Unshakeable moments in sailing

Published on October 26th, 2022

Luissa Smith, PR Director for the 2022 Bacardi Cup invitational Regatta, quizzed well-known sailing personalities about unshakeable moments that propelled them forward and incidents that still keep them up at night:


Paul Cayard (USA)
Winner 1997-1998 Whitbread Round the World Race, 2nd 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race, 1998 Star World Champion, 2-time Olympian (1984, 2004), 7-time America’s Cup campaigner.

The scariest moment at sea for me was on leg two of the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race. We were about 10 days out of Cape Town, it was 2:00am, snowing on deck, 30 foot seas, and blowing 40 knots. We were replacing a shredded kite and had to send a man aloft to clip on the new kite.

Unintentionally, the new kite opened from its sock and the boat powered up with everyone out of position. After a couple of quick rolls, the boat broached with Curtis up the rig. In the pitch black there was a lot of chaos and confusion about getting the new kite un-clipped and whether or not the man up the rig was safely attached.

Ironically, the only guy who wasn’t on deck at the time of the broach was our navigator, Mark Rudiger. When he appeared in the hatch, he knew instinctively that the man aloft would’ve grabbed the halyard from the torn kite and attached it to himself to bring it back to the deck. So calmly, without saying anything, Mark grabbed the extra bow halyard, wrapped it around a winch and simply stated, “I got him.”

We got Curtis down to the deck and brought him down below. He stayed down below for two days, recovering from ribs flogged against a mast. I learned a big lesson that night which was in the Round the World Race, you need to aim for 97% full speed, 100% of the time. Trying to go 100% of full speed on the 10th day at sea, after only consuming desalinated water and freeze dried food, is not the way to win the Round the World Race.

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