It's that time again, time when some of the fastest sailboats in the world set off for another sprint around the planet. While many sailors may be getting immune to the appeal of yet another circumnavigating race, this is one of the classics. It's the Around Alone (formerly the BOC Challenge), which starts on September 15 from New York City, and while there are numerous globe-girdling races on the sailing calendar, this event is one of the originals. It is also one of the most interesting.
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.
The new 28,800-mile course reflects not only the economic realties of the event, with the stopover ports sharing some of the administrative costs of running such races, but in a symbolic nod to the times the race will start in New York between Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty. Once the fleet manages to escape the crowds in New York harbor, the competitors will turn north and head for Torbay on the south coast of England instead of turning right and sailing south towards South Africa as in past races. This stopover in the United Kingdom reflects Clippers Ventures' home interests and marks the first time in 20 years and five editions that this American-born race will call at a European port.
This new leg is the shortest of the five that make up the race and will provide the sailors with an excellent shakedown opportunity before they get into the real meat of this course. The second leg will be take the sailors across the equator to South Africa, and the organizers hope that all 13 competitors can avoid hurricanes by sailing closer to the African coast where these storms are usually in their infancy. While it might be a tradewind leg, it is still a long, hot, tiring passage with the doldrums adding a degree of difficulty to say nothing of scorching heat.
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.
|"It's a 4,000 mile sail to Cape Horn at the tip of South America and with the southern hemisphere's autumn season quickly approaching, the weather can get windy, rough, and unforgiving."|
In Class I (boats 51 to 60 feet) there is an eclectic mix of seasoned solo sailors and fresh upstarts sailing some well-tuned and highly competitive boats. There is also a touch of glamour with 27-year-old British sailor Emma Richards at the helm of Pindar
sure to add an intriguing dimension. No stranger to open-ocean racing nor solo sailing, Richards is highly regarded as a fierce competitor and determined sailor. She has won the Open 50 class of the Jacques Vabre sailing double-handed, and the Open 50 class of the Europe 1 New Man STAR as a single-hander. Richards will be aboard the 1998-vintage Group Finot design that was formerly campaigned by Josh Hall, Gartmore
. Her one liability may be that, other than a one transatlantic delivery, she lacks significant time aboard this boat.
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.
Because the timing of the Around Alone conflicts with the hugely popular Route du Rhum, which starts in November, most of the top French sailors in the Open 60 chose to do that transatlantic race rather than the much longer race around the world. Thus, this event, once dominated by the French, has only a single Gallic entry. Thierry Dubois has proven his toughness by competing in two Vendee Globe campaigns. The 35-year-old sailor has also proven his dedication to human rights with partial sponsorship from Amnesty International and a bold slogan: “Human rights around the world” emblazoned on the hull of his entry Solidaires
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.
|"Schwab's more-simple rig will offer him safety advantages, though he acknowledges his lack of outright experience racing in the Open 60 arena may cost him."|
The final Class I entry is American Bruce Schwab who will be sailing his innovative Tom Wylie design, Ocean Planet
. Schwab, a California Bay Area rigger with multiple Pacific races on his resume, is waging a shoestring campaign, funded principally by individual donations. His remarkably narrow, cold-molded boat features an unstayed, rotating, mast, stepped well forward. Schwab thinks that his more-simple rig will offer him safety advantages and improved performance on certain points of sail in certain weather, though he admits he might be at a disadvantage due to his lack of outright experience competing aboard Open 60s.
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.
One of the most interesting developments in the Around Alone has been Open 40s. Last time around Russian sailor Viktor Yazykov garnered headlines when he gave the larger Open 50s a run for their money with his 40 foot Winds of Change
, and his performance has spurred the development of some interesting new boats for the current race. One of the hottest looking is Spirit of Canada
designed by Bob Dresser and campaigned by Canadian Derek Hatfield. Hatfield, a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, built the boat over the last five years working nights and weekends, and the result is a first-class racing machine that many believe will give the larger Open 50s strong competition.
