Solitude on the High Seas

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1995

Solitude on the High Seas
By Lawrence Burke

There are few sporting events on earth more taxing of mind and body than the BOC Challenge, the around-the-world solo sailing marathon that ended late last spring in Charleston, South Carolina. During this 27,000-mile odyssey, competitors must endure capricious seas, snapped rudders and masts, and interminable weeks of solitude across the nether reaches of the planet. At the completion of the race's next-to-last leg, we dispatched contributing editor Craig Vetter to Uruguay to capture the dockside atmospherics as the last sailors, battered and fatigued, limped into the port town of Punta del Este.

Vetter renders a group portrait of some of the most remarkable characters in the adventure world. "I had expected single-handed sailors to be a rather misanthropic bunch," says Vetter in his story, "By Jury-Rigged Mainsail and the Grace of God." "But they were gregarious and generous, an amazingly buoyant lot." As Vetter's piece makes clear, the BOC sailors practice a purer alternative to big-bucks competitive yachting. Theirs is a sport in which modern technology, though crucial, has yet to supplant stamina, nerve, and other traits of the ancient mariners. "You can carry all the electronics you want aboard a BOC boat," says Vetter, "but one 60-foot wave can knock it out in a second and leave you sailing on the ragged edge."

Canadian Jeff Wandich is a young man who certainly knows what it means to be on the ragged edge. Last fall, he and three friends were out diving in the Gulf of Mexico when Wandich's boat, the Sea Esta, mysteriously sank. Two days later, the Coast Guard found Wandich--badly sunburned, dehydrated, and suffering from exposure--but despite one of Florida's most exhaustive search-and-rescue missions, his three friends were never located. Then began a welter of rumors accusing Wandich of everything from drug-running to outright murder.

In "Without a Trace," Randy Wayne White takes leave of his monthly Out There column to unravel the perplexing case of the Sea Esta. In what he calls "the classic sole-survivor tale," White finds himself contemplating the public's penchant for rushing to judgment in the face of the inexplicable, and our reluctance to accept the blunt reality that the sea sometimes swallows people whole.

Elsewhere in this issue: Sara Corbett checks in on the career of Juli Furtado, mountain biking's most ferocious--and most dominant--athlete. The 28-year-old Furtado has twice claimed the World Cup series and has won 17 consecutive major races. And yet after every race she seems to slip into a curious slough of despond. In "The Marvelous, Manic Drive of Juli Furtado," Corbett visits the champion's knobby-crazed hometown of Durango, Colorado, to examine the puzzling moodiness that lies behind--and indeed seems to account for--Furtado's triumphs.

From contemporary Colorado we take you to medieval Texas, where Richard Clifford and John Quincy are constructing what they call "the biggest siege weapon in the history of the world," a humongous catapult that will be christened Thor. Clifford and Quincy recently have been testing a smaller, 25-foot-tall contraption known as Baby Thor, chucking everything from cash registers to commodes--with Buicks soon to follow. Please see Paul Kvinta's "It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's a Case of Spam!" Heads up!

Finally: Tired of fighting the madding crowds at Yellowstone and Yosemite? Hunting for blockbuster scenery in a lesser-known piece of Park Service real estate? In our cover story, "Parkland Incognito," Bob Howells introduces us to eight national parks from Utah to Florida that are underutilized, undersavored, and mercifully off the beaten track--places where you'll never have to queue up to get a backcountry pass or elbow through a Woodstockian sea of bodies just to pitch your tent.

And besides, Old Faithful ain't going anywhere.

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