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Sloop Thursday's Child Sails Into Record Books

February 13, 1989|DAN BYRNE | Special to The Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Warren Luhrs brought his 60-foot sloop, Thursday's Child, under the Golden Gate Bridge and into history Sunday.

A cannon fired from the St. Francis Yacht Club to mark the end of an 80-day 20-hour voyage from New York around Cape Horn. The time beat by 8 days 12 hours the clipper ship Flying Cloud's 1854 passage at the height of the Gold Rush.

Flying Cloud's time of 89 days 8 hours had stood in the record book for 135 years. Some contemporary clippers came close to the mark, but no modern sailboat did until Sunday.

Luhrs, 44, and his crew, Lars Bergstrom, 54, and Courtney Hazelton, 32, arrived nine miles outside the Gate at 6 a.m., rolling in glassy seas and no wind.

Gradually, the first of a flotilla of boats started through the Gate to meet the high-tech sloop. The wind began to fill from the northwest, and Thursday's Child hoisted a blue-and-white spinnaker and headed for the bridge in brilliant sunlight.

Fifty boats formed a convoy, with a Coast Guard cutter leading the way. Three other Coast Guard boats kept the gathering pleasure craft clear as the sloop closed in on San Francisco Bay and the finish line.

By the time Thursday's Child reached the Golden Gate, the Coast Guard was hard-pressed to keep the huge spectator fleet out of harm's way.

The headlands north and south of the Gate were crowded with cars and pedestrians, as was the walkway on the bridge itself.

Thursday's Child dropped its spinnaker just as it nosed under the bridge, and every horn in the fleet sounded. The bridge's spectators waved, and a fire boat sent geysers into the air.

The passage under the bridge was jammed with boats, with scores more ready to join the parade inside the bay.

When the sloop came abeam of the St. Francis Yacht Club, the finishing cannon sounded, and the race against history was won.

An hour later at a news conference, Luhrs and his crew accepted medals from the city, a trophy from the Manhattan (N.Y.) Yacht Club and more medals from a sailing magazine.

It appeared that Thursday's Child has a good chance of holding its record, at least for a while, although Luhrs said, "records are made to be broken."

He added that with better wind conditions than he had, he thought the voyage could be made in 70 days.

Luhrs' nearest challenger is solo sailor Philippe Monnet, 28, on the 60-foot trimaran Elle & Vire, which left New York Jan. 8. Luhrs left Nov. 23.

Monnet reached Cape Horn last week, 14 days ahead of Flying Cloud's pace and a week ahead of Luhrs' pace. Then Saturday, just past the Horn, Monnet hit an iceberg that damaged one of the boat's hulls.

Turning back for the Falkland Islands, he radioed for fiberglass material to be sent there for his repairs.

Guy Bernardin, 44, aboard BNP Bank of the West, is already out of the running, a victim for the second time of the fearsome Cape Horn. Bernardin was reported being towed by the Chilean Navy to Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego with loosened keel boats that were allowing water into the hull.

Bernardin lost a 60-footer less than a year ago when he was dismasted in a gale and the boat holed off the cape. That time, too, the Chilean Navy came to the rescue.

A third boat, a 50-foot trimaran, skippered by the only woman in the race, Anne Liardet, 27, Sunday was reported making her approach to Cape Horn. She is a day or two ahead of Flying Cloud's pace but well behind Thursday's Child's pace. Her crew is Joseph Le Quen, 41.

Luhrs said the race was harder than expected most of the way.

"We had gales right after leaving New York on Thanksgiving Day," he said.

Nevertheless, he set a sailing record from New York to the Equator and another from New York to Cape Horn.

"We had a lot of damage," Luhrs said. "Finally, the boat struck something in the ocean that damaged the hull and broke a frame.

"I was discouraged. But Lars Bergstrom said, 'Fine, we'll go to the Falklands and fix it.' "

Luhrs heaped praise on the British air and naval forces in the Falklands.

"You wouldn't believe the lengths they went to get us ready for sea again," he said.

"They helicoptered around the islands and went door to door to find a gallon of resin (a bonding agent) for us."

The worst part of the voyage for Luhrs: "Missing my family and my two little girls, one of whom learned to walk while I was gone."

Worst scare: "A gybe the second day out. The main boom slammed over to the other side of the boat and the main sheet (line) lapped around Courtney's neck.

"I still get chills thinking about it. I screamed. There was nothing else I could do. Courtney flipped the line off his neck just as the boom snapped the sheet taut. It would have killed him instantly."

What did he think of Sunday's reception?

"I was awed," Luhrs said. "We don't do these things for the glory. We do them because we want to, but the reception was overwhelming."

Added Luhrs: "It is not often that any of us has the opportunity to play a role in history. We've had that opportunity."

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