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Sizing-up the Competition for The Race

The former ENZA, now Millennium Challenge, is just one of seven maxi-cats taking aim at The Race.
When December 31 finally rolls around, the waterfront in Barcelona, Spain, will be a lively place. At least seven colossal sailing machines are expected to show up at this starting venue for the non-stop, 'round-the-world marathon titled simply The Race. The brainchild of ocean-adventurer Bruno Peyron, The Race will feature the fastest offshore sailing craft ever created, crewed by some of the most experienced and intrepid sailors on the planet, and regardless of your outlook, this epic event is destined to be a phenomenon.

Early sea trials portend strong performance by the radical Team Philips, if the boat can stay together. She's now undergoing a four-month refit after breaking apart in her second week afloat.
The route of The Race will take the boats south through the Mediterranean Sea and then out into the Atlantic, where they'll head south, cross the equator, and then bear east around the tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. The next mark of the course is Cape Horn. The shortest and fastest course to that southern promontory will take the competitors as far south as possible through the notorious southern ocean. Here, the navigators must be careful to avoid icebergs and the intense, low-pressure systems that rake this region of the globe. After successfully rounding the Horn, the boats will charge north up the Atlantic and back to Barcelona, arriving some 60-plus days after the start. (The existing record, set in 1997 by Olivier de Kersauson aboard Sport Elec, stands at 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 8 seconds.)

Designed to be the fastest ocean-going sailboats ever built, these behemoths are ultimately destined to break all the major ocean-crossing records. The no-holds-barred parameters of The Race mean that to win it, you must have a fast boat and you must survive a nonstop circumnavigation. These two conflicting requirements present some interesting challenges for designers and competitors alike.

The design rules for The Race are straightforward and easy to understand, even for those not familiar with sailboat racing. Entries are open to any sailboat that operates its sail plan by human power. No stored energy, such as electric or hydraulic winches, will be allowed to help the crew handle the enormous loads these sail plans regularly generate. This provision effectively limits the physical size of the rig to that which can be handled by conventional winches, and consequently it governs the size of the boat.

It's no coincidence that all seven teams that are expected to participate will be sailing large catamarans, of which all but two are new boats that have been (or are being) specifically designed and built for The Race. It's apparent that each team's designer has come to the same conclusion—that a larger and faster catamaran with equivalent rigging loads is preferable to a smaller, slower trimaran. Four new catamarans in the 105 to 110-foot range are currently being built, and it's safe to assume that the designers believe this represents the upper limit of size that can be sailed efficiently using currently existing technology. By comparison, a monohull capable of matching the speed of these catamarans would need to be 200-feet-plus in length with multiple rigs to handle the required sail plan, all of which would be significantly more expensive.Here's a quick rundown on the teams, with my take on where they stand and how they'll fare.

The 105-foot PlayStation should benefit from having the most time for sea trials.
PlayStation—USA  American Steve Fossett had the vision and resources to start the design and construction of his boat before the other contenders. Fossett's goal was to be the first maxi catamaran in the water and therefore have the first opportunity to break as many records as possible.PlayStation was launched in December '98 and set a new 24-hour distance record of 580 miles the following March. Fire damaged a section of the boat that April, and the ensuing repair took five months.

PlayStation is currently in New York, awaiting another go at the west-east transatlantic record.
In December, Steve and his crew set out from New York on a west-east transatlantic record attempt, but aborted the trip after they planted the bows in a sudden squall and nearly pitch-poled, which jibed the main and broke five of the full-length battens.

In February 2000, PlayStation set a new Newport-Bermuda record of 38 hours, 35 minutes, 53 seconds. The team is currently preparing for another go at the west-east transatlantic record. This syndicate enjoys the advantage of being able to train and make continuous improvements to their equipment. PlayStation is one of the most powerful boats in the fleet and should have an advantage in light and medium conditions.

LOA 105 feet
Skipper Steve Fossett
BOA 60 feet
Designer: Morrelli Melvin
Builder Cookson Boats
Sail Area, Upwind 7,153 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 11,626 square feet
Configuration Catamaran with a single rig stepped on the main beam. The forward beam takes the forestay load and supports the bows.
Key players Stan Honey (navigator), Gino Morrelli, Peter Hogg, David Scully, Ben Wright, and Brian Thompson

Club Med—New Zealand  Grant Dalton, with over 300,000 ocean miles on his resume, has a wealth of experience racing in the same waters that the fleet will traverse. A one-time winner and several-time contender in the Whitbread (now the Volvo Ocean Race), Dalton knows how to manage a successful program and get a boat to the starting line. If there's a weakness to this syndicate, it's that Dalton lacks significant experience racing large multihulls. To counteract that, he has selected sailors with a broad range of experience in monohulls and multihulls to fill out his 14-person crew. The names of the crew will be disclosed on May 8.

Due to launch their craft next month, Team Club Med will need to use the remaining months efficiently in order to have their boat fully prepared by the time The Race starts. This boat will be the first of three sisterships designed by the Gilles Ollier design team and built by Multiplast in France. These boats should have strong, all-around performance and be particularly fast in the heavy going due to their hull length and conservative sail plans.

