Today’s NY Times published an interesting article by Chris Museler entitled A Very Lonely Journey Across the Globe – Researchers Study Solo Sailing to Find How Humans Cope with Stress.
Researchers from the University of Portsmouth (UK) department of sports and exercise science are studying the effects of stress on the five single handed sailors still in the Velux 5 Oceans Race. The conditions under which they sail and the duration of the experience creates a unique opportunity to study how human’s cope with stress. The organizer of the study, Michael Tipton, states:
“We’re trying to identify some of the common characteristics of people who consistently think clearly and perform under extreme conditions. We simulate helicopter escapes in pools but we don’t know how much longer they’d hold their breath if the real consequence would be drowning. With these sailors, that’s a real consequence every minute.”
In case there is any question about the constant danger and incredible stress under which these sailors work, watch the following 3 videos. The first is raw footage of the final hours and minutes that racer Alex Thomson has aboard the Hugo Boss vessel before abandoning it to join Mike Golding on the Ecovervessel. In it he explains what happended and the potential consequences if he doesn’t get off in time.
The second video is Thomson detailing how the rescue will be undertaken and it captures him jumping into the life raft leaving the camera rolling on his vessel.
The third video is a slicker production with music that uses some of the same footage but presents a wider perspective.
In an unfair twist of fate, hours after Thomson joins Golding on the Ecover boat, she dismasts and both sailor end up out of the race.
“Above all, these sailors are rational, calculating individuals,” Tipton said. “Their inventiveness and tough mindedness is what gets them through safely.”
Deep water sailing, solo or as a member of a crew, can be exhilarating, challenging and character building. What was written in the Times article and represented in the above 3 videos is the extreme. However, the power of the going to sea under sail in developing leaders is that there is real risk and self-challenge integral to the experience.