An Outside tale of the sea Disaster: Foolhardy racers, in a short-cut through treacherous waters, benefit from a dangerous rescue. Can fame be far off?

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January 18, 1998|By Cynthia Dockrell | Cynthia Dockrell,BOSTON GLOBE

A good disaster story certainly has its appeal. Sitting in a comfy chair in a heated room in the depths of winter while reading of deaths on Everest or drownings far out to sea only adds to the experience: Our proximity to nature's wrath can make us sympathetic to its unwitting victims and critical of the egotists who put themselves in harm's way.

Outside magazine has such a story in its January issue. Recounting the rescue last year of three sailors from the Southern Ocean, Craig Vetter spins a hair-raising yarn that bears a remarkable resemblance to Sebastian Junger's "The Perfect Storm" -- except Vetter's sailors were trying to win an around-the-world race, while Junger's fishermen died trying to make a living.

It's hard to care much about the men who sucked away $1 million of Australia's rescue funds after attempting a shortcut through the waters around Antarctica. As Vetter writes, "The name 'Southern Ocean' doesn't even appear on many world maps. Nor do the words 'Slobbering Jaws of Hell,' which is how sailors who have been there describe being chased by mountainous waves and vicious crosscurrents under hurricane-force winds in blinding snow squall and sleet." And people choose to go here?

The heroes of the story, of course, are the Aussies who put their own lives at risk while plucking these out-of-their-depth sailors off capsized boats in 30-foot seas. Not that you'd know it. Upon returning to land the rescuers were invisible to the media, which aimed the klieg lights instead at one of the men they saved. Just for staying alive, Tony Bullimore was offered endorsements and book deals totaling some $1 million.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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