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A sailing adventure with ocean racer Ross Field

Chapter one: FFS and ADHD

I would not do that voyage again for five hundred pounds, 
but nor would I have missed it for a thousand.
— Adrian Hayter, Sheila in the Wind

Frostbite on the lungs, sinking by iceberg and the possibility of being lunch for a polar bear’s picnic – just a few of the reasons why I kept saying no when former Whitbread winner Ross Field asked me to sail the Northwest Passage. I had met Ross at the 2014 Auckland on Water Boat Show in New Zealand, where I was working as editor of Boating New Zealand magazine. I had sort-of met him three times before, but he remembered none of them. The first time he was in his knickers, having just dived under the Ross 40 yacht Pretty Boy Floyd to scrub its bum in Napier marina. It was during a stopover of the 1999 Round North Island Race, for which I was following Chris Sayer’s Mini Transat 6.50, Navman. I was impressed that Ross Field cleaned his own boat’s bum, but I didn’t dare talk to him because he was famous and he wasn’t properly dressed. Another time, I shared a table with him at a Bucklands Beach Yacht Club event. During the speeches he was leaning back in his chair on the verge of capsize, except his legs were long enough to keep him balanced. He looked bored and like he didn’t want to be there. He would have been in his early fifties: a handsome powerhouse of a man with an immense presence who, frankly, looked scary even though he was fully dressed, so I didn’t talk to him that time either. Finally, as a yachting journalist, I was invited to a media and sponsors’ sail on the Volvo 60 yacht News Corporation during its Auckland stopover in the 2001–2 Volvo Ocean Race. Ross was co-skipper with Jez Fanstone. In those days it seemed round-the-world races were stopping over in Auckland every five minutes and such invitations were common. Mostly we barely got to speak to the skipper except in a business-like vibe, but on an easy sail back up the harbour I had a long chat with Ross below decks. He told me that the water spouts he had dodged in the Sydney to Hobart Race were just like the ones in the movies but without the cows, and that you don’t get colds at sea because there are no germs on the ocean, and that every time you go out on a boat you learn something new. He remembers none of that meeting, but I still have the News Corporation T-shirt from that outing. I didn’t meet Ross again until the boat show in 2014. He was in business with a friend of mine, marine photographer Bryce Taylor, and they stopped at the Boating New Zealand stand for a chat. The night before, Boating New Zealand had won Editor of the Year and Magazine of the Year in the Special Interest category at the Magazine Publishers Association Awards. Bryce’s photography was definitely a factor in our win, so we basked in our success. Then I asked Ross for a tip on how to make a Young 88 yacht go fast because I had a quarter share in the Young 88 War Machine and our nationals were the following weekend. He told me to have the shrouds bar-tight. A few days later, Ross bought Focus, an Elliott 50 performance cruising yacht I had secretly hankered after, and he asked Bryce to invite me onboard for a rum race. Then Ross took me out to dinner. I told a friend that I looked up from my menu and felt as though I was sitting opposite a superhero from a comic book. Back then, I was a little star-struck. Somehow I ended up on the invite list to sail through the Northwest Passage. This sort of thing happens if you hang around Ross Field for too long. He has adult ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). In his professional sailing days, ADHD had an outlet: running a campaign, calling an urgent spinnaker peel in a Southern Ocean storm. These days, even though Ross is officially a pensioner, he converts a