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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Most weeks I write a column for my paper; occasionally my daughter writes one. Usually they're focused at local issues, but every now and then I come up with one that I think Spearfish Lake Tales readers would find interesting, so I post them on the Spearfish Lake Tales Message Board. Since I've been neglecting "Shorts, Outtakes and Rants" recently, I decided to repost a few of them here, like this one. I hope you enjoy it! -- Wes

Carbon Fiber Ships and Iron Men

March 24, 2014

When the news came out last week that authorities suspect that the missing airliner, Malaysian 370, was believed to be down in the southern Indian Ocean southwest of Australia, the first thought that came to mind was, "Wow! That's Pete Goss country!"

Every four years there's a round-the-world sailboat race -- solo, and nonstop -- called the Vendee Globe. It's done in very specialized and very fast boats, and the winning time is usually well under a hundred days, northern France through the around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn to northern France. Much of the race is through the legendarily rough seas and storms of the Southern Ocean, where there isn't much to break the ongoing violence of the weather. Huge storms come one after another, with waves forty, seventy, even occasionally a hundred feet high.

Back in 1996, an Englishman named Pete Goss was racing his boat in an area near -- well, within a thousand miles or so -- of the place where Malaysian 370 is believed to have gone down. He wasn't leading the race; in fact, he was back toward the back of the pack, when he received word from race headquarters that another boat, sailed by a Frenchman by the name of Raphael Dinelli, was sending distress signals. No ships were available to go to his rescue; it's not a busy place on the ocean. The one race competitor behind Dinelli wasn't answering his radio: it was broken down. Could Goss help?

"I have no choice," Goss radioed the race headquarters. "I have to do it."

Having to do it and being able to do it were two different things. Goss was a couple hundred miles downwind of Dinelli, in a fragile boat built for going downwind, and not capable of going upwind very well. To top it off, Goss was in a survival storm, running under bare poles. But he rigged a scrap of sail, all the boat could handle at the moment, and turned into the storm to try and go back for his fellow competitor.

Goss's boat was knocked down, mast into the water, a dozen times or more that first night, and he wasn't sure the boat would hold together, but he stalwartly beat his way upwind toward the stricken competitor. While he was trying to claw his way upwind, an Australian airplane found Dinelli clinging to his boat and dropped him a life raft -- which was fortunate as the boat sank soon afterward.

It took Goss two days to battle his way to the life raft, and it still took the help of patrol aircraft to find it. It was still extremely stormy, and the waves were running high, but in an act of consummate seamanship -- and remember, Goss was by himself -- he maneuvered his boat up to the raft and managed to drag a battered and hypothermic Dinelli aboard. Only when Goss had Denelli safe below decks did he turn the boat back downwind toward Hobart, Tasmania, the easiest place for him to reach.

For ten days Goss sailed the boat and nursed Dinelli back from the brink of death. Goss spoke no French and Dinelli only a little English -- but in those ten days, in spite of the language barrier, they became the best of friends, to the point a few months later when Goss was the Best Man at Dinelli's wedding. They remained close friends, and have since sailed long-distance two-handed races together.

Goss, who went on to finish fifth in the race, was rightly called a hero for his rescue of Dinelli -- and French President Jacques Chirac pinned the Legion d'honneur on Goss for it; Queen Elizabeth awarded him an MBE. But the honors weren't why Goss turned his boat upwind -- it was the knowing that someone needed his help. As he said, "I knew I had to stand by my morals and principles. Not turning back would have been a disservice to myself, my family and the spirit of the sea."

There is an old saw about "wooden ships and iron men." They may build boats of carbon fiber and resin these days, but there still are a few iron men.

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