Missing the Boat came came about from a bit of “what might have been” daydreaming.
As a teenager, I raced sailing boats. That was pretty much all I did – I raced, I fantasised about racing, I made extravagant plans for just how great a racing sailor I was gong to be. It was an obsession of the type that often as not ends with a psychiatric intervention. I was going to be a professional sailor – that was my only real career dream.
Then, when I was about eighteen, I gave up, for reasons that were never really very clear even to me. I went and did other things instead – cycling for the most part. Just like everyone else whose past has an abandoned path, I wondered just what I was missing – was the parallel universe that I’d abandoned better than this one?
Then, one day, the blindingly simple thought struck me that there really wasn’t any good reason why I couldn’t go and find out. Did I still have what it took to be a pro?
Missing the Boat Boat is about my comeback season, on the South Coast of England, in Ireland, and in the glamorous resorts of the Mediterranean. It’s about the yachts, the people, the regattas, and just what it was like to fling myself full-length back into a world that had become entirely alien.
And, just as important, it’s about the memories that came back from my teenage years racing an eleven-foot-long plywood dinghy on Belfast Lough – where avoiding the shoals of jellyfish counted as an essential racing tactic, and where I used to have stand-up arguments with my thirteen-year-old crewmate every time anything went wrong, which was often.
I hope people, sailor or not, will recognise things from their own past in it – of teenage obsession and the lack of perspective that characterises it – and understand the curiosity about going back in time that prompted me to give sailing another go. And I hope that along the way there are a few good jokes about sailing, about growing up, and about me.
The Hour: Sporting Immortality the Hard Way happened by accident. Several years ago, I decided, for all sorts of very good reasons, to attack cycling’s world hour record. This is the most prestigious record in the sport. Having a go at it was something I was almost totally unqualified to do.
I never planned to write about it – in fact the idea was that breaking the record would make me so stupendously wealthy that I could spend the rest of my life propped up in bed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs. That didn’t really happen. But, after everything had settled down, I realised that I had a tale to tell.
The Hour is the story of why I decided to attack the record, and of the chaos that ensued as I worked my way towards the big day. It’s also the story of other men who’ve attempted it – from Graeme Obree, who built his own bike using parts from a washing machine, to Jacques Anquetil, a great champion, a great drug-taker, and a man whose family tree looked like a wiring diagram from a Saturn V rocket (having had a child by his step-daughter, he married his stepson’s ex-wife).
The book proved surprisingly popular. It won me the Best New Writer award at the British Sports Book awards, and gathered up some generous reviews:
‘Has the rare quality in any sports-writing of propelling the reader into the intensity of the sporting moment itself.’ David Horspool, Times Literary Supplement
‘He is likeable and builds up the tension…with some skill.’ Metro
‘Hutchinson proves as good a writer as he is rider (praise indeed) - congenial, funny and insightful ... A very fine way indeed to spend an hour, any hour.’ Matt Seaton, The Guardian
‘In this warm, gently wise book, Hutchinson tells of his attempt at the Hour, the history of the record, and the men who have claimed it ... Whether he added his name to that illustrious list is unimportant ... because, as with all great quest stories, this is not about the destination, but the journey.’ Angus Batey, The Times
‘Sometimes painful, often hilarious... One of the most insightful and entertaining accounts of the cycling world to make it into print.’ Cycling Weekly
I’m happy to talk to book groups, sports clubs, or any other organization that feels that one of its gatherings might be thus enhanced. You can contact me at [email]