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by Mark Jardine 19 Jan 12:00 PST
Teams and rescue services working together to save Patriot © COR36 / Studio Borlenghi

As sailors we're incredibly lucky to have two events happening on the world stage which are able to take place in the Covid world. While the America's Cup and the Vendée Globe are from near opposite ends of the yacht racing spectrum, they share common traits, and the racing is close. Most importantly of all, they have both demonstrated the camaraderie which is a core principle of most sailors' lives. Sailboat racing sees as fierce competitors as any sport, but when the chips are down, sailors rise to the challenge as one.

The first weekend of racing in the PRADA Cup Challenger Series was intense. INEOS TEAM UK proved their doubters wrong to lead the way, with extraordinarily little difference in boat speed between the three teams when the breeze was up. Yes, in light stuff the margins became more pronounced, especially when one of the boats came off the foils, but races were being won and lost by getting the shifts right and calling the gusts both upwind and downwind. This was real racing, albeit at 40+ knots!

The real drama was saved for the last race of the weekend. New York Yacht Club American Magic, who'd been so strong in the PRADA America's Cup World Series Auckland back in December, were on the back foot with three defeats in their opening races. As the storm clouds built, they looked superb against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, leading for the entire race until disaster struck rounding the final mark of the race. A risky manoeuvre and a tight port runner turned into a sky leap together with a jarring landing which resulted in a capsize for the American's boat Patriot.

The AC75s are no strangers to capsizing, but this one was different. When the boat was towed upright it was clear that things weren't right as the bow was floating extremely low in the water. The crash landing had caused severe damage to Patriot and she was in danger of sinking.

Every single team, together with the New Zealand rescue services, immediately jumped to assist the American Magic team and the yacht was stabilised and very slowly taken back to base in Auckland. The repair they now must undertake is massive, but they have the opportunity to race another day. Emirates Team New Zealand, whose sailors - including helmsman Peter Burling - were seen in one of the more shared photos of the rescue, delivered pizza to the no-doubt exhausted American team as they nursed the boat back on the ten-mile journey to shore. They may be rivals on the racetrack, but there is a huge amount of respect and friendship amongst all the teams.

As American Magic's Skipper Terry Hutchinson said in the press conference after the event, "We need to recognize the heroic effort by everybody in the Auckland community that came forward to rescue Patriot from despair. In particular the local authorities, the police, the fire and rescue, and then finally the competitors, Team New Zealand and INEOS and Luna Rossa. They were spectacular. When you think about that family, our sailing community, it was awesome to see the show of support."

Moving back to the northern hemisphere, the battle in the Vendée Globe, as the leaders tackle the final 2,700 nautical miles to the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne, is incredibly intense with the top seven separated by just 165 miles and different routing strategies being employed, trying to use the weather systems best to gain advantage.

The Vendée Globe really is the ultimate solo endeavour, but whenever a fellow sailor is in trouble then they can be sure that every other competitor within the vicinity will be doing all they can to help them. This was shown back in December when Kevin Escoffier's IMOCA PRB literally snapped in two in heavy seas 840 miles South West of Cape Horn, leaving the skipper very little time to activate his EPIRB distress beacon and deploy his liferaft. Four other competitors immediately diverted to the scene, but it was the 61-year-old five-time veteran of the race Jean Le Cam who picked up Escoffier in a coordinated rescue mission with Vendée Globe Race Direction in collaboration with CROSS Griz Nez and MRCC South Africa. Le Cam got Escoffier safely on board his IMOCA 'Yes We Cam' in extremely difficult conditions.

Ironically on January 6, 2009, during the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe, Vincent Riou, the then the skipper of PRB, rescued Jean Le Cam from his upturned IMOCA 60 which capsized at Cape Horn. Truly a case of camaraderie.

This philosophy exists throughout sailing, all the way through our sport as Jon Holt, founder of the Scaramouche Sailing Trust and recently voted YJA International Sailor of the Decade, has seen first-hand:

"The young sailors of the Scaramouche sailing project have seen the camaraderie of sailing and the immense support of the sailing world first-hand. Seeing the top professionals of the sport, in the America's Cup and the Vendée Globe, racing to rival teams' assistance in times of need provides invaluable life lessons for youngsters in schools around the world. What's been amazing for our project to see is how the concern, help, support filters right down to grassroots level as well. The donation of life-saving gear and equipment from major sailing manufactures, to not so much improve performance but to keep our young people safe, is warming to say the least, but perhaps not surprising when we see that most of these sailing companies have active sailors of different levels at their core.

"The examples of support are many, but a few stand out. 14-year-old Kai Hockley was in the boat park of the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy about to go out for his first proper Laser race in the last qualifier of 2020, and who should pull up alongside for some last-minute encouragement but Lorenzo Chiavarini. A European Champion taking time out for someone who barely knew the way to the slipway!

"Then there is the team with no budget, the youngest team in the 2019 Round the Island Race. Was there support from the industry? You bet. The use of a support RIB from David Franks, being held in the slings two nights on the trot by Cowes Yacht Haven, free sails from North Sails, donated deck gear and deck vests from Spinlock, new running rigging from Marlow Ropes... all of this to help them make the start line. Then there is the amazing advice the night before from Graham Sunderland and Simon Rowell. On the day when most retired, they didn't. Why? The advice the night before from Simon was that the wind would eventually kick in. They persisted but missed the finish by 12 minutes. What did the sailing world do? Well, a tour of the entire INEOS TEAM UK base by David 'Freddie' Carr followed days later... and then shortly after that a place on Ross Appleby's Scarlett Oyster for Seun in the ARC... Sailing community? Oh yes!"

Sailing has its heroes, and they've grown up with the idea of camaraderie instilled in them from an early age. Friendships made from sailing often last for life, which makes sailing so much more than just a sport, and our sailing heroes ultimate sportsmen.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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