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SAILING : Racers Find a Boatload of Trouble at Sea

December 22, 1989|RICH ROBERTS

The fifth Whitbread Round the World Race for the Beefeater Trophy will be at sea for Christmas, scheduled to depart Fremantle, Australia, Saturday.

Since leaving Plymouth, England, on Sept. 2, the 23 entries have experienced two deaths, survival conditions and an incredibly close finish of the second leg.

The boat Fisher & Paykel of New Zealand led for most of the 7,650-nautical mile leg--the longest and most difficult--from Punta del Este, Uruguay, through the Southern Ocean to Fremantle. Then it was becalmed one day off Australia, allowing New Zealand's Steinlager 2, England's Rothmans and Switzerland's Merit to finish ahead. After sailing almost a third of the distance around the world on that leg, skipper Peter Blake steered Steinlager 2 into Fremantle 1 hour, 33 minutes ahead of Rothmans, followed by Merit 28 seconds later.

John Jourdane of Long Beach, navigator on Fisher & Paykel, reported via British Telecom Data that winds up to 50 knots pushed his boat through steep, icy seas at an average speed of 11.5 knots, with one six-day run of 2,051 miles.

"That's a 6 1/2-day Transpac," Jourdane said.

The Transpac record from Pt. Fermin to Honolulu is 8 1/2 days by Merlin in 1979.

"It was extremely cold for two weeks, with snow and ice covering the deck almost every day," Jourdane said. "We saw icebergs on six different days. At one point, the lines on the winches were frozen solid and wouldn't move."

Trying to hold their footing on icy decks, six crewmen went overboard from various boats. All were recovered, although one--Anthony Phillips, 36, of the British entry Creighton's Naturally--died of hypothermia after a half-hour in the water. At his parents' request, he was buried at sea.

Jourdane said: "Every one of us clipped our life harnesses on and held on a little tighter. It brought home just how close we are sailing to danger and death."

Etienne Giroire, on Sweden's The Card, broke an arm, and Rafael Tibau, on Spain's Fortuna, broke a leg. But icebergs and icy decks were only some of the threats.

"A pod of six blue whales, 50 to 80 feet long, stayed with us for two days," Jourdane said.

During the layover at Punta del Este, Soviet skipper Alexei Gryshenko, 43, was found hanged in a tree, apparently a suicide. Co-skipper Skip Novak of Chicago continued to sail the Soviet entry, Fazisi, and placed 10th on the second leg for ninth overall.

Steinlager 2 leads the overall standings, followed by Merit, Fisher & Paykel and Rothmans. There are no American entries, although the fleet is scheduled to make the event's first American landfall ever at Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in early or mid-April before sailing the last leg to England.

Sailing Notes

OLYMPICS--The U.S. Olympic Yachting Committee, unlike 1988, is taking care to match wind conditions at the '92 trials sites with the Olympic courses off Barcelona, Spain. Four of the 10 classes--the men's and women's 470, Finn and women's European dinghy--have been scheduled for Newport Beach in mid-April of '92 and Star and Flying Dutchman for Miami in late April. Soling, Tornado and men's and women's sailboards are undetermined but probably will be somewhere in Florida, although Marina del Rey is possible for Tornado. Meteorologist Chris Bedford, who worked with Dennis Conner in the '87 America's Cup at Fremantle, Australia, has been to Spain to check conditions. OYC Chairman Mike Schoettle of Los Angeles said the selection of the sailboard site is so fine that a minimum prevailing breeze of 11 knots--Barcelona conditions--is the breaking point. "That's when a sailboard stops sailing on its bottom and starts sailing on its edge," Schoettle said.

AMERICA'S CUP--One of the more bizarre bids has come from Charles Ellery, who identified himself as commodore of the Portola Sail Yacht Club of Santa Cruz, which he said dates only to 1987 , has no clubhouse and charges only $60 for lifetime dues. Ellery proposed to raise a $26-million budget and use an all-women crew skippered by '88 Olympic gold medalist Allison Jolly of Long Beach. Without her commitment or permission, he has used her name in proposals to race organizers and potential sponsors. Jolly said: "I've met him once. I have a feeling this isn't anything I want to be connected with." Ellery also said he has "invited Mr. Bill Lee of Santa Cruz 70 yacht fame to design and build (the boat)." Apparently, Lee has nothing to do with it, either. . . . Ellery's proposal is not to be confused with that of Philip Freedman of San Diego, an operations agent at Lindbergh Field, who bought the America II 12-meter and hopes to try for the Cup as the Betsy Ross syndicate with a crew of no fewer than 40% women on one of the new 90-foot America's Cup class boats. . . . Whichever way the final court decision goes, New Zealand plans to launch its new boat by next October.

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