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Brian Hancock
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Previewing The Race

The newly lengthened 125-foot PlayStation showing her stuff in the English Channel just weeks before the start.

After nearly six years of planning, there are now just days to go until the start of the much-touted Race of the Millennium—the nonstop, no-holds-barred dash around the planet from Barcelona, Spain, out and back to Marseille, France. All the competitors are assembled in Barcelona, working on last-minute details. They are nearing that wonderful moment when it becomes too late to make any substantial changes. What you have is what you have, and what remains is simply your best effort to sail around the world as fast and as safely as you can. It's a liberating feeling, more so after years of being tied to the thousands of small details that go into fielding an entry of this magnitude.

The Race is no small undertaking, and for the six mega-catamarans that will show up on the line for the starting gun, it is the end of a long, hard road and the beginning of a relatively short, easy one. At least that's the view of some of the sailors who have been involved in getting to this point. It's a well-used mantra for all these long offshore racers. Just getting to the start is the hard part. Once the gun goes off, all you have to do is sail the boat. For those of us left behind, we will be able to sit back and enjoy the spectacle and no matter the outcome it will be an amazing event. While it will be hard to predict a winner with 25,000 of the toughest sailing miles ahead of the fleet, we can at least make a good, educated guess. Let's start with an overview of the boats.

With co-skippers Grant Dalton and Franck Profitt's on board, the 110-foot Club Med is the author's odds-on favorite to win.
The favorite has to be the 110-foot Club Med. Built by the French yard Multiplast from the drawing board of Gilles Ollier, Club Med was the first of three sister ships to go sailing, and has that all important advantage—time on the water. During its initial sea-trial sailing from Spain to the Bahamas, Club Med smashed the old distance record and set an amazing 24-hour speed record of 625 miles. What was more amazing was co-skipper Grant Dalton's assertion that they were taking it easy, and his bold prediction that logging over 700 miles in 24 hours would be possible.

Those that know Dalton are familiar with his brash, no-nonsense style, and they know that he would not make a prediction he could not keep. He has surrounded himself with a solid team including Frenchman Franck Proffit as his co-skipper and Mike Quilter as his navigator. Quilter has numerous successful Whitbread and America's Cup campaigns to his credit, and his depth of experience and quiet, thoughtful demeanor will be valuable especially during the wild wooly ride across the Southern Ocean. The collective crew aboard Club Med boasts no fewer than 22 races around the world, and this group has also had time to work out most of the bugs, which includes the dramatic loss of its port bow just ahead of the forward cross beam. To fix the problem, Dalton hired his own composite engineers, and they also looked at other potential areas of weakness. If Club Med has a drawback it might be all the extra weight added to reinforce the boat, but if this contest becomes a race of attrition, look for this entry with its bold skipper, stylish graphics, and deep multihull experience to prevail. I give them 5:1 odds.

Cam Lewis and his game group of veterans ply the seas aboard Team Adventure, the only entry with water-ballasted hulls.
Pushing Club Med every step of the way and drawing Dalton into a three-way match race will be sister ships Innovation Explorer and Team Adventure. Innovation Explorer was the second Ollier boat to launch. This campaign took to the water on October 12 and went sailing a scant four days later. With Club Med as the guinea pig, both Innovation Explorer and Team Adventure made modifications to accommodate potential weaknesses, and it was not surprising to see both boats get up to speed relatively quickly.

When it comes to fierce determination and unwavering resolve, there can be no doubt that Team Adventure has more than what it takes to win The Race. With little more than a dream and high hopes, skipper Cam Lewis has coaxed and coerced his way to the starting line and now stands ready to take on the world. Despite only being in the water for less than two months, Team Adventure has been able to get up to speed and ready for the race in very short order. On its second outing, the team cracked a staggering 39.9 knots "with ease" as Lewis put it, and on their qualifying voyage, they shook the boat down with a series of gales in the Bay of Biscay.

Tony Bullimore's 104-foot Legato, the boat the author says might be a dark horse.
Although Team Adventure is from the same mold as Club Med and Innovation Explorer, it was built at a different yard and this might make all the difference. JVM boat builders in Cherbourg are renown for their carbon-fiber expertise and they have done a masterful job with Team Adventure. Add to that the fact that Lewis has assembled a very talented team of sailors that includes Jean Yves Bernot, reputed to be the best weather router in the world, and Larry Rosenfeld, Lewis's partner in the program. Together they will be working with Commanders Weather to provide all important weather and tactical information for the boat. Finally, Lewis's secret weapon is his innovative sail inventory. It' s hard to be unbiased here since I was involved in the sail development program, but the unique sail configurations and exotic fabrics like Cuben Fiber and Carbon 3DL will definitely give Team Adventure an edge. Randy Smyth, regarded as the best beach-cat sailor in the world, has his stamp firmly on the sails aboard this boat. Smyth will be sailing on board Team Adventure, balancing his inshore multihull skills against Lewis' s offshore experience. It should be mentioned that Lewis is the only skipper in the race to have circumnavigated the world on a catamaran. Despite a huge lack of funds and a late launching date, Team Adventure is at least as well prepared as the others. I give them 7:1 odds.

Innovation Explorer's strength lies in the afterguard on board, the dream team combination of co-skippers Loick Peyron (brother of Bruno, The Race organizer) and Skip Novak, along with navigator Roger Nilsson. Peyron is probably the highest regarded offshore multihull sailor in France and brings a wealth of talent to the team; however his experience in the Southern Ocean can't match that of Novak and Nilsson who have both completed four Whitbread races. When it comes to raw gut feel and that all important sixth sense, it will be hard to better this combination. Unfortunately Innovation Explorer's learning curve has been hampered by a lack of money and they depart without much time on the water and without a major sponsor. I give them 8:1 odds.