beer-in-the-cockpit idea into reality quicker than a boom crash-gybes with a rookie crew. Ross has sailed around the world nearly five times, one of those as watch captain on Peter Blake’s victorious, big red ketch Steinlager 2 in the 1989–90 Whitbread Race. In 1994 Ross skippered the blue-hulled Whitbread 60 yacht Yamaha and won first place in the Whitbread 60 division of 10 boats. He liked winning, so – possibly powered with a touch of ADHD – he asked media mogul Rupert Murdoch for a huge amount of money. The result was News Corporation with Bart Simpson’s cartoon head on the spinnaker. A broken rudder en route to Rio de Janeiro broke News Corporation’s chances of winning. In 1997, Ross won the Round Europe Race and took line honours in the Fastnet Race on a maxi yacht sponsored by the Bank of Luxembourg. Two years later on the same boat, then named RF Yachting, Ross won the Fastnet again, taking line honours and setting a new race record which stood for eight years. So at 68 in 2017, Ross was a warhorse of the seas. He swears a lot, especially at sea, usually ‘fuck’. He uses it creatively – as a noun, an adjective, a verb, an adverb and even an expletive. When I sailed with him across the North Atlantic and back, I measured my crewing mistakes in FFS points – as in: ‘For fuck’s sake.’ Ross’s last professional offshore race was with his son Campbell on the Class 40 Buckley Systems in the 2011–12 two-handed Global Ocean Race. The organisers had placed a hypothetical scoring gate at latitude 47°S in the Southern Ocean leg from Wellington, New Zealand to Punta del Este, Uruguay. The scoring gate was like an imaginary landmark on the surface of the globe. The boats had to sail around that mark, as evidenced by their onboard position trackers, so that they didn’t sail too far south and run the risk of hitting ice. Ross had angrily declared in the media that the scoring gate was bullshit. Having sailed the Southern Ocean at least five times before, he said skippers were smart enough to know where the ice was and how to avoid it. Instead of improving safety, he said the scoring gate subjected the boats to greater dangers than ice as they battled 35 knots upwind to make the scoring gate in yachts designed for downwind work. His words proved prophetic: while leading the fleet, Buckley Systems launched off a huge wave that evicted Ross from his seat at the nav station. The hard landing compressed his spine and ended their race. Ross endured a painful sail back to New Zealand and surgery with many months’ recovery. That indicated his early sixties were a good time to stop offshore racing and do something easy, like high-latitude cruising. Ross was adamant that, unlike ocean racing, there would be no schedules to stick to. He declared his next foray into ocean sailing would have no sponsor-driven stopovers, no crews rushing to make an international flight – that’s the attitude that gets boats into trouble, he says. He also refused to sail upwind or to have the yacht heeling over at more than 15 degrees – at least not in the first few days of leaving port. Oh, and no freeze-dried food. ‘I wanted to go to different sorts of places like the Auckland Islands, Chile, Cape Horn and have a look around down there, Ushuaia and the Straits of Magellan, and then go back up to the Caribbean,’ he says. ‘I was looking for an aluminium expedition-style boat that was different, strong and sailed well.’ He didn’t find such a boat in New Zealand, Australia or Asia. To him, what was available seemed to be slow and overly complicated. Ross had shared his frustrations with long-time sailing friend and French yacht designer Halvard Mabire. Like Ross, Halvard had been involved in Whitbread and Volvo Ocean Race campaigns. In early 2015, Halvard phoned Ross from France: ‘You better come and see this boat. It’s in Port Napoléon near Montpellier and you’re going to buy it.’

