The Race - 0930 - 9/1/00
"We don’t seem to have the same pace as the other two," said Dalton, referring to Team Adventure and Innovation Explorer . "We have more than 1200 square meters of sail area set right now -- a huge gennaker, staysail and a shelf in the mainsail -- absolutely every scrap of cloth on the boat, and they still seem to be a bit faster."
"I’m really impressed by the pace," Dalton said. "I didn’t think they (Team Adventure and Innovation Explorer) would be pushing so hard. We are really racing hard."
Sailing the 110-foot catamarans at top speed is balancing a fine line between exhilaration and catastrophe. All of the skippers were confident before the start of The Race that their steeds could withstand the rigors of a global circumnavigation -- provided that they weren’t pushed too hard.
But lurking in the back of everyone’s mind was the catastrophe factor if they did push too hard: capsizing. Grant Dalton’s Club Med straddled that fine line the night before last.
"We had a big scare, Dalton said, "sailing along at huge speed when a steering cable came off the quadrant. The boat broached, unusual for a catamaran, with the gennaker up. We were lucky. I was in the leeward hull looking out the window and I saw the weather hull rise up -- blue sky underneath. We were lucky, very lucky.
"We managed to furl up the gennaker without ripping it, and we managed to get the boat to bear away again. But it could have been over right there. The strops on the quadrant are a lot tighter now!"
Club Med ’s hair-raising experience likely won’t be the last one endured by the crews. To combat the capsize problem, the three Gilles Ollier-designed cats all have generators that are operable if inverted 180 degrees to sustain life until help from the race’s support vessel or other rescue agency can arrive.
The fine line is exacerbated by the way the crews are pushing the boats. Although many spoke of playing it safe and keeping a hull in the water offshore, the competitive juices have fueled adrenaline rushes and led to them pushing hard.
Aboard Team Adventure , the quicker the pace the better. "The boat is so pleasant to helm that one gets hooked," said co-navigator Jean-Yves Bernot. "You really have to concentrate, because the slightest deviation can send the boat really high off the waves. But Team Adventure has in Cam Lewis, Randy Smyth and Lionel Lemonchois some exceptional helmsmen, and we’re looking after them by reducing their watches to two hours."
Said skipper Lewis: "The crew are quickly learning how to sail the boat. We are feeling more and more at ease, and the boys are having fun at the helm. But we must remain concentrated to avoid stupidities. That's also one of the reasons why we are relieving the helm every two hours."
While the Ollier boats streak toward the Doldrums, Steve Fossett’s PlayStation continued to beat back into contention. Not only were headwinds making that difficult, but also the crew spent five hours at half speed yesterday afternoon fixing the mainsheet after it failed.
PlayStation ’s mainsheet is a Vectran strop attached to a hydraulic cylinder. The strop has about ten feet of throw in it. "We were lucky; the last time an incident like that happened was when I was sailing on Stars & Stripes, and the impact of the broken mainsheet on the shroud caused the boat to dismast," said Fossett, referring to his old 60-foot catamaran.
PlayStation trailed Club Med by 646 miles at this morning's 0730 GMT position reports - 24 hours earlier its deficit was just under 400 miles. The added mileage was the result of PlayStation sailing westward looking for more favourable wind conditions and to set up for a better route through the Doldrums.
After blowing two new sails and its mainsheet in the first week of the race, at least PlayStation has the advantage of being able to judge the best course through the Doldrums based on the leaders’ routes.
1 Club Med
2 Team Adventure +30
3 Innovation Explorer +302
4 PlayStation +646
5 Warta Polpharma +960
6 Team Legato +1962
First published on QuokkaSailing.com, republished with permission.