Sailors are irrationally tenacious optimists

Team SCA - Volvo Ocean Race - Offshore Sailing

Sailors are irrationally tenacious optimists

Like many in the sailing world, I’ve been engrossed in the progress of the Volvo Ocean Race. When the boats are at sea, I check the tracker more than I care to admit. This week I watched the live arrivals in Brazil as the boats finished up the punishing Southern Ocean leg. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll ever do a 9 month around the world offshore race – but something about it, and the people who do it, is irresistibly compelling. I think it’s because I can relate to these people as sailors. And sailors, I’ve found, are irrationally tenacious optimists.

Take Team SCA for example.

They had, by all accounts, a really awful leg 5: tough Southern Ocean conditions, a frightening middle of the night Chinese gybe, damaged sails, failing electronics, crew injuries. And to top it all off, just as the finish was finally in sight, their rudder was damaged.

Crew member Caroljin Brouwer described the situation:

“We are just nursing our half broken boat, yesterday was quite a day, it felt like feeding time in the zoo there was so much wildlife in the water, sharks, dolphins, sun fish, it was a minefield. We had to slow down in the end. We had one big hit, a big sunfish, and damaged the bottom bearing of the port rudder. It is crushed and there is water coming in. It is manageable, the steering is heavy but it is useable. 

We are running a rotating watch. Every 45 minutes we have to go into the back hatch and bail out between two and three buckets of water. We will be doing that until the finish. We lost two to three hours trying to fix what we could. We then had one big hit with another sunfish and wiped out. And then got a shark round the rudder and it was not coming off. There was no way of getting it off. We had to furl the spinnaker and back right down.

But other than that it has been great sailing, the best ever, 22-23 knots with nice waves to play on; but really we have just been doing what we need to get to the finish safely.”

I had to read that a couple of times to let it all sink in. 22 days racing at sea, 2 days behind the rest of the fleet, just 24 hours outside of Itajai, they suffered a knockdown – and they couldn’t get a shark off their rudder. And their response? “But other than that, it has been great sailing.”

And that is why I love sailors.

Webster’s defines tenacious as “persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired,” and optimism as “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions.” While all sailors are taught to anticipate problems and keep safety top of mind, the really good ones I know also have an overabundance of both tenacity and optimism. Even when they go through something miserable, they can still see the beauty around them. 

So here’s to you Team SCA, for your irrational tenacity and optimism. You’re making sailors everywhere proud.

Photo credit: Rick Tomlinson/Team SCA