YOU'D RATHER be sailing, as the familiar bumper sticker goes. But in the winter doldrums, "Race the Wind," the new film premiering tomorrow at the Maryland Science Center's big-screen IMAX theater, is a pretty good surrogate.
"When you're sailing, you become a part of something so much larger," says a female voice late in the 39-minute film.
She's talking about the thrill of sailing a "land yacht" across the Nevada desert flats, but the statement applies to the movie, too.
You won't get wet. But you may find yourself ducking a wave crest, or leaning instinctively against the heel of a swift sloop trimmed hard on the wind, as the evocative film skims through the many ways people harness the wind for speed.
Well-timed for the 1992 America's Cup challenge (getting under way next month in San Diego), the movie replaces the volcano film "Ring of Fire" as the daily IMAX attraction at the science center. It will run through May 28. (Museum admission, including the film, is $7.50 for adults, $5.50 for students 4 to 17, seniors and military personnel. Screenings are at noon, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. weekdays and on the hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information, call 685-5225.)
("Rolling Stones at the Max" will continue airing as a special feature through Jan. 26. Show times are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. The 89-minute film follows the rock band onstage and back stage during a concert performance. Tickets are $13. Call the science center for more information about ticket availability.)
"Race the Wind" seems to have resulted from that often quoted sailor's credo (from "Wind in the Willows") that there is nothing more worthwhile than simply messing about in boats -- but in this case the large-format IMAX camera went along.
An America's Cup segment is part of the movie, predominantly some stunning footage of the last challenge in 1988. That was the year a radical catamaran, the Stars and Stripes, defeated a radical monohull from New Zealand in a race series that spent more time in the courtroom than on the water.
The movie opens and closes with some lyrical footage of legendary world sailor Tristan Jones at the helm of his rusty old cutter, Quiberon. His rich Welsh voice intones, "The winds: Are they a demon's curse or are they the breaths of gods?"
And Jones also introduces some rare film footage of a clipper ship rounding Cape Horn in 1929. Viewers are told that two young crewmen they see on deck are later washed overboard and never found.
"Race the Wind" can be faulted for paying too much attention to speed, at the expense of exploring the gentler pleasures of sailing, as enjoyed by most of the thousands of Chesapeake Bay sailors.
But the film still provides a vicarious way to go down to the sea in ships.