Go, Speed Racer, Go

Cam Lewis says he knows the risks—and he's ready. Ready to sprint 25,000 miles in one of the fastest wind-driven vessels ever to grace the ocean, and become the first American skipper to set a round-the-world speed sailing record. That is, if he and his boat make it back in one piece.

Nov 1, 2000
Outside Magazine

AT AMBROSE LIGHT, which marks the entrance to the New York Harbor channel, the wind is blowing out of the east at 12 to 14 knots and the seas are running a mellow two to three feet. Under motor power in these conditions, Team Adventure's sister ship Club Med can do ten knots; on a beam reach—sailing directly across the wind—she can easily do 30.

Club Med's skipper, the 43-year-old New Zealander Grant Dalton, has raced in five around-the-world races—albeit on monohulls—and has won two of them. Watching his handpicked crew in action, expertly tacking the boat, it's hard to believe Team Adventure will stand a chance against his well-funded campaign. But a week later, three days out of New York and bound for England, Club Med cracks up. They're surfing along in 25 to 30 knots of breeze, in "a fairly rough but not dangerous" sea, when the port crash box—a protective false bow for absorbing accidental impacts—simply falls off. No one can say why: They don't seem to have hit anything solid. Three days later the boat limps into Newport, a few mattresses stuffed into the broken-off tip of the hull to keep the water out. A day after that she's hoisted aboard a freighter and shipped back to France, where the Ollier yard will rebuild her.

By ocean-racing standards, it's not a particularly serious incident. Certainly it's nowhere near as disastrous as when a 45-foot-long section of one bow of Pete Goss's Team Philips broke off during sea trials in March. Nor is it as frightening as the one that befell PlayStation, Steve Fossett's boat, last December, when the mainsail got stuck in a building gale and the boat nearly pitchpoled.

For Team Adventure, these setbacks have been both curse and blessing. "Goss got the Queen to christen his boat. He had half a million people visit his construction site," Lewis notes, "so when the bow of his boat broke off, he got a huge amount of PR. But that's really been a disservice to the rest of us, trying to get sponsorship, because there's this idea that these boats are dangerous and that makes people reluctant to sign up." On the other hand, whatever changes Ollier makes to Club Med can be incorporated into Team Adventure. "In a way," Lewis says, "they did a lot of boat testing for us."

What the failures underscore, though, is the experimental nature of the new maxi-cats and the risks of designing boats for speed. For Lewis, of course, that's precisely the appeal. Unlike the America's Cup, where "you've got these slow dinosaur monohulls match racing," Lewis prefers "adventure sailing": ocean racing, challenging records, exploring the high latitudes. No doubt, these pursuits require a different kind of skipper—maybe even an easygoing guy from Maine.

Listening to Lewis talk, I'm reminded of the conversation he had with Jacques Vincent the day before the Quebec–Saint Malo 2000 race. The two of them had been discussing preparations, and Vincent, frustrated by Lewis's vagueness, had dug out a notebook and begun to make a precise list of things they'd need for The Race. Lewis tipped his head back and smiled, gently mocking his old friend for his meticulousness.

"Hey, Jackie," he said. "Don't worry. We're going sailing."

Vincent looked at him for an extra second and nodded. "OK, Cam," he said.

Correspondent Rob Buchanan wrote about the life and death of Guy Waterman in the June issue.


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