Five-time winner Smyth pushes ahead in Worrell

7 of 12 legs complete

Maryland `cat' capsizes


May 16, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN STAFF

Race favorite Randy Smyth has established a comfortable lead in the Worrell 1000 Eastern Seaboard sprint for catamarans from Florida to Virginia.

After seven of the race's 12 legs, Smyth, five-time winner of what is billed as a race for "plastic boats, iron men," and his partner, Matt Struble, have a comfortable, 34-minute, 52-second lead over the Australian team of Brett Dryland and Rod Waterhouse.

They now have to face the force of Cape Hatteras, the most treacherous sea area on the route from Fort Lauderdale to Virginia Beach.

Already, conditions on the 1,000-mile course have caused havoc, particularly for two Maryland professional sailors, Rick Deppe and Tom Weaver, sailing the Worrell for the first time.

Although experienced blue-water sailors in events such as the Whitbread Round the World race, they are novices in handling a 20-foot catamaran on the open sea.

After a series of mishaps during the early legs, they thought they had found their level when they finished sixth in the sixth leg, but their luck didn't last. In the