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KNOCKDOWN by Martin Dugard

KNOCKDOWN

The Harrowing True Account of a Yacht Race Turned Deadly

By Martin Dugard

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-671-03878-8
Publisher: Pocket

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)