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'Roaring 40s' Claim 3 Sailboats : Yachting: Southern Ocean storms reduce field of Globe Challenge around-the-world race.

January 27, 1990|DAN BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES and Dan Byrne, a former news editor of The Times, competed in the 1982-83 BOC Challenge, a solo around-the-world race

PARIS — The "Roaring 40s" of the South Atlantic and Indian oceans sprang a trap on three solo sailors in the Globe Challenge around-the-world sailboat race.

The bleak, cold, storm-whipped Southern Ocean capsized one boat, dismasted another and crippled a third with a knockdown near 40 degrees south latitude. All three skippers--Frenchmen Philippe Poupon and Jean Yves Terlain and South African Bertie Reed--are out of the 27,000-nautical-mile non-stop race that began Nov. 26 from the French Atlantic port of Les Sables d'Olonne.

Ten boats remain from the 13-boat field after the halfway mark.

Moroccan-born Titouan Lamazou, aboard Ecureuil d'Aquitaine, has been in the lead since the day after it started.

He was 400 nautical miles ahead of the second boat after more than 14,000 nautical miles and two months of racing.

Behind him pressure is mounting as the boats race across the Indian Ocean in iceberg territory, 1,200 nautical miles south of Australia and 900 nautical miles north of Antarctica.

Poupon, 35, whom the French consider the fastest sailor alive, limped into Cape Town aboard his Fleury Michon with a harrowing tale.

In second place on Dec. 28, Poupon was steering a wide arc around the Cape of Good Hope at 47 degrees south latitude.

The wind was 55 knots and the seas 25 feet, he recalled. He was below when he felt the boat roll to port. In an instant, he was over 120 degrees, with his keel in the air and his main and mizzen masts and sails under water.

Afraid he was trapped below, he waited for the keel to lever the boat erect. It didn't happen.

"I was terrified the boat would turn 'turtle' (upside down)," Poupon told race headquarters by radio afterward.

When he saw that the boat was stabilized but capsized, Poupon set to work to save himself and the boat.

First, he turned on two satellite emergency beacons, alerting race headquarters of trouble. Next, he donned a survival suit and pumped his water ballast tanks empty in the hope that the boat, minus the weight of the ballast, would right itself. No luck.

A South African search and rescue aircraft, alerted by race headquarters, spotted Fleury Michon 1,300 nautical miles southwest of Cape Town 23 hours after the emergency beacons were activated.

Three hours later, Loick Peyron, 29, aboard Lada Poch, in third place 130 nautical miles astern of Fleury Michon when the emergency developed, arrived. Peyron found Fleury Michon broadside to heavy seas and 25-knot wind. Poupon was nowhere in sight.

Peyron blew his boat whistle, and the startled Poupon clambered on deck to find his rescuer slowly circling his stricken craft.

Poupon floated a line to Lada Poch, which towed the bow of the capsized vessel into the wind. The two sailors waited, hoping that without the force of the wind and seas acting on its broadside length, the boat would spring back up. Again, it failed to respond.

Poupon decided to lessen the force holding his boat down by cutting away the mizzen mast. This done, the boat came up. Except for shredded sails, everything appeared to be intact, Peyron reported by radio.

Peyron rejoined the race with a 14-hour 30-minute time allowance for going to Poupon's aid. However, as soon as Peyron put a line on Fleury Michon, Poupon was disqualified. The rules allow no outside assistance.

Fleury Michon was not built as a ketch with an aft--or mizzen--mast. It was designed as a sloop with a single mast. Poupon added the mizzen to give himself a spare upon which to set sail if the other mast was lost. It now appears that the water pressure on the added mast and sail kept Fleury Michon from righting itself and forced Poupon to accept assistance.

The next victim of the "Roaring 40s" was Jean Yves Terlain, aboard UAP 1992.

Terlain, 45, a veteran solo racer, reported the wind was 30 knots and the boat was surfing at speeds up to 15 knots.

"I was down below, and all of a sudden there was a big bang," he said. "I went up on deck and found the mast had fallen in three pieces."

He also found a smashed hatch and damage to the hull, deck and stanchions on the starboard side. Parts of the mast were dragging in the water.

"I cut the shrouds (mast support cables) with a hacksaw. I had to change blades after each shroud was cut. The boat was crossing the waves and one-degree (Celsius) water was hitting me in the face."

A video camera and a satellite navigation antenna also were damaged, Terlain reported.

"I'm going to wait for better weather conditions before setting up a jury rig to head north to Cape Town or elsewhere, working with the direction of the wind," Terlain told race headquarters. "I'll call you later."

For three days, he struggled to erect a jury rig. Race headquarters waited anxiously during this time as Terlain's bright-yellow 60-footer drifted southeast at one to two knots toward Antarctica.

Finally, Terlain reported he had set up a rig using spinnaker poles and the stump of the broken mast.

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