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  • Beyond Endurance
  • Written by Adam Mayers
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780771057038
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Beyond Endurance

300 Boats, 600 Miles, and One Deadly Storm

Written by Adam MayersAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Adam Mayers

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The August 1979 Fastnet race, from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel to the Fastnet lighthouse off the south coast of Ireland, started calmly enough for the 303 boats taking part. The previous two races had been uneventful and none of the sailors, among them former British prime minister Ted Heath and American cable TV millionaire Ted Turner, anticipated anything out of the ordinary this time. They expected a challenge, an exhilarating ride, and three days of top-flight competition. But once the yachts left the shelter of the Cornish coast, they were hit by a storm that gained ferocity minute by minute until it was blowing Force 10 and raising mountainous waves. At Force 10, the wind speed at sea is fifty-five knots, just shy of a hurricane. Winds that strength on land uproot trees and demolish poorly constructed buildings.

Beyond Endurance is the story of that race, which culminated in a night of terror, courage, and split-second reactions, of ferocious seas that forced each sailor either to give up and face almost certain death or to find within himself the extraordinary strength and skill that might, just might, keep him alive. Not all of them made it. Among the survivors were twenty-six men from Canada, Britain, and the United States, whom Mayers has interviewed about what they still call “that night.”

Beyond Endurance is Mayers’s dramatic story of the Fastnet race: its hopeful start, the camaraderie of its crews, the challenges of the earlier cross-Channel races — and the deadly storm that caused the worst tragedy ever to befall an ocean-sailing race.

From the Hardcover edition.


Near the Irish coast, the change in ocean depth was adding to the height of the waves. [Pachena] was in one piece, the mast was fine, the rudder was fine, everything was working, except, [the boat] didn’t have a storm trysail and so couldn’t go upwind.

“We were slamming into the seas and falling off,” Doug Race says. “It felt like an elevator.You would lift off the seat and then bang, you slammed down. It was a strong aluminum boat, so we didn’t worry that it would fall apart. But you always think about losing the mast.”

Knockdowns and broaches were frequent now, and among the wind and waves was an uncanny phosphorescence.Whenever water washed over the boat, the deck glowed for a moment or two.The crew had seen this phenomenon before on wild nights in the Pacific Northwest, but in the heart of the Irish Sea in this monstrous storm, it was as chilling as it was spectacular. Steve Tupper tightened his grip on Pachena’s wheel and braced himself as the boat rose to take the next wave. The wind was blowing so hard the droplets that splattered his glasses streamed to the side of the lenses. It improved his vision, not that there was much to see.Tupper was looking for different shades of grey, just enough contrast to discern the jagged edge of blown foam at the top of the breaker, allowing him to estimate height, distance, and time to impact.

The former coach of Canada’s Olympic sailing team had been playing this game for hours now. He estimated this one to be fifty feet high from bottom to top, as tall as a five-storey house,no worse than others he had been steering around for hours, not even as big as some he’d seen once in a Mediterranean mistral. He leaned, squinting into the wind, one broad hand gripping the lifeline and the other on the wheel.Where was the edge? Tupper heard rather than saw the wave approach and instinctively turned the boat away from the oncoming water. He was trying to gather speed so he could turn back and climb up the inside before it curled and broke. He knew right away it wasn’t going to work.The boat felt sluggish and unresponsive. …

There was barely time for Tupper to be angry at his own miscalculation before he felt the blow, a giant fist being driven deeply into his guts. Gasping, he staggered back into the stainless-steel rail, the impact bending him double. As tons of water roared over the boat,Tupper was swept out the stern, hanging half in and half out as the boat was flicked on her side, the mast touching the water. Tupper was curiously dispassionate as the water hissed and boiled past the stern, inches from his back. Sure missed that one, he thought.Then as the boat slowly righted, shuddering and shaking, Tupper cleared his head and hauled himself back on board.He stood up, took a stronger grip on the wheel, and with renewed resolve turned the boat and headed once more toward Fastnet Rock.

From the Hardcover edition.
Adam Mayers

About Adam Mayers

Adam Mayers - Beyond Endurance

Photo © Leigh Mayers

A journalist with the Toronto Star, Adam Mayers is a senior editor of the newspaper’s website. A sailing enthusiast, Mayers's first book on ocean racing was Sea of Dreams (2004). In 1979, he was living in Cornwall, U.K., when disaster struck the Fastnet race. Today, he and his family live in Oakville.


Praise for Sea of Dreams:

“[A] dramatic tale of grit and stamina.”
Hamilton Spectator

“Readers — sailors and non-sailors alike — will shiver with fear and cold as the yachts sail on the edge of control.”
Halifax Chronicle Herald

“A gripping page-turner. . . . Mayers also offers a glimpse into the soul of human endurance.”
Toronto Star

From the Hardcover edition.

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