Bruce and Ocean Planet Sail into History
February 25, 2005
Bruce Schwab sailed across the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, France just after 08:00 GMT on the morning of Friday, February 25 and sailed into the history books as the first American ever to complete the grueling Vendee Globe. It was a remarkable achievement and Bruce deserves every acclaim heading his way. He has my utmost admiration and respect and I congratulate him and his fine boat on a job well done.
To put his accomplishment in context, by completing the Vendee, Bruce has not only become the first American to finish the race, but he also becomes the second American ever to complete a single-handed, non-stop lap of the planet. In the early 1980’s, Dodge Morgan became the first American to circumnavigate single-handed without stopping. He set off from Portland, Maine in a purpose built yacht named American Promise. Unfortunately, despite years of preparation that involved hiring numerous consultants, this scribe included, the boat immediately ran into problems. The autopilots started to act up and Dodge reluctantly stopped in Bermuda to fix them. A few days later he set off again and sailed back to Bermuda, by way of Cape Horn, arriving 150 days later. It was a stunning achievement that was accomplished in part because of Dodge’s true Yankee spirit and grit. Dodge Morgan has been an inspiration to many sailors; Bruce included, and was on hand in Maine last July to attend the re-launching of Ocean Planet.
Perhaps more than Dodge Morgan, another American by the name of Mike Plant has inspired generations of single-handed sailors. Plant was a real trailblazer. In the early 1980s he worked as builder framing houses during the day, and when his fellow workers laid down their tools and headed off to the nearest local for a cold pint, Mike and a small team took up a different set of tools to build the boat aboard which Plant competed in the 1986 BOC Challenge. Their hard work was rewarded when Mike won Class 2 of that single-handed race around the world aboard Airco Distributor. He then sold the boat and commissioned a new 60-footer to be built for the upcoming Vendee Globe. Unfortunately a rigging failure forced him to stop in Campbell Island, a tiny chunk of land south of New Zealand, which effectively disqualified him from the Vendee even though he went on to finish the race. Mike then entered the 1990 BOC, and although the boat was only one year old, it was already a generation older than the new boats designed and built specially for that event. He was the only American to compete in Class I and finished fourth. It was his third solo circumnavigation. Mike Plant then built a new state-of-the-art Open 60 called Coyote. The Vendee Globe was unfinished business and Plant was determined to successfully complete the course. Tragically Mike was lost at sea when the boat capsized in the middle of the Atlantic on the way over to the start. His death was a huge blow to legions of sailors who lived vicariously through his adventures.
Now along comes Bruce and his pencil thin rocketship. Like Mike Plant, Bruce has managed to complete two solo circumnavigations in as many years and he did so through sheer guts and determination. Despite approaching hundreds of companies for sponsorship, no corporation could see the benefit of backing this truly great American effort. It’s their loss. Bruce is a poster-boy for hard work, dogged determination and a never quit attitude that symbolizes what America stands for. One wonders what you have to do these days to get recognized and backed by corporate America. Perhaps someone will take note of this terrific effort and realize the commercial value of ocean racing. Bruce finished ninth in a hugely competitive fleet and was the only non-sponsored boat in the race. By sailing smartly and conservatively he outlasted some of the great names in solo sailing and will go down in history as one of the best solo sailors in America. Rest up my friend. You and that great boat deserve some time off. When the crowds in Les Sables d’ Olonne have thinned and you can sit quietly on board your boat listening to the water lap gently against the hull, you can be rightly proud of what you have done. Now let’s hear some new music.
— Brian Hancock
Brian Hancock is a veteran round the world racer who has parlayed that experience into a career as a writer and is author of five books. His latest are: “The Risk in Being Alive” and “Maximum Sail Power.” “Risk” is an autobiographical account of his sailing and travel adventures. “Maximum Sail” is a definitive guide to sails and sailmaking and sail technology.