Outside Online Archives

Warp Drive

January 8, 2000

By Tim Zimmermann

January 11, 2001 "Speed, speed, speed, that's the theme here....The game is straightforward. Haul the mail, go fast, do not break the boat." That's the distilled wisdom of American Cam Lewis, skipper of Team Adventure, as his big catamaran drag-raced Grant Dalton and Club Med for 900 miles to see whose bows would be first to cross the Equator. Club Med won the sprint just under ten days into The Race. But only by a few hours, and only after both boats pushed each other to some scorching 24-hour runs through the trade winds. Team Adventure cracked the 24-hour 500-mile barrier in four position reports (on one ocassion coming within 42 miles of Club Med's 625-mile record, set last summer), and Club Med did it twice.

Fast sailing and smart positioning have vaulted Club Med and Team Adventure into a private duel at the front, leaving their sistership, Innovation Explorer, a couple of hundred miles back and struggling to stay in touch. PlayStation, still suffering from her 48 hour layover in Gibraltar, is more than 500 miles off the pace, and Warta-Polpharma and Team Legato—the fleet's two aging warhorses—are barely on the map.

Club Med was so preoccupied with the specter of Team Adventure lurking relentlessly in her wake that Dalton and his crew didn't revel in one of the great traditions of the sea: King Neptune's indoctrination of any crewmembers who are crossing the Equator for the first time. The seven equatorial virgins aboard second-runner Team Adventure did not get off so lightly. A mustachioed King Neptune appeared in a loincloth, waving a trident fashioned from a broom, forks and duct tape. The victims were accused of all manner of sins and forced to kneel on the trampoline so they could be liberally mocked and doused with slops from the previous meal (catamaran ace Randy Smyth was charged with speeding and forced to paint his nails red).

The next round of The Race, now that the Equator and the light winds of the Doldrums have been left behind, is the plunge south past the coast of Brazil to the strong westerlies of the Roaring Forties that will propel the boats around Antarctica. Dalton and Mike Quilter, his veteran navigator aboard Club Med, will have to use all their wiles to keep Team Adventure at bay. "This continues to be a show of strength between Team Adventure and ourselves," Dalton noted. "Neither boat can back off while the other is running this fast." Maybe. But Dalton is already worrying that the wear and tear on equipment imposed by the unexpectedly torrid pace will suddenly show up when the maxi-cats are fighting for their lives in the prodigious winds and waves of the Southern Ocean. In short, although the fleet is now strung across more than a thousand miles, the Southern Hemisphere will be the most unpredictable phase. As Team Adventure's co-navigator, Larry Rosenfeld, put it: "If you are following on your globe, now would be the time to turn it over."

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