At 125 feet LOA, will PlayStation be too big a boat to handle in the wild southern ocean?
At the risk of raising a few eyebrows, I do not think that Steve Fossett's behemoth PlayStation will be able to beat the Ollier boats despite being the biggest boat in the fleet. The Gino Morelli/Pete Melvin designed catamaran was recently lengthened to 125 feet by adding an additional 15 feet to each bow and five to the transoms. Prior to the modifications, rumors of an unmanageable sail plan and a terrifying tendency toward pitch-poling were confirmed, and it became necessary to move the center of effort aft and add buoyancy forward. The news bows are the obvious answer; however, they leave PlayStation looking a bit agricultural when parked alongside the sleeker Ollier boats. To PlayStation's advantage, the extra length will make this boat the most powerful of all the cats, and her new sail inventory (also of Cuben Fiber) will be more manageable despite the problem they will inevitably encounter reefing the mainsail on spar with significantly swept-back spreaders. PlayStation's traditional rig with wide, swept-back spreaders is definitely retro thinking when compared to the aerodynamic wing masts found on the Ollier boats, and having the battens hang up on the spreaders will surely be a vexing problem. The boat does have many more miles under her hulls than any of the other competitors and it's well known that Steve Fossett is a fierce competitor, so don't count this program out. I give them 9:1 odds.

It is hard to believe that the two "smaller" cats will have any chance against their newer rivals, but if it becomes a race of attrition, at least both these boats have proven themselves in tough circumstances before. Both Tony Bullimore's Legato (ex ENZA) and Roman Paszke's Polpharma-Warta (ex Explorer) have circumnavigated before, and with new masts, sails, and crew, they are ready to go again.

As ENZA, Legato set a record for the nonstop circumnavigation of just under 75 days, averaging a touch over 12 knots. Now, after a two-year program of modifications that included adding an extra 10 feet to her bows and a new, larger rig, designer Nigel Irens believes that she is capable of cutting as many as nine days off that time. The modifications were designed to increase Legato's average speed from 18 to 22 knots, as well as improve buoyancy in the bows to lessen the possibility of pitch-poling when surfing through the monstrous waves of the Southern Ocean. She also has a new, 109-foot, state-of-the-art wing mast. Given Bullimore's drive and determination (remember it was he who survived four days in his upturned hull during the last Vendee Globe) and a boat that weighs almost half as much as some of the big cats, Team Legato might be a player and is definitely a dark horse for The Race. I give them 25:1 odds.

Polpharma-Warta, at 85 feet LOA, is truly the runt of the litter. Her skipper did win the Admiral's Cup in 1997, but grand-prix racing aboard a monohull is an entirely different arena from an event that lasts two-plus months and includes the Southern Ocean as its primary venue. It's likely that this vessel and Legato will play a game of their own well astern of the other four entrants. I give them 75:1 odds.

Fair sailing to all the competitors. Now let The Race begin.

The Players

As in any sporting competition, a few key elements about the competitors require acknowledgement because you can’t know the players without a program now can you?

 Club Med 5:1 odds
 LOA 110 feet
 Working Sail Area 6,566 square feet
 Co-skippers Grant Dalton/Franck Profitt
 Crew Mike Quilter, Ed Danby, Neal MacDonald, Jan Dekker, Herve Jan, Jacques Caraes, Alexis de Cenival, Nicolas Pichelin, Frederick Le Peutrec, Stephano Rizzi, and Guillermo Altadill
 Designer Gilles Ollier

 Team Adventure 7:1 odds
 LOA 110 feet
 Working Sail Area 6,566 square feet
 Skipper Cam Lewis
 Crew Larry Rosenfeld, Jean-Yves Bernot, Jacques Vincent, Randy Smyth, Fred Carrere, Lionel Lemonchois, Halvard Mabire, Rob Myles, Philippe Peche, and Mikael Lundh
 Designer Gilles Ollier

 Innovation Explorer 8:1 odds
 LOA 110 feet
 Working Sail Area 6,565 square feet
 Co-skippers Loick Peyron/Skip Novak
 Crew Roger Nilson, Xavier Dagault, Julien Cressant, Olivier Lozachmeur, Stephane Peyron, Thierry Douillard, Loic Le Mignon, Jean-Philippe Saliou
 Designer Gilles Ollier

 PlayStation 9:1 odds
 LOA 125 feet
 Working Sail Area   7,724 square feet
 Skipper Steve Fossett
 Crew Stan Honey, Dave Scully, Tom Weaver, Peter Hogg, Damian Foxall, Brian Thompson, Ben Wright, Mark Callahan, Stuart Wilson, Nick Molony, Gino Morelli, and Tim Kroger
 Designer Morrelli-Melvin

 Legato 25:1 odds
 LOA 102 feet
 Working Sail Area 4,500 square feet
 Skipper Tony Bullimore
 Crew Bernard Perrin, Fred Dahirel, Kevin Pahl, Slava Sisenco, Mike Gettinger, and Ben Duncan
 Designer Nigel Irens

 Polpharma-Warta 75:1 odds
 LOA  84 feet
 Working Sail Area 3,660 square feet
 Skipper Roman Paszke
 Crew Dariusz Drapella, Robert Janecki, Zbigniew Gutkowski, Ryxzard Block, Wojciech Dlugozima-Szymkiewicz, Mariusz Pirjanowicz, and Miroslav Gospodarczyk
 Designer Gilles Ollier


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