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Looking Ahead

Courtesy of The Race

By Skip Novak

American Skip Novak, 48, has sailed four Whitbread Round The World Races, survived 300,000 bluewater miles and helped set two ocean crossing records. For The Race, Novak is co-skipper aboard the 110-foot maxi-cat Innovation Explorer. While he and the crew of Innovation Explorer (which includes his wife, Helena) race one of the fastest boats ever built through the sticky calms of the equator and the howling storms of the Southern Ocean, Novak will post regular updates to Outside Online.

Aboard Innovation Explorer, February 27, 2001

We have only 2800 miles to go to the finish in Marseilles, the equivalent of a Transatlantic run. Although there is a fair stretch of ocean left to cross, the crew is living in anticipation of the end, that first real meal ashore, the first hug from wives and girlfriends, and other amenities missed during what will be an epic 60-plus days at sea.

The reality is that unless Club Med has a major breakdown, we are in for a more than safe second place, seeing that our other sistership, Team Adventure, is a good 5,300 miles behind today. I think we could still just about beat them dismasted (touch carbon fiber), flying our dirty laundry from broomsticks.

A major low pressure system is marching across the Atlantic , and Club Med has just hooked into it. That will carry them home, and we hope to hitch a ride as well. It would be great to finish within 48 hours of our arch rival, but in any case it will be a great accomplishment to have finished non-stop, ourselves and the leader the only two boats likely to do so.

So thoughts are already turning to the future, not only in our personal lives (I wonder how my bank balance is doing? Did I remember to take the garbage out back home?), but to the future of these monster machines and The Race event itself.

I think we have proven, against much criticism, that these boats in the hands of experts are viable to race around the world. I have to admit to being very surprised at how well this boat handled big sea conditions of the Southern Ocean, and that in 45 to 50 knots we were still racing, not just trying to survive. This was a revelation, but only insofar as the Ollier boats are concerned.

We still do not know if Playstation could have cut the mustard down there. She is a very different boat: wider, lower to the water, with an enormous mainsail, and she has had problems all along in less severe conditions. Because this is a design development class (meaning no rules, no restrictions), there are no guarantees that future designs won't be over the top and downright dangerous. And, I may add, we did not meet 'The Perfect Storm' nor the 100-year wave, both possibilities in any ocean.

Bruno Peyron is certainly thinking of another event in four years time and for sure by then more boats will be built. A 38-meter trimaran is already under construction for Olivier de Kersuason in France. My only suggestion is that a future around the world race would most likely benefit from stopovers. This inaugural non-stop event was a one off. For the future, to keep the media focused (which generates the sponsorship dollars) the fleet has to be kept closer together—and this is difficult over 25,000 miles in such large and unpredictable sailing machines, no matter how well prepared they may be. When things go wrong on boats that sometimes average 25 knots and above, hundreds and then thousands of miles can separate the competition, making it into a non-competition. This is unacceptable for an event that must be sustained on the world stage for two months or more.

Technically speaking, the entries themselves would also welcome some 'pit stops.' I don't think this should evolve into the media circus which surrounds the whistle stop tour of the Volvo Ocean Race. But a few classic ports of call, like Cape Town, Sydney and Rio, would retain the logic of a true circumnavigation under sail. Also, parallels could easily be drawn to the old sailing ship trade routes. That would lend a historical aspect to whatever educational benefit the race projects are attempting to promote.

In the short term, the big dilemma is what to do with these boats. They are suitable for other record attempts certainly, but the big question is: can these short term projects generate enough income to pay the expenses? These boats require a professional team of six full time to maintain and move them around, and the mind boggles at the dockage bill for 33 meters of length and a 20 meter beam. Are they white elephants or the windships of the future? Let's stay tuned.

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