Fourth Estate, £15.99stg (HB)

If you want to go offshore yacht racing and you want to experience a proper brute of a storm at sea without getting wet, then this is the book for you. It is the fascinating but tragic story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race. Fascinating because we meet men driven by a will to win at any cost. Tragic because a combination of confused weather forecasting and inexperience among the participants led to the deaths of some sailors.

This book is published as non-fiction and if accurate, the research is astonishingly detailed. We are told that the copier in the Sydney met office broke down on the morning of the race, adding to the stress already generated by conflicting forecast predictions. The story is full of such minute detail. It could however do with being edited by a yachtsman.

As a sailor I found it very irritating to constantly come across incorrect nautical language on the one hand and to be retold several times the meaning of some nautical terms on the other. By chapter nine it seemed the function of a halyard had been explained about six times. He quotes a supposedly experienced sailor as saying, "I’ll go to the front of the foredeck." He describes jars hanging from the "wall" and a tube projecting down from the "ceiling". Walls and ceilings in a yacht? I don’t think so. I take it he means "hull" and "deckhead".

Despite that, it is a gripping read and for non-sailors it may be a useful introduction to sailing terms. There were some big names in the race and it was wonderful to hear Larry Ellison going through the personally familiar feeling of, "wish I was somewhere else right now", when all hell breaks loose in the sixty knot blow. For once, things "were not going the way he had planned." Yes, the sea is a great leveller and how holy it can make the rich and arrogant.

Kevin Leach