Predictions of doom in sailing seem to have a habit of being wrong


One thing I’ve learned about sailing is never to say something is impossible, and to take with a big pinch of salt any prediction that a venture is bound to end in tears. Head-shaking scepticism is a favourite hobby among sailors, one most of us do like to indulge now and again, but no matter how unlikely the sailor or strange the boat, best not to dismiss it. Human ingenuity is bottomless. So is the instinct for survival.

The first round the world race for amateurs was, according to at least one expert, going to end in tragedies. It didn’t. We ourselves grimaced that the first non-stop multihull race round the world in 2000 was so hurriedly prepared that it was bound to come a cropper, and it went on to be a great success.

The statistical likelihood of predictions of doom resulting in failure was something I thought of last month when we featured in the magazine Jeanne Socrates, the CCA’s 2014 Blue Water Medallist. Some people in the marine industry were sure she wouldn manage to sail round the world. Since then Jeanne has done it three times, all single-handedly, and the last time without stopping. Experts, eh?

At the start of the ARC rally in November, I chatted to Mike Perham, who is working as mate for Tall Ships Adventures on a Challenge 72. Now 22, Mike was only 16 when he sailed alone across the Atlantic in a daysailer, and only 17 when he sailed alone round the world in an Open 50. Both times, the Royal Yachting Association stated that the attempts could not be condoned. Yet the teenager succeeded.

Remember Laura Dekker, the 16-year-old teenager who sailed round the world? She and her father attracted global criticism. But she, too, managed perfectly well.

Questions are often raised about professional sailing ambitions as well. Could a 75-year-old hope to be competitive in a solo ocean race? Can one man really race a giant trimaran safely across the Atlantic? In the Route du Rhum, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Yann Guichard (skippering the 131ft Spindrift 2, shown above) respectively proved that the answer is yes. It comes down to experience and gumption.

We accept in, say, science and medicine that with expert training, hard work and lots of practise it’s possible for people to advance by sizeable steps and accomplish techniques that once seemed unattainable. Sailing, professional and amateur, is full of clever and determined people, with the added bonus that we learn to get pretty good at getting ourselves out of scrapes.

So, whether it’s foiling around the world or cruising across oceans, whether young or old, my manifesto is: never say never.