Club Med—New Zealand
LOA 110 feet
Skipper Grant Dalton
BOA 57 feet
Designer: Gilles Ollier Design Team
Builder Multiplast (FR)
Sail Area, Upwind 5,704 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 8,611 square feet
Configuration Catamaran with single rig stepped on the main beam. The forward beam supports the forestay and forward rig loads.
Key players Jean Maurel (technical manager), Mitch Booth

Code One—France  A sistership to Club Med, Code One, is something of a question mark at the moment. Her sponsor, skipper and crew are being kept confidential and will reportedly be announced early this summer. Speculation indicates that likely candidates include Loick Peyron, Lionel Pean, and possibly Florence Arthaud, each very experienced multihull campaigners.

Code One—France
LOA 110 feet
Skipper Unknown
BOA 57 feet
Designer: Gilles Ollier Design Team
Builder Multiplast (FR)
Sail Area, Upwind 5,704 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 8,611 square feet
Configuration Code One is a sister ship to Club Med, with a single rig stepped on the forward beam.
Key players The sponsor, skipper, and crew remain anonymous to date.

Team Adventure—USA  Cam Lewis has assembled an all-star team that will put a broad range of multihull and offshore experience aboard this sistership to Club Med, but questions remain regarding where the necessary funding will come from to get Team Adventure to the line and around the planet. Even with a flush bank account, the main challenge Lewis and company face is finishing construction of the boat with sufficient time left for adequate sea trials. The boat is scheduled to be launched in September, leaving only three months for training and equipment preparation. Still, Team Adventure stands to benefit from post-launch lessons learned by Club Med and Code One.

Team Adventure—USA
LOA 110 feet
Skipper Cam Lewis
BOA 57 feet
Designer: Gilles Ollier Design Team
Builder Multiplast (FR)
Sail Area, Upwind 5,704 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 8,611 square feet
Configuration Sister ship to Club Med and Code One.
Key players Skip Novak, Randy Smyth, Bill Bewienga, Brian Hancock, and Jacques Vincent, Peter Grubb (construction manager)

The gargantuan unstayed rigs aboard Team Philips, just one of several make-it/break-it innovations.
Team Philips—United Kingdom  This entry is definitely a wild card due to her unusual configuration and the structural problems she encountered less than two weeks after making her debut as the world's largest catamaran. The builders estimate that it will take approximately four months to get this behemoth back on the water, which will cut the team's potential training time in half. With the longest waterline in the fleet, wave-piercing bows, and twin rigs, Team Philips has the potential to be the fastest boat in windy conditions and big seas. Her crew reported 15-knot speeds under bare poles alone while sailing in moderate conditions, but because of the boat's inauspicious beginning, the jury is still out regarding performance. It will be interesting to see what this unusual configuration can do once the boat is back on the water. One lingering concern is the size of the crew. With just six people on board, skipper Pete Goss may have a built-in liability.

Team Philips—United Kingdom
LOA 120 feet
Skipper Pete Goss
BOA 70 feet
Designer: Adrian Thompson
Builder Team Philips
Sail Area, Upwind 6,600 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 10,000 square feet
Configuration Wave-piercing cat with twin, wing-mast rigs stepped in the hulls. No forward beam.
Key players Andy Hindley, MikeCalvin, Graham Goff, Paul Larson, and Alex Bennett

Millennium Challenge—United Kingdom  Offshore veteran Tony Bullimore is putting his money on Millennium Challenge, the maxi cat formerly known as Formule Tag, ENZA, and Royal and Sun Alliance. This Nigel Irens design has proven her speed and seaworthiness by setting numerous records including an around-the-world mark in the Jules Verne Trophy.The boat is currently undergoing a refit, which will include a new wing mast from Carbospars (40 percent lighter than the original rig) and a hull extension lengthening Millennium Challenge to 100 feet. Irens expects the boat to be nine percent faster overall. Still, despite its proven design, the boat does not have the speed potential of the new machines; yet it could be a threat if the boat and crew can survive the circumnavigation intact. Bullimore's sea trial plans include a transatlantic record attempt, and participation in the Around Ireland and Around Britain Races this summer.

Millennium Challenge—United Kingdom
LOA 100 feet
Skipper Tony Bullimore
BOA 42 feet
Designer: Nigel Irens
Builder Tony Bullimore Ocean Racing
Sail Area, Upwind 3,293 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 5,659 square feet
Configuration Catamaran with single rig stepped on main beam. The forward beam takes the forestay load and supports the bows.
Key players No decisions are final yet on the crew, but shoreside manager Steve Mulvaney claims that it will be an international group with sailors from the UK, USA, New Zealand, and Spain.

Polpharma—Warta Poland  The first entry to officially qualify for The Race, is the ex Jet Services and Commodore Explorer, which was the first sailboat to break the 80-day Jules Verne Trophy record back in 1989. She still holds the west-east transatlantic record set in 1990. Her core crew is composed of young, talented sailors (Pazke won the Admiral's Cup in '97), but like Millennium Challenge, Polpharma-Warta does not have the speed potential of her more recently built rivals. She could still be a contender due to her proven ability to go fast and stay in one piece. And, with a new, carbon-fiber mast (currently under construction at Multiplast) that will be almost 450 pounds lighter than her old spar, she might just be the event's dark horse.

LOA 84.2 feet
Skipper Roman Paszke
BOA 44.5 feet
Designer: Gilles Ollier Design Team
Builder Multiplast
Sail Area, Upwind 3,411 square feet
Sail Area, Downwind 6,757 square feet
Configuration Catamaran with a single rig stepped on the main beam. The forward beam takes the forestay load and supports the bows.

Peter Melvin is offline  
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