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Racing to the Starting Line:
The status of race preparations as of November 3, 2000
by Tim Zimmermann

There's an old (and somewhat annoying) sailing adage that counsels: "To finish first, first you must finish." For The Race, the non-stop, globe-girdling sprint that will launch from Barcelona December 31, it should probably be "To finish first, first you have to start." With the inaugural launch of The Race approaching with all the speed and malignancy of a fast moving depression, seven sailing teams are working feverishly to get themselves and their hi-tech maxi-multihulls ready for the 25,000 mile ordeal that will take them from Barcelona to Marseilles, via the Southern Ocean, Cape Horn and the world's most dangerous waters.

The Front-Runners

Club Med
5-time circumnavigator Grant Dalton and his multinational crew of 14 have their 110-foot catamaran carving up the waters off Vilamoura, Portugal. Re-launched in late September after a 6-week refit to rework a suspect bow design, strengthen the main beam between the two hulls and tweak the deck layout, Club Med is getting invaluable training and tune-up time. Dalton and Club Med were fined more than $20,000 in October after blowing through a shipping lane in the English Channel at 29 knots going the wrong way (Club Med passed 17 ships, forcing a number to take evasive action). Dalton hopes to get a chance to let his big cat hit the afterburners again, this time with no fine attached: if the right weather system comes along Club Med will stage an assault on the eye-popping 625-mile 24-hour record the boat set last set last June. Club Med is a good, fast design, with The Race's most experienced crew. The only question mark relates to durability. Dalton and his team have had little chance to beat the boat up in heavy weather, and surviving heavy weather without breakage will be the key to sailing into Marseilles first.

Chicago adventurer Steve Fossett's PlayStation is also a boat to beat, having sailed more miles (including three transatlantic runs) in more testing conditions than any other Race contender. PlayStation owned the 24-hour record (at 580 miles) for just over a year before Club Med snatched it away. With an upwind sail area of 7,274 square feet (downwind, it's a ridiculous 11,631 square feet), and a theoretical top speed of more than 40 knots, Fossett thinks that PlayStation has power to burn. So to allow the 14-man crew to keep the pedal to the metal in nasty seas Fossett has PlayStation in the shop to increase her length from 105-feet to 120 feet. The stretch job will make PlayStation the biggest cat in The Race, and could give her an edge in the Southern Ocean's mountainous waves. PlayStation is due to hit the water again in mid-November, and could also take a shot at the 24-hour record as she works her way south from England to the Mediterranean.

The Scramblers

Code 1
Loick Peyron, younger brother of Race inventor Bruno Peyron, will sail a near-identical sister ship to Club Med in The Race. Dubbed Code 1 until Peyron can find a big-ticket sponsor, the boat was launched only three weeks ago and Code 1's crew is just now getting a feel for its potential. Peyron has sailed in two Vendee Globe round-the-world races, and his co-skipper, American Skip Novak, has sailed in four Whitbreads. Peyron and Novak are familiar with the waters they will be crossing, but do they have enough time to get to know the boat? Peyron is a multihull racing champion on the hot 60-foot trimaran circuit, and Novak has sailed to some records with Bruno Peyron aboard the 85-foot catamaran Explorer. Code 1 sets out next week for a training run from France to the Azores, finishing in Gibraltar. Peyron and Novak will have to draw on all their experience to get Code 1 going fast enough to earn a speeding ticket.

Team Adventure
American speed-junkie Cam Lewis faces the same problems. Lewis also will drive one of French designer Gilles Ollier's Club Med sister ships (making a total of three in The Race). But his 110-footer, known as Team Adventure until Lewis finds a title sponsor, hasn't even hit the water yet. Due to be launched November 7, Lewis hopes (okay, prays) he can get the boat sailing November 10. Lewis was aboard Explorer with Bruno Peyron in 1993, when Explorer became the first sailboat to circumnavigate the globe in under 80 days. But Team Adventure is arriving late to the start line, and scrambling for dollars to get there, making Lewis and his sailing team the wild cards in a race in which almost anything can happen (and probably will).

The War Horses

Team Legato
English sailor Tony Bullimore has raced more than 250,000 ocean miles, but he is best known for surviving the frigid waters of Antarctica for four days in an upside-down boat during the 1996-1997 Vendee Globe singlehanded race. For The Race, Bullimore is staking his life on an older generation catamaran, which in 1994, as Enza, set a round-the-world record of 74 days. Now called Legato Systems, Bullimore has lengthened to boat from 92 feet to 100 feet and is building a new wing mast. Scheduled for launch in mid to late-November, Legato Systems will not have the same flat-out speed potential as the bigger next-generation cats. But Bullimore can make one key claim regarding the newer designs: his boat has already proven it can get around the world in one piece.

Polpharma Warta
Polish sailor Roman Paszke can make the same claim about his catamaran (the name comes from its industrial sponsors): it used to go by the name of Explorer, until Paszke purchased the boat from Bruno Peyron earlier this year. Polpharma Warta, like Legato Systems, will sail with a new wing-mast but will remain at 85-feet, making it the smallest cat in the competition. Paszke is also headed toward the start line with his hat held out for additional sponsorship dollars, and is not likely to get in enough training time to worry the big boys much. Still, Explorer is an ocean racing hall-of-famer that sentiment alone makes hard to write off. And in a 1990 incarnation, as Jet Services V, she reeled of a blistering transatlantic crossing record of six and a half days, a record which still stands despite assaults from multiple pretenders, including PlayStation and Club Med.

The Question Mark

Team Philps
English sailor Pete Goss' 120-foot fantasy, with its twin wave-piercing hulls and twin freestanding masts, is The Race's most fascinating design-if only the damn thing would stop breaking. In March, a 45-foot section of bow sheared clean off the newly launched catamaran. After a lengthy rebuild, and relaunch in September, the boat headed off across the Atlantic.only to limp back into less than 24 hours later with a mast that had broken loose at the base and was wobbling around like a straw in a bottle. Ever the optimist, Goss says Team Philips will be sailing again in late November. But even if true, Team Philips will arrive at the start line with a paltry number of miles on the clock. The design has shown flashes of potential, accelerating from zero to 20 knots in just ten seconds at the start of the transatlantic run. But doubts about the durability of the design, and the wisdom of shaking it down in the Southern Ocean, has prompted at least one member of the six man crew, journalist Michael Calvin, to opt for a shoreside seat for The Race.

Photos: Kos, Billy Black, Noel Quidu, Gerald Bybee, Nigel Hicks, Gerald Bybee

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