail­ing in­no­va­tion through the Sin­gle-handed Trans-at­lantic Race. Much of those in­no­va­tions are now com­mon­place, some­thing that as a cruis­ing sailor, I ap­pre­ci­ate all the more as they in­crease our safety, en­joy­ment and en­durance to cover miles and reach re­mote locations. These de­vel­op­ments en­able Tracey and I to take on this ad­ven­ture of ours two-handed, even as we ap­proach the older end of the spec­trum.

And so it is that I look at the videos and pic­tures from the Volvo Ocean Race with a heavy and frus­trated heart. The crews, all amaz­ing sailors, have been sent off into the wilds on strong, ex­cit­ing boats that are bereft of pro­tec­tion on deck. Those hag­gard faces, shred­ded hands and ghostly out­lines in the spray have been de­signed into the event. They must have been, since there is no com­pet­i­tive penalty for shel­ter.

The Vendée Globe boats opted for a starkly dif­fer­ing phi­los­o­phy. Look at the fresh smil­ing face of François Gabart as he crossed the line af­ter more non-stop miles in the South­ern Ocean, on his own and at a sim­i­lar pace. Vendée boats have shel­tered cock­pits which they can fur­ther pro­tect by slid­ing back an en­com­pass­ing roof. Its ge­nius is wan­tonly ig­nored in the Volvo in pur­suit of a roughy-toughy im­age.

I’m writ­ing this at sea on a cruis­ing yacht, sit­ting in a fully pro­tected cock­pit. If cruis­ing boats have picked up on the in­no­va­tions of the Vendée, why can’t the Volvo Ocean race? The crew have the best pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and safety gear but no ba­sic shel­ter. My old sergeant would turn in his grave.

The roughy-toughy types are ground down by their own ig­no­rance

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