Topic: Profiles

Bruce Schwab Talks About Solo Sailing

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Bruce Schwab is only the second American to single-handedly sail nonstop around the globe, a distinction he earned in 2005 when he became the first American to complete the 27,000-mile Vendée Globe sailing race aboard his 60-foot sloop, Ocean Planet. Bruce, who turned 46 this year, lives in Woolwich, Maine, near Casco Bay, which is home to Dodge Morgan, the first American to complete a nonstop solo sailing circuit around the world (20 years ago, in April 1986).

On Adventure Sailing

When you mention sailing in the U.S., what do you think of? America’s Cup. That’s all there is. People don’t think of adventure racing. But it’s extreme, it’s adventure, it’s individual.

Solo racing is growing rapidly now. I run into people all the time who tell me that we’ve gotten them really excited about this. There’s an awareness of it, and the number of people who want to do it is growing. It’s the whole idea of individual competition and adventure. And some people are a little tired of the classic blue-blazer crowds and the rich guys arguing about the rules.

It’s not like I dreamed of doing a round-the-world solo race when I was young. It’s something that just built up. We all wonder how competent we really are, and we’re looking for ways to prove it to ourselves. I recognized that I wasn’t really an ace in any particular field of sailboat racing. I was never going to be an Olympic gold medalist tactician or drive an America’s Cup yacht. But I could do it all.

On Going It Alone

I’m also a solo guitar player. Even though I enjoy playing with others, most music I’m happy to play by myself. I don’t know if that means I’m a loner or a narcissist — maybe it’s somewhere in between there.

On Training

You don’t just jump into the Vendée. You won’t have a chance of finishing. So the Around Alone [a solo race with stops that he completed in 2002-03] became a necessary stepping stone. And it was an epic adventure: On the first leg, the boom broke, which sort of set the tone for the race. I wasn’t in competitive mode, but survival mode. I wound up finishing last in Class 1 — it wasn’t like I set the world on fire. But finishing was a big achievement.

It also turned out that being a rigger and lifelong boatyard flunky was the perfect training. I didn’t realize it, but my whole life I’d been training to do the [Vendée] race. Playing around with engines a little bit, doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, knowing just enough to get into trouble with any facet of the whole thing.

On Dodge Morgan

Dodge Morgan became a spiritual and psychological supporter. Dodge carries a bit of gravity here in Maine and he was at a lot of our functions. I learned a lot from him, too — he’s very thoughtful and he doesn’t miss a beat. He’s a sharp guy, and to have him say things on my behalf — and have him put his “Dodgeness” to my benefit — was a lesson and a compliment.

I could never do what Dodge did — sail around the world for the heck of it. I would go insane. It has to be a race. There have to be other boats — you have to know who you’re ahead of and who you’re behind. You have to have a reference point, psychologically.

On Maine

Maine is conservative in some ways — it’s reserved, but not conservative ideologically. It’s a very open place, and that’s very important to me. There’s more room to maneuver, and because there’s more space, there’s more opportunity. You can connect with people faster here because there aren’t the crowds around certain players. And you never know for sure who you’re talking to.

There’s a lot of value in Maine on individual competence and everyone working together. Everyone shares. Maine’s not full of loners, but full of people who do their own thing and then share it with each other. And there’s a big maritime background. Sailing is respected here.

I think the perfect way to succeed is to do a Maine-built boat. It could be a focal point for the industry here. It would be good advertising for the state and good on the technological side, because that type of boat construction is where Maine is headed. If we go out and are competitive, it will really pump it up. Then we can really get the ball rolling.


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