Preparing for the next BlastOff
(portions of this article appear in the October97 issue of Latitude 38

BJ Caldwell writes...


I've been keeping busy lately, embattled in securing backing for my up-coming nonstop circumnavigation attempt. But in July, I took a break. I ventured out to Diamond Head buoy finish line of The TransPacific Yacht Race aboard the press boat. Only five short days after the start, we were anticipating the arrival of one of the world's fastest sailing vessels - none other than Bruno Peyron's 'Explorer'

In 1993 this 86-footer was the first to win the Jules Verne Trophy for a circumnavigation in less than 80 days, she still holds the outright trans-Atlantic speed record of six days, the unofficial 24 hour mileage record of 545 nautical miles and within minutes - she'd better the TransPac record by more than a day!

True, her circumnavigation time has been broken by ENZA' and 'Sport-Elec'' but remember, she opened a 200 mile lead over both in the first race and she departed last. After her competitors collided with growlers in the South Atlantic she pulled the throttle back in favor of maximizing her chances of making it in under 80 days

The designer of 'Explorer' - Gilles Ollier, would like to see her attempt a 69 day circuit, but this time with a mast 3 meters longer and trim foils to take on the extra power.

I've been watching Bruno Peyron for awhile. Who wouldn't, he's crossed the 'pond' (Atlantic) 31 times - 11 of them solo! He built A Mini-Transat boat at 19 Years old and found the financial support to make the race start. He also designed and built his own catamaran at 22 years of age.

The collaboration with his maxi-catamaran illustrates sailing's edge. This extension of himself is today's space-age clipper ship. To me, 'Explorer' is the closest mankind has yet come to achieving the kind of harmony with nature the wandering Albatross has long known.

The spectacle of the 'magic' cat approaching the finish was enough to manifest 'chicken skin' - as they call goose bumps in Hawai`i.

The first two signs that something was about to roar over the horizon was the appearance of a colossal mast in the distance, & a big cloud of vapor drifting to leeward of the vessel. Minutes later, the now silver painted 'alley cat' came hissing across the finish, oblivious to the wind-shadow to leeward of Diamond Head crater. She blew past the spectator boats and we had no chance of catching her as the powerboat pegged at 25 knots.

It wasn't until they doused their Incidences mainsail that we pulled broadside and made eye contact with France's superstar - Bruno Peyron.

The victorious crew that included Cam Lewis, Florence Arthaud & Skip Novak, pulled along-side the Hawaii Yacht Club's Aloha dock with lightsmoke flares as the sun dipped below the horizon to the west. It was reminiscent of their Jules Verne finish a couple years before.

For those in the dark, Bruno is in the midst of a global promotional tour for his 'ultimate ever' ocean race aptly named 'The Race.'

He's also showcasing the two official 'partners' of this celebration of the millenium - Disneyland Paris & the French government. The Race is the last word in water-born competition. Consider the rules - or rather, the lack of them. The vessel can be any size, it can have any number of hulls, any number of crew… there are no limits. Top speeds exceeding 40 knots, 600 mile days & 60 day circumnavigations are expected. The route is nonstop around the world via the capes -- is your mouth watering yet? The Race starts on December 31st 2000, off France. The first one back wins.

Bruno Peyron's job description is clearly to smash every speed record he can attain before his return to France sometime in 1998. And to open the eyes of sailors asleep with benign ULDB rules the like - limitations that have no place with Disney's concept of a "border-free world."

It wasn't long before I shook hands with Bruno Peyron on Explorer's tennis-court size net. I explained my insistence in finding a crewing position aboard a vessel in The Race & what advice could he offer? Listen to his answer!

On Bastille Day, Bruno invited me to join 'Team Pays de la Loire' & help promote The Race 'down under.' The destination was Tahiti… birth-place of multi-hulls. Bruno introduced me to the crew as the first to hold the 'youngest' circumnavigation record & that I was preparing to go again. He said I was as crazy as his generation - "welcome to the team!"

Over the next couple weeks, I helped them fix the broken martin-gale (barber-striker) for the main beam & a host of much smaller jobs. It was a thrill to be a part of such a team.

What a change from the one-hundred mile days on Mai-Miti. On the first night out we were doing 22 knots with higher bursts. Spray was erupting everywhere and geysers of water exploded through the net as the now repaired martin-gale vaporized wave-tops.

When you look at the Ollier design at the dock, you'd think it was really stiff & rigid, especially when words like titanium & carbon start drifting around. However, everything was moving different directions and emitting high pitched wails that fired the imagination to envision unseemly possibilities for a monohul1 sailor. You should have seen the giant wing mast drawing angry circles in the sky as we blasted through the backs of waves.

Imagine steering this contraption through a pitch-black night, nothing visible but the luminescent glow of the boat speed & wind angle indicators… and the inferno astern cast aglow by phosphorescence. The acceleration rocks you around the balls of your feet & intoxicates you to distrust the instruments and sail higher to the wind. The apparent wind speed doubles and in the blink of an eye and you've gone from 17 to 28 knots boat speed before you can cry - please ease the mainsheet!

Real life always out-does fiction but its difficult to imagine the sheer physical & mental stress of keeping the machine together in the Southern Ocean. I stagger when I think of crossing the net in storm conditions, as you can get the feet knocked from under you in fifteen knot trades. Because I was sleeping in the starboard hull, which was usually on the lee side, I'd have to scream across fifty feet into the wind...TAXI!!! If they respond, you clip in and make a dash through the mine field. If you're lucky, a wave won't send you sky-ward to the end your tether.

In no time, my ALL time 24 hour mileage record of 286 nautical miles was swept overboard by the 'mangy alley cat'. Try 330 nautical miles. I think it will be awhile before I better the marks I set aboard 'Explorer.' Unless I acquire a Finot 60, I guess I'll have to wait until The Race - woe is me!

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