Wild Seas
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Storms Ahead

Rick Dodson: America's Cup champion to Paralympian

Chapter one: The America's Cup class of '95

Black Magic, sail number NZL32, surged across the finish line on San Diego Harbor as television commentator Peter Montgomery boomed words that would become engraved on New Zealand sailing history: ‘The America’s Cup… is now… New Zealand’s cup.’ It was 13 May 1995, local time. NZL32 was an IACC (International America’s Cup Class) yacht, 75ft long, 25 tonnes. Each of the 16 crew had their his surnames emblazoned in bold, black lettering on the backs of their his mustard- yellow shirts. The man in the DODSON shirt was the strategist. Rick Dodson was aged 36; his wife, Sally, had recently returned to New Zealand with their two-year-old son, William, to have their second child. Rick was popular, a character, a hard case, who lived for sailing. ‘It’s all I’ve done,’ he says. ‘That’s why I was good, because I was so determined. I believed in myself.’ Rick was a two-time world champion in the OK Dinghydinghy; a national champion in the Finn class; a skipper of the victorious, three-boat team that took New Zealand’s only win in the Admiral’s Cup in 1987; and he had skippered the winning boat in the 1988 One Ton Cup in San Francisco. He was known for a high level of physical fitness, a natural swagger and a determination to win. As strategist, Rick maintained the big picture of the race course, . He useding weather data gathered over many months and specifically in the 12 hours before the racehand to predict: how wind speed and direction, geographical influences, sea state and tidal flows would evolve through the race. The strategist’s role was also crucial for the race pre-start and mark-roundings when he advised the tactician and helmsman which side of the course to take for maximum wind and tide advantage and best tactical advantage over the other boat. At the top mark, the strategist chose which side of the downwind run to protect. At the bottom mark gate, the strategist in the leading boat would choose the right or left side; the boat behind would likely choose the other side to try and break cover. If the leading strategist got it wrong, it could be game over. Rick shared his determination with NZL32’s helmsman, Russell Coutts, then aged 33. Coutts had out-gunned Rick to win Olympic selection for the 1984 Olympic Games in the Finn class and gone on to win the gold medal at Los Angeles. He was a three-time World Match racing Racing Champion. Murray Jones, aged 38, was trimming the traveller. He had founded Matrix Masts in New Zealand, represented New Zealand at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics in the 470 class, and been selected for every Olympic team since 1976. The three men had known each other since they were kids sailing P-Classes in Wellington, honing their skills against each other and against Wellington’s infamous wind. Now, they were part of the team which that had finally won the America’s Cup for New Zealand. It was a long tow to the winner’s berth at San Diego Yacht Club, and NZL32 gradually filled with support crew and media. Montgomery was moving around the boat, interviewing the sailors. As NZL32 docked, the yacht club’s sound system played Santana’s Black Magic Woman and ENZA, the 30m catamaran in which Peter Blake had blitzed the non-stop, round- the-world record to win the Jules Verne Trophy, pulled up alongside. Montgomery presented the microphone to Rick. ‘I’d just like your dear wife Sally to see how you’re looking just a couple of hours after winning the America’s Cup,’ Montgomery said on camera. In New Zealand, more than a million people were watching. ‘She’d be disappointed in me right now,’ Rick said as he laid an arm around Montgomery’s shoulders. ‘She’d say, “You’ve had too much to drink; you should go home.” He laughed. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, it’s unbelievable.’ ‘Once in a lifetime,’ said Montgomery. ‘Well, I hope it’s more than once in a lifetime.’ ‘The first time, is what I mean,’ said Montgomery. ‘You might defend it successfully.’ ‘It’s great. Fuck, it’s just great,’ replied Rick. He grinned and leaned in close to Montgomery, as though they were two blokes at a bar. ‘I shouldn’t say fuck, should I?’ ‘Probably not, but never mind. People will perhaps understand. You are a very, very happy guy.’ Back in New Zealand, the F-bomb slipped over the yachting audience like frothy beer, but it scored a direct hit with a Mr Campbell of Auckland, who placed registered the incident’s sole complaint against Television New Zealand. The mastman on NZL32 was Matt Mason. He towered over most of his crewmates. Even during the regatta, he had known the special bond among the crew would endure for decades. He also reluctantly made a prediction: that of the men on NZL32 that day, one would become highly successful and one would suffer a cruel blow. ‘It’s just the odds,’ he would say, 25 years later. Mason’s prediction of a wildly successful outcome would belong to Coutts. After winning the America’s Cup again for New Zealand in 2000, and for Alinghi, (Switzerland) in 2003, and Oracle (USA) in 2010, he would become the most successful America’s Cup skipper of all time. He would be knighted in 2009 for his achievements in sailing. The cruel blow would fall to Rick Dodson. Occasionally on NZL32, as Rick had looked to the top mark, he had seen double, which he corrected by closing one eye. Initially he thought little of it, but within two years he would receive a diagnosis that he would share in confidence with his immediate family and his close friend, Jeremy Scantlebury, pitman on NZL32. The illness would eventually claim his professional sailing career as a professional sailor, his marriage and his mobility, ; but it would also inspire him to become a Paralympian and, with the help of his friend Matt Mason, to share this story.


Sheila excerpt

by Adrian Hayter (Dad)

More than 60 years after it was first published and in the 30th anniversary of Adrian Hayter's death, Lodestar Books, UK republished one of New Zealand's great sailing classics. In 1949, an intensely self-reliant, introspective New Zealand soldier emerged from the War, the Partition of India and the Malayan Emergency feeling the world had lost all sense of humanity. He set sail single-handed from England to New Zealand, despite having no sailing experience. The story of that voyage in Sheila II has continued to inspire readers as a sailing achievement and a journey of the human spirit. But what drove Adrian to make the voyage and what did it come to mean in the context of his life? I attempt to answer those questions in the Introduction, written especially for this edition of Sheila in the Wind.


