Derek Hatfield is an extraordinary Canadian. He came in third in the Around Alone solo race of 2002-2003 aboard the Open 40 “Spirit of Canada”, despite dismasting near Ushuaia, Argentina. Accustomed to facing adversity with tenacity and humility, Derek has persevered to see his next dream come to fruition. 

The Open 60, “Spirit of Canada” is the first pre-preg carbon Nomex® yacht of its type to be built in North America. Carina Prakke was at the launch, for BYM News, and talked to Derek about his sailing career past and future.

For the lead designer of this new Spirit of Canada, Derek and his team chose Merfyn Owen, of Owen-Clarke Design LLP, because he is - in their opinion - “the best”! Spirit of Canada is the fourth Owen-Clarke Open 60 and his boats do have an uncanny tendency to be podium finishers, so this combination of Owen’s craft and Derek’s sailing skills means that expectations run high for the 2008 Vendée Globe.

Derek believes in being accessible to his supporters, so the team also felt they needed a designer who would be equally accessible to them; one who would take the time to understand their needs and would make sure that the build team understood how those needs had been translated into the design. Merfyn Owen lived up to those expectations, travelled to the build site in Cobourg, Canada and remained available to the team throughout the build.

Derek Hatfield is the man behind the Vendée Globe dream, but - in addition to his partner, Patianne Verburgh - he is supported by a crew of committed Canadian and international boat builders, as well as an Around Together ‘crew’ of all ages and nationalities. This ‘crew’ plays a vital role in the sponsorship program used to raise funds, by inviting sponsors to join Derek in having their name on the boat and, in effect, racing with him. The program is a proven winner and, when disaster struck in Ushuaia, Derek was encouraged to continue despite tremendous difficulty and disappointment, because he was unwilling to let down the ‘crew’ that was on the boat with him. He would have had a lot of names to answer to if he had dropped out of the race.

It is Derek’s character to feel responsible like that. He’s an accessible and humble man, who knows that it’s only through the support and generosity he receives, that he is able to succeed. His cell phone number is readily available and he answers it himself; he works alongside the people in the shop, when he’s not on the road doing motivational, or fundraising talks, or trade shows. He readily shares an easy smile and grace with those who approach him.

A milestone was reached on Saturday, September 9, 2006. Spirit of Canada left the shop, made a short journey to the Cobourg Marina, and touched the sweet water of Lake Ontario for the first time. It was later than anticipated, because Derek and the Spirit of Canada team had decided, in August, that they would not participate in the 2006 Velux 5 Oceans, but would invest the time required to ensure the boat was as she should be and enter in the 2008 Vendée instead.

The Vendée was a milestone that Hatfield had set for himself; he had done the 5-Oceans (formerly known as the Around Alone), and this was his next goal. He knew he had the boat, but he needed was the time and financial support to see it through the way he wanted to. The response to the news from sponsors was encouraging and no one challenged his decision. They could see the struggle it would be, to finish the boat well and on time for the 5-Oceans and they wanted to support a project that they could see succeeding. Patianne Verburgh says the response was nothing short of fantastic. Public support for the change has also been tremendous and individual contributions have, in fact, increased since the announcement and the European exposure, which comes from being in the Vendée, has helped too. All in all, it has been a very positive course change for the team.

With the change of race, come changes of preparation. Suddenly, there are no stops at which to restock food stores, so interior space must be more carefully allocated; lines must be thicker diameter because they’ll have to last longer; sails must be manufactured to endure the longer term continuous punishment.

There is also the mental preparation and that is where Hatfield is counting on his experience from the Around Alone. Then, each leg was approached as if it was a separate race, the longest of which was 50 days. The Vendee Globe has been done in just under 90 days, so how better to mentally prepare for a race that long, than to break it up into smaller pieces? Instead of each leg being a race, each day will be a race, a period during which Hatfield must manage all the systems. He must wake up, eat, sleep, navigate, communicate and win and the next day, the next race, he must do it again.

He will do it for himself, for his sponsors, for his ‘crew’ and for the many young children, who follow his progress through the Ontario Science Centre partnership in their Field Diaries program. The program gives children the opportunity to expand their horizons by reading about the exploits and experiences of scientists and explorers around the world. It has been said many times that the best way to reach your own goal is to assist others to reach their goals. Derek does exactly that and there is every reason to believe he will be successful in achieving his goal of a podium finish in the Vendee.

Carina Prakke.

Check out the Vendée Globe album in the BYM News photo gallery.

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