FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With the arrival of the leaders, this is the first time the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Beefeater Trophy--that's two sponsor plugs in a single title--has touched U.S. shores, and it could be the last.
However significant in sailing circles, the event is probably less historic than Columbus' arrival in the West Indies 498 years ago. There are no American entries--two prospects failed to find funding--although several Americans are sailing on boats in the fleet.
The Whitbread, which started in England on Sept. 2, scheduled Ft. Lauderdale this time only because some potential sponsors weren't thrilled that the past four biennial races had used Cape Town, South Africa, for one of five layovers in the 32,932-nautical-mile race. So, it was decided that it would be in everyone's interest to scuttle South Africa and substitute Ft. Lauderdale.
Any old port in a political storm.
The switch created a strange route that included one grueling 7,650-mile leg through the frigid and ferocious Southern Ocean from Punta del Este, Uruguay, to Fremantle, Australia, then a second stop at Punta del Este on the way home. Now there is discussion about including both Ft. Lauderdale and Cape Town in the 1994 event and eliminating Fremantle and one stop in Uruguay. In other words, the route would go from England to Ft. Lauderdale to Cape Town to New Zealand to Punta del Este to England.
Stopping first in Ft. Lauderdale might be a good idea, catching Americans before they become bored with the whole thing. Despite the danger and excitement of survival conditions, sailing's most competitive ocean racing event is of much greater interest in the rest of the world than it is here.
It hasn't been boring for the 23 boats. That would include Martela, the Finnish entry that lost its keel and went belly up on the fourth leg in February. Two other boats altered course to rescue the 16 crewmen, who survived and will be able to watch highlights of their adventure on ESPN Monday at 7 p.m. PDT.
Two U.S. professional sailing series got underway last weekend. Australia's Peter Gilmour, after a mediocre showing in the Congressional Cup off Long Beach last month, sailed a neon pink Ultimate 30 to victory in a five-boat fleet at Haleiwa on Oahu's north shore to earn $59,500. Following were John McLaurin, Los Angeles, $27,500; Mike Hobson, Annapolis, $16,500; Bill Ziegler, Darien, Conn., $12,700, and Russell Long, San Francisco, $5,500. Gilmour's sponsor flew the boat to Hawaii from Australia via Japan by Federal Express. Brothers Jonathon and Charlie McKee, 1984 and '88 Olympic medalists, respectively, from Seattle, won the One-Design 14 class and $9,250.
Randy Smyth, formerly of Huntington Beach and now from Mary Esther, Fla., opened defense of his two consecutive ProSail titles by defeating challengers Jack Halterman, Santa Cruz, 3-1, Brett Dryland, Australia, 3-1, and Randy Hatfield, Dana Point, 3-0, in a series of best-of-five match races for modified Formula 40 catamarans at New Bern, N.C. ProSail's new format has everybody else sailing against Smyth. Anyone who beats him wins $100,000. Smyth gets a salary from his sponsor, SuperLube, plus each $5,000 entry fee over three entries.
The Women's Sailing Assn. of Santa Monica Bay has a daysail scheduled on April 22, with non-members welcome. Information: (818) 786-8173.