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They Love These Machines

Courtesy of The Race

By Tim Zimmermann

When Innovation Explorer set out to race around the world December 31-a scant six weeks after she had been launched—some of her hard-pressed crew were dubious that the underfunded supercat could make a race of The Race. Just under 65 days later, on Tuesday, March 6, Innovation blasted across the finish line in Marseilles at 25 knots, having dogged the pre-race favorite—sistercat Club Med—across half the world's oceans. Innovation never led Club Med after the first week of The Race, and never got closer than 438 miles (about 24 hours sailing). But her relentless pursuit kept Club Med skipper Grant Dalton sweating to the end over the one breakdown or bad weather break that would hand Innovation, and her co-skippers Loick Peyron and Skip Novak, a shattering upset victory.

"In order to have a brilliant winner, you have to have a brilliant runner-up," Loick Peyron joked after being feted in Marseilles' Old Port by hundreds of spectator boats and thousands of fans. Innovation had her moments. Approaching New Zealand she sailed 629 miles in 24 hours to steal Club Med's most cherished record. That glory lasted only as long as the week it took Grant Dalton and Club Med to coolly retrieve it with a run of 655 miles. But Club Med could not hoard all the records. Peyron, Novak and Innovation's crew of ten were just more than an hour quicker in covering the wild expanse of water between the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern extreme and Cape Horn at South America's southern limit. That makes Innovation Explorer the fastest sailboat ever across the Southern Ocean, and the second fastest (behind Club Med) around the world.

Despite flashes of speed and skilled, intuitive sailing, Innovation Explorer struggled throughout The Race with a sparse sail inventory further depleted by two headsails that repeatedly fell apart under normal working loads. The frustrated crew patched, glued and sewed to the point that the sails were declared legitimate "Pop Art." But one sail was kept from action throughout the windy Southern Ocean and the other blew up for good off the Strait of Gibraltar as Innovation Explorer closed on the finish. Funky sail problems required a funky sailing style. Innovation Explorer sailed the course at a higher average speed than Club Med (18.45 knots to 18.3 knots). But with better sails Club Med could sail a more direct route. Ultimately, Innovation Explorer sailed 1,356 more miles than Club Med to complete the same course, which was enough to bring Club Med home first.

Roger Nilson, Innovation Explorer's navigator and a veteran of five Whitbread round-the-world races, knows these remorseless numbers better than anyone. But fresh from the experience of a sailboat that surfed Southern Ocean greybeards at speeds approaching (and twice exceeding) 40 knots, Nilson is more exhilarated than disappointed. "These boats," he declares, "are the future of ocean racing." Skip Novak, also a multiple veteran of slogging around the world in Whitbread monohulls agrees. "I love these machines," he says simply.

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