The dreaded high

Dogs progress of class two boats in Around Alone

Tuesday November 19th 2002, Author: Mary Ambler, Location: Transoceanic
On a sailboat one's power is the sails that capture the wind and propel it forward. A halyard holds each sail up the mast allowing it to spread its wings and engage in Newton's 3rd law of equal and opposite force. To a professional offshore racer, speed is vital. One impediment can destroy a lead on the competition overnight.

Onboard Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, leading Class II skipper Brad Van Liew has been struggling with a chafing gennaker halyard. As this vital rope deteriorated, Van Liew knew his ability to use his full suit of sails would be short lived. Additionally, the thought of waiting for it to break, causing one of the sails to fly into the South Atlantic, would be a dreaded retrieval process with certain subsequent time-consuming repairs.

Van Liew made the bold decision to climb the 80-foot mast onboard Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, a compelling process that involves dangling from a 10-inch diameter carbon fiber pole 80 feet above deck as the ocean roars beneath and waves jolt your body into the same equipment you must repair. Strategically, he did not want to pull down his mainsail and spend the multi-hour task aloft. Methodically, he knew there was no alternative.

Van Liew climbed into his harness and "top-climber" which consists of two Jumar devices (mechanical ascenders used by mountain climbers). He tightened the main halyard, which was the only option onboard for reaching the tip of the mast and replacing the gennaker halyard. As he scurried up the line, with each push of his tired legs the thought of his first attempt four days earlier returned when half way up the mast a squall rolled over the boat and demanded his immediate attention on deck.

As Van Liew climbed aloft, he noticed that the very line he was ascending was chafed. In order not to destroy his second attempt, Van Liew repaired the line as he climbed. Once atop the mast and feeling good about the line he was relying on, he made the necessary replacement of the gennaker halyard. This task may sound simple to many, but Van Liew descended to deck three hours later with large bruised limbs and fatigued muscles. He wanted a rest, but instead forced himself to re-hoist the main and focus on his encroaching rivals.

Each skipper's route is determined by his/her weather conditions. Van Liew has been diving south prompting many to consider if he had chosen a brief vacation in Brazil. Instead, he has been crippled by a high pressure system covering a massive part of the South Atlantic. He was quite literally forced by the weather to continue south, although he knew that this would add miles and time to his route. His lucky rivals, who at one point were more than 800 miles astern, have minimized their deficit to merely 266 miles. The battle into Cape Town will be lively!

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