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GOING ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE LONELY SEA : 25 Daring Sailors Will Attempt to Go Around the World--Single-Handedly

August 30, 1986|DAN BYRNE Dan Byrne, a former news editor for The Times, was among the 10 \f7 finishers of the first BOC Challenge aboard his 40-foot sailboat, Fantasy...DL: NEWPORT, R.I.

Richard Konkolski, 42, a defector from his native Czechoslovakia, provides verbal excitement. He always had a near-miss disaster to chronicle to the fleet by radio during the first race.

Once he said he had nearly been asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. There was a hole in the exhaust of his portable gasoline generator, used to recharge batteries. Luckily, he said, it ran out of gas before he, unconscious, had inhaled too much of the deadly vapor.

Another time he reported heaving to in the Falkland Islands to repair a broken headstay, which could cost a mast. Later he told of discovering that he had been dragging two fishing nets for hours off the Brazilian coast. "I couldn't understand why I was going so slow," he said.

It's easy to laugh at Konkolski's exuberance. However, competitors who fail to take him seriously do so at their own risk. No entrant is more experienced, determined or better able to turn adversity to advantage.

His drawback is his 44-foot boat, formerly Nike III and now called Declaration of Independence. It's design is dated and at 15 tons it is heavy.

Mark Schrader, 39, aboard his Valiant 47 Lone Star--it was built in Texas--is the third contestant to watch in Class II. In 1982-83, although not in the BOC race, he circumnavigated alone in 199 days, Seattle to Seattle, in his 40-foot Valiant Resourceful. Schrader has the experience and the boat to win in class.

Veterans of the first BOC agree that the hardest part of the race is getting to the starting line.

In all, 57 sailors, two of them women, put up $500 apiece to be listed as provisional entrants this time.

Some backed out because of lack of commitment. One or two stared at a chart of the world, saw all that water and lost their nerve.

But most gave up because of a lack of money or the time it takes away from business and family. This isn't a hike through the Rockies with a nylon knapsack full of freeze-dried. Or a bike trip through Europe.

The cost includes a $350,000 boat, at least two years out of a life and a very anxious spouse for those who have one, or are able to keep one.

Sponsorship is the answer but it is hard to come by. Sponsors want winners. Consequently, all 11 boats in Class I--the fast class--are sponsored, but only three boats in Class II are.

The French have the best luck in finding sponsorship because the French media give solo sailing heavy coverage.

"That's because the French will put anything on Page 1 that they can beat the British at," one race observer said. Hence, Philippe Jeantot is a national hero.

When it came time for coming up with the rest of the entry fee--$2,000 for unsponsored boats, $4,500 for sponsored, except that BOC repeaters got in at half price--the entry list shrank to 35 boats. And the women were out.

The last woman to go was Claire Marty, 30, a Paris nurse, who had a boat but no more money. She sold the boat to John Biddlecombe, 41, of Australia after he wrecked his 60-footer on a Tonga reef while on his 2,000-mile qualifying sail.

Besides Biddlecombe's reef disaster, there were other pre-start problems.

Hal Roth, 58, of Mount Dorset, Me., an author of half a dozen books on cruising, was in Fort Lauderdale getting ready for his qualifying sail to the Azores when he got word that Florida tax collectors wanted to impose a heavy levy on his boat on the ground that it had been manufactured there.

Roth contended that the boat had been built in Santa Cruz, Calif., and was merely in transit, but he didn't wait to argue the point. He jumped aboard his 50-foot American Flag and set sail, just ahead of the tax man.

Michael Plant, 34, of Jamestown, R.I., sailed into the Azores aboard his red, 50-foot Airco Distributor and was promptly arrested in a murder investigation.

It seems a crazed sailor had killed someone before Plant's arrival and escaped aboard a red boat. Plant spent more than five weeks in jail before that got straightened out.

While he was doing his qualifying sail, Mark Schrader found himself in a gale off Cape Hatteras with a U.S. Navy ship hovering nearby, determined to rescue him. Schrader assured the Navy skipper that although it was a little bumpy in the 45-knot blow, he was in no danger.

It turned out that the Navy was responding to an SOS from another sailboat that had lost its steering and was in grave danger. That crew was later found and rescued.

Safety is an obsession with racers and race committee alike. The rules contain a lengthy list of requirements governing vessel soundness and equipment.

The boats have automatically inflatable life rafts, emergency radio beacons, VHF radios in waterproof containers, survival suits, strobe lights, emergency rations and water. All are for use in the event the boat has to be abandoned--the sailor's absolute last resort.

The rule is you don't leave the boat until water is up to your chin. Boats are far easier to spot at sea than life rafts.

Each racer will have a satellite tracking device on board. Called Argos, the French-run system will track all the boats and report their positions daily. The Argos transponder has an emergency signal that can be activated. It saved Jacques de Roux's life in the first race.

The boats also have two watertight bulkheads to keep them afloat if they are holed. The BOC race is the only offshore sailing event that requires such bulkheads.

If the first race is a guide, as many as 10 boats won't make it back to Newport. Some will be lost. Some will withdraw. But again, it is fervently hoped, no lives will be lost.

Says Jeantot: "The ocean is a giant stadium where everyone duels with invisible competitors.

"This is a race against yourself. You may not have the fastest boat, but if you do the best you can, for yourself, then you have done all you can."

Robin Knox-Johnston, the race chairman and the first person to sail around the world alone and nonstop, puts it simply: "To finish is to win."

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