Just yesterday, one of the most demanding, unusual, and compelling sailing competitions ever conceived got underway off Miami Beach, FL, marking its 20th annual edition. The Worrell 1000, as many sailors know, is an extreme undertaking that pits two-person teams racing aboard high-tech, 20-foot beach catamarans against the elements along a 1,000-mile course from Florida to Virginia Beach, VA. The racers in this 13-stage event not only have to contend with the wiles of Mother Nature, which can range from frustrating calms to race-ending wave sets spawned by the occasionally savage Atlantic, they also battle gear failure, shipping traffic, shoals, darkness, and wrenching fatigue. It's nothing if not arduous and certainly no other sailing competition demands the same intensity on the part of its practitioners.
It's fair to say that most monohull sailors have long regarded their multihull brethren as a breed apart, but the competitors who enjoy the rigors of the Worrell 1000 make up an even smaller and more separate sect. Several years ago, when race founder and organizer Mike Worrell shifted his promotional efforts into a higher gear, he adopted an appropriately quirky tag line for the race: "Iron sailors, plastic boats." Since then, in interview after interview, he readily describes his event as a cross between the Tour de France and the Volvo Ocean Race. Still, even those broad definitions only hint at what it takes to endure the two-week sprint north through the coastal waters of five US states. Nonetheless, it's evident that the Worrell 1000 demands a special breed of sailor.
Unlike more high-profile sailing competitions—the America's Cup or the VOR come to mind—the Worrell 1000 is short on sailors with big reputations. Certainly perennial winner Randy Smyth is well known, but unfortunately the six-time Worrell 1000 champ has chosen not to compete this year, and didn't sail last year as well. So, who are these mere mortals who hang out on a wire for what occasionally becomes a 16-hour stint? Three-time race veteran Brian Lambert, an architect from Ft. Walton Beach, FL, and his crew Jamie Livingston, a computer programmer, are the 2001 champions and this year's odds-on favorites aboard Alexander's on the Bay. Their rivals throughout the 21-boat fleet are plumbing contractors, architects, graphic designers, salesmen, and a smattering of self-acclaimed professional sailors. In short, just regular folks, except for some superb sailing skills and a chronically obsessive disorder, which tells them that back-to-back days (and two nights) of blasting across 80-mile spans of 50 and 60-degree water is fun.
Carl Roberts, at 48 the most experienced competitor on the roster with five Worrell's to his credit, is representative of the personalities that get involved in this unique event. A designer, family man, and dedicated cat sailor who lives on a lake in Brighton, MI, Roberts revels in what he refers to as "the crazy stuff. You know, lightning storms, hail, all that." But he says it's the two night legs that present the biggest challenge of this event: "The night legs are potentially very dangerous, but an element of the Worrell 1000 race that I enjoy….The psychology of night sailing may be the most interesting aspect of racing. The potential for collision plays on your mind. An unlit channel marker, another boat, or a competitor may appear in front of you with only seconds to react. It can be very intense for several hours at 20 plus knots, with steep seas, spray flying, bows stuffing into waves, all the while your trying to keep the boat moving at top speed and stay upright."
The ability to remain upright is an obvious key to success in this coastal sprint. Competitors normally experience the worst that Mother Nature can muster when they get into the northern legs of the race along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but that wasn't the case last year. Uncommonly vicious waves breaking along the beach at several Florida stopovers cost a number of the competitors dearly. One crew, Sandy Tartaglino, fractured her leg in several places while sluicing through the surf at the Ft. Lauderdale finish. Tom Weaver of Pyacht broke his ankle just minutes later when his boat crashed on top of him. At the start of the third leg in Jensen Beach, only five boats managed to surmount a five-foot shore break and get underway. With boats cartwheeling in the surf, four teams were ultimately knocked out of the race when the damage sustained to boats and sailors made it impossible to proceed. Zack Leonard, the Worrell 1000 media liaison in 2001, called that event "the upside down race." He wrote, "The early legs in South Florida nearly decimated the fleet while notorious Cape Hatteras was as tame as a pussycat."
As arduous as those scenarios make it sound, the Worrell 1000 isn't all savage seas and damaged gear. For the competitors, there are moments of pure joy, times of intense serenity, and fetching scenes that would cause palpitations even for a National Geographic
photo editor. There's also an unavoidable camaraderie that grows among everyone involved as the Worrell 1000 moves from stopover to stopover like a traveling road show. Imagine bedraggled competitors hauling their steeds up the beach after a grueling 80-plus-mile leg. The sailors spend a few minutes briefing their supporters on what needs to be fixed and then drag themselves to the hotel to collapse for the night. Then the shore teams take over, often working all night to repair smashed hulls, damaged rudders, split sails, or broken spars. If one team needs some additional resin or a spare cleat, those things are usually offered willingly by rival camps—it's just that sort of an atmosphere. In the morning, the fleet is off to sea again at 10:00 a.m. That's life in the Worrell 1000.
"To me it's the personal challenge of doing something that puts you in danger," explains Worrell of the race's appeal to its participants. "Only your wits and ability to deal with your surroundings can assure your safety," he continues. "Then overlay top competition and you've got an extreme sporting event." Extreme indeed; last year's winners, Livingston and Lambert, had spent a cumulative 106 hours, 47 minutes, and 44 seconds at sea before they rolled out of the surf at the finish in Virginia Beach. The last-place team posted a time more than 24 hours behind them.
For the next two weeks, the intrepid sailors in this event will make their way north from Miami, and their tracks along the coastline will add to the legacy of this singular race. You may not recognize their names, but you can be sure their stories will be worth hearing.
For additional information regarding stopovers, and updates, log on to the event's website at www.worrell1000.com. There is also some good coverage of the event being provided by the Cat Sailor website: www.catsailor.com/worrell02/worrell02.html.
Gearing UpIf the Worrell 1000 is all about stamina for the competitors, the event is even more so about reliability for the gear they use. Most teams have well-stocked shore-side support crews that hit the highway between stopovers, transporting all the spare parts because weight on the boats is anathema to performance. Because of that, veteran competitors in this event have refined their arsenals knowing what tends to fail and which kinds of products work best over the long haul. SailNet checked in with two such sailors to find out how they suit themselves up for rigorous offshore sailing on a 20-foot platform.
"The majority of the extra gear we carry is safety gear," says Brendan Busch of Team Lexis Nexis from southern California, sailing for his second time in the race. "Sailing offshore in catamarans requires a lot of gear you wouldn't wear around the lake. Here's what we strap on each of us when we sail offshore:"
Pile or polypropylene undergarments
Hat Medications (vicodin etc.)
Personal strobe light
Goretext spray suit or a drysuit
One-handed, serrated rigging knife
Camelback system for rehydration
A couple of Power Bars
Special sailing glasses or goggles
A hand-bearing compass
And extra sunscreen
"By the time we get all this on," explains Busch, "it feels like we are ready to go to the moon."
Here Comes the Worrell 1000 by Dan Dickison
The Worrell 1000—Coming to a Town Near You by Zack Leonard
Worrell 1000 Wrap Up by Zack Leonard
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