Sail Fast

Sail Fast

To build a superior racing yacht and retain a stellar team to compete in the 2012 Vendée Globe, the nonstop single-handed around-the-world race that starts and finishes in France, Neal Petersen will need $3 million to $5 million — which he plans to finance himself. “I plan to pay for this out of my own pocket, not through sponsorship,” he declares.

Not surprising. Petersen is best known for his solo acts. The first black man to race singly around the globe in the 1998—1999 Around Alone (now called the Velux 5 Oceans race), he placed fifth in his class and seventh overall, finishing in 195 days. To succeed on such a journey, Petersen says a boat’s design must be strong and reliable: The hull has to be sound, the keel and rudder must withstand raging waters, and the mast has to brave unruly winds. “If any of those things fail, the boat is not going to survive [and] you won’t accomplish your mission safely,” says Petersen, a motivational speaker and CEO of No-Barriers International (, based in Charleston, South Carolina.

There are 11 million recreational sailors in the U.S., and each year 600,000 new sailors take to the water. Brian Welsh, marketing manager at US SAILING (, the sport’s national governing body, advises beginners to “visit a marina or yacht club to find a boat to crew on; there’s always someone looking for crew.”

Crewing is the most effective way to learn the various positions in a racing crew and to discover if there’s a racer in you. “The easiest way to get into racing is to crew on someone else’s sailboat,” adds Welsh. Then take a boat safety course with a licensed instructor or from the U.S. Power Squadrons (, Coast Guard Auxiliary (, or a state or private organization. A successful yachtsman is focused, driven, competitive, and always willing to push that extra nautical mile.

At age 23 he built a 40-foot yacht and attempted to navigate it from his native South Africa to Plymouth, England, to race in the 1992 OSTAR (now known as the Transat), but rudder damage forced his anchor in Ireland. Petersen’s personal library includes Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum (Penguin; $12), Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy (Anchor; $14), and How to Sail Around the World by Hal Roth (International Marine; $29.95).

Start with a training race, such as The Bermuda One—Two between Newport, Rhode Island, and Bermuda, in which Petersen won his class in 1995. Other popular racing ports can be found in San Francisco, Southern California, and Baltimore. Skandia Cowes Week ( attracts more than 1,000 entrants from weekend warriors to elite professionals to race along the south coast of England. The International Venetian Boat Show ( in Venice, Italy, is a showcase for luxury boats and nautical toys.