ISBN 10: 1612181430 / ISBN 13: 9781612181431
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In this 10th Anniversary edition, with a new afterword from the author, G.Bruce Knecht tells the harrowing story of a world-renowned sailing race gone fatally bad.

On December 26, 1998, 115 sailboats crossed the starting line of the famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. The 630-nautical-mile contest is among the most difficult races in the world, a test of strength and endurance like few others. But no one could have foreseen the tragedy that would befall the competitors, who sailed into a massive storm that tore apart the fleet with hurricane-force winds and eighty-foot waves. What began as a race for glory rapidly became a fight for survival. In this gripping insider’s account, award-winning writer G. Bruce Knecht focuses on three yachts and their crews, weaving together an extraordinary story with vivid detail, outsized personalities, and high drama. Most importantly, he offers a glimpse into how people with very different backgrounds responded to something bigger than they were—and how it changed them forever. Hailed as “harrowing” by the New York Times, “pulse-pounding” by People magazine, and “the Perfect Storm of blue-water sailboat racing” by Walter Cronkite, The Proving Ground is a true-to-life adventure tale as thrilling as any work of fiction.

Review: An Essay by G. Bruce Knecht

The tragedies of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race had a profound impact on every participant. Writing The Proving Ground was also a big deal for me. It was my first book and I spent a tremendous amount of time with the people who became its main characters. Some of them became friends. No, I didn’t stray from my journalistic approach in telling their stories, but my role did evolve into something beyond that of a purely independent observer. The book also introduced me to Sydney. I came to believe, as I still do, that it is the world’s best city.

For all of those reasons, I jumped at the chance to write a new Afterword for the tenth anniversary edition of the book. It gave me a chance to catch up with all of the characters, including Larry Ellison, whose Hobart experience led to his campaign to win sailing’s ultimate prize, the America’s Cup.

Not every after-story was positive. John Gibson spent 29 hours on a flimsy life raft after the boat he had been on sank on its way to Hobart. Before he was rescued, three of his fellow passengers were swept away by an enormous wave and they were never seen again. Having visited Gibbo at his home and sailed with him on Sydney Harbor, I thought he was a good guy, albeit a quirky one. But then he decided to sue the owner of the boat that had sunk. The suit unfairly criticized a man that I knew to be a hero. Gibbo, a lawyer who was prosecuting the suit himself, told me he was doing it for the widows, but that was not entirely true because he had included himself as one of the plaintiffs.

The saddest story was the suicide death of Matthew Rynan, a young man everyone called Beaver. Just 19 when he sailed in the race, he too endured a harrowing experience on a life raft. When I met him a few years after the race, he told me he was still haunted by the memory. "It left me with a weakness somewhere inside of me," he said. I don’t believe his Hobart ordeal caused him to take his life. However, from talking to him and others, it was clear that the youngest survivors were having more difficulty dealing with the aftermath than their elders.

Well before Larry Ellison made it to safety, he promised himself that he would never sail in another Hobart--or in any other race that takes place in open ocean. But he was not about to give up competitive sailing. And when members of his Hobart crew who were also members of Team New Zealand, the then holder of the America’s Cup, told him they would be willing to defect from their national team, Ellison quickly signed them up for a Cup team of his own. For the man who was named for Ellis Island, the idea of returning the Cup to the United States was irresistible. After he did so in 2010, he announced that the next competition, in 2013, would be sailed in San Francisco.

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