Sailing: Liberte, Fraternite, Butt-Whuppin'

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1994

Sailing: Liberte, Fraternite, Butt-Whuppin'

Why French skippers are--again--likely to bop the competition in the world's longest race
By Dan Dickison

Every four years French sailors make the competition eat spray in the BOC Challenge--a four-stage around-the-world solo rip across 27,000 miles of open ocean and the longest individual race in any sport. With more Americans lining up than ever before--seven in a field of 12 "Class I" boats, meaning 50-to-60-footers--the United States at least has numbers on its side at the September 17 start in Charleston, South Carolina. But the odds remain with the French, who have won all three of the BOC's previous runs.

Why? Credit the immense popularity of solo sailing in France, where top racers earn riches, stacks of R&D money, and fame that's unimaginable to American sailors. (Yves Parlier, for example, is seen grinning on every can of a popular French soft drink called Cacolac.) Hence, while French skippers are fine-tuning the details, their rivals are scrambling just to be properly bolted, stitched, and funded in time for the starting gun. Among the more harried Americans is David Scully, who will sail Coyote, which has been out of commission since the 1992 mid-Atlantic capsize in which its previous skipper, Mike Plant, was killed.

This year's track runs across the Atlantic to Cape Town, through the Indian Ocean to Sydney, around Cape Horn to Punta del Este, Uruguay, and back to Charleston. The first leg may be pivotal: whoever is ahead coming out of the equatorial doldrums will have an early lead that--barring any of several calamities from storms to small, stray icebergs called "growlers"--should hold up to the end. Here's a tout sheet for nonchauvinistic Yanks.

Isabelle Autissier, 5-1
Soft-spoken and famously cheerful, BOC veteran Autissier is one of the last people you'd expect to be a hard-bitten around-the-world racer. But Autissier has almost a decade of experience, with one BOC and several transatlantics under her belt. The 37-year-old turned heads last spring when she cut 14 days off the New York-to-San Francisco shorthanded sailing record with a crew of three and a new boat, Ecureuil Poitou-Charentes 2, whose unique pendulum keel added extra zip.

David Scully, 12-1
The 36-year-old American will be sailing the least-known quantity in the race: Coyote, the innovative, wide-beamed Rodger Martin design that lost its keel bulb and capsized on Plant's fatal transatlantic trip. Recently overhauled after Plant's fiancée, Helen Davis, received a cash settlement from the boat's builder, Concordia Custom Yachts (she had sued over alleged construction flaws), Coyote has never been raced. But all indications are that this is a rare machine, second in horsepower only to Auguin's boat.

Christophe Auguin, 2-1
The shy and wiry 34-year-old defending champ is likely to take the first leg, thanks to a roaring new boat, Sceta Calberson, an ultralight, ultrafast craft that carries 6,500 square feet of sail and weighs just nine-and-a-half tons--an arrangement that's comparable to slapping a 300-horsepower engine on a go-cart. Rumor has it, though, that Auguin's craft may be too light and frail to last, particularly in the gale-force winds and 30-foot seas prevalent in the southern latitudes.

Yves Parlier, 5-1
Nicknamed "the Extraterrestrial" for his superhuman comeback in a 1992 nonstop race around the world--thanks to a broken mast he started ten days behind, but he made up almost a week by race's end--Parlier has the smarts to outwit his competitors, especially in the crucial skill of weather forecasting. But the ruggedly handsome 33-year-old also carries a handicap: His boat, the 1989-vintage Cacolac d'Aquitaine, may be a little long in the tooth to be coaxed around the planet a third time.

Steve Pettengill, 10-1
It was a mixed blessing for the Newport, Rhode Island-based Pettengill when he landed a major U.S. boatbuilder, Hunter Marine, as his sponsor but also inherited the company's aging 60-footer, Hunter's Child. Still, a recently completed four-month overhaul should keep him in the hunt. Though he's never raced around the world, the 43-year-old once held the New York-to-San Francisco record and has negotiated the worst that Cape Horn can offer. Look for him to come out wet but smiling if the seas get rough.

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