As posted on the Hamilton Spectator, The Canadian Press, TORONTO (Jun 20, 2007)
Riding inside a racing yacht as it is tips upside-down may sound like a new extreme sport, but for sailor Derek Hatfield, it's an important step toward the Vendee Globe solo around-the-world race.
Each of the Open-60 class yachts competing in the race must prove to organizers that, should the boat roll over, it can be righted by the skipper alone.
Yesterday morning, about 100 sponsors, support team members and spectators gathered at the Canadian Yacht Club to watch a heavy-duty crane tip over Hatfield's yacht, The Spirit of Canada.
Sealed inside the boat's cabin, Hatfield held on as the crane slowly tilted the vessel until it rolled all the way over with a splash.
"When you're inside there everything is disoriented because you're upside down and now instead of things being on the floor, they're above your head and it really gets quite dramatic," Hatfield said after the test. "But once you get upside down it takes a few minutes to find yourself.
"I start looking for my control unit on the floor, and of course it's above my head. You're initial reaction is to go looking for it where you last saw it."
With everything inverted, Hatfield had to operate the boat's mechanical canting keel, which can be moved left and right. At about 15 degrees off centre, the keel's weight began to lift the hull out of the water. A few more degrees and a tipping point was reached as the boat rapidly righted itself to complete a successful test, bringing cheers from those gathered.
"I jumped on the floor, on the ceiling actually, and then on a shelving unit and then it rolled right over and I was nice and safe inside the ship," Hatfield said. "Everything went according to plan, no damage inside the boat."
Hatfield will be the only Canadian of the 27 sailors in the Vendee Globe race, which begins in the Bay of Biscay in France in November 2008. It will take racers about three months to sail from France to the Cape of Good Hope, then south to Australia and South America and back up the Atlantic Ocean to France. No outside assistance is permitted during the event.