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Around the World Sailboat Race : For 6 of 25 Starters, It's Been a Cruel Sea

Next week: The second leg and the perils of the great Southern Ocean.

November 12, 1986|DAN BYRNE | Dan Byrne, a former news editor for The Times, was amon g the 10 finishers of the first BOC Challenge in 1982-83.

NEWPORT, R.I. — Six boats, out of 25 starters, are effectively out of the solo around-the-world sailboat race.

One, Airforce, sank. Another, Quailo, has officially withdrawn, and whether two others, Madonna and Miss Global, keep racing is in doubt. All four are Class 2 boats, 40 to 50 feet long.

Two Class 1 boats, 50 to 60 feet, remain in the BOC Challenge but are out of contention.

Australia's ACI Crusader is speeding down the South Atlantic, trying to join the 19-boats that are in Cape Town preparing for Saturday's restart.

New Zealand's Neptune Express remained in Recife, Brazil, at midweek while skipper Richard McBride made final adjustments to a mainsail that did not fit his new mast, a replacement for the spar lost at the Equator Sept 23.

Neither boat can reach Cape Town in time to start with the fleet. But each has an excellent chance of catching up in Sydney. Winning the race, however, is out of the question. They will undoubtedly remain a month behind the leaders in total elapsed time as they circle the globe.

The first leg is proving to be the real qualifier for this 27,000-nautical mile race.

Each boat undertook a 2,OOO-mile qualifying sail to get into the race. But that is hardly enough to test man and boat and weld the two into a competitive unit.

"It takes three to four years to really know a boat," South Africa's Bertie Reed said after arriving in Cape Town aboard Stabilo Boss, his last-minute entry. His boat is the former Disque D'Or, an around-the-world-race veteran--but in races with a full crew on board.

Solo ocean racing takes more than knowing a boat.

An ocean sailor is by definition a navigator, but his electronic satellite navigation device (satnav) will give him his position and heading for his destination with the press of a button. If that electronic marvel fails, however, he's back with Columbus and the sun and stars.

Mark Schrader's satnav aboard Lone Star failed at the start. Schrader, 39, of Stanwood, Wash., navigated with a sextant all the way to Cape Town.

Meteorologist, mechanic, electrician, electronics technician, the solo sailor also must have patience and determination. And he has to be able to sew.

If he's moody, the mood had better be up, otherwise fickle winds and sea will drive him to despair.

Above all, the solo racer must be capable of long-term commitment.

The days stretch into weeks. The single-hander is in the center of a dome of sky on a saucer of sea. The outside world is a crackle on the radio or, rarely, a ship on the horizon.

His days are endless hours of sail adjustment and equipment repair, tracing an electrical short, sewing a split seam in a sail, hunting for a screw, a bolt or a part that is known to be on board but which eludes every effort at discovery.

Of more hours hunched over his chart and a weather facsimile map. Where is the wind? Will it be there when he gets there? Or will it have shifted?

Is that tropical depression going to grow up to be a hurricane? Is that windless high pressure cell going to slip east or west; does he dare await the shift before altering course? Or will it be too late then?

Should he dog the track of the boat ahead, or gamble on a different heading that could put him ahead? Or cost him the lead.

The solo sailor lives with constant anxiety.

Will the engine start? If it doesn't, how will the batteries be charged, the radio continue to function, the autopilot to steer the boat?

Pentti Salmi, 39, a garrulous Finn aboard the 44-foot Colt by Rettig, lost his engine in an electrical fire. His water-driven generator failed at the same time. He couldn't fix the engine, but he got the water generator working by using a piece of sardine can as a spare part.

Mac Smith, 55, of Ormond Beach, Fla., discovered the meaning of anxiety when his 44-foot Quailo rolled and, he thinks, pitch-poled end over end in the South Atlantic. He came back up to find the mast bent into an 'S', stainless steel fittings snapped and gaping holes in the mast where support fittings were ripped out.

His anxiety ended in Rio where, after surveying the damage, examining his checking account and looking at the calendar, he notified race headquarters that he was out of the race.

Anxiety is having your rudder fail--twice, as it did to Edouardo Louro de Almeida, 26, of Brazil aboard Miss Global. Then, after repairs in Recife, Brazil, and putting to sea again, he discovered that his keel may be loose. Course is altered for Rio and probable withdrawal.

Also in Rio with rigging and steering problems on his 48-foot Madonna is Japan's Takao Shimada, 39. His restart is doubtful.

Anxiety can verge on despair. Dick McBride spent four years finding the money and support to build a boat to win the BOC Challenge.

He had a score to settle with himself. In the first race, he spent 29 days aground on East Falkland Island, but he finished.

In Recife, after his dismasting, it was one setback after another.

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