Summary and book reviews of The Proving Ground by G Bruce Knecht

The Proving Ground

The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race

by G Bruce Knecht

The Proving Ground
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2001, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2002, 368 pages

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Book Summary

A page-turner of the highest order, The Proving Ground is more than one of the most exciting adventure stories written in years. It is also an incisive look at the forces that continue to draw men who have triumphed on land to risk everything at sea.

The worst disaster in recent ocean racing history began the day after Christmas 1998 on a postcard-perfect summer day in Sydney Harbor. One hundred fifteen yachts gathered for the start of a 630-mile race that would take them across one of the world's most treacherous bodies of water and on to Hobart, on Tasmania's rugged east coast. The December sky was a brilliant blue, and spectators crowded along the shore to cheer as the boats set off. Less than twenty-four hours later, the fleet would be shredded by hurricane-force winds and battered by eighty-foot waves. When it was all over, men would be dead, boats would be lost, and those who survived would be forever changed.

The Proving Ground is the gripping account of what happened, focusing on three yachts, with a cast of characters straight out of a novel. There was Sayonara, owned by Larry Ellison, the world's second-richest man and a restless soul with an almost pathological need to win. His crew included Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert's heir apparent, a twenty-seven-year-old with an inexplicable taste for danger. On the Sword of Orion, a pharmacist-entrepreneur hoped to fulfill a childhood dream even though it would require him to make a sudden leap from sailing novice to grand prix yachtsman -- a leap that would end in disaster. On the Winston Churchill, a classic wooden yacht that had competed in the very first Sydney-to-Hobart Race fifty-three years earlier, the crew included a nineteen-year-old whose friends called him Beaver, an investment banker, and a garbage collector. Before the race was over, the Winston Churchill would be no more.

A page-turner of the highest order, The Proving Ground is more than one of the most exciting adventure stories written in years. It is also an incisive look at the forces that continue to draw men who have triumphed on land to risk everything at sea.

PROLOGUE

LARRY ELLISON was lying in his bunk, calculating the likelihood that he would die.

He was, thanks to his stock in his company, Oracle, one of the wealthiest men in the world. But right now, he was seasick and miserable, and the NASDAQ seemed very far away.

One day earlier, he had seen what was coming. Looking at one of the two laptop computers used on his boat, he saw a satellite-generated image of a cyclone--like cloud pattern. Gripped with the same surreal feeling of disconnectedness he sometimes had when he was flying a plane on instruments, he asked Mark Rudiger, the yacht's navigator, "Have you ever seen anything like this?"

Almost imperceptibly, Rudiger shook his head.

"Well, I have," Ellison declared, his voice rising in bewildered outrage. "It was on the Weather Channel -- and it was called Hurricane Helen. What the f--k is that doing here?". Ellison's yacht Sayonara had been struggling ever since. Steep forty-foot waves were sucking Sayonara up ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

An account of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race debacle.... While the disaster makes for some spellbinding reading, Knecht's treatment of what prompted the sailors to take to the seas not only falls short, it falls prey to their macho swagger.

Library Journal

He effectively evokes the terror, disappointment, and hopelessness of sailors whose boat has been shattered beneath them and the intense stress affecting the participants of a three-day marathon. Recommended for sports and sailing collections or for audiences who liked The Perfect Storm.

Publishers Weekly

This gripping, horrific page-turner could be essential summer beach reading.

Author Blurb Walter Cronkite
...a sailing masterpiece. His incredibly detailed research...makes for a tale more thrilling than fiction. The book is in the can't put it down category...The Perfect Storm of blue water sailboat racing.

Reader Reviews

Andre Bourque

Proving Ground
Excellent book, hard to put down. Really makes you think and imagine what it would be like in a situation such as this true story.

David

An excellent account of an amazing race. If your holiday is longer than 2 days you'll need another book!

Steve S.

What an excellent book. As an avid sailor myself, I found it almost impossible to put this book down.
I really felt that I was part of this race and felt the suffering of the various crews. It is a must read.

Jonathan

What a great book, anybody that likes a story about sailing should read this book!!!

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