Hearing that 16 people on 16 sailboats will start a race around the world into the Atlantic Ocean today, one might wonder if they've been watching the Weather Channel, or any other channel. UCLA's football game in Miami and even a professional bowling tournament in Naples, Fla., retreated before Hurricane Georges, but Around Alone goes on from Charleston, S.C.
It's the fifth quadrennial edition of what was known as the BOC Challenge until the British Oxygen Co. dropped its sponsorship after the last one in 1994-95. It follows a route similar to the recent Whitbread Round the World Race but with crews of one instead of 10 or 12, and only three stops--Cape Town, South Africa; Auckland, New Zealand; and Punta del Este, Uruguay--instead of eight, having fewer sponsors to patronize along the way.
But the risks are about the same.
The first worry would seem to be hurricanes, as a parade follows Georges across the Atlantic. But the sailors' concern is not for winds of 100-plus knots but for no wind at all--say, when Tropical Storm Karl meets Hurricane Jeanne east of Bermuda on Sunday or Monday, creating a widespread trough of low pressure.
"This trough will effectively kill the trade winds in the western two-thirds of the Atlantic all of next week," said Ken Campbell of Commanders' Weather.
The fleet, divided into two classes, for boats under and over 50 feet, includes France's Isabelle Autissier, arguably the world's best woman sailor, and three Americans--third-time competitor Robin Davie, 46, of Charleston, and two rookies, retired businessman George Stricker, 62, of Newport, Ky., and Brad Van Liew, 30, of Playa del Rey and the California Yacht Club.
Van Liew's boat is the 50-foot Balance Bar, renamed from California Challenge to accommodate the energy bar sponsor acquired as he and his wife, Megan, followed the boat on a cross-country trek, stopping at pay phones along the way.
Van Liew, on leave from his commercial air charter business in Santa Monica, has done considerable single-handed offshore sailing.
"I'm not doing it to sail around the world," Van Liew said. "If I wanted to sail around the world, I'd get on a beautiful 40-footer with my wife and I'd stay in the mid-latitudes and [take] two years. This is something I decided to try to do to push my own personal limits."
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* Class 1 (50-60 feet): Isabelle Autissier, PRB, France; Mike Golding, Team Group 4, U.K.; Josh Hall, Gartmore Investment, U.K.; Fedor Konioukhov, Modern University for the Humanities, Russia; Sebastian Reidl, Project Amazon, Canada; Giovanni Soldini, FILA, Italy; Marc Thiercelin, Somewhere, France.
* Class 2 (40-50 feet): Robin Davie, South Carolina, U.S.; Michael Garside, Magellan Alpha, U.K.; Neil Hunter, Paladin II, Australia; Jean-Pierre Mouligne, Cray Valley, France; Neal Petersen, No Barriers, South Africa; Minoru Saito, Shuten-dohji II, Japan; George Stricker, Rapscallion III, U.S.; Brad Van Liew, Balance Bar, U.S.; Viktor Yazykov, Wind of Change, Russia.
* Leg 1: Sept. 26, Charleston, S.C., to Cape Town, South Africa, 6,865 nautical miles.
* Leg 2: Dec. 5, Cape Town to Auckland, New Zealand, 6,884 nautical miles.
* Leg 3: Feb. 6, Auckland to Punta del Este, Uruguay, 5,960 nautical miles.
* Leg 4: April 10, Punta del Este to Charleston, 5,751 nautical miles. Total: 25,460 nautical miles.