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Knockdown: The Harrowing True Account of a Yacht Race Turned Deadly Hardcover – September 1, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On December 26, 1998, 115 boats sailed out of Sydney Harbor at the start of the Sydney-to-Hobart race. The Syd-Hob is a grueling 735-mile race down the east coast of Australia, across the Bass Strait, and down the length of Tasmania. Known as the toughest blue-water (open-ocean) race on earth, it is also something of a rite of passage for sailors around the world--especially Australians. Aussie landlubbers also follow the race closely, greeting the winning boat with fireworks and a city-wide celebration.

But the 1998 Syd-Hob was no party. Before the race, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued a warning for 55-mile winds in Bass Strait, later upping the severity and describing approaching weather conditions as "atrocious." Atrocious proved an understatement. The first storm hit the fleet around midnight, causing many boats to turn and sail for home. At 2 p.m. on December 27, a rare phenomenon called a weather bomb hit Bass Strait, as three massive systems collided. Over the next 24 hours, mammoth waves of 90 feet and higher combined with 100 mph winds to batter the remaining boats. By the end of the day on December 29, the results were in: six lives lost, five boats sunk, many more boats--and sailors--seriously damaged.

In Knockdown, Martin Dugard captures the excitement--and horror--of the doomed race and its participants, though he does indulge in melodramatic foreshadowing at times. Dugard is quick to name heroes; he lays honors at the feet of the men and women of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for their valiant efforts in rescuing more than 50 sailors. He also praises Iain Moray and the crew of the Siena, who turned around to help save the crew of Stand Aside. Explaining his actions afterward, Moray said simply, "I certainly hope someone would do the same for me if I were in trouble."

Though Dugard raises important questions--Why are sailors willing to take such risks? Why didn't more turn back as the storm hit? Why didn't the race organizers call it off when the weather reports came in? Should the public be responsible for paying the $650,000 price tag for the sea rescues?--he provides few answers beyond platitudes, such as "The history of Syd-Hob is about storms as much as sailing" and the "brotherhood of the honor" of finishing the race. That said, Knockdown is compelling reading for those who like their adventure stories served raw. --Sunny Delaney

