When the last Around Alone finished three years ago there was some doubt about the future of the event. Other, perhaps more commercially viable events, had sprung up and Around Alone, despite being one of the originals, found itself with tough competition for sponsorship dollars. In the end the owners, Great Adventures Ltd., decided to sell their race and found a willing buyer in Clipper Ventures, a British based company known for their highly successful Clipper Around the World Race. With Clipper's involvement the Around Alone took on a new look and new course, and while the entry list might be diminished, the enthusiasm is up and the race looks like it has the potential to be one of the most exciting ever.
By the time the boats arrive in Cape Town they will be looking forward to the cold of the Southern Ocean. Once past Cape Town the tough part of the race begins as the fleet dives south into the Southern Ocean for a breakneck ride to New Zealand. The traditional host port of Auckland will be fully engaged with the America's Cup, so the Around Alone will instead call in at Tauranga, a pleasant seaside resort 100 miles south of Auckland.
From New Zealand the boats will transit some of the most remote waters on the planet. It's a 4,000 mile sail to Cape Horn at the tip of South America and with the southern hemisphere's fall season quickly approaching, the weather can get windy and rough. Once past the Horn it's clear sailing to Salvador, Brazil, the final stopover port before the last leg back to the US. Salvador is best known for its samba music and 100-percent humidity, but it will at least allow the skippers a chance to regroup and to sort their boats before the final sprint to north Newport where the race will end.
Also sailing a Finot design is 46-year-old Belgian sailor Patrick de Radigues aboard Garnier, Yves Parlier's former Aquitaine Innovations. de Radigues may once have been better known on the motor racing circuit with victories in the prestigious Bol D'Or, however, he has one Vendee Globe and numerous other offshore races to his credit, and is recognized in Europe as a strong contender in the solo-sailing arena.
Another Vendee Globe veteran with a rocket-fast boat and a fierce will to win is 34-year-old Italian racer Simone Bianchetti. His yacht, Tiscali, is a boat that proved itself during the last Vendee with Catherine Chabaud at the helm as Whirlpool. For Bianchetti the Around Alone is unfinished business as he was forced to retire from Leg II of the race in 1994.
Another Class I competitor also sailing with a broader message is New Zealander Graham Dalton aboard Hexagon, the newest Open 60 in the fleet, and the only boat built expressly for this race. Sponsored by the financial conglomerate HSBC, the focus of Dalton's campaign is education. Hexagon was designed by Owen Clarke Design—the firm responsible for Ellen MacArthur's Open 60 Kingfisher. The boat has been described as a Mach II version of Kingfisher. At 50, Dalton is the oldest sailor in Class I, and though something of an unknown commodity in solo-sailing circles, he has a potent weapon in Hexagon.
Most solo sailing pundits have given the nod of pre-race favorite to Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm sailing Bobst Group-Armor Lux. The boat, looking every bit like a giant mini-transat machine, was designed by Pierre Roland who has enjoyed much success in that diminutive class. The 38-year-old Stamm built the boat for the last Vendee Globe, but had to withdraw when his autopilot failed. Undeterred, he headed for New York and a few weeks later set a new monohull transatlantic speed record and a 24-hour distance record averaging a blistering 17.49 knots. Stamm finished a major refit of the boat last spring, and should have strong motivation in the fact that this boat has never finished higher than third in the Open Unlimited arena.
While the spotlight is naturally on the larger boats, the 40 to 50-foot class (Class II) will also see its share of heated action. Leading the charge in this group will be Around Alone veteran Brad van Liew aboard Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America. The 33-year-old Van Liew placed third in Class II during the last edition of this race, a performance he regards as more experiential than competitive. Now, after purchasing the Jean Berret design Magellan Alpha (the boat that placed second last time), he has modified it to make the boat arguably the fastest 50-foot monohull in the world. One interesting application he's fashioned on board is duplicate electronic systems, not just back-up components. With corporate support from Tommy Hilfiger, Van Liew is poised to carve out his niche as a sports hero in American pop culture.
He will get some competition from the newest Open 50 in the fleet, a novel Jim Antrim design sailed by mid-westerner Tim Kent. What Kent lacks in experience he more than makes up for with guts and determination. His boat, Everest Horizontal, is solid and his commitment total.
Rounding out the 50-footers is 57-year-old Canadian sailor John Dennis (sailing this writer's old boat) aboard Bayer Ascensia. Although the boat is an older design, it is solid and capable of giving the newer boats a run for their money, especially when the wind is up and the spindrift flying. Dennis, who has Type 2 diabetes, is campaigning his boat partially to encourage others afflicted with diabetes to take control of their health care through proactive self-monitoring.
The 40 footers offer a much more manageable budget as evidenced by Hatfield who has managed to make it to the starting line without any significant corporate support. He'll have to out-duel 37-year-old Bermudian Alan Paris sailing BTC Velocity, another amateur sailor who looks to have an able performer in his Scott Jutson design. The third and by no means last Open 40 sailor is Kojiro Shiraish sailing Spirit if Yukoh. As a boy, the 34-year-old Shiraish read about Yukoh Tada's win in the first BOC Challenge and was inspired to pursue a life of sailing and adventure. He has competed in extreme sports including the Eco Challenge, and will be sailing his race as a tribute to his mentor, Tada.
While it might seem a cliché to say that all who finish the Around Alone are winners, there is no doubt in this writer's mind that the men and woman who have the grit and determination to make it to the starting line are indeed winners. It's a very tough road to travel to just get Newport and have your boat ready; getting around the globe safely is an added bonus.
The race begins on Sunday, September 15 in New York. You can follow the action on line here at SailNet—we'll offer news updates and occasional feature articles—and you can log on to the event's official website at www.aroundalone.com.
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