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Around-the-World Sailing Race : Broken Mast May Force Luhrs to Quit

January 17, 1987|DAN BYRNE | Dan Byrne, a former news editor with The Los Angeles Times, was one of the 10 finishers of the first BOC Challenge in 1983

NEWPORT, R.I. — Thursday's Child, Warren Luhrs' solo racer, was dismasted for the second time in a trial run Thursday off Sydney, Australia.

Luhrs, 42, of Alachua, Fla., first lost his mast 180 miles from Sydney at the end of the second leg of the BOC Challenge, a single-handed sailing race around the world.

He anchored and, with help, managed to haul the spar back on board and finish the leg with a jury rig. The mast was repaired, and everything appeared ready for the start of the third leg of the race Sunday.

But on the sea trial, the mast broke about three-quarters of the way up in 15 knots of wind. Luhrs and his support crew have not decided whether repairs would be possible before the restart.

Luhrs has been plagued by accidents and equipment failure since the start of the race here Aug. 30. He ranks seventh overall among the 18 boats left in the race. Twenty-five started.

At 8,300 nautical miles, the leg to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the longest of the race. It will take the fleet through the heavy seas of the southern ocean, around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic Ocean past the Falkland Islands.

The winning time is harder to predict for this leg than any other because of its length and the variety of conditions that can be encountered. Philippe Jeantot, aboard Credit Agricole I, won the leg in the first race, four years ago, in 47 days. The winner this time could finish in 42 days.

If Thursday's Child does not start Sunday, almost one-third of the 15 boats that started will be out of the race.

The arrival of the popular Harry Mitchell, 62, of Britain, aboard Double Cross, in Sydney brought smiles to the faces of his fellow competitors and spectators.

"You don't know how wonderful you all look," Mitchell shouted to his welcomers in the predawn darkness of Sydney Harbor.

His elapsed time for the 6,900-mile leg from Cape Town was 55 days 3 hours, three weeks behind his Class II leader, Mike Plant on Airco Distributor.

Mitchell raised a bottle of champagne with the toast: "Cheers, folks, and here's to whatever is to come, because, by God, it can't be any worse than what's been!"

Mitchell was alluding to the Indian Ocean, during which he encountered "perfectly horrible" conditions.

Asked what he enjoyed most about the voyage, he replied: "Nothing. Absolutely nothing."

He said his worst days were those spent battling headwinds and bad weather in the Bass Strait, where he encountered a severe storm with thunder, lightning and 40-knot winds.

"I had only a foresail up, so I couldn't sail close to the wind," he said. "The headwinds were driving me south, and there was nothing I could do about it without the main. It was incredibly frustrating, having to go from 38 to 40 degrees south."

About a month before he reached Sydney, Mitchell was knocked down in his cabin by a sudden lurch of his 41-foot Double Cross and broke some ribs.

"I lay on the cabin floor for an hour, gasping for breath," he said. "I thought I had burst my lungs."

Three days later, Mitchell said, he apparently passed out and struck his head on something. Hours later he came to, sitting on his bunk, covered with blood from a cut on his nose and eye. "I was a horrible sight.

"I lost a half-day there. . . . I don't know what happened, and anything could have happened during that time," he said.

Mitchell was given medical advice via radio from a South African physician and was feeling better a week later. "The cut over my eye wasn't painful, but the ribs were excruciating," he said. "I am approaching the next leg apprehensively, cautiously."

"I will be quite happy just to finish. It's just as much of an achievement for me. I should have done this 30 years ago, like Titouan (Lamazou, the 31-year-old winner of the second leg). There's no fool like an old fool."

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