cover image THE PROVING GROUND: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race

THE PROVING GROUND: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race

G. Bruce Knecht, . . Little, Brown, $24.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-316-49955-2

Wall Street Journal correspondent Knecht recounts the Australian 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, one of the worst disasters in recent ocean-racing history. He presents in detail the heroic exploits—as well as the misadventures, failures and tragic miscalculations—of three world-class yachts in the race, which he makes clear is one of the world's "most treacherous." Some believe it's under a curse, but rationalists will be content with another explanation: the Hobart crosses the 140-mile-wide Bass Strait, located between Australia's mainland and Tasmania, is "one of the world's most turbulent bodies of water." Knecht emphasizes that this danger is perhaps the race's main attraction for sailors. In 1998, only 43 of the 115 yachts completed the race; others turned back or were destroyed after a cyclone hit the race's path. Sailors included Larry Ellison, owner of the Oracle software company and the world's second richest man; Lachlan Murdoch, son of the Australian media magnate; and businessman Richard Winning, owner of the Winston Churchill, whose heroics after his ship was sunk saved some of his crew members—but not all. "The sea had torn them apart and tried its best to erase them in a thunder of wave and foam," Knecht concludes. "And still they loved her. Still." This is one of the most exciting sea stories of the last few years. 8 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (June 4)

Forecast:This gripping, horrific page-turner could be essential summer beach reading. A six-city author tour, along with a glowing blurb from Walter Cronkite (who himself is coming out with a travel memoir this summer), will help bring it to the attention of the vacationing, thrill-seeking public.