Underfunded yet undeterred. American sailor starts Vendée Globe

Twenty yachts from around the world crossed the starting line off Les Sables D’Olonne, France, on Nov. 7 for the fifth running of the Vendée Globe, the only nonstop round-the-world solo sailboat race. Not surprisingly, there was only one American, and even less surprising, he is not supported by a corporate sponsor.

Bruce Schwab, the Oakland, Calif.-based rigger-turned-solo-circumnavigator, is perhaps this country’s most tenacious, if under-appreciated, solo sailor, and is racing for the second time around the world aboard his cold-molded Open 60 Ocean Planet. He competed in the last Around Alone, also without a sponsor, and made with the financial support of numerous friends and well-wishers, and his Vendée attempt is similarly challenged.

Schwab purchased a suit of sails for Ocean Planet — which was designed by American Tom Wylie, built by Schooner Creek Boat Works in Portland, Ore., and is the only Open 60 with a freestanding carbon rig — with a last-minute loan of $50,000 from a friend. The sails arrived just a few days before the start of the race, allowing only one day for trials. He also sells t-shirts and CDs of his music — he plays guitar — to raise money, and he reportedly borrows against his home equity line and from friends with virtual abandon.

Yet Schwab successfully started the race, perhaps the greatest hurdle of all, considering the complexity of organizing such a challenge, competing with well-funded French, British and Australian boats, some with budgets in excess of $3 million. And while he doesn’t presume to think he might win, he said prior to his departure, he hopes to be the first American in the Vendée Globe’s history to finish the grueling east-about race.

Follow progress at www.vendeeglobe.fr/uk.

By Ocean Navigator