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ORANGE COUNTY ON THE GO | RECREATION NOTES

Morrelli Watches Race Finish From Dry Land

March 09, 2001|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gino Morrelli didn't expect to be a spectator in the Race of the Millennium, the no-limits yacht race around the world.

But he could only follow the action on the Internet when skipper Grant Dalton sailed the 110-foot catamaran Club Med across the finish in Marseilles, France, last week.

"Hats off to the guy," Morrelli said from his office in Newport Beach.

Morrelli, co-designer of 125-foot PlayStation, the largest of six cats to start the race, was aboard the boat when it left Barcelona, Spain, on Dec. 31. It didn't take long to see that PlayStation would have trouble finishing.

The 5,000-square-foot mainsail, which cost about $150,000, ripped only two days out of port. PlayStation pulled into Gibraltar and replaced the damaged main with the boat's original sail. After a 48-hour penalty for the assisted stop, PlayStation set off to chase the fleet, but the old sail, which had pushed the boat more than 15,000 nautical miles, wasn't holding up. So when the boat hit an unknown object off the coast of Brazil, snapping off its port dagger board, quitting the race was the obvious option.

Morrelli said the crew didn't have enough time to test the sails because the boat's length was extended 20 feet during the fall.

"We essentially started the race with untested sails," he said, "which was the fatal flaw."

However, Morrelli said, Steve Fossett, the owner and skipper of PlayStation, is still committed to going after speed records with the boat. The old set of sails is being rebuilt and the newer set is at the sail loft in New Zealand undergoing a "post-mortem analysis" to see if they can be saved.

Morrelli said Fossett's plan is to go after the Miami-to-New York record in April and the transatlantic record in May with a future round-the-world attempt sometime in the future.

"Hopefully, we're climbing up the learning curve," Morrelli said. "We're really pretty pleased with the boat."

Club Med finished the race in 62 days 6 hours 56 minutes and second-place Innovation Explore finished two days later, on Tuesday. The three other catamarans are still cruising toward the finish.

"Everyone knew it was going to be a race of attrition," Morrelli said, "but surprisingly, counter to 90% of the predictions, it looks like they still are going to have five of the six boats who started finish the race in some form or another."

Morrelli will share his experiences in designing, building and sailing PlayStation at a free lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ullman Sails in Newport Beach. Details: (949) 675-6970.

PADDLING ALONG

The Harbor Point Ocean Challenge paddling event Saturday in Newport Beach and Dana Point features one-person outrigger canoe, surfski, kayak and paddleboard competitions.

The long-course event, from Corona del Mar to Dana Point Harbor, is for surfskis and outrigger canoes. Paddleboarders will race around a four-mile course in Dana Point.

For more information call John Yamasaki, (949) 471-0700.

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