The Maverick’s Race

With the upper echelons of single-handed racing dominated by generously funded, European professionals, the make-up of the tidy 13-boat fleet for the ’02-’03 Around Alone race comes as a breath of fresh air. True, the overall winner will undoubtedly come from Class I, which has never had more than a single American entry. This time it’s Bruce Schwab, who has moved mountains to get his unique, Tom Wylie-designed Ocean Planet to the start line. With only technical sponsorships plus the support of numerous friends, Schwab is racing on the proverbial shoestring. Indeed, as this issue goes to press, he was struggling to overcome one final hurdle — a staggering $17,000 premium for the mandatory £2 million in liability insurance that’s required of each entry.

The other six Class I entries are in better shape financially, but only one enjoys support on the level of sport’s top superstars like Michel Desjoyeaux, Roland Jourdain and Ellen MacArthur. New Zealand’s Graham Dalton — the Around Alone skipper with the biggest budget and longest lead time — who will probably be the least prepared when he crosses the starting line on Sept. 15. On the other hand, there are several Class I skippers who have extremely impressive solo racing credentials and adequate, if not lavish, sponsorship, making it tough to choose a favorite from the top three or four.

By contrast, American Brad Van Liew — the only Around Alone veteran who’s returned for another go — is clearly the man to beat in Class II. Even before landing a major sponsorship with fashion retailer Tommy Hilfiger, Van Liew launched an impressive campaign by buying Magellan Alpha — quite possibly the fastest Open 50 in existence.

Still, if history is any guide, almost anything can happen in a solo round-the-world race. For a variety of reasons, this 20th anniversary edition of Around Alone is shaping up to be the least predictable — and, quite possibly, the most fascinating running of the race yet.

New owners, new race format

The solo adventure race now known as Around Alone began in 1982 as the BOC Challenge, sponsored by the British Oxygen Co. The first two events were won by Philippe Jeantot (who moved on to launch the Vendée Globe nonstop race, but is also back serving on the Race Committee for Around Alone). Wins in the third and fourth events supercharged the sailing career of Christophe Auguin, while the fifth did the same for Giovanni Soldini.

British Oxygen withdrew its support during the lead-up to the fourth race, but the event stayed alive thanks largely to the efforts of then race director Mark Schrader and the enthusiastic support of Charleston, S.C., as host city.

Much has changed since April of last year when U.K.-based Clipper Ventures, headed by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, purchased the rights to the Around Alone race from Schrader and Dan McConnell’s Great Adventures Ltd. In some respects it’s been a return to early years of the BOC, because Sir Robin chaired the first two events. However, the new race organizers have gone to some lengths to “bring the race home” to a British audience &mdash an astute marketing move considering the flood of publicity MacArthur has recently brought to the sport.

For now, at least, Clipper Ventures is continuing the tradition of starting and finishing Around Alone from U.S. soil. However, they have incorporated an extra leg to create a stopover at Torbay (in England’s west country holiday region near Plymouth). This stop is significant, because it’s the first time a solo, round-the-world yacht race has made landfall in England since the Sunday Times Golden Globe “race” started the solo-circumnavigation phenomenon back in 1968. Fittingly, it was the Golden Globe that catapulted Knox-Johnson to fame and fortune when he completed the first nonstop, solo round-the-world after nearly a year at sea.

Despite the addition of the opening trans-Atlantic leg, which raises the total course distance to almost 29,000 nm, Clipper Ventures has trimmed the time frame for Around Alone by nearly a month. In part, this is feasible because Open-class monohulls have gotten progressively faster, but it’s certainly an added discouragement to amateur entries with slower boats who, in the past, have figured prominently in Class II. When Viktor Yazykov demonstrated the amazing potential of a well-sailed Open 40 during the ’98-’99 Around Alone, he raised the bar to unprecedented levels. Now, for example, the Around Alone competitors will need to average 7 knots along the rhumb line for the entire 6,880 nm from Torbay to Cape Town in order to earn an eight-day stopover. Moreover, yachts that fail to arrive at least five days (120 hours) before the next confirmed restart will risk disqualification from the entire race.

Reducing costs

Clearly Clipper Ventures is striving to reduce the costs of prolonged stopovers, as well as the time commitments required of the professional skippers. All the same, the Open 40 sailors in particular, will need to be in peak form to maintain the required pace, while any significant breakdown is much more likely to result in disqualification than before.

