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A $5-million luxury vessel leaves this sailor man popeyed

The 'Open 60' racing boat, built specifically to sail solo around the world, is in Long Beach for the week, on a world tour leading up to an appearance at the America's Cup in San Francisco.

August 21, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • The support crew of the 60-foot Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss race boat sail the sleek craft in the waters off Long Beach on Tuesday.
The support crew of the 60-foot Alex Thomson/Hugo Boss race boat sail the… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Never had a bad time on a boat, though the dangers of the high seas have been widely chronicled. As with Scylla, who reportedly had the upper body of a nymph and the heads of six ravenous dogs buckled 'round her waist.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, had some personal baggage of her own — born in a splash of sea foam, when the private parts of Uranus were cast down from heaven. Try explaining that on a first date.

Him: "So tell me about your parents."

Her: "Oy. Well, Daddy had a little accident...."

So with the lore and lure of the sea in mind, step aboard a sailing ship, into the mythic domain of the ultimate deep-ocean adventurer.

Not just any sailing ship either — this is a $5-million marvel, a pointy-nosed sea shiv and one of the world's great racing vessels.

In Long Beach for the week, on a world tour leading up to an appearance at the America's Cup in San Francisco, the 60-foot boat is built specifically to sail solo around the world, two miles of line, all leading back to the cockpit so the captain, like a master puppeteer, can work everything from one spot.

Not even the Greeks conjured up something like this. Nor could they have imagined a solo run around the world, no stopping. How difficult is that? A nonstop solo voyage didn't happen until 1969, the year man first planted a flag on the moon.

In ideal conditions, the journey takes about 80 days at speeds up to 30 knots. Unable to leave the helm, the lone skipper takes only catnaps, 20 minutes at a time. That's right, only catnaps for three months.

And to think, rush hour wears you out.

Great month to sail, August. There is something about the very act of stepping aboard a boat that delivers a sense of serenity. Like I said, I never had a bad day on the water, though I never tried sailing solo around the globe.

What an F-18 is to flight, this "Open 60" sailboat is to deep-ocean racing: a carbon fiber blur. Weighs about 12 tons, five of those in the keel, the torpedo-shaped fin beneath the boat.

From the waterline, the keel reaches 4.5 meters down and can swing 45 degrees left, 45 degrees right. It is both invisible and indispensable. Lose the keel, and you lose the race. Lose the keel, and hope your life insurance is paid up.

Though only 6 years old, this particular vessel is on a farewell tour now, brought all the way from Australia, the racing equivalent of being put out to pasture. Though overtaken by better designs and technology, it is still a world-class sailing ship.

Hugo Boss is the sponsor, and this becomes abundantly clear when one of the VIP passengers kicks off her three-inch heels before boarding.

"I'd rather drown than wear flats," explains Laurie Graham, a celebrity personal stylist.

Chester Nimitz's navy this is not.

But a game crew it is, led by Will Palmer and including James O'Rourke and Jack Peplow. They assign the guests to work the hand cranks (grinders) that hoist the sails amid 12-knot winds out of Long Beach.

"Even though it's made of carbon, it kind of creaks and bangs," explains Peplow. "You get used to the noises. And when you hear anything different, you know something's wrong."

As during the famed Vendee Globe race, when race skipper Alex Thomson has to consume 5,000 calories a day just to keep his strength up, then fix whatever needs fixing — a snagged sail, a balky winch, a broken mast.

Famously, one French sailor had to do just that when his 100-foot mast snapped mid-race. Yves Parlier managed to splice it back together with the boom and finish the Vendee.

As a frame of reference, imagine taking a fallen telephone pole, righting it by hand and winch, then binding it with another pole (the boom), all while being tossed at sea.

Mast or not, only 50% of entrants even finish the notorious Vendee, held every four years and quite possibly the world's toughest endurance race.

From here, the ship sails to San Francisco, where it will make a stylish background for the America's Cup next month. It won't be participating. Compared to the races this class of sailboats runs, the America's Cup seems like toy boats in a bathtub.

But look for it: black-and-white and sexy all over, an elegant emblem of human endurance.

And for a lone, sleepy sailor at sea, a $5-million tool of torture.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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