Winning is not everything. Wanting to is.

Midwinter 2005

By Dodge Morgan

Solo sailor Bruce Schwab and his open 60 Ocean Planet will be in the Southern Oceans, probably having passed the Indian Ocean and well across the South Pacific’s “Roaring Forties and Ferocious Fifties” latitudes at the time you read this missive. Schwab is the only American competing in the Vendée Globe singlehanded, nonstop circumnavigation race, and if all goes well, he’ll be the first American ever to complete this race.

Schwab is a very experienced solo sailor. He is innovative, as his vessel and gear demonstrate. Most significantly, he’s a tough little guy with a disarmingly delightful personality that evokes a compelling sense of childlike innocence. He is 44 years old. He has chosen a quest that ranks at the very top of the list of individual human challenges.

The recorded history of singlehanded sailing voyages began over a century ago with Joshua Slocum, who sailed his ketch, Spray, around the world in a little over three years between April 1895 and June 1898. The first to sail around alone and nonstop was Robin Knox Johnston in 1968-69, completing the voyage in 313 days with his 32-foot wooden gaff-headed ketch, Suhaili. The second to achieve that feat was Chay Blyth on British Steel, 292 days at sea. Blyth, an incurable contrarian, sailed against the prevailing weather in a westerly direction. And I am on record as the first American and the sixth or 13th – depending on who the record-keeper is – sailor to do it, setting a record of 150 days with American Promise in 1985-86. The current solo, nonstop record is 93 days.

I have known a number of solo sailors, and all of them are driven by a passion that is difficult to describe or real-world rationalize. They are the people who operate at the lunatic fringe of human endeavors – “loony yea-sayers,” I call them because they teach the rest of us this vibrant lesson: “It can be done, and I can do it.” At the core of the passion is a hot fire of determination and an ignorance of risk. I have kept some track of the solo circumnavigation attempts. Fewer than half the starters in the races held have finished. After the first ocean weeds out the weak, broken boats and gear take the toll more often than broken will.

Schwab’s boat is, in my opinion, pushing the edge of the technological envelope. Ocean Planet weighs about 20,000 pounds on a 60-foot length and American Promise weighed 70,000 pounds. Ocean Planet has an unstayed mast and Promise had a mast and standing rigging that would have held up the Trade Towers. The gear on Planet looks fragile to me, and on Promise the gear exuded power and strength. Schwab aims at an average speed for the voyage of 11 knots and I posted a voyage speed of 7.1 knots.

My deep hope is that Schwab has not pushed the envelope too close to the edge in his boat and will not push it too far while sailing her. The true if ridiculously obvious conclusion is that one cannot finish first if one doesn’t finish. My heart is with you, Bruce Schwab. May you take the Southern Ocean in full stride. May you and Ocean Planet come back to us unscathed. No matter your time of arrival. These are some words I passed on to this courageous young man: “Winning is not everything; wanting to is.”

Dodge Morgan broke all sorts of records when he singlehanded American Promise around the world without stopping in 1985 and ’86. He lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.