In the world of competitive off-shore sailing, Christmas Day is thought of as Boxing Day Eve--that is, the eve of the annual Sydney-to-Hobart Race. One of the world's three major offshore races (along with the Fastnet out of England and America's Newport Race to Bermuda), the 630-mile course from Sydney, Australia, to Hobart, Tasmania, is a test of skills, guts, and endurance in notoriously unpredictable, fickle waters--and in any weather.
On Boxing Day, 1998, the 115 boats jockeying at the starting line off Sydney's Nielsen Park Beach had been warned that low-pressure weather systems were conspiring to guarantee a wild and chancy race. Yet few sailors anticipated the ferocity of the storm that descended around two o'clock the next morning, whipping up gale-force winds and waves tall enough to send 25-ton yachts "spearing into midair," then "plunging down into the trough ... like repeatedly launching a truck off a 30-foot ramp and awaiting the crash." The race quickly devolved into the worst sailing disaster in recent memory. Seven crews abandoned their boats. Over 50 sailors were rescued under near-impossible circumstances. Seven died, and five boats sank. Journalist Rob Mundle follows the dramatic struggles in Fatal Storm, skillfully re-creating from firsthand accounts the stories of bravery, luck, and folly that left a handful of sailors convinced they'd never go near the Hobart again. Yet as one veteran yachtsman lived to point out, "It's something you just have to do.... You can't be under the illusion at any time that it is safe." --Svenja Soldovieri
From Publishers Weekly
Joining the summer's books on the treacherous Vend?e Globe sailing race (Derek Lundy's The Godforsaken Sea and Pete Goss's Close to Wind), Mundle's effort is the first of three forthcoming titles about the 1998 Sydney-Hobart yachting race (Pocket is publishing Martin Dugard's account in September; Little, Brown will offers Bruce Knecht's next year). In that race, seven boats were abandoned, five sank, six people died and 55 sailors were hoisted by rescuers from the impetuous seas. Seasoned journalist Mundle, himself a three-time Sydney-Hobart veteran, writes a knowledgeable account of the 115 boats and 1135 competitors that left Sydney Harbor on December 26, having precious little warning about the brutal cyclone that awaited them in the perilous Bass Strait. When the seas began towering to the height of five-story buildings, sailors were tossed about their yachts like rag dolls in a malevolent washing machine. Mundle, who covered the race for Australian television, deliberately sails around the tempest of controversies that followed the event, preferring to treat the story as a straight job of blow-by-blow reportage. While his careful plotting of a dozen boats' travails is certainly of interest, a surreal sense of dispassion pervades the text like an eerie calm found in the eye of a storm. Nonetheless, moments of poignancy stand out. One strung-out sailor hallucinates a monkey sitting atop a jagged stump of mast, while several others vow that spending hours in a wrecked cabin full of vomit, diesel fuel and salt-water convinced them to change their lives. "I've been a pretty selfish bastard," says one chastened survivor. "Just ask my wife." 40,000 first printing.
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