- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Little Brown & Co; 1st edition (June 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316499552
- ISBN-13: 978-0316499552
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 133 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Proving Ground : The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race Hardcover – June 1, 2001
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In The Proving Ground, journalist and lifelong sailor G. Bruce Knecht tells the staggering story of the 54th Sydney to Hobart yacht race--an annual event that is always an extreme test of courage and skill in some of the world's most treacherous seas, but which in 1998 would become the most disastrous race in modern yachting history.
Although he was already fifty feet from the boat, Brownie didn't have any trouble spotting Glyn. He looked small, and utterly helpless.... Glyn was already having a hard time keeping his head out of the water, and everyone quickly reached the same unthinkable conclusion--Glynn was going to die and there was nothing to do but watch.... Steve Kulmar was more shaken than anyone. When he first came on deck, he believed Glyn was looking directly back at him.
Of the 115 boats that started under clear skies in Sydney, just 43 would finish. Six sailors lost their lives, and a further 55 were plucked from the storm after the fleet had been decimated by unforecast hurricane winds and 80-foot-high waves.
Knecht's style is novelistic, though measured, with a strong journalistic sensibility marshaling what must have been at times appallingly poignant eyewitness testimony into a coherent account of the disaster. His intended focus is beyond the headlines, and by concentrating on the experiences of a handful of individual crews, The Proving Ground succeeds in conveying the agonies of their desperate, sometimes futile struggles to survive--and offers some insight into what drew them to the sea in the first place, and why so many of the survivors have felt compelled to face it again. --Alex Hankin, Amazon.co.uk
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-One of yacht racing's most challenging annual events, "the Hobart" begins in Sydney the day after Christmas and ends approximately two days and 630 nautical miles later in southern Tasmania. When 115 boats sailed into a cyclone in 1998, one of the worst disasters in "blue water" racing history occurred: 55 sailors had to be rescued via ship or helicopter, 5 boats sank, and 6 people died. Knecht's is the third book about the 1998 race, following Fatal Storm (McGraw, 1999), journalist Rob Mundle's account published just four months after the race, and Martin Dugard's Knockdown (Pocket, 1999). It benefits from the time that the author took to repeatedly interview survivors, examine police documents, and await the findings of the inquest. He offers up hair-raising experiences of sailors and rescuers similar to the earlier titles, but because he focuses on just three boats, the accounts seem more substantive and intimate. He also addresses the issue of responsibility more fully, relating how the Australian weather bureau, the race organizers, modern boat construction, and even some of the skippers contributed to the fatalities. Finally, he looks at the tragedy's effect on both the participants and on yacht racing in general. Readers of this and other disaster books, however, might conclude that the truly "proven" heroes are those who risk life and limb to save others engaged in personal quests for challenge or glory.
Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Although this is a disaster story, and many of the men found themselves in terrible predicaments, I did find that several of the sailors were unlikeable due to their arrogance and unchecked ambition. Larry Ellison - the founder of Oracle - has always had a reputation for his aggressively arrogant nature, and this book didn't do a whole lot to cast him in a different light. Several other sailors had opportunities for growth and change during their harrowing experience and instead went on to be as self-aggrandizing as they were prior to the start of the race. It was hard to drum up sympathy for some of those individuals. However, there were several sailors who showed great strength of character before, during, and after the storm. Although he is not central to the story, Rupert Murdoch's son, Lachlan Murdoch, was aboard Larry Ellison's boat and came across as extremely hard-working and self-reflective.
If you are unfamiliar with yachts, some of the technical details (such as how boats broke apart during the storm) will be lost on you. Since my understanding of yachts is virtually non-existent and comes largely from seeing pictures of recreational yachts, I found it a little difficult to envision the bunks, life rafts, and the decks on a racing yacht, and I wish the book had more pictures. I used Google Images to supplement where the book fell short.
One note: I bought the Kindle edition, and I recommend bookmarking the pictures section and returning to it at the end of the book. Some of the pictures will end up being spoilers if you see them before you finish the book.
I always find it interesting to understand what drives those who are compelled to do what can be considered extreme adventure (although in this case, it was somewhat unpredictable). This is an inside look at a treacherous race, the decisions made as it progressed, and personalities on land and how they changed at sea as they participated at different times in the crisis. Some are newsmakers, adding another layer to the story.
Another reminder, that us mere mortals can't "outrun" nature, and that regardless of the money spent on materials, design, etc.... nature still wins!
It's a well written book, and a quick read. Unfortunately, lives were lost. My respects to those who perished and their families.
The worst disaster in recent ocean racing history began the day after Christmas 1998 on a postcard-perfect summer day in Sydney Harbor. One hundred fifteen yachts gathered for the start of a 630-mile race that would take them across one of the world's most treacherous bodies of water and on to Hobart, on Tasmania's rugged east coast. The December sky was a brilliant blue, and spectators crowded along the shore to cheer as the boats set off. Less than twenty-four hours later, the fleet would be shredded by hurricane-force winds and battered by eighty-foot waves. When it was all over, men would be dead, boats would be lost, and those who survived would be forever changed.
The Proving Ground is the gripping account of what happened, focusing on three yachts, with a cast of characters straight out of a novel. There was Sayonara, owned by Larry Ellison, the world's second-richest man and a restless soul with an almost pathological need to win. His crew included Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert's heir apparent, a twenty-seven-year-old with an inexplicable taste for danger. On the Sword of Orion, a pharmacist-entrepreneur hoped to fulfill a childhood dream even though it would require him to make a sudden leap from sailing novice to grand prix yachtsman -- a leap that would end in disaster. On the Winston Churchill, a classic wooden yacht that had competed in the very first Sydney-to-Hobart Race fifty-three years earlier, the crew included a nineteen-year-old whose friends called him Beaver, an investment banker, and a garbage collector. Before the race was over, the Winston Churchill would be no more.
A page-turner of the highest order, The Proving Ground is more than one of the most exciting adventure stories written in years. It is also an incisive look at the forces that continue to draw men who have triumphed on land to risk everything at sea.
What saddens me more than the loss of the six sailors, is the staggering amount of money the Bees pour into this sport. They pay to play and they pay to win. They also pay to lose and often the loss is not something money can buy back. Needless to say, nature trumps all......no matter what.
Good book, well written, descriptive and sad.