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Stuart Woods At Home from the Sea By Rick Sapp

Jet Pilot. Best-selling mystery author. Sailor. Stuart Woods grasped life and made of it a fast beam reach across the North Atlantic. Raised in landlocked Manchester, GA, the laconic 76-year-old Key West resident learned sailing in the most unusual place and time, and for the most unusual reason. Therein lies the story...

Woods that 500 miles was a run from Horta, in the Azores, to Cork, Ireland— 1,300 nautical miles. For Stuart Woods, who had never spent a day or night on the sea alone, simply qualifying was the experience of a lifetime.

Horta to Cork As much as the subsequent OSTAR, with its concomitant tragedy and heroism, Stuart Woods’ first long-distance single-handed sail defined his sailing life. Leaving Horta harbor in his 30-foot sloop Golden Harp, Woods was overcome with “a wonderful feeling of selfsufficiency.” That moment when one motors into the deep and catches the wind. The boat springs to life as if the His Ridiculous Idea single-hander is less a participant than Woods’ sailing ambition struck like a an observer. That soon changes. spark off the Blarney Stone. Living in Stuart Woods’ first book, Blue Water, Green Immediately, the wind died. Woods County Galway, Ireland, North Atlantic Skipper, was published in 1977 and reis- drank a bottle of wine, lay naked in the race competition fired his imagination. sued with a brief afterword update in 2012. sunshine and slept. The next day the Not palm trees and blue lagoons, but wind rose and kept rising. The boat, small sailboats on frigid waters; unimaginably roiling seas Woods’ privately designed and manufactured Golden Harp, and disaster imminent. strained and began to fall apart. His first impulse was to compete. It was a mad idea. His During the night, as Woods lay sleeping, the wind rose sailing résumé was, optimistically speaking, “thin”—a few further and the spinnaker tore. It wrapped, partially, down days aboard a friend’s boat in Maine, years before. “And my the forestay. Woods chugged a beer, refused help from a total navigation experience,” he says, “consisted of using a passing Dutch ship and climbed the mast to unwrap the hand-bearing compass maybe three times.” Yet Woods possail. The Dutch sailors applauded. sessed the one true gift required—desire. At last, a few days of “deep contentment.” Woods snugFor two years, he concentrated on racing a 150-pound gled into the solitude and self-sufficiency. Almost too late, dinghy. At 35 years old, he and a partner could sink it with he noticed the Harp was leaking. A lot. He couldn’t trace the a deep breath. Although he never won a race, that tiny sailleak and the bilge pump couldn’t keep up. He began to bail: boat became the Irish cliff from which he leaped into one of 10, then 20, soon 50 gallons a day. the most grueling sail challenges ever. On hands and knees sponging seawater, Harp ran before the wind as the barometer fell. Woods bailed; lived in Imagining OSTAR his sea boots; kept the cabin water level at two inches. The Stuart Woods looked up from the low deck of his dinghy self-steering gear performed a series of nerve-wracking and imagined standing in a ship’s pulpit, a wreath of flowmini-broaches and still Woods bailed, day and night. There ers around his neck. And so, inevitably, unaccountably, is no more effective bailing system than a frightened man OSTAR came to mind. with a bucket. OSTAR is the Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Just as a Force 10 gale swept over him, the boat nearly Race, a grueling sprint of 3,000 miles against the prevailing caught fire. Woods blew out the flames. Outside the cabin, wind and current from Plymouth, England, to Newport, RI. breakers towered over the boat, but the self-steering gear Held every four years, OSTAR is managed by England’s held, and the storm, gusting to hurricane strength, blew Royal Western Yacht Club. from the port quarter. Surfing down towering waves, Harp In 1976, Woods first had to qualify, prove to the race exceeded its maximum theoretical speed. committee that he could handle a boat alone on the deep. The navigation lights quit and the Dynafurl* broke, The criterion was one solitary cruise of 500 miles. For again. Woods taped a battery-operated white light to a stan42

October 2016

SOUTHWINDS

www.southwindsmagazine.com

Southwinds October 2016  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...

Southwinds October 2016  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...