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.
Running the NumbersIt is customary for SailNet's editorial staff to rate the performance potential of competitors in ‘round the world races, and thus we offer the following odds for the current Around Alone fleet. Given that these competitors will have to endure more than 28,800 miles of open ocean, we're well aware of the folly of such predictions. We'd also like to stress that this is SailNet's take on the fleet, and in no way reflects the opinions of the author of this article, Brian Hancock.
Bernard Stamm, Bobst Group Amor-Lux 5:1 (odds)
Stamm has a proven boat and has logged more racing time aboard than any other sailor in Class I.
Thierry Dubois, Solidaires 7:1
Despite having to drop out of two Vendee Globes, Dubois has amassed substantial experience aboard Open 60s.
Graham Dalton, Hexagon 9:1
Early issues with the mast notwithstanding, Dalton has the only new generation 60 in the fleet, and should have a performance edge. Despite his lack of experience, he has a deep-pocketed sponsor and an experienced coach in two-time race veteran David Adams. His biggest liability is an initial time penalty of almost 30 hours.
Emma Richards, Pindar 10:1
Richards will need time to learn her new steed, a boat that has a history of failures in around-the-world races. But she's got grit, good backing, and some strong experience on her side.
Patrick de Radigues, Garnier 12:1
Having only acquired his boat in the last several months, de Radigues will also need time on the first two legs to fully achieve the craft's potential, but he has the experience of two Vendee Globes, though he retired from both.
Bruce Schwab, Ocean Planet 15:1
Schwab is a potential dark horse and some surprises could be in store. He's also got the skills and moxie to deserve a better handicap, but his campaign is short on funds and he'll likely be hampered during stopovers.
Simone Bianchetti, Tiscali 15:1
Bianchetti has a capable ride in his Marc Lombard designed vessel, but we suspect he'll be prone to the same meltdowns that plagued him during his first go at this race in 1994.
Brad Van Liew, Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America 5:1
As Van Liew himself is fond of saying, “experience counts for something.” With his charged up, proven boat and substantial funding for the first time, he'll spend more time racing against the Class I boats than the ones in Class II.
Derek Hatfield, Spirit of Canada 10:1
Hatfield has the boat builder's advantage of thoroughly knowing his boat. A canting keel and 50,000 miles of open ocean experience makes him a likely candidate to finish on the podium in Class II.
Alan Paris, BTC Velocity 10:1
Paris has a strong short-course racing experience, a good design, and a strong backing from his sponsors.
Tim Kent, Everest Horizontal 15:1
Kent appears to be a throwback to the early era of this race when the participants were more adventurer than outright competitor, though his Jim Antrim designed boat may surprise us.
Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh 15:1
Shiraishi has a strong ocean-sailing resume including a previous solo-circumnavigation, but we feel that his Group Finot-design is not fully optimized yet and may be off the pace.
John Dennis, Bayer Ascensia 18:1
Dennis is another competitor who seems more adventurer than racer, and his boat—built in 1994—should have a tough time matching the speed of more recent designs.
This time around the race will be scored on points, not cumulative time as in the past. The winner of each leg will be awarded 10 points, the second place boat 9, the third place boat 8 points, and so on. The entry in each class with the highest number of points (which has also completed all legs of the race) will be the overall winner.
Around Alone formally begins on September 15 in New York Harbor. Here is the schedule for the race:
Leg I—New York to Torbay, England start Sept. 15 2,930 nm
Leg II—Torbay to Cape Town, South Africa restart Oct. 13 6,880 nm Leg III—Cape Town to Tauranga, New Zealand restart Dec. 1 7,125 nm Leg IV—Tauranga to Salvador, Brazil restart Jan. 26 7,850 nm
Leg V—Salvador to Newport, RI restart Mar. 23 4,015 nm
Around Alone, Four Months and Counting by Brian Hancock
The 2001 Transat Jacques Vabre by Brian Hancock
Building an Ocean Racer by Mark Matthews
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