Besides the fifth leg and somewhat longer course, the sixth edition of Around Alone is following the lead of the Volvo Ocean Race by switching from cumulative, elapsed-time scoring to a point-based system. For each leg, first place in class will be awarded 10 points, second will get nine points and so forth. But unlike the recent Volvo Race, no points will be awarded if a yacht fails to complete a leg, and class winners must complete all five legs on their own bottoms.

The revamped version of Around Alone received a major vote of confidence recently, when the Forum International de la Course Océanique (FICO) agreed to include it as one of the events that will count toward the 2003 FICO-Lacoste World Championship for ocean-racing skippers. In recent years, FICO has successfully addressed its long-standing bias favoring professional multihull racing and emerged as a relevant coordinating body for high-end ocean racing in general. The goal is to establish a structure for Grand Prix sailing that’s modeled after Formula 1 auto racing. The prestigious FICO-Lacoste championship is based on an assortment of single-handed, double-handed and fully crewed events “selected for their international nature and heavy media coverage.” Currently sanctioned classes include the Volvo 60s, IMOCA (International Monohull Open Class Association) 60 monohulls, Offshore Racing Multihull Association 60 multihulls, and the seldom-seen One Design Maxi-class yachts. Round-the-world events receive the maximum weighting, making Around Alone the most important single event in the quest of the 2003 World Championship.

On the other hand, attendance in Around Alone has obviously suffered because it conflicts with Route du Rhum, a biannual highlight of the European single-handed racing calendar. The seventh edition of this trans-Atlantic dash will start in Saint-Malo, France, on Nov. 9 and 10. This year’s record fleet includes 19 of the 60-foot trimarans from ORMA, 17 Open 60 monohulls, including most of the big-name skippers, and a total of 20 “amateur” entries in various smaller monohull and multihull classes. Although Clipper Ventures briefly floated the possibility of using the Route du Rhum as a leg in Around Alone, doing so would have meant a more dangerous, late-season passage in the Southern Ocean.

As it is, the non-conforming sponsors who have backed competitors in Around Alone could easily be rewarded with more focused media attention, continuing over a much longer time span. Furthermore, the odds of a podium finish are clearly much better in a smaller fleet &mdash a significant benefit considering how little attention a 10th-place finisher is likely to receive, no matter how challenging the event.

The cast of adventurers

On Sept. 15, 13 raceboats crossed the Around Alone starting line in New York Harbor. The fleet includes skippers from 10 different countries and boats designed by 10 different designers &mdash probably the most eclectic mix since the early days of the Open-class era. In brief, here’s an introduction to the competitors. Additional information can be found on their individual websites or through the official event site,

Bernard Stamm built his own Open 60 after a series of successes in the Mini 6.5 Class, including a third place in the 1995 Mini Transat. The 38-year-old Swiss opted for a radical design by Mini expert Pierre Roland, featuring a canting keel and twin daggerboards, as well as a fixed mast. Co-sponsors are Bobst Group and Armor-lux &mdash a packaging firm and a fashion company, respectively.

Equipment problems forced Stamm out of the last Vendée after a very promising start, but he rebounded by setting the current west/east trans-Atlantic record for monohulls, as well as the monohull 24-hour record (lately surpassed by the Volvo 60 illbruck). For Around Alone, he should be in peak form.

Thierry Dubois After winning the ’93 Mini Transat race, this well-known French skipper raced the Open 60 Amnesty International in the Route du Rhum and the ’96-’97 Vendée Globe (where he lost his keel bulb and capsized in the Southern Ocean). Undaunted, he built his current Open 60, Solidaires, largely with his own hands, and was lying fourth in the ’00-’01 Vendée Globe until forced to stop for repairs in New Zealand. Dropped from the official rankings, he nevertheless completed the circumnavigation in an impressive 105 days.

Solidaires is a Joubert-Nivelt design with fixed rig and canting keel. Dubois’ primary sponsor is a human rights organization, and his program is somewhat austere by French standards. Nevertheless, he’s a tough, seasoned competitor with a fast, well-tested boat.

