There’s a madness that enters certain people’s eyes when they talk about sailing and the sea. I’m not talking about those folks who don Hawaiian shirts, book a week in the Caribbean aboard a charter boat then come home loaded with rum and stories of the Main. I’m speaking of the real madmen (and women). The ones who are blowed-in-the-glass sailors; the ones who love North Atlantic greybeards; and those who only take the outside passage from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. My friend Derek Hatfield is one of those madmen.
Sailing is a great time waster. In years past, I would disappear for days only to wash up in some Great Lake port hundreds of miles from home. Now, I often waste entire mornings on Skype talking with my old buddy Bobby Lush in Montreal about sailing.
Bob and I worked together when I edited a national yachting magazine and he was one of the first guys I encountered whose eyes lit up with that blue-zeal light. Bob has single-handed back and forth across the Atlantic since the mid-seventies and Shelagh MacKenzie featured him in the 1982 National Film Board of Canada film Singlehanders.
On the other hand Derek and I don’t talk that much. He’s too busy; still he’s an incredible guy. Actually a hero of mine, but I won’t tell him that to his face. We stay in touch through the press releases his wife Patianne and others send out.
The latest though came from the race committee of the Velux 5 Oceans Race and describes Derek learning emergency medicine by sewing pig’s knuckles together to make sure he’s ready for the big race.
Derek is also an offshore, around the world, single-hander – in other words a real blowed-in-the-glass sailorman.
Derek recently arrived in La Rochelle, France, with his boat Active House. Active House is a recycled sixty-foot, Eco 60 racing yacht named for his sponsor.
The Eco 60 is built for sailing downwind (with the wind behind it) following the route of the old clipper ships. It is long, narrow, flat-bottomed and ultra lightweight – blistering fast.
Ocean racing uses these boats because the newest represent state-of-the-art technology. The difference is that the boats used in the Velux 5 Oceans are second hand. They have to have been built before Jan. 2003.
This makes the boats affordable and gives the million-dollar plus boats a second life and keeps them out of the junkyards. They are also not the kind of used boat you buy for Sunday cruising on English Bay.
Unlike athletes in mainstream sports, these sailormen (also factor women into the general taxonomy) on the fringes are more interesting and adventurous, but need more help. Ergo the sponsor.
The 5 Oceans race is named for the five oceans the racers will have to cross to win – North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. In crossing these alone, competitors will sail somewhere around 30,000 miles and unlike golfers, can’t bail because of the weather.
Okay, what makes a man nuts enough to head down to a place where the only things he has for companionship are icebergs and penguins? It sure ain’t the North American fame factor.
The Europeans love sailing and view pro sailors in the same light we reserve for football and basketball players.
I once asked Derek what made him do it and his answer was his love of competition.
Nice cliché Derek. Right up there with the great cliché lesson in the movie Bull Durham. You’ve got to say those kinds of things when your biggest challenge is not a 40-foot wave, but hunting the money to send you scooting down the face of that wave.
Perhaps closer to the truth is the story about taking his family to Macdonald’s in Paris, being recognized and having to sign autographs. I suspect he really enjoyed that. Dorothy Gale knew her heart’s delight was at home with dear old Aunty Em in Kansas, but once Derek slips his line, he ain’t I Kansas anymore and he has to leave the comfort of home to find his heart’s desire. Whatever that may be.
Derek raced Active House in the Velux 5 Oceans Race which began October 17th , and over the course of report on his progress here at Life As A Human I will try to answer the question – what makes him do it?
All photos @ World Wide Image Inc. except for “Derek Hatfield and His Children in France” Copyright 2010 © Ainhoa Sanchez