Harken Derm

My Boat is More Miserable to Sail on than Yours – I Win!

Published on July 23rd, 2015

by Bill Schanen, Sailing Magazine
When I started sailing in offshore races, all of the boats in the fleet were hyphenated. They were all racer-cruisers. This included the hottest new designs, even radical ones with exotic features such as (gulp) fin keels and spade rudders, competing in grand prix events like the Southern Ocean Racing Conference.

This was a reflection of the quaint ethos of the era which held that boats that sail long distances offshore should, unlike around-the-buoys one-design racers, have at least basic accommodations for humans. A cabin with standing headroom, an enclosed head, a proper navigation station, a galley, decent berths, that sort of thing.

For a gauge on how the sailing culture has changed, consider this: The new 100-foot Comanche, the shockingly gorgeous black-and-red ocean racer you saw streaking across a two-page photo spread in SAILING a few issues back, does not have a head.

I’m not making this up. You can ask the designer, Guillaume Verdier. In fact, someone already has, and his answer was, “There’s no compromise on this boat, no interior fittings, no toilet.”

See what I mean? This mighty sailing vessel designed to cross oceans and spend days at sea racing to the likes of Tasmania or Bermuda is not equipped with civilization’s most necessary human hygiene device. I’m guessing that with the boat’s crew of 21 people aboard, making up for that omission requires a bucket brigade.

It’s safe to say the head was not excluded from the boat to cut costs. Billionaire owner Jim Clark spent $15 million to have Comanche built and is expected to spend $40 million to campaign it in its first year.

Nor was it a matter of saving weight. Comanche is light for a 100-footer, but it still displaces about 75,000 pounds, too much for the designer’s precise displacement-to-sail-area ratio to be upset by the piddling weight of a head. Besides, there probably would have been room in the budget for a custom carbon fiber fixture weighing about as much as a winch handle.

What the austerity of today’s offshore racers is really about is bragging rights. The owner who brags “no compromise” and backs it up with the emptiest shell of an interior wins.

Among superyachts, Comanche may be the current winner of that competition, but it was defeated for line honors in its first yacht race that counted. It was beat to the finish of the Sydney-Hobart race by Wild Oats, an older 100-footer. That must have hurt. Wild Oats has a head.

The austerity-bragging-rights race is not just for superyachts. It has influenced a whole generation of ocean racers, some as small as 35-feet, whose owners can proudly claim no compromise and prove it with testimony to the privations of life aboard from crewmembers.

I have a friend who sailed a Newport-Bermuda race in the wet, cold and bumpy upwind conditions typical of that event on a Carkeek 40, a dinghy-like boat that owes its no-compromise cred to a below decks space that amounts to a black hole with crawling headroom. He counts it as one of the most miserable experiences of his life, at sea or on shore. – Read on

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