Simone Bianchetti The 34-year-old Italian has unfinished business in Around Alone after a promising Class II start in the 1994 race that ended with gear failure on the second leg. He’s since posted a 10th in the Mini Transat, and a class second in the Europe 1 New Man Star, but most significantly, has officially finished a Vendée Globe &mdash placing 12th in ’00-’01, his first Open 60 event. Tiscali, the boat he’s secured for Around Alone, is a state-of-the-art Open 60 originally built for Catherine Chabaud, and sailed in the last Vendée as Whirlpool. Incidentally, Tiscali &mdash Europe’s largest Internet provider &mdash is also an event sponsor, having created the official website for Around Alone. Giovanni Soldini won the last Around Alone, and Bianchetti appears to have a very good chance of retaining the title for Italy.

Patrick de Radigués of Belgium is a 46-year-old motor-racing champion who has made sailing his second career. He circumnavigated in the ’96-’97 Vendée, but was not scored due to a repair stopover in New Zealand. The bad luck continued in the most recent Vendée when he was struck by the boom and left unconscious while his Open 50 ploughed onto a beach in Portugal. All the same, Garnier, an international heavyweight in beauty products, has recognized de Radigués’ potential. He now enjoys a three-year sponsorship encompassing both Around Alone and the ’04-’05 Vendée Globe. The boat, Garnier, was formerly Yves Parlier’s Aquitaine Innovations, the innovative Finot-Conq design with rotating wing mast and deck spreaders that was launched in 1996, but is still one of the quickest Open 60s in existence. Parlier’s veteran shore crew has signed on with de Radigués, who qualified easily and appears well prepared for Around Alone. A dark horse, perhaps, but a dangerous competitor nonetheless.

Emma Richards, at 27, is the youngest competitor and the only woman in Around Alone. Her 11th-hour campaign was announced in mid-July, preventing the embarrassment of no British entry in what had just become a British-based event. A high-level dinghy racer during her teenage years, Richards gained international recognition at age 23 as the youngest crewmember aboard Royal Sun Alliance during Tracy Edwards’ all-female attempt to break the Jules Verne circumnavigation record. Soon after, she landed a sponsorship from the Pindar Group &mdash a major British media organization &mdash and has since made quick progress up the ranks of short-handed sailing. So far, her biggest single-handed win was Class II in the last Europe 1 New Man Star, sailing Peter Goss’ ex-Aqua Quorum &mdash a triumph somewhat overshadowed by MacArthur’s Class I victory in the same race.

Richards’ current Pindar is the former Gartmore, built and raced by Josh Hall. It’s a relatively simple, very lightweight Finot Open 60 with water ballast, classic rig and fixed keel. Josh Hall will be heading up Richards’ shore crew. Qualification and delivery to Newport, R.I., were accomplished successfully, albeit at the last possible moment. A promising program, but again, very late out of the blocks and likely to take some time to build momentum.

Graham Dalton is by no means as well-known in sailing circles as his younger brother Grant, but he’s managed to field New Zealand’s first-ever entry in Around Alone. Hexagon &mdash the only new Open 60 to be built within the past two years &mdash was designed by Owen Clarke, the British team that developed MacArthur’s Kingfisher. The new boat could be described as a super-Kingfisher &mdash lighter with a taller rig, twin-wheel steering and an articulating bowsprit.

Hexagon was test-sailed in New Zealand, then shipped to England, and Dalton left on his 2,000-mile trans-Atlantic qualifying passage on Aug. 1. Soon after, the rig failed catastrophically, forcing a return to England, where the boat was hurriedly outfitted with Kingfisher’s spare rig. Missing both the deadline for arriving at the prerace staging area and for completing the qualification sail has triggered a combined time penalty totaling 31 hours that will be added to Dalton’s first leg time.

Dalton has been coached by David Adams (Class II BOC winner in ’94-’95) as well as professional navigator Mike Quilter. His $10 million sponsorship by the HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) covers not only the sailing program, but an educational website to teach grade-school children about ocean sailing, geography, oceanography and so forth. Dalton has a fabulous boat but little experience in Open 60s and will probably take several legs to get up to speed.

