Fertig is in his early 30s. He grew up boating on the Ohio River, went to the Coast Guard Academy and, when he graduated, gave up his 27-foot Mako to pilot an orange Zodiac 733 to go after the bad guys. Now he has a desk job as a designer with the shipping giant Maersk, but he missed being out there. “I needed an adventure,” Fertig said, “so going to Bermuda sounded like a good idea.”
It took him more than two years of gathering gear, constant sea trials and lots of begging for sponsors. When I first met him at a marina near the starting point, back in September 2011, his boat looked like something out of NASCAR with logos everywhere. “You either pay for it yourself, which I couldn’t do,” Fertig told me, “or you get help.” Under the decals was a Statement Marine 37 SUV, whose most outstanding feature was the deck’s air-suspension system (see “Gee Forces”). Power was from twin 350 hp Mercury Diesel TDI 4.2-liter diesels. Besides the usual electronics, Fertig had FLIR night vision and Faria’s WatchDog satellite-based vessel monitoring system. There were spares for everything, even extra electronic control modules for the engines.
Fertig’s most important accessory, however, was his link to one of the world’s best weather-routing services at Maersk. For these commercial shippers, weather means big money, so they take it seriously. But even they can get it wrong.
When Fertig left on his first attempt at 9:35 a.m. Sept. 20, 2011, the predictions were for calm seas, and for the first seven hours he flew at 40 mph in two- to three-foot waves. But a warm front, which was supposed to stay put, began moving east. At the 300-mile point, a squall that was predicted to have four-foot seas exploded into a full gale. Those watching the SPOT tracking map at boatingmag.com saw the boat slow to a crawl. By night the winds were at a steady 35 mph with stronger gusts and waves breaking higher than the T-top. “At 9 p.m., almost halfway there, we had to make a decision,” Fertig said, “continue through deteriorating conditions or head back. We chose safety over pride to have a chance at breaking the record another day.”