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Two U.S. Entries in Whitbread

September 21, 1993|RICH ROBERTS

Sixteen boats are scheduled to start the sixth Whitbread Round the World Race from England on Saturday. The race is run every four years, but it always seems that the last boat just straggled in. That's because it takes nine months, and the memories of triumph and tragedy remain so vivid.

Three men died during the 1989-90 race, one--crewman Tony Phillips from the English boat Creighton's Naturally--in the icy and stormy Southern Ocean. Earlier, distraught Russian skipper Alexej Gryshenko hanged himself in a park at Punta del Este, Uruguay, during the first stopover, and Janne Gustaffson from Sweden's The Card was killed in a motorcycle crash there a few days later.

A good primer for the race is the book "Icebergs, Port and Starboard" by John Jourdane of Long Beach, who was navigator aboard Fisher & Paykel in 1989-90 and chronicled the New Zealand boat's relentless but futile chase of Peter Blake's big red Steinlager for 33,000 miles.

As last time, the race will stop in Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay again and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Overall time is cumulative.

Until this year, there was never an American entry. This time there are two: Dennis Conner's boat named for a cigarette sponsor and U.S. Women's Challenge skippered by the resolute Nance Frank of Florida, but that doesn't mean there are a lot of Americans involved.

Conner, who like most American sailors prefers not to sail more than a few hours away from a comfortable bed, is committed only to the first leg. Otherwise, there will be no American on the boat. Conner's co-skipper--really, the man running the boat--is New Zealander Brad Butterworth, who was a watch captain for Blake on Steinlager and has rounded up a group of Kiwi mates as crew.

Even Frank's crew of 12 includes six women from five other countries. She had just enough money to get to the starting line in 1989, then tearfully waved the others on their way.

Conner and Frank are sailing among 10 boats in the new Whitbread 60 class. The 60s have been dealt restrictions on speed factors such as sail area, supposedly in the name of safety but really to prevent them from embarrassing the six larger maxis, led by New Zealand's Endeavour. Monday the chief measurer disqualified two spinnakers Chris Dickson had planned to use on his 60, Tokio.

There are three entries from the former Soviet Union, but it's questionable how many will start, let alone finish. The Ukraine 60 Odessa has some U.S. sponsorship, and Ted Allison of Seattle co-skippers Russia's Peter the Great, which changed its name from Odyssey last week.

Both are on shoestrings. While preparing Odessa in Tampa, Fla., the crew lived in a shipyard with an outdoor shower and meals from a Clearwater soup kitchen.


Mother-to-be J.J. Isler of San Diego will be the skipper of an America's Cup defense effort to be backed by Bill Koch in 1995.

Since defending the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club in '92, Koch has been agonizing over how to remain involved without committing the time and expense required last time. The solution was an all-woman crew, which is not an original idea but at least, with Koch's support, has the means to get to the starting line.

More likely and practical, it will probably wind up with an all-female afterguard, with Isler flanked by Dawn Riley and Dory Vogel and men in some of the more physically demanding positions. Riley was part of Koch's crew in '92. Vogel was navigator on Conner's backup boat at Fremantle in '86-87.

According to the New York Times, Koch met with the principals, including Isler's husband Peter, at his summer home in Osterville, Mass., early this week. Peter Isler, the world's sixth-ranked match racer, is to be the crew coach. Also, Dave Dellenbaugh, the navigator and starting helmsman aboard America 3, will take leave from his job as marketing manager of North Sails to join the effort.

The women will use Koch's two best boats from '92, America 3 and Kanza, and Koch will kick in $3 million for expenses--about $65 million less than it cost him to win the Cup.

The Koch-backed effort gives the '95 event three defense candidates, in addition to Conner and the PACT 95 team led by John Marshall and Kevin Mahaney.

J.J. Isler has led the way for women into traditional men's areas of sailing, often competing in mixed events on equal terms. She was the first woman skipper in four major match-racing events, including the prestigious Congressional Cup at Long Beach last March when she was six weeks pregnant. She expects to give birth next month.

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