UK & Europe readers: available from


One man's guide to life, death and alternative therapies 

by Paul Blacklow and Rebecca Hayter

Chapter one: Life is pretty good – isn’t it?

'Sport was his real passion. That was evident right from the time he could stand up and throw a ball.' – Jeff Ross, Paul’s brother-in-law It is a beautiful day: 26 degrees and I'm on my honeymoon at Lake Cathie, New South Wales, Australia. I’m jogging back to the motel from a sprint session that I will try out with the Marist Albion rugby boys when I get home to Christchurch, New Zealand. As usual when I’m jogging, I’m contemplating life. Things are going well. I’ve just married Julianne (Ju) on 4 January 2002, the most wonderful day in my life so far, celebrated with family and friends. Work-wise, my sports massage business is building up to where I want it to be, including plenty of work with the Crusaders, the Canterbury Rugby Union and a little bit with New Zealand Rugby Union. Back at the beach I have a quick dip to cool down and then in the motel I get back into the book I’m reading: Lance Armstrong's It's not About the Bike. It’s the first book I have read in about six years but I read it in two days. It inspires me. As I start the last chapter I tell Ju: “I need a challenge.” I am thinking of a physical challenge – maybe a marathon or the Coast to Coast. Little did I know that I would get my challenge and that it would be far greater than we ever imagined. It just goes to show: be careful what you wish for. *** Ju and I were enjoying the honeymoon, especially after a frantic few months, even apart from planning the wedding. I had been working with my massage clinic, doing a little personal training and working with the Canterbury NPC side and a couple of New Zealand Sevens camps. Ju, a physiotherapist, had been busy at SportsMed Canterbury and working with Canterbury Men’s and Women’s hockey teams; some weekends we travelled so much we handed over the car keys as we met at the airport. Our motel at Lake Cathie was a nice little place with kangaroos jumping around and, finally, time to ourselves. After a few days at the lake, we drove to Sydney to catch up with my brother Johnnie and his wife Gretchen. Johnnie was doing IT work and management consulting there. In Sydney I discovered my wife's shopping skills and we played tourists, including Sydney Zoo and the harbour cruise. It was my first holiday in three years. As for Julianne, she had always wanted to be part of a large family and now she had it. I was the youngest of eight – four girls and four boys. Add in partners and children and it quickly multiplies. Meanwhile, I was welcome in Julianne's family: her parents Marg and Don and her younger twin sisters, Jax and Suz. The first week back in New Zealand, we flew up to Waiheke Island near Auckland for the wedding of our friends Becks and Owen, and stayed with Dev, my groomsman, who was teaching on the island. It was a lovely weekend. As I got back into work, I started thinking about my physical challenge. I upped my training sessions, did more running and worked more with the trainer, Rachel, at Merivale Health Club where I worked. A friend, Chris Doherty (Dohs), was back from England and staying with us. He was running the Buller half marathon, so I jumped on board training with him. As a personal trainer I was always one of the fitter people among my group of friends so it was unusual when I had to start pulling out of runs with sore calves but we assumed it was an injury I had picked up playing touch rugby. We changed our focus a little and did more cycling and weights exercises; the calf problem seemed to go away. On the work front, my massage books were getting busier, including work with the Crusaders and the occasional long weekend away with the New Zealand Sevens camps. I never had to advertise, the gym was great for business and when you have a few Crusaders like Chris Jack and Richie McCaw walking through your door, business comes to you. Sports massage isn’t a routine, 40-hour week job. I was lucky that I could break it up with personal training but sometimes I worked until nine at night which made it hard catching up with Ju. Still looking for my new challenge, I did a day’s massaging at the Coast to Coast. It is a long day for the massage therapist but I made the most of it: querying the athletes about their training and how long it had taken them to reach this stage in their competitive fitness. I decided to do the race the following year. The Speight's Coast to Coast traverses the South Island of New Zealand from Kumara Beach on the Tasman Sea to Sumner Beach on the Pacific Ocean. Over one or two days, individuals or two person teams cycle 140 km, run 36km over the Southern Alps and kayak 67km down the grade two Waimakariri River. Top competitors take 10 ¾ hours to cover the 243km while the slowest time ever recorded was twenty-four and a half hours. It would be a significant step up from any event I had done before. My busy work schedule didn’t stop me from training. If I did six hours massage a day, I would still train for an hour or go for a run, never realising how much energy I had given away in my work day. I was playing touch rugby two times a week, doing gym three to four and maybe the odd run. In hindsight I had been training my system away, rather than training to be fitter and stronger. Towards the end of February I came home from work one night with bad stomach cramps and was unable to do much but lie on the floor; I even missed touch finals. I cancelled clients the next day but the cramps disappeared as quickly as they had arrived and the next week I was back to normal. As a trainer for the Marist Albion Rugby Club, I took the boys through sprints and running for their pre-season training. When I had played at Marist I was always one of the fittest players and now that I was training them, I always tried to stay up near the front but this pre-season I was rarking up the props at the back. It didn't mean I was a bad trainer but, considering how hard I was training, it was unusual. If necessary, I would stand and blow the whistle – it was easier. April arrived, and married life proved as hectic as single life had been. We finally got the house back to ourselves. The wedding season for our friends continued – Michelle and Dicko's in the beautiful setting of French Farm in Akaroa, then Jeff and Adi's in Dunedin, where we stayed with Julianne's sisters in the hive of Studentville. One morning as I was having breakfast, I saw a story on the Tellytext sports news about a rugby player named Jarrod Cunningham; he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I called out to Julianne in the kitchen to tell her about it. “Oh no,” said Julianne, “that’s horrific. It’s the worst disease you could have.” He quickly found that to gain physical health, it was necessary to look at all areas of his being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The doctors had told him that he would gradually lose all mobility and die within five years. That is pretty much what happened, but the alternative therapies enabled Paul to live fully in that time and even to feel gratitude for the experience of MND. He raised more than $60,000 to pay for his treatments, set up a support group to help other sufferers of MND and had two children, the youngest conceived when he was on a ventilator. When he died in March 2007, Paul Blacklow had found absolute peace. Paul began writing his book when he had already lost the ability to type, so he dictated his chapters over the phone to his sister, who typed for him. At the time of his death he had completed 13 chapters, made 12 voice tapes and asked the therapists to write chapters about their work with him. His wife Julianne promised him the book would be completed and published. After Paul's death, I answered Julianne's ad and completed What You Wish For. I felt an immediate affinity with the project because I had nursed my father through cancer. That was one of the most enriching experiences of my life and I knew that ultimately this book would be an inspiring story, not a tragedy. The book was produced by students on the publishing programme of Whitireia Polytechnic.




