Most sailors accept the ruling of other sailors. When a protest committee of our peers tells us we’ve done something wrong, we accept the penalty, even if it's disqualification. But what if you’re disqualified by the jury and your peers strongly disagree with the verdict?
A few days ago, Bernard Stamm was forced to stop for repairs halfway through the singlehanded non-stop unassisted Vendee Globe Race, because his electrical charging system had failed. He anchored in the Auckland Islands, but the anchor didn’t hold. As he dragged onto another ship, one of the ship’s crew came aboard his boat. This was seen to be in direct violation of the “unassisted” rule, so when Stamm reported it, the jury disqualified him from the race.
Bernard has requested a reopening, and if the opinion of his peers carries any weight the jury should have a big rethink. Here are a few sample quotes from Stamm’s competitors. (I’ve corrected spelling and typos for clarity.)
Alex Thompson (currently in 4th overall):
…what a shame it was to hear of Bernard’s disqualification this morning. While I understand the reasons I do feel it was quite harsh. …it sounds as though he did what was necessary for the safety of himself and his boat. I really feel for the guy.
Jean le Cam (currently in 5th overall)
I'm wound up like a clock. For me, Bernard acted as a good sailor, he did everything to save his boat and he is penalized!
It is as if a man finds himself at the edge of the cliff, he may fall, there is someone who extends his hand and he should answer him: "Well, no, because it’s the rules, so please don’t help me" and he falls off the cliff!
I’m desperate. If what happened to Bernard is not a case of force majeure so I do not know what it is. I sent an email to the jury this morning because we cannot make such a decision.
Should we let our boat be wrecked?
Mike Golding (currently in 6th place overall):
The rules are the rules and all that. But I think when you know all the story about Bernard and you know the situation he is in now… it just doesn't feel right. …unfortunately, based on the information I've got, it sounds like the rules were inadvertently, and I think I make that point, inadvertently breached. I am not sure about it at all, it doesn't feel right to me …… I am very, very sad for Bernard and I hope he can get an appeal together and stay in the race.
Javier Sanso, nicknamed “Bubi” (currently in 8th overall)
I just got the email saying that you are DSQ from the VG.....I am very sorry to hear that after the great race you were doing. I read the statements and I would have done the same to try to save the boat before anything.... You must be very disappointed and I do not agree with the committee in extreme situation you should be able to get help.....The insurance companies are happy that you asked for help if not you could have lost the boat!!!
You made the right choice in Auckland Island.....
And finally, here’s Bernard Stamm’s response to all this support:
"To those who have asked the organizers to take me back in the race, I want to thank you once again because it’s the proof that solidarity exists amongst each other. I don’t know what the final decision will be, but whatever it is, I will continue to fight with all my strength. I wish you all to continue this wonderful fight we have started since we left Les Sables d'Olonne. The Vendée Globe is part of my life for nearly 15 years and I never had the privilege to finish it. It may not be this time, but I will do everything to bring my boat back and to be proud of my adventure. Nobody will be able to take that back from me."
Sailors who choose to go to sea alone are a special breed, and the only jury that should decide this case is a jury of Bernard’s peers. They have clearly spoken.
10 January 2013: Bernard Stamm has withdrawn from the Vendée Globe, after his power generators failed due to a collision just before Cape Horn. Sending him good thoughts!