A sophisticated chronicle that keeps the drama thrumming along nicely.
The Race, as it was dubbed, is pegged as a nonstop sail around the globe by a crewed boat, with sailors and boat designers in charge rather than a race committee. The unrestrained freedom in design led to what became known as maxi-cats: catamarans of prodigious length and sail area. The boats are capable of astonishing speed, over 40 knots, but, as sports journalist Zimmermann (Sports Illustrated, Outside) explains it, the race is about safety as much as speed, or at least about the line between dangerous and reckless (as when a skipper “wanted to be sensible, but . . . couldn’t really afford to be”). Zimmermann tries to put The Race in the context of sailing’s big-race history—from Joshua Slocum to the single-handlers of today’s Whitbread, Around Alone, and the Vendee Globe, such as Bernard Moitessier and Pete Goss (who sails in The Race as well)—though there is really nothing like the maxi-cats, brittle speedsters that allow for little margin of error, ready to slip down a wave face and bury their snoot into the forerunning wave and pitch head over heels; because of the weight distribution, no cat is righted after capsizing. Zimmermann invests the type of tactical and material information that readers familiar with sailboats will thirst for—the extraordinary prototype design features, the clever responses to problems, the talents of weather routers and navigators—with an urgency and awe that non-sailors should enjoy. And he delivers an exhilarating sense of surfing a weather system for days at a time. In the end, The Race comes down to a question of attrition, Zimmermann suggests, as the boats begin to disintegrate under the punishing speed and conditions, and the outcome grows more into a question of tact than of force majeure.
A story told with just the kind of finesse the contest deserves.