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Five out of Ten for �Force Ten�
on 8 November 1999
This book recounts the story of the 1979 Fastnet race, a race noted for the destruction and deaths caused when a massive storm broke over the racing fleet as it was sailing exposed at sea. Insofar as the book is a non-fictional account of a fleet of boats and man dealing with treacherous elements, it bears comparison to Sebastian Junger's 'The Perfect Storm'. However, Rousmaniere never quite captures the sheer terror of being caught in a storm at sea, the awesome power of the weather and water and mans' relative helplessness in the face of such elements in the way that Junger does.
John Rousmaniere sailed aboard Toscana, one of the boats involved in the 1979 Fastnet race. This is both a benefit and a drawback; a benefit in that we get a first hand account of the race (Toscana completed the race relatively unscathed) and the author is clearly both knowledgeable and passionate about his sailing. The drawback of his involvement, however, is that we are also 'treated' to fairly insipid descriptions of life aboard Toscana, such as details about the cook on board forgetting the correct cream for a dessert, whereas real drama was unfolding on board other boats.
However, what Rousmaniere does manage well is the difficult act of balancing the need to explain meteorological and sailing terminology with the need to keep the narrative moving along. Each chapter of the book essentially deals with a different boat, its trials and tribulations, and technical details and terminology are injected into the narrative gradually.
Ultimately, however, it is in fact the photographs in the book of demasted and destroyed yachts, the wild seas around the Fastnet course, semi-conscious sailors and coffins being carried off rescue vessels which really drive home the sheer awfulness and magnitude of what happened. Fastnet Force 10 is a worthwhile, poignant and interesting book, but in terms of writing of the sense of awfulness and helplessness of being caught in a raging storm at sea, Junger achieves much, much more.