Sporting: My Life on the Ocean Wave

I was aching to do the Fastnet, and had been for years. When I was growing up, in a small town in Northern Ireland, sailing was my whole world. I was the sort of monomaniac only a child can be. I spent my summers racing a plywood dinghy on Belfast Lough, the smelly estuary where the city still dumped its effluent. I spent my winters sanding and varnishing my boat till it shone with a golden light, longing for the foul-smelling summers to return.

I memorized the contents of sailing magazines and books. There was no 10-year-old better able, or more willing, to lecture on meteorology, fluid dynamics and, in particular, the classic ocean races. The Fastnet always felt like it was already part of me. Even 30 years on, I badly wanted to race around that rock.

The mystery invitation had come from a woman named Tessa Walsh. She had been part of the last yacht crew I’d sailed with, but I had hardly seen her since the owner of that boat sold it, back in 2007, and the crew had disbanded. Essentially, I’d been laid off from my hobby.

Ms. Walsh had found a new owner, one who was looking for the last of eight crew members for a 38-foot boat,…

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