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Adventure Magazine

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Writer Spotlight
Learning the Ropes on Renegade

image: On the deck of the RenegadeAuthor John Vaillant was aboard Renegade, one of the world's fastest single-hull sailboats, as it streaked from Victoria, British Columbia, to Hawaii in the Vic-Maui race.

Vaillant's account, "Fast Sled to Maui" appears in the May/June 2001 issue of Adventure. Here, in an interview with Adventure online's Katie McDowell, he reveals how he transformed himself from sailing novice to salty dog—anything to get the story—and survived ten days of hyper-racing on the high seas.

I was taking a sailing class in Vancouver, and the sailors started talking about the Victoria-to-Maui race. It was spoken of in these reverential tones, of how only the hard-core sailors were doing it.

When I heard about what the race involved—2,500 miles [4,023 kilometers] nonstop in boats that went so fast—it became my obsession. I started investigating on my own, found the Web site, made inquiries.

The timing was perfect. The race wasn't for another year. I knew I'd have to practice a lot to even get good enough to be considered for the race.

image: the RenegadeI started racing every chance I got, sailing on as many boats as I could, getting to know as many people as I could. I figured the more people I knew who were involved with the race, my chance of actually getting a berth on a boat would improve.

I had also added my name to the "crew seeking boat" list and told race organizers that I was a journalist looking to do a story on the race. From there I got a phone call from Dan Sinclair—the owner-skipper of Renegade—and we started talking.

Dan told me what his boat could do. I was very curious, but a little skeptical. We met to sniff each other out.

He told me some unbelievable high-speed ocean stories, but I was still skeptical: Sinclair is a salesman and I could tell he was trying to sell me on this. I found it a little hard to believe that even his turbo-charged 70-footer [21 meters] could be as amazing as he was claiming.

It was the night in the trade winds when we hit 20 knots that I became a believer. I was woken up with my heart in my throat. I went up on deck and saw the expressions on people's faces. They were bug-eyed, exhilarated, yet with terror right around the corner.

It was like hurtling through space—so much noise and so much power with such tenuous control. But it was the other people's faces that told the story. I don't know what I looked like, but I certainly felt the way they did.

Going fast during the daytime is one thing, but going fast at night, it just feels faster, even though you don't have any reference; you just feel it vibrating through your sternum.

Sinclair hadn't been exaggerating. Renegade was above and beyond my expectations.

The boat is fast, but to make it go that fast, our energy had to be up all the time. You have to put the sails and the boat in the right configuration to maximize the speed and you have to think fast thoughts to will the boat on.

You could cruise across the ocean in Renegade and go pretty quickly, but there was a hyperconscious, hypercompetitive state that we needed to access in ourselves for this race. That's the real test—ten days going full-bore really takes it out of a person. By the end of the race, we were running on fumes.

There was an enormous amount of stress to the boat, too. It was of another magnitude: The winches on a 40-foot [12-meter] boat can break your finger, but the winches on Renegade can tear off your arm. In fact, the colored yarn inside the spinnaker sheet actually melted onto the winch because of the stress and friction.

In a way, the boat expressed what was happening to us: The lines were snapping, the sails were ripping, and stanchions were getting bent from people being thrown against them. Everyone took a beating.

There was an intimacy with the crew. I learned everyone's breathing patterns, their snoring habits; they were all right next to me. We were up against one another in every sense, and it got very close very quickly. It was a lot of what is good about a wartime bond but without any of the really destructive baggage.

This race made me realize how much I really have to learn. I'd do it again in a second.

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Read "Fast Sled to Maui" in the May/June 2001 issue of Adventure.
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image: Adventure magazine cover


Related Web Sites

Team Adventure: The Race
Six high-tech catamarans. One around-the-world sailing race. No stops. Get dispatches from the ultimate team race >>

Renegade Stats
The "turbocharged" boat that author John Vaillant helped crew from British Columbia to Hawaii.

Vic-Maui 2000
The race that made a speed racer of author John Vaillant.


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