Below deck, another endurance test for Hemond-Dent AMERICA'S CUP

January 17, 1995|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Two years ago, Susan Hemond-Dent was making her way across Madagascar -- sky diving, scaling cliffs, hiking deserts, canoeing whitewater and kayaking the ocean.

Sounds like a great outdoors vacation, right? Wrong.

Hemond-Dent, the 35-year-old daughter of Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, and four other members of a team named American Pride were racing across Madagascar in the Raid Gauloises, the ultimate endurance survival race.

"I did the 1992 race in Oman, too," said Hemond-Dent, a reserve sewerman on the all-woman America's Cup boat, America3. "But in that one, two of the five-person team failed to finish -- one from injury and the other with a total mental breakdown."

So Hemond-Dent and Mark Burnett of Los Angeles joined three Navy SEALs from San Diego, entered the 1993 race and finished ninth out of 40 teams.

"But I first became interested in Raid Gauloises after my mom read about it in 1990," Hemond-Dent said. "She thought it might be a nice family trip until we looked into it."

What was unsuitable for family participation turned out to be perfect for Hemond-Dent, a free-lance television sports assistant director in Los Angeles and San Diego.

"I had just turned 30; life was going past too fast," Dent said, "and I just knew I had to do this race."

Sports and competition are a way of life for Hemond-Dent, who grew up at a dinner table where "if you couldn't talk baseball, you might as well not have talked.

"It was part of our lives," Hemond-Dent said, "and we were never told we weren't capable of doing anything."

Before entering the Raid Gauloises, for example, Hemond-Dent never had sky dived, kayaked or climbed mountains. Now she is proficient in all of them.

"I am an adventurer," Hemond-Dent said. "I am thorough, work hard and I need to be able to show myself results."

After baseball and hockey labor problems last year knocked the bottom out of the free-lance sports television market in Southern California, Hemond-Dent was "out of a job and looking for something to do."

She was helping her husband, Dick Dent, in the training room at America3. Last week, she was added to the women's sailing team as an alternate sewerman, a position below deck on the team's 75-foot International America's Cup Class racer.

"Basically, I help handle the sails -- get them on board and stowed in the right order," said Hemond-Dent, a volunteer sailing team assistant with America3 in the 1992 Cup. "I get them up to the deck and then help on the foredeck in various sail-changing situations."

She said the most difficult days for the sewerman are those that have mid-range winds, which require multiple sail changes.

"Oddly enough, when the wind is steady but light or up and blowing, everything is more well-defined," Hemond-Dent said.

She and her husband, the athletic trainer and fitness director with America3, live aboard a boat along the waterfront here. But there has been little time for cruising.

"Our schedule is pretty tight," Hemond-Dent said. "Everyday, I am out sailing on one of the women's boats or working in the training room, helping Dick work with some of the other team members.

Zcd,9 "You leave the boat at 6 a.m., get back at 8 or 9 each evening -- and fall asleep. There isn't time for much else."

A typical day in the life of the America3 crew starts in the gym at 6:15 a.m., moves through team breakfast and meeting with coaches until 9:15, when the crew begins to put the boats together for a day of sailing or training.

An hour and a half later, the 45-minute tow from the team docks in San Diego Harbor to the Pacific off Point Loma begins. At 11:15 a.m., sail training starts and continues until 5:15 p.m., when the boats hook up for the tow back in.

The day ends with an hour of cleaning the boats and repairing equipment.

And at 7 p.m. Hemond-Dent and the 28 other members of America3's sailing team are free to leave for the day -- unless there is a fund-raiser or charity function to attend or media interviews to be completed.

So much for the eight-hour day.

"Would I trade it for something more conventional?" Hemond-Dent said. "No. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

* Racing in the defender and challenger elimination series was postponed yesterday because of 12-foot seas at the mouth of Mission Bay. The challenger races scheduled yesterday will be run today, including a match between Team New Zealand and Win New Zealand, both of which are undefeated.

TODAY'S SCHEDULE

Defenders: PACT '95 vs. America3. Bye: Team Dennis Conner.

Challengers: Race 1 -- Sydney '95 vs. oneAustralia. Race 2 -- Win New Zealand vs. Team New Zealand. Race 3 -- France vs. Japan. Bye: Spain.

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