Bruce Schwab &mdash the only American entered in Class I &mdash is a professional rigger (and former pro musician) who has devoted the past five years to putting together an utterly unique Open 60. Loosely based on Californian Wylie’s innovative Wyliecats, with their bendy, unstayed carbon rigs, Ocean Planet features an unstayed, round-section rotating rig and a small jib &mdash both aimed at improving aerodynamic efficiency. The rig also incorporates an unusual “pusher vang” that appears straightforward and highly efficient.

The differences don’t end at deck level either. With just a 14-foot beam, Schwab’s boat is far narrower than other Open 60s. It’s also built quite differently, using a blend of wood, foam and carbon developed by Schooner Creek Boatworks of Oregon.

Schwab is the archetypal laid-back Californian and an all-around great guy. His boat is very interesting from a voyager’s perspective because it aims to achieve speed through finesse and easy handling rather than sheer sailing power. Hopefully, a severe shortage of cash will not prevent Schwab from exploring its true potential as the race unfolds.

Derek Hatfield, who hails from Toronto, is one of three Open 40 entries who will compete for the new Harry Mitchell Trophy in Around Alone. With the help of numerous friends, he has built a sophisticated canting-keel Open 40, designed by Bob Dresser of Annapolis. The boat was launched over a year ago and is, by now, exhaustively prepared. Hatfield has run a clever grassroots fund-raising campaign, attracting more than 20 technical sponsors and literally hundreds of individual contributors. Moreover, he’s a talented sailor who has competed successfully in countless events, including several trans-Atlantics. He has two top finishes in the Bermuda One-Two, and wins in several other single-handed events.

Kojiro Shiraishi is a renowned Japanese adventurer who apprenticed as a sailor under Yukoh Tada, winner of Class II in the first BOC Challenge. At 26, Kojiro became the youngest-ever sailor to circumnavigate solo and nonstop. His impressive résumé includes a wide variety of extreme feats on land, as well as many ocean races.

With sponsorships by several supportive Japanese firms, Kojiro, now 34, has been able to acquire a state-of-the art Open 40 designed by Finot-Conq. Spirit of Yukoh is all carbon with a semi-stayed rotating wing mast rig.

Alan Paris of Bermuda is another formidable Open 40 competitor whose background includes some 20,000 offshore miles, about half sailed aboard the J/105 in which he won the 1995 Bermuda One-Two. His boat was designed by Australia’s Scott Jutson and built in Brisbane by Allyacht Spars. Instead of a canting keel, it features an exceptionally slender, low-drag fin with an adjustable trailing-edge trim tab to generate extra lift when sailing hard on the wind. Paris qualified with months to spare and had his boat in perfect order long before the start.

John Dennis, also a Canadian, is sailing an Open 50 designed by Peter Ebbutt, and built in 1994 for an earlier Around Alone campaign. Although a businessman in recent years, the 57-year-old Dennis was a delivery skipper who has logged some 90,000 ocean miles, including a solo trans-Pacific from Hawaii to San Francisco.

Six years ago, Dennis developed Type 2 diabetes, but he’s learned to control the disease through blood monitoring, diet, exercise and medications. His primary sponsor for Around Alone is Bayer Ascensia, a medical firm that specializes in diabetes management technology.

Tim Kent is the only competitor in Around Alone who has not, so far, landed a significant sponsorship. The 50-year-old Milwaukee sailor has acquired an excellent, nearly new Open 50 originally intended for the ’00-’01 Vendée Globe. Designed by Californian Jim Antrim, Everest Horizontal was conceived as a relatively bulletproof Open 50 that would stand a better-than-average chance of completing the race. Kent has qualified in good order, but at press time, was critically short of funds for safety equipment and insurance.

Brad Van Liew is the odds-on favorite to win Around Alone, Class II. Naturally, even after achieving third place with a slower boat in the ’98-’99 event, it will be far from a shoe-in. Van Liew qualified last autumn when he sailed the former Magellan Alpha single-handed from England to Charleston, where he subsequently conducted a complete refit. The Tommy Hilfiger title sponsorship, announced last May, has enabled Van Liew to enter the fray with a fully optimized Open 50 &mdash something no other Class II competitor can match. Better yet, Van Liew and his wife Megan had their first child five months before the start &mdash the perfect way to get a head start at sleep-deprivation training. n

Contributing Editor Sven Donaldson is a freelance writer and former sailmaker living in Vancouver, British Columbia.

By Ocean Navigator