"Life is about the times when everybody else thinks something's impossible," says The Race's founder, Bruno Peyron, 45, a world-class sailor who in 1993 boarded the 86-foot Commodore Explorer and won the Jules Verne trophy, setting the round-the-world record in 79 days—despite 65-foot waves, debilitating collisions with whales, and a man overboard. After setting that mark, the idea of the fastest nautical lap around the world came to Peyron on a train ride back to his home in La Baule, France. "My hope is that The Race will inspire others to dream big," he says. The seasoned skipper will not be on the water this time so that he can keep his eye on a field that includes former Peyron crew members, longstanding friends, and two of his brothers. Meanwhile, the $5 to $7 million price tag for a Race boat and campaign has winnowed the number of competitors. Here's how the lineup looked at press time:
"When you get to this level, it's not about romance," says 43-year-old New Zealander Grant Dalton, skipper of the 110-foot catamaran Club Med. Last June, with Bruno Peyron as his coskipper, Dalton took Club Med out for a spin and shattered PlayStation's 24-hour distance world record, covering an awe-inspiring 625 nautical miles over open ocean. Dalton's love affair with sailing began when he was an eight-year-old boy in Auckland; now the husband and father of two has knocked off five Whitbread Round the World races (he won the monohull event twice and placed second the other three times). His outstanding sailing career helped him to win a generous Club Med sponsorship—a level of luxury enjoyed by few others in The Race—and also attracted a skilled crew, making Dalton a top contender. The skipper readily admits being driven by the need to win: "I have no other interest in sailing."
Winning The Race would be just another death-defying entry on Steve Fossett's epic CV. The 56-year-old American billionaire has knocked off world records in ballooning (he completed the first solo flight across the Pacific in 1995), sailing (he broke the 24-hour record in 580.23 miles in 1999, only to have Club Med steal it away in June), and aviation (he set the round-the-world medium-weight airplane record in 41 hours and 13 minutes last February). With his 125-foot PlayStation and its unprecedented 11,000 square feet of sail, he promises "the fastest oceangoing yacht in history." It took over two years and more than $4.5 million of Fossett's money to build the monster. (The boat's eponymous sponsor is covering the running costs.)His stellar crew includes Stan Honey, who navigated the winning boat in the Los Angeles–to–Hawaii Transpac race eight times, and Gino Morrelli, one of PlayStation's designers.Fossett doesn't mince words about their prospects: "We are in the favored position to win."
"The Race offers two challenges," says skipper Pete Goss. "One, to get to the starting line. The other, to get to the finish." No one knows more about these keys to survival than the 38-year-old Englishman. During the 1997 Vendée Globe solo around-the-world challenge, he detoured 160 miles in high seas to save capsized skipper Raphael Dinelli, which earned Goss France's Legion of Honor. Although his 120-foot Team Philips is one of the better-funded boats (Philips, British Telecom, and Sun Microsystems are backers) and the most innovative (for more on its cutting-edge design, see page 86), disaster struck two weeks after the $4 million catamaran was christened by Queen Elizabeth: A 45-foot hunk of the bow fell off on a sea trial near Great Britain's southwestern tip. Goss's five-man crew, which includes Mike Calvin, a seasoned round-the-world sailor and one of Britain's top sportswriters, was forced to do its spring and summer training on land. The team's lack of on-water training and the boat's untested design make Team Philips's chances uncertain. About that broken bow, Goss says, "We've stuck it back on, and it'll stay now."
If it comes down to yards and minutes, Cam Lewis, 43, and his Team Adventure crew may well be the ones to beat. That's because Lewis likes to wring every last knot out of his boats, and his expert small-boat tactics often lead to surprising, thrilling maneuvers. But to some, Lewis's focus on speed as opposed to endurance could prove his undoing. "One of my strong points is really knowing the limits of my crew and equipment," Lewis insists. "I know when to throttle back." Rivals allow that Lewis will be a threat if he's ready, but they point out that his boat, designed from the same molds as Dalton's Club Medand Loïck Peyron's Code 1, will have been in the water just three months before it faces the rough seas.
July 12, 2000. Midnight. The phone rings. It's Loïck's older brother, Bruno—the visionary behind The Race as well as Loïck's partner in countless dinghy regattas in La Baule, France, where the boys began their sailing careers. The builders of state-of-the-art Club Med have found no buyers for her sister ship, Bruno tells his brother, and they want to rent the boat to Loïck, giving Loïck a shot at participating in the event without having to raise millions to buy a boat. Loïck, at 40 a veteran of 37 transatlantic passages and a premier multihull skipper (he won the Round Europe race three times and the singlehanded transatlantic Europe 1 New Man STAR race twice), jumped at the opportunity. So fresh was the deal at press time that the boat, designed expressly for The Race, was still going by the builders' name: Code 1. Among Loïck's 14 crew members is another Peyron brother, Stephane, 39, who once windsurfed across the Atlantic. "We now have a boat, but not yet the money to sail it," says Loïck, acknowledging that finding sponsorship funds to meet the $500,000 entry fee and to pay crew and support staff has been daunting. "It is not easy, but such is the spirit of The Race."
Sixty-year-old Englishman Tony Bullimore has logged a whopping 250,000 miles on the high seas—he's crossed the Atlantic 30 times, won 150 speed and distance races, and, during the 1997 Vendée Globe, survived 90 hours pinned down in his capsized monohull in the frigid "Slobbering Jaws of Hell," as sailors call the Southern Ocean. As for his Race-bound, 17-year-old, 100-foot catamaran, best known as ENZA and currently called the Millennium Challenge (until its sponsor is announced), it's already broken several records, including setting one of the best Jules Verne times of 74 days in 1994. Bullimore's got excellent multihull experience, and his well-tested cat could very well hold up better than some of the newer models just being put in the water, but crucial training time ticks away as the skipper's lingering financial concerns slow his efforts to recruit a crew. Bullimore isn't worried, though. The skippersays he's "pleased and honored to be quite up for The Race."
Roman Paszke hails from the Polish shores of the Baltic Sea, where he started plying the waters at 11. The 49-year-old skipper has since gone on to compete in three Admiral's Cups (winning one of the prestigious international regattas) and the Polish Ocean Racing Championship five times. His boat for The Race, the Polpharma-Warta, is the same cat (albeit with a new name representing its sponsors) in which Peyron sped around the world in 1993. The boat is one of the most successful cats on the water, and this February, Paszke sailed it from Spain to San Salvador in 14 days, six hours, and 30 minutes, making Paszke the first to qualify for The Race. But Polpharma-Warta may prove slower than some of the newer, lighter boats. And though Paszke is considered a top-notch regatta sailor, he's lacking both around-the-world experience and cash. Still, Paszke's not sunk. His priority? "To sail and learn as much as possible."