Seeing Something in Nothing through the Bermuda Race
By Chris Museler
The sign read: “For Sale – 85,000 miles under her keel, no rust, toughest boat on earth, come see at Pier 39.” That was 1985 and Eric Best was looking for something in the vast ocean beyond San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Nearly three decades later, Best has found the peace and confidence that comes with thousands of miles of solo ocean passagemaking. And the icing on the cake after sailing his stout ketch FEO in the Newport Bermuda Race this year was watching his children finally see the wonderful things he has seen in the sparseness of a never-ending horizon.
“Both of them are very good helmsmen,” said Eric about his children Will, 13, and Isabel, 12. “The trip crosses the limit for them from sailing as an activity to knowing that you’re a miniscule spec in this world. It took them from the micro of the everyday tasks to the macro of the experience.”
Best Family aboard Feo
Two years ago, Isabel demanded her father take her and her brother on the race. She was inspired by her older half-sister, Emily, who had sailed doublehanded with her father in 1994 aboard FEO from California to Hawaii. “My favorite part of the Bermuda Race was looking around and seeing the horizon and nothing else,” said Isabel.
The two youngsters live in New York City and had sailed from Maine to Long Island several times. Brother Will realized during the race that time at sea was a time to relax. “All I do on land is exercise,” said Will. “On FEO you get to sit down and really talk with someone. I never see Rick and we really bonded.”
Eric Best shows FEO's path around the world, illustrated with a Sharpie line on an inflatable globe that hangs in the saloon.
Best, a journalist by trade, grew up sailing small boats in Maine. He wrote two books as a result of his inaugural solo passage to Hawaii in the 1980s. The first was a children’s book, “The Deep”, that came out of a poem he wrote underway for Emily. The next was “Into My Father’s Wake” after he returned from Hawaii.
Rick Dawson is Will’s godfather, and his son Tanner was also aboard. The elder Dawson renovated the interior of FEO while the boat sat at Pier 39 in 1985. The boat is built in welded steel and certainly served as an inspiration for Best to travel far. The ketch is a replica of Bernard Moitessier’s Joshua, the boat he famously sailed in the 1968 Golden Globe race around the world.
Best had a full boat. Emily, a filmmaker from California, brought Eve Cohen, a cinematographer who was documenting the race with GoPro cameras. “I’m putting my entire genetic sock at risk in this race,” he said even surprising himself with the thought. “But the boat is really stable.”
The younger Bests eyes were opened on this trip and Best says they stood up well. “Isabel came up for a watch once, clipped in and then was sent to the end of her tether by a wave,” he said. “She popped up and said, ‘That was fun!’”
The younger Bests are hungry for more. “I know my sister went from California to Hawaii,” said Isabel, who hinted that the America’s Cup was also a sailing dream of hers, “but I thought a sail from Maine to Florida would be great.”
(l-r)Will, Isabel and Emily Best
When asked if he’d like to go farther, like Hawaii, Will said, “If it was me and my father, he’d be sailing singlehanded and I’d be sleeping singlehanded.”
Best added that though they did not officially finish the Bermuda race, they turned the engine on because they didn't want to miss the Wednesday night carnival, it wasn’t about the results. “I don’t press the finish,” he said. “I think they totally got it. The loved it, which is all I could hope for.”
Almost on cue, and certainly making his father proud, Will said, “Most people would be bored because they don’t see anything on the ocean. But not seeing anything is seeing something.”