Every year in the spring one of the most engaging and amazing sailing events rolls up the East Coast from southern Florida to Virginia Beach entertaining sailors and non-sailors alike with its fast-paced, epic action. The Worrell 1000a 1,000-mile, 13-leg sprint staged aboard two-person beach catsis already underway. Shortly after the starting gun fired off on Sunday, May 6, 21 teams thrust their 20-foot steeds into the surf off Miami Beach for the initial 22-mile dash up to Ft. Lauderdale. The event, which identifies itself by way of the tag line "Iron Sailors, Plastic Boats," isnt for everyone, but for a couple of dozen semi-obsessed cat sailors, its the ultimate adventure.
Once the racers get past Ft. Lauderdale, the average length of the legs between stopovers in the Worrell 1000 jumps to 80 miles, putting a premium on endurance for the sailors as well as the gear aboard their identical Inter 20 catamarans. Though each stopover gives the competitors a brief respite as well as the chance to repair damaged equipment before they resume battle with Mother Nature and each other the next day, the raw expanses of open coastal water in between offer plenty of challenges. Last year Worrell 1000 rookies Rick Deppe and Tom Weavereach experienced ocean racerscapsized several times, had their boat holed twice, and dismasted once only to end up 18th out of 19 finishers. "Its a very tough and grueling event with a steep learning curve," said Deppe afterward. "After 1,000 miles, we were just starting to get the hang of it." Its definitely not for everyone.
A typical leg starts with the sailors lining their boats up on the beachbows facing out to sea, working sails deployed. The winner of the previous leg has the honor of placing his or her boat furthest north in the line up. As the gun goes off, the sailors (and their shore crew) make a frenzied push to get the boats through the surf and underway. Out at sea, the course is frought with obstacles, not the least of which is maintaining concentration to keep the boat upright. At double digit speeds, the Inter 20s are so sensitive, say the competitors, that zoning out for even a moment can cause a capsize, or worse yet, pitch-poling. After 80 miles of intense sailing, its not uncommon for the racers to come speeding up to the beach near the finish only to have their platforms cartwheel out from under their weary bodies in the surf. Its not surprising that in 18 editions of the event, 202 teams have started, but only 122 teams have finished.
The history of the Worrell 1000 dates back to 1974 in Virginia Beach when founder Mike Worrell accepted a barroom bet that he couldnt sail his Hobie 16 all the way to Florida. Though his boat self-destructed after he and Steve McGarrett reached Ft. Lauderdale, Worrell won the bet. More importantly, the adventure firmly planted the seed of a dream for Worrell and two years later the first Worrell 1000 was born. Except for a six-year hiatus (1990-96), the event has been run annually since that seminal contest.
Due to the races unusual nature and Worrells relentless promotion, the event has been enjoying a newfound popularity in recent years. The organizer isnt shy about revealing his aspirations regarding the media, saying that he hopes to ink a network TV deal before plans for the 2002 event are too far along.
"TV drives everything," explains Worrell. "Thats my target. I think weve really benefited from the success of reality TV." Of his event, the creator says: "We were extreme before people even used that term, and now the modern Worrell 1000 is a full-time, hands-on sporting event. We go into 14 cities in five states and we build a festival atmosphere around each checkpoint."
Worrell likens his event to a nautical Tour de France. In terms of its level of intensity, that might be a fair comparison. But the course of the Worrell 1000 includes two night legs (from Tybee Island, GA to Isle of Palms, SC and from Isle of Palms to Myrtle Beach, SC), which six-time champion and multihull legend Randy Smyth says make up the most difficult aspect of this odyssey. Smyth told the New York Times last year: "Youre zipping along, and there are all sorts of shoals out there
.youre flying along at 20 knots and, bingo, you hit a six-inch spot of thin water. The boat stops, but you just keep on flying."
The other dreaded segment of this race comes during the penultimate leg when the sailors go from Cape Hatteras to Kill Devil Hills, NC. In the process, they have to navigate the infamous promontory where huge ocean swells pile up on the shore in washing-machine fashion. Conditions here are often exacerbated by frontal systems that migrate offshore during the spring, peppering the sailors with headwinds in excess of 20 knots. If your vessel or your nerves dont disintegrate here, therea good chance that youll end up in the annals of this singular event as a finisher. For the rest of us, well just have to stick with the pleasure of watching it from shore.
Staying Tuned to the Action
Despite its prime-time aspirations, you won't find find coverage of the Worrell 1000 on your local networks just yet. Here's a quick overview of the schedule and a brief update. The fleet left Miami Beach on Sunday, May 6, and is scheduled to cross the finish line in Virginia Beach on May 19. In between there are 12 check points:
Leg 1Miami Beach to Ft. Lauderdale22.7 miles
Leg 2Ft. Lauderdale to Jensen Beach, FL80.7 miles
Leg 3Jensen Beach to Cocoa Beach, FL79 miles
Leg 4Cocoa Beach to Daytona Beach, FL68.9 miles
Leg 5Daytona Beach to Jacksonville Beach, FL79 miles
Leg 6Jacksonville Beach to Tybee Island, GA121.3 miles
Leg 7Tybee Island to Isle of Palms, SC83.5 miles
Leg 8Isle of Palms to Myrtle Beach, SC86.3 miles
Leg 9Myrtle Beach to Wrightsville Beach, NC80 miles
Leg 10Wrightsville Beach to Atlantic Beach, NC67.1 miles
Leg 11Atlantic Beach to Cape Hatteras, NC81.3 miles
Leg 12Cape Hatteras to Kill Devil Hills, NC65.1 miles
Leg 13Kill Devil Hills to Virginia Beach, VA60 miles
The sailorss times on each leg are calculated and posted each day. At the finish, the team with the lowest cumulative time wins the overall honors. Sailing in their fourth Worrell 1000, Brain Lambert and Jamie Livingston won the initial leg from Miami Beach to Ft. Lauderdale in a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, and 45 seconds.
Unfortunately, several of the marquee competitors from former years, including Randy Smyth, are not on the roster this year, but there are many new faces along with a core of older ones. The age span among the competitors ranges from 19-year-old Austin Shipes of DeLand , FL (sailing with his father) to 53-year-old John McLaughlin of Baltimore, MD, sailing the event for his fifth time. And for the first time, there is an all-female team (Katie Pettibone and Eleanor Hay). To see who is competing, and to follow the action on a daily basis, log on to the events website at www.worrell1000.com, and watch for periodic updates here at SailNet.
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