Two women among 25 to start BOC Challenge Skippers to leave Newport Saturday

September 12, 1990|By Peter Baker

At noon Saturday in Newport, R.I., 25 skippers are expected to start a sailboat race in 25 yachts. Eight months and 27,000 miles later -- give or take a week or so or a few thousand miles -- the majority of those skippers will finish off Newport as they started, alone.

The race is the BOC Challenge Around Alone, a singularly testing scramble southeast to Cape Town, South Africa, easterly to Sydney, Australia, on to Cape Horn, around and northerly to Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and thence to Newport.

Along the route, which is sailed in four legs, the singlehanders may not be escorted by or accept assistance from another craft, except in case of an emergency. Sailors may anchor or moor when necessary, but for the most part it is nonstop sailing between ports of call.

In previous runnings of the BOC, the field has been the province of male sailors, a solitary group of adventurers. The core of that group -- Philippe Jeantot, Bertie Reed, Mike Plant, John Martin and Hal Roth -- have been 'round several times before and know something of the physical and psychological demands of the race.

This time around, however, two women have met the requirements to start the race, Jane Weber of Canada and Isabelle Autissier of France.

Weber (pronounced wee-ber), a 45-year-old who is 5 feet tall and says she weighs 110 pounds at the most, will sail Tilley Endurable, a 42-foot Beneteau, in Class II (40 to 50 footers).

Autissier, 34, will sail in Class I (50 to 60 footers).

Neither is daunted by the rigors of the Southern Ocean and the capes of Good Hope and Horn.

"There's no reason for a woman not to compete," said Weber, a former real estate agent who has sailed more than 28,000 miles by taking jobs on virtually every kind of boat imaginable since her divorce a few years ago. "I've got a good boat, the necessary skills and just enough money to make it. Any woman with those qualifications can do this race."

Autissier, an engineer by training and a professor at a marine and fishing school in La Rochelle, is chasing a dream that began to take shape since she started racing sailboats three years ago, including a transatlantic and three Figaros, a stage race from France to Ireland, to Spain and back to France.

"The BOC Challenge has long been a dream of mine," Autissier said. "It just won't go away."

While Autissier boned up for the race largely in European waters, Weber was testing her skills in a world-wide odyssey, starting out in 1983 as a shipboard carpenter and trading her skills for passage.

Her nautical hitchhiking took her from Florida, through the Panama Canal, up the West Coast of North America and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand.

"With each consecutive trip," Weber said, "my capabilities and responsibilities expanded ... I learned and practiced my skills as I went, and I became proficient in many areas."

In Weber, too, is something of the dream that seems to infect all who enter this race, the desire to get out alone and to test one's endurance and self-reliance in an unforgiving environment.

In the BOC, there have been dismastings, sinkings and deaths.

As South African Bertie Reed said after the last BOC in 1987: "Basically, a guy's dream is to sail around the world alone.

"But you must have more than just the dream. If you can think about a nice hot shower, a big double bed and a little bit of cuddly-huddly, you're absolutely sane and acceptable.

"But if you enjoy being miserable, cold and wet for months on end, you can forget it, because you are totally off your head. You have to know what you're about, what the boat is about and what the race is about."

Over the next eight months, Weber, Autissier and 17 other first-time starters, will learn a great deal about themselves, their boats, their race and their dream.

"I spent all my married life dreaming about what I really wanted to do," said Weber, who sold her home in Toronto to help finance her race. "But life was passing me by. I had a lot of fun while I was married, but nothing I did was at all productive or fulfilling. I finally decided to do something about it.

"Sailing is what I love more than almost anything else, and it's also what I do best. So why not combine the two and really test myself?"

*The Pennsylvania Game Commission is considering an extension of the antlerless deer season on farms suffering crop damage from deer. Farmers whose lands are suffering from crop damage due to deer are encouraged to contact the game commission before Oct. 15. If an extension is approved, it most likely would be in January.

Farmers expressing interest in the extension will be visited by wildlife conservation officers before Nov. 17 for enrollment in the agency's safety zone program. Tracts of land with too many whitetail deer then would be targeted by hunters with permission of the landowner.

In the south central region of Pennsylvania, interested farmers should call 1-800-422-7554. In the southeast region, call 1-800-228-0791.

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