March Madness was running at full throttle as I wrote this column, with college basketball teams from around the country scrapping it out on the court and giving it their all. In my eyes, the NCAA tournament is the one of the most exciting – and moving – sporting events to watch on TV (and not only because of the prospect of a winning bracket). These games are exciting for obvious reasons. The action is constant and the competition is fierce. Watching a game is moving because it is evident that these athletes are giving 100% of themselves to the effort and when they are successful it is easy to feel their elation. Moreover, when they lose it’s impossible to ignore their anguish.
Sailing has become more exciting and moving in this way over recent years, too. As communications technology has advanced, sailing spectators have had the opportunity to come aboard with racers and adventurers through webcams, blogs and tracking. We can feel their excitement, rally with them to triumph and feel their pain and frustration during rough times.
Following singlehanded offshore racing sailors as they brave the elements and push their boats, minds and bodies to the breaking point in the quest of victory (and sometimes survival) is no doubt the most compelling of all. Competing in our sport’s most difficult, demanding and dangerous discipline, these hardcore men and women keep us on the edges of our seats while armchair sailing along with them.
Among this elite group, Jeff MacFarlane of Franklin Lakes, NJ stands out as one of the very toughest. After a massive structural failure on his Mini 6.50 left him stranded and with a badly broken hand, Jeff persevered when many others would have thrown in the towel. This sort of fortitude and determination is often lost when hungry, talented college ball players become seasoned pros, and that’s where professional sailors set themselves apart. You won’t see a sailor pull out of the big game because of a sore shoulder, bruised knee or, in Jeff’s case, even a broken and battered body. You will see them make the best of a situation and press on.
As we see during tournament play, the team with the most talent, dedication and determination will emerge victorious. It’s no different in sailing. Rising to a challenge and overcoming adversity are two traits that most offshore sailors possess, and short-handed and singlehanded racers take this to another level entirely. Jeff is a graduate of the Oakcliff Sailing Center’s Sapling program, a summer-long course in which sailors between the ages of 19 and 30 learn all of the skills they need to succeed in professional yacht racing. Jeff had an outstanding season in 2011, sailing Oakcliff’s Ker 11.3 to victories in the doublehanded divisions of the Marblehead to Halifax Race, the Ida Lewis Distance Race, and the Greenport Ocean Race.
As I’ve often said, one of the finest facets of our sport is the opportunity for amateur and professional sailors to compete against one another. One grand prix event that showcases the talents of both professional and amateur alike is The Atlantic Cup Presented by 11th Hour Racing. With the support of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation, Jeff is racing a Class40 in The Atlantic Cup, a primarily doublehanded race that starts in Charleston, SC next month (the first two legs, from Charleston to New York, NY and from New York to Newport, RI, are sailed doublehanded, and the event culminates with a fully crewed inshore series in Newport).
Jeff’s ability, tenacity and resolve will provide tough competition for the rest of the international fleet, and if conditions foul or adversity of any kind should arise, there’s no doubt that he and his yet-to-be-named co-skipper will have the mettle to push on through. It’s what sailors with true grit do.
You can learn more about Jeff in an interview on page 60 of this issue, follow his campaigns at jefferymacfarlane.com, and learn about The Atlantic Cup presented by 11th Hour Racing at atlanticcup.org.
See you on the water (or the tracker).