Sailors persist in rough seas in Around Alone

On The Outdoors

February 11, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

When the fleet in the Around Alone sailing race started Leg 3 in Auckland, New Zealand, last weekend, Fedor Konioukhov had been in port for only a week and Robin Davie was still more than two days from finishing Leg 2.

Under race rules, the Russian adventurer and the merchant seaman from Charleston, S.C., were ineligible to continue in the race. But Davie and Konioukhov apparently don't know when to quit.

Konioukhov already has put to sea again as a non-competitor following the fleet, three days and 400 miles behind the last-place boat.

Davie, 47, is ashore in New Zealand, looking for financial support and appealing his disqualification on the grounds that extraordinary circumstances prevented him from reaching New Zealand by the Jan. 30 deadline.

Davie's third around-the-world race has been disastrous since the start in Charleston last fall. He finished Leg 1 at Cape Town dead last after the rudder on his 50-foot South Carolina broke. He started Leg 2 two weeks after the rest of the fleet and finished in Auckland more than a month after the leaders.

South Carolina's generator broke and the back-up wind generator couldn't produce enough power for autopilots and scheduled communications. The back-up wind vane steering system was imprecise, the rudder and tiller problematic, Davie said.

"It was a cumulative effect that made life very difficult and very slow," Davie said after completing his 51-day, 19-hour voyage from Cape Town. "I spent the whole time fixing things."

Race officials said they will consider Davie's appeal and will make a decision this week based on Davie's chances of safely finishing Leg 3 in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Davie said that if South Carolina can be hauled and repaired within a week, he will head out again, with or without the approval of race officials.

"We've been at sea a long, long time -- both in the merchant navy and on yachts -- to have anything other than a lot of respect for the ocean and what it can do," said Davie, who was dismasted approaching the southern tip of South America in the 1994-1995 race. "I still intend to go round Cape Horn."

Konioukhov departed Auckland a day earlier than planned, sailing Modern University for the Humanities, an Open 60. During his nine-day layover, the Russian has repaired electrical systems and added a wind generator as a back-up system.

Race organizers allowed Konioukhov to keep special safety gear provided for the racing fleet and COMSAT allowed him to keep satellite communications equipment and services provided by the company.

Konioukhov, who does not speak English, has single-handedly circumnavigated twice, cycled from Vladivostock to Leningrad, skied to the North Pole and has climbed the highest peaks, including Mount Everest, on seven continents.

His purpose in doing Around Alone, he said, was to understand the philosophy of the single-handed racer in a competition in which, he said, "even coming in last is winning."

The leaders in the racing fleet, meanwhile, are not expected to arrive in Punta del Este until March 8.

The 11 remaining competitors -- 4 in Class I, 7 in Class II -- have been battling head winds and sea sickness during the early portion of the leg.

"It has taken me almost three days to find my sea legs on this, the third passage of my own personal round-the-world torture chamber," Class II leader Mike Gartside of England wrote in an e-mail. "Yes, it really has been that ghastly."

The first turn in the leg, Cape Horn, is some 4,000 miles east of the fleet, which is expected to make the turn into the South Atlantic in 14 to 18 days.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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