From Kirkus Reviews

Adventurer Dugard (Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth, 1998) tells the story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a sailing event with the appeal of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded. The Sydney to Hobart challenge, which crosses Bass Strait, a notoriously unpredictable piece of water, is one of those hellacious blue-water yacht races that have found fashion in the past few years, though the Syd-Hob is now 50 years old and has already known tragedy. In 1998, the freaky weather that characterizes the Bass Strait was at its freakiest, with three thuggish weather systems converging just as the race got underway the day after Christmas. Rumors were flying before the sailors left Sydney that a bad storm was brewing. The contestants sailed anyway, suggests Dugard, because they were cut from a different cloth: ``It's a gift to be born a natural adventurer. It's genetic, with one brother getting the adventure gene and another bestowed philately.'' When the storm finally overtook the racers out in the strait, tending a stamp collection ashore must have looked like a happy alternative. Ninety-foot waves knocked down boat after boat, great green rogues that sprang willy-nilly from the bottom, slamming sailors face-first into the woodwork, throwing them overboard, drowning them. Dugard is not a pretty writer, but the storm is an ugly customer too, and the bluster of one seems to feed on the bluster of the other, keeping the action at a pitch. Australian search-and-rescue squads eventually pull scores of sailors from the drink, and Dugard quietly conveys the heroism he had draped on the shoulders of the sailors to those of the seamen who have a more noble approach to risk. A thirst for adventure simply doesn't explain the madness of sailing into a forewarned gale on one of Earth's most potentially raging seas. Dugard, an aficiando of bravado, can't explain swagger when it goes pathological, even if it unfolds into a spell of a tale. (color photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; 1st edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671038788
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671038786
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,136,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I've read this book, I've read all the others on this race, and I've sailed a number of Sydney-Hobarts.
We call the races "Hobarts", not "SydHobs" as Dugard suggests.
The '98 race was not easy - we had over 70 knots of wind across our deck and seas of over 20 meters, so no-one would ever suggest it was easy - but nor should it become a vehicle for an opportunist to score a few quick bucks by capitalising on the drama which others experienced, unless it is done professionally. This book just doesn't meet the grade.
It is unfortunate that Dugard obviously wrote his book with very little knowledge of sailing (let alone Ocean Racing in storm conditions), or of the race. I'm not sure he has even visited Australia, and suspect the research may have been limited to copies of Press reports and a few phone calls to friends in Sydney. You don't get that knowledge through reading books, nor as a passenger. You only get it by being there, and having the responsibility of delivering your boat and crew against the challenges thrown up by the weather.
Certainly given that ocean racing is about judgement calls in a context of nature at its harshest level, only those who are on the water in command of a craft carrying 15 or so other people, who are having to face the elements first hand and in real time, can evert know what it is like. Because sailing in these conditions is not something you can learn out of a text book, it is not something that is mechanical or formula driven - it is about real calls and real delivery in a real situation.
Dugard hasn't done it. If he hasn't done it he is not qualified in my view, but is quite probably what we call in Australia an armchair expert.
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By A Customer on October 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a six-time competitor in the Sydney to Hobart (including the 1998 disaster), I've followed the recent wave of books about the event closely. Having read them all, this is the best. From what I saw, and from what others told me about their experiences, I found the author's account accurate and honest. One for the ages.
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By A Customer on January 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Just finished Knockdown by M. Dugard. I did not find his account of the race or the difficulties that the racers experienced to be captivating. I suspect that the problem does not lie with the story but with the storyteller. Advise against purchasing this book, but if a friend would loan it to you, go for it.
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Format: Hardcover
Knowing the basic outcome of the race, that people died, etc, didn't spoil the book at all. I felt as if I was in the race at times, but the race was only part of the story. I recommend this book for anyone interested in adventure, or in sailing.
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Format: Hardcover
As a competitor in the Sydney-Hobart 1998 race in which 6 sailors died, I was looking forward to reading Dugard's book.
Sadly I discovered it was pulp fiction of the worst kind. I understand that Dugard only spent two days in Australia researching the events he attempts to detail. It shows.
His depiction of the Sword of Orion rollover, The Business Post Niad tragedy and the Winston Churchill life-raft story are all hopelessly confused and inaccurate. His lack of understanding of the sea and ocean racing is appalling.
This is not even good pulp fiction.
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Format: Paperback
Maybe if I hadn't just read 10 other much stronger adventure books, I would have been more impressed by this one, but in comparison to these, this one is much weaker. The Sydney Hobart Race is certainly interesting and the weather conditions among the worst on earth, but the writer never got beyond the illusion that he was trying too hard to recreate something he didn't know much about. After reading the review below from a sailor who was actually in the race, I started to understand his point of view. There are certainly some fun parts here: the Australian SAR vignettes are riveting and serve to remind us how strong Austrailia is in this regard. The focus of this book is definitely more in the rescues than the sailing. This book was much less well written (not to mention poorly edited with many typos and inaccuracies) and less vivid than the others. For those looking for the creme de la creme, I recommend Lundy's The Godforsaken Sea.
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By A Customer on January 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
In 1998, a storm hit the 54th Sydney to Hobart race. In 1999, two books came out to tell the story of it. "Fatal Storm" by Rob Mundle, and "Knockdown". Mundle raced in three Hobarts and covered about thirty as a journalist. His book is based on interviews with people who were there, and often directly quotes the interviews. What about "Knockdown"?
One thing obvious to any sailor is that the author is not. He doesn't sail and he can't understand, remember and tell the things that make a sailing story. He compensates for that just like they do in junk food industry. There they use fillings - substances that provide volume but neighter taste nor nutrition. Much of the book are words that provide content but carry no real information. There are scarce facts generously padded with generic descriptions of waves, wind, struggle, desperation, and dissociated rablings about something like how humane it is to provide shelter for the helmsman, even if it is called a doghouse. Whole pages could be used in a book about a different race--say, Fastnet'79--with no changes required whatsoever. The author hasn't even done the homework to know that the race was never called SydHob, as he very confidently calls it throughout the book.
This padding of information with imagination occasionally goes too far. How can a "true story" describe last minutes of a person washed overboard and his last thoughts, when his crewmembers lost sight of him shortly after the accident? And as if that wasn't enough, there is a hint of a blame on his crewmates for not coming to rescue him. Obviously, dismasting and being upwind in a 60 kt blow mean nothing to the author, but how can he try to pass this for another--real--dead--person's thoughts?
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