Chris Sayer's solo adventures on the high seas

by Rebecca Hayter

When I wrote Oceans Alone, I had followed Chris Sayer’s solo adventures for 10 years and sailed overnight with him on his tiny, complex Mini Transat 6.50 yachts. When Chris took his homemade, wooden Mini 650 to France and competed in the Mini Transat Race, he became the first non-Frenchman to stand on the podium in 15 years. He built a second, higher-tech version, was rescued from a liferaft mid-ocean, navigated a major political storm, built a third boat and finally became a reluctant, high profile pirate entry in the Mini Transat Race. Oceans Alone has been described as the only book in the English language to describe how to tack and gybe a Mini Transat yacht. Only a few copies left, slightly worn. Published by HarperCollins 2004


About me
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About Me

It takes hard work to make writing look easy.

I am passionate about writing and sailing, and for much of my career, I have combined them in magazine articles and non-fiction books.

As yachting editor, later editor, of Boating New Zealand from 1998 to 2008, and from 2013 to 2015 I've covered hundreds of new boats and I was incredibly lucky to be a yachting journalist in New Zealand's heyday: the late 1990s when New Zealand blossomed under the win of the America's Cup through most of the 2000s until the Global Financial Crisis.

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Rebecca Hayter - Just tell me I'm not going to die.
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Ross Field
Open water sailer

I have found Rebecca to be an extremely talented journalist and photographer. She is also a gifted yachtswoman, not only in racing but also in long distance cruising. Our trip from England to Greenland (return) thru the North Atlantic was no mean feat as we encountered many gales and huge rolling seas, plus we did the return trip two handed. Rebecca was of great assistance in the running of the boat. She has extensive knowledge of navigation, boat manoeuvering, mechanical systems, safety and many other things that make sailing with her pleasurable. I would not hesitate in taking Rebecca on another long distant cruise to other remote places in the world. 


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