Welsh yachtsman makes goodwill stop


July 06, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

The sailor with the thick Welsh accent greeted each of the girls with a smile as they scampered onto the deck of his sleek 60-foot racing sloop.

Even though Alan Wynne Thomas' yacht was anchored at Fells Point, the eight teen-age girls and one teen-age boy, all runaways or homeless, acted as excited as if they were on the high seas. They clutched at the mast of the gently rocking boat and giggled about wearing too slippery shoes. They announced they were all set for an ocean voyage -- until they saw the stove.

Fifteen-year-old Candida stared at the narrow galley and primitive propane stove in amazement. "You really cook here?" she asked Mr. Thomas, a deeply tanned 51-year-old from Cardiff, Wales, who had just steered the boat alone across the Atlantic.

Candida had been aboard the Lady Baltimore once, but the rest had never seen Baltimore's skyline from a swaying sailboat, never peered down into the murky harbor, never tasted salt on their faces. Yesterday, the teen-agers from two city shelters for runaways and the homeless, operated by the non-profit Fellowship of Lights, savored a taste of the good life.

Mr. Thomas showed them around the Cardiff Discovery, the hand-built boat he sailed from Plymouth, England, to Newport, R.I., in the Europe 1 trans-Atlantic race two weeks ago.

An avid sailor who is gearing up for a solo race around the world, Mr. Thomas agreed to make a detour to Baltimore to celebrate the sister relationship between Baltimore County and South Glamorgan County in Wales. A Welsh marketing company that promotes Cardiff planned a goodwill stop here.

"This raises Cardiff's profile," said Norma Jarbo, head of Cardiff Marketing Ltd., which sponsored Mr. Thomas in the trans-Atlantic race. She said South Glamorgan and Baltimore counties share a similar history, including declining steel manufacturing. The Welsh were also inspired by Baltimore's Inner Harbor to redevelop the Cardiff seafront.

Baltimore County officials, state tourism representatives and travelagents will be feted by the Welsh delegation before Mr. Thomas heads home Thursday. The goal is to boost both counties' tourism and economic development, Ms. Jarbo said.

Mr. Thomas is hoping for smoother sailing on his return trip. He had high hopes of winning the Europe 1 race but came in third after half his electrical equipment -- including the autopilot, compass and weather readings -- failed in a freak accident.

A water tank burst and ruined the equipment on his second day at sea, forcing him to spend the next 15 nights steering the yacht with a hand-held compass. "It was good old-fashioned sailing," he said with a grin.

The Discovery was built a decade ago by Warren Luhrs, a well-known yacht maker in Florida. With its high-tech equipment and trim, light-weight design, the sloop gained an international reputation. Mr. Thomas purchased the yacht, worth about $1 million, last year and completely retooled it for the trans-Atlantic race.

Asked whether they'd like to sail all the way from England to the United States, the teen-agers visiting the yacht yesterday shook their heads in unison.

"Only if I had the experience. I have not been on a boat before," said 14-year-old April, grabbing the girl next to her for support. But she and the others said they would have enjoyed a short trip on the yacht.

That longing went unsatisfied. The Welsh delegation kept the youths' interest with the close-up inspection of the yacht but said they couldn't go sailing because the Discovery has no outboard motor and must be towed in and out of the harbor.

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