x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'Never' is not in Azzam watch leader Craig Satterthwaite's vocabulary

The New Zealander reached the age of 38 in late September with an unfathomable distinction. Never once had his brain followed a long ocean race with that 'never-again' moment.

Craig Satterthwaite, says ‘some people will sail for a lifetime and never do what we do’.
Craig Satterthwaite, says ‘some people will sail for a lifetime and never do what we do’.

Craig Satterthwaite reached the age of 38 in late September with an unfathomable distinction. Never once had his brain followed a long ocean race with that "never-again" moment.

Other sailors report having such moments months or even a whole year after experiencing the duress of rude oceans, cramped space and bland food, thoughts that typically, of course, tend to ebb.

"I haven't said that," Satterthwaite said matter-of-factly one day, yet another indication that this picture of strength with the sunscreen often slathered on his face is also one rugged, stalwart sort.

Here is somebody who has hung on to the boat in the contemptuous southern ocean to save himself, yet still did not have even an inkling of that moment and reserves his keenest anticipation for … that southern leg. Here is a New Zealander from Auckland whose sailing began on the family keel boat at an age that preceded his memory. Here is a guy who does not dwell in the company of nonsense.

"Satt tells you like it is, with no [drivel]," Mike Danks, the shore team technical manager said. "If he doesn't like you, he'll tell you to your face. He'll see through any pretence," and he's "just a hard guy".

As a watch leader who at 16 snared the chance to sail with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron youth programme - "The guys I met have been my best mates 20-some years on," he said - Satterthwaite has a Volvo Ocean Race history that predates the "Volvo" part, having helped Swedish Match come third in the Volvo predecessor the Whitbread in 1997. He has an America's Cup history boasting a grinder's role aboard Alinghi as it retained the treasured vase in 2007.

Perhaps dating to the impressionable days with the influences he cites - father, Russell, and uncle, Greg Elliott - Satterthwaite clearly has surpassed the enviable benchmark of relishing duress.

"Some sailing we do, people will sail for a lifetime and never do what we do," he said. "Instead of doing it for two hours - and some people do it for two hours and say, 'That's incredible' - we do that for, like, four days in a row.

"And every race you generally have one incident that wakes you up and reminds you that even though you get used to it, you still have to respect your environment. There's a time when we've got more sail up than we should and we're in a spot of bother. It's what you do when it turns ugly."

When it does, you might just want "a tough guy, who has been around the world a few times, making him an ideal choice", said Rob Greenhalgh, Satterthwaite's fellow watch leader.

"Between both the Volvo and the America's Cup and whatever else, he's someone who's all over everything," said Wade Morgan, the first-time Volvo Ocean Race bowman. "He's a genuine bloke who tries to get the best out of the team. Just by boat management and perseverance, you get around the world, and I don't think there's too many better than Craig in managing everything. He's [very] good."

And then, Morgan's key line: "He just wants to be here."

Satterthwaite's own string of words sort of marks the hard path to treating voluntary hardship as a privileged challenge.

When he speaks of the southern ocean nearer the planet's base, he begins in understatement: "It's windy, windy and cold." He moves on: "That's a pretty amazing place, just the fact there's so much wildlife, albatross, there's whales, seals close to the land, lots of sea birds." From there: "It can get very angry, yes … It's not windy for two days. It can be windy for 10 days."

Then, the crucial clincher: "Ten of the best days of sailing you'll ever have in your life."

When he speaks of the 39,000-nautical-mile trek itself, he says, "You have to be strong but committed to go as hard as you can for three weeks," a typical leg length. And: "You can't have a day off." And: "You're always driving yourself to keep doing it."

Then, the upshot: "It's very satisfying."

So, no, here is guy at his fourth Whitbread-or-Volvo who just hasn't made the understandable detour into doubt over this entire, mighty concept and all its spots of bother. Of course, just then he looks up and in his calm, matter-of-fact way, and notes that just because he has not said never again to date, well, "It doesn't mean I'm not going to say that".

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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