As crews sail off, families keep watch Whitbread: Loved ones are left behind for months while the around-the- world yacht race unfolds.

September 21, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SOUTHAMPTON, England -- Today, Paul van Dyke begins a race, and his wife, Anne, begins to wait.

He'll be aboard the Chessie Racing yacht as Britain's Prince Andrew fires the opening cannon and 10 boats scurry for position in the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy.

And after the start she'll be back on shore, looking after their three kids at home in Connecticut, wondering how on earth she's going to pay the bills while her husband is off to such places as South Africa, Australia and Brazil.

"Let's see, Paul will miss everything for the next nine months," Anne van Dyke says. "He'll miss all the major holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, all the kids' birthdays. He'll even miss income tax preparation."

But Anne van Dyke isn't really angry with her husband.

"This is his job," she says. "It's an unconventional job. But it is a job. I compare this to being a Navy wife -- without any of the benefits."

The Whitbread is a startling athletic and logistical challenge, stretched across nine legs and 31,600 nautical miles. The fleet is due to stop in Maryland on April 22, and the race is scheduled to finish back in Southampton on May 24.

But in the end, this is an event built on heart.

Paul van Dyke, a former submarine builder turned professional sailor, dares to go to sea aboard a Maryland-based yacht that has a sea monster for a logo. He's 36 and lives in Groton, Conn. His sailing resume includes four trans-Atlantic races and one failed attempt to finish the Whitbread four years ago on a yacht called Fortuna.

His job is to trim the sails, making sure they can harness all the power of the wind. He's also a driver, steering the boat on a proper course through often rough seas.

"The last time I was in the Whitbread, I figured winning would be the hardest part," he says. "But we didn't make it around the world. We didn't even make it to Portugal."

Yet as hard as sailing is, Paul van Dyke figures he has a pretty swell life.

"If I brought the three kids on the boat, that would be hard," he says. "Looking after kids is a lot tougher than racing a boat around the world, even if it is freezing cold and wet, and you never get any sleep."

Anne van Dyke has the hard job. She watches over Margaret, 6; Rachel, 4; and Justin, 22 months. She also gives up any hope of pulling her shift as a nurse.

"I'll follow the race," she says, adding that she hopes to join her husband on several stopovers. "I'll call up the Internet. And I'll e-mail my husband. But I'm used to this. We've been doing this for 13 years."

Like everyone else in the fleet, the van Dykes were making final preparations on the race's eve.

Those who sail around the world have to make sure that bank accounts are in order, houses watched, pets cared for.

Many of the crews have spent up to three years working full time for this event. The teams have been in England since early August, sailing nearly every day, while working well into the night to fine-tune the elegant yachts, known as Whitbread 60s.

Those who climb aboard these yachts pack light for the big trip.

"The only things you have to take are a toothbrush and a passport," says Chris Dickson, the skipper aboard the pre-race favorite, Toshiba. "And there was one race I forgot my toothbrush."

Others worry about the food before a race. For the next month, on the 7,350-mile leg to Cape Town, South Africa, the crews will be living on freeze-dried cuisine.

"I'm really going to miss french fries," says Josh Belsky, a crew member aboard EF Language.

Just about everyone else in the fleet will miss their family.

For Rick Deppe of Chessie Racing, the start is a bittersweet experience. His wife, Anastasia, back in the States, is expecting their second child almost any day.

"The timing is less than ideal," he says. "I'm going to be a basket case for the first week or so."

Greg Gendell, a 27-year-old Annapolis resident, is making his first round-the-world journey aboard Chessie Racing. His wife, Pam, will fly in for some of the stopovers, but they'll be apart for months at a time.

"From time to time during a race, you get homesick. But you don't talk about it," he says. "I'm sure there are going to be some times during this race where we wish we could take a shower, get warm and be with our families.

"But when it's breezy, you don't get homesick," he says. "All you can think about is sailing."

Pam Gendell says she understands her husband's urge to go off on a voyage. "This is something Greg has wanted to do for a long, long time," she says. "It's something he has thought about ever since he was a little boy and had stacks and stacks of sailing magazines by his bed."

Now, the dream is about to become a reality.

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