A sailor who on May 31, 2003 completed the epic 2002-03 Around Alone race in his 40 foot boat, "Spirit of Canada". Derek is the 126th person, and the second Canadian, to finish the gruelling regatta.
Around Alone is a solo sailboat race that circumnavigates the globe. It's the longest solo race in the world, and spans 27,000 nautical miles of open ocean, including some of the most remote and dangerous passages on earth. Held once every four years, Around Alone was launched in 1986, when it was known as The BOC Challenge (BOC is a British company that founded the race). This year's race was the 6th running.
Derek has been sailing since he was a boy and competing in single-handed regattas in deep ocean since 1995. He placed second in the 1997 and the 1999 Bermuda One-Two, won the 1996 Legend Cup Transatlantic Race, and the same year overcame rigging failure to place seventh in the 1996 Europe One Single-handed Transatlantic Race. He is a former RCMP officer who now works in financial management while pursuing his punishing hobby.
For a solo ocean sailor, the ultimate challenge - and Derek's dream - is the Around Alone race, and so Derek and his family pulled together to make his dream come true. His sister Tammy and her husband, who own a construction company, built a boathouse on his brother's property, and the construction of the actual vessel was overseen by his father Art, a boatbuilder. Constructed from a shoestring budget financed through a grassroots campaign, the Spirit was launched in 2001. She embarked in the small boat class in Around Alone, setting off from New York on September 15, 2002. The race course took Derek and his fellow sailors to England, then South Africa, New Zealand, and around the tip of South America to Brazil. The finish line was at Newport, Rhode Island.
Any undertaking of this nature is filled with thrills and danger, but Derek's race was more thrilling and dangerous than most. Things began to go wrong when he left New Zealand in a race for second in his class, for each time he recharged his new batteries, they shorted out his electrical system. He carried on, figuring he didn't need complicated electronics, but when his autopilot failed, he knew he couldn't continue. He doubled back to New Zealand to have the problem fixed, and when he got back into the race, he was four days behind.
The Brush with Death
The other racers got round the dangerous Cape Horn ahead of a storm that was raging by the time the Spirit got there. Derek was exhausted, battling a hurricane and facing waves much taller than his mast, just trying to keep on keeping on. On March 7 he went below to get a can of Boost, which was all he had been consuming for some days, and when he got back up to the cockpit a few minutes later he looked up to see a wall of water in front of himr. He hadn't even clipped on his safety harness when the huge wave hit, but his instincts kicked in and he grabbed hold of a rope. His boat was flipped end-over-end and his mast was shattered, but miraculously the boat was still afloat and Derek on deck.
For the next 18 hours Derek limped along through almost-freezing temperatures at 3 MPH, powered only by a small diesel engine. As he had been throughout the race, he was sleeping in 12-minute snatches for a total of about five hours a day and eating boil-in-a-bag food. Then he looked up and saw his race team leader Adrian Trus and his friend Andrew Prossin waving over the edge of a 400-foot passenger boat; they put a launch into the rough swells and motored over to meet Derek. They found a stunned and glassy-eyed man, and they later said he was so out of it they were afraid he had gone crazy. But, true Canadian, after a few beers which his friends had thoughtfully brought along the light came back into his eyes and he began to talk - albeit quietly and briefly - about his ordeal.
The next month was crucial to Derek's efforts as an army of volunteers worked to find money and figure out the logistics of finding and installing a new mast. Appeals went out in Canadian papers, and a small Markham auto parts firm that kicked in much of the $100,000 needed. And so, in early April, Derek was back in the race.
The Finish Line
After eight months, Derek finished last, three weeks behind his nearest competitor. This was enough to earn him fourth place in his class. And of course, merely finishing a race like this is a tremendous accomplishment.
Derek's official website and an important source for this article is www.spiritofcanada.net/. I also used a series of articles in the Toronto Sun.