In Interview with Jeff MacFarlane


Jeffrey MacFarlane of Franklin Lakes, NJ was the odds-on favorite to win the Mini Transat 2013, but misfortune – a structural failure that crushed his hand during his qualification course and a dismasting in the race – scuttled his chances. Jeff has moved from Minis to Class40s, and he’s gearing up to win The Atlantic Cup presented by 11th Hour Racing, which starts in Charleston, SC next month. He is also competing in the Global Ocean Race 2014-2015, a 30,000-mile, singlehanded round-the-world race that starts in September.


WindCheck: How did you get started in shorthanded racing?

Jeff MacFarlane: Shorthanded racing has always been an interest of mine. In 2011, I trained at Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, NY, where I was given the opportunity to race their Ker 11.3 double-handed. I capitalized on this opportunity and trained hard. I was able to finish every race I entered in 2011 on the podium, including a win in the Marblehead to Halifax Race. With that success, I decided single- and double-handed racing was the right choice for me.

WC: How did competing in The Atlantic Cup in 2012 with Sébastien Rogues lead you to racing Minis?

JM: Sailing with Sébastien was a great experience. We became great friends, and we raced together for Class40 Worlds in La Rochelle. I ended up in France when I sailed LePingouin across from Charleston for Tanguy de LaMotte in February 2012. I had always wanted to race the Mini Transat, and seeing the boats in Lorient made me decide that I was going to charter a boat and compete in the circuit. Seb owned a Mini 6.50 (#716), which I chartered and raced with great success in 2012 and 2013. I finished third in the first Mini race I competed in, the Valencia AIR. This was the very first Mini I had ever sailed and because of necessary boat preparations and a very tight schedule, I only spent an hour sailing the boat before the race. I was thrilled with my result. I finished second in the next race, the Mini Barcelona Race, and won the next, the Solo Roma-Solo Race. With each race, I learned more about my boat and my results kept improving. I took another win in the Archipelago Race and second in the Gran Premio d’Italia. I was ranked number 1 for most of the season, but because I missed a few races after 716 broke, my ranking dropped to number 3. The Minis truly test a sailor’s abilities, from boat preparation, training, weather routing (without computers) and sail selection to the ability to push yourself, probably harder than most would on other boats.

WC: What happened aboard #716?

JM: I was almost halfway through my 1,000-mile qualification course, a solo sail that all Mini Transat competitors must complete. The water was rough and the winds were quite strong. I was sailing with heavily reefed sails in 35 knots when in quick succession the deck structure, keel box and mast all failed. The boat rolled twice: once laterally and then she corkscrewed. The longitudinal structure that holds the keel box in place failed and crushed my hand. I activated my EPIRB and tried to raise assistance from other vessels in the area to no avail. I proceeded to search through the interior, which was in shambles. The flares, which had been secured in the aft corner of the boat, were in the forward point. The life raft was wedged aft. I dragged it forward and placed it by the companionway.

With the safety items organized, I proceeded to cut away the rig, saving pieces for a jury rig, and worked to tie the rudder at different angles to get the boat to maintain a somewhat straight drifting course. With nightfall nearing, I had given up hope of rescue and was prepared to bail through the night in an attempt to keep the batteries from being completely swamped and losing the ability to use the VHF. At this point, a Spanish Coast Guard helicopter flew over and I agreed to abandon my vessel. The next morning, the vessel was located approximately 15 miles from the island of Menorca and the Coast Guard towed it to shore where it was hauled. I was taken to the hospital to be checked out. I had pain in my hand but didn’t realize the extent of the damage until the x-rays were completed. The doctors told me I had broken my hand in three places but surgery was not needed. Unfortunately, they set the bones incorrectly.

With the help of my team doctor, Dr. Rob Gorski of Mountainside Hospital in New Jersey, I was able to see various hand specialists after arriving back in the States. They told me the bones leading to the knuckle of three fingers (pinkie, ring and middle) were in the wrong position. They had to re-break my hand and set it the best they could. They said I needed surgery to really fix the problem. I postponed the surgery so I could return to sailing. My hand is still not 100%, but it is good enough. I plan to have surgery after the Global Ocean Race.

