Flying Dutchmen build Worrell lead

Favored U.S. duo 2nd but trailing by 17:42


May 12, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN STAFF

The Worrell 1000, an ocean drag race up the Eastern seaboard for 20-foot catamarans, is developing into free-for-all between international crews with one-third of the 1,000 miles covered.

Winning their second straight leg in the 12-leg race, Dutch pro sailors GerardA. Loos and Mischa A. Heemskerk held a cumulative 17-minute, 42-second lead after four legs, having added 1:05 yesterday.

In second last night was U.S. favorite, Olympic medalist and five-time Worrell winner Randy L. Smyth and partner Matt H. Struble.

In third place overall last night after the run from Daytona Beach to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., were Australians Brett A. Dryland and Rod J. Waterhouse.

"All the lead teams are very experienced," said Mike Worrell, who originated the race in 1974 after a bet that he couldn't sail a catamaran from Virginia to Florida.

This year's race is staged in 12 legs from Fort Lauderdale to Virginia Beach, Va., where the winning crews are expected to arrive mid-afternoon on May 20, Preakness weekend.

Professional sailors Rick Deppe and Tom Weaver, a two-man crew from Annapolis, have been hampered by mishap and mistake in the early legs and are struggling. This is their first catamaran race, and last night they were lying 17th out of the 19-boat fleet.

On the first day, they "crashed" their boat during a squall, breaking the spinnaker pole, and had to watch competitors sail away with kites flying.

Just 15 minutes after the second-leg start from Jensen Beach, Fla., they found themselves again wallowing at the back of the fleet. Troubleshooting by diving overboard, they discovered that they had forgotten to put the drainage plugs in the twin hulls; the boat was quietly taking on water.

They had to sail a couple of miles out of the Gulf Stream to the beach to drain the pontoons before chasing the rest of the fleet on the way to Cocoa Beach.

"Luckily, I had put a couple of plugs in the grab-bag just in case something like this happened," said Weaver.

On day three, they were fourth when the fleet began hoisting spinnakers. Suddenly, Deppe and Weaver found themselves behind again with a spinnaker too big for their boat.

They lodged a protest against themselves for having an illegal sail - an unusual move but necessary under the rules to allow them to buy a new spinnaker during their overnight stop in Daytona Beach Wednesday.

"These `cat' sailors are pretty good, but we're getting better as we go on," said Weaver yesterday. "The Florida legs are speed legs. The tough stuff starts near [Cape] Hatteras, and that's what we're waiting for."

In a race that is as much a test of physical endurance as boat handling, Weaver, who took a heavy blow to the head on the first day, said: "We've got a lot of bumps and bruises. Tylenol is our best friend right now."

Both veterans of the Whitbread Round the World Race and having more than 100,000 miles of big-boat sailing between them, they entered the Worrell - an endurance test for "iron men, plastic boats" - to sharpen their catamaran skills and improve their chances of being recruited for The Race, an open-class circumnavigation to start next New Year's Eve."

"They are very experienced blue-water sailors, but I think they are still trying to dial into these catamarans," said Worrell. "These boats are really very high performance trapeze boats. A few inches one way or the other, and they can be upside down."

Baltimore graphic designer John R. McLaughlin, in his fourth Worrell, was in 14th position last night.

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