WC: How did you get another boat for the Mini Transat?

JM: Finding a new boat after the 716 disaster was not easy, as most of the “good” boats were already being campaigned. I contacted Sam Manuard, a designer I know who had a number of successful designs racing on the Mini circuit. We spoke about boats that would fit my criteria – fast, light, and very strong – and #759 was available. I spoke with the owner and we put together a charter agreement. Because all Mini Transat participants must complete all of the qualification requirements in their Transat boat, I had to complete 1,000 miles of races and the 1,000-mile qualification. There were only three more races before the Transat so I had just enough time, even though I had to sail the first race with my hand in a cast! I was the last boat to qualify for the Transat.

WCWhat happened on the Mini Transat?

JM: The start was originally planned for October 13, and we finally left the docks on October 29. The seas were large, about 8 meters, and the wind was strong at approximately 25-30 knots. We headed out on a tight reach. Since another front was approaching the racecourse, I opted to take a more westerly route to reach the other side of the cold front. The first 12 hours were very fast. I was reaching with boat speeds around 15 knots, but with a nasty cross sea. The wind began to veer south and I was quickly sailing upwind in 25 knots. Throughout the second day and into that night I sailed on port tack, picking my way back up into third place overall. I reached the cold front at about 3 am. At that point the wind shifted and dropped, so I tacked onto starboard. Twenty minutes later, I heard a sudden crunch and watched my mast fall into the sea. I was devastated. Initially, I thought the rigging had broken and that I could try to raise the mast again, but quickly found that none of the rigging had failed. Rather, the carbon mast tube had broken about six feet from the deck. I radioed another competitor and they relayed my status to the support boats. I worked at cutting the broken mast and rigging free for several hours, then started to put up a jury rig.

I was radioed by the PSP Cormoran (French naval patrol vessel), who said they were approaching my position. I informed them that everything was OK onboard 759 and that I was putting up a jury rig to continue to shore to make necessary repairs without dropping out of the race. They told me they had contacted the Race Director, and said I must abandon the boat and board the Cormoran. Although I did not agree with their command, I had no choice. I left 759 one hundred and ten miles from shore. The race was abandoned just hours later and all boats were ordered to pull into Gijon, Spain. As soon as I boarded the Cormoran I frantically tried to find a replacement mast and convince salvage companies to retrieve 759 so I could continue the race, but was not successful.

Once the Cormoran returned to land, I walked the docks, visited local businesses and fishermen, and spoke with anyone willing to listen. I was looking for anyone with access to a boat – I would accompany them on the way to 759 or take the vessel alone to find 759 and bring her to shore. The boat had been floating alone for days, but I had its exact position. The “rescue” would be relatively easy, but no one could or would help. Eleven long days later, a salvage company got 759 and brought it back to Royan, France on November 13, the morning of the restart. I had already arranged new sails, a used rotating mast, and transport to get the boat to Gijon, Spain, but the boat arrived filled with water and most of the electronics were damaged. The repairs simply could not be made in time, and I knew my chances of winning the Mini Transat 2013 were finished.

WC: How did you acquire the Class40 that you're racing in the Atlantic Cup?

JM: When I started searching for a boat I spoke with Ralf Steitz, President of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation, who has long been a major supporter of promoting the next generation of sailors. The boat has raced in all three editions of The Atlantic Cup as Icarus [the third place finisher in 2013]. The prior co-skippers, Ben Poucher and Tim Fetsch, have moved on from campaigning her, but the boat remains with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation. I am tremendously grateful to Ralfie for allowing me to continue my sailing career. I can’t wait to start sailing!

WC: Who is your co-skipper?

JM: At this point I am not completely sure. I've spoken with a few people, but we are still making arrangements.

WC: What's next on yur calendar?

JM: I plan to sail the Rhode Island Leukemia Cup and the Newport Bermuda Race in June and the Global Ocean Race, starting this September in the UK…and in between, I’m getting married! I am looking forward to sailing as fast and as hard as I possibly can, and I’m excited to base my campaign in the US. After being the only American on the Mini circuit for a while, I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces at the races!

WC: What is your ultimate sailing goal?

JM: My ultimate goal is to win the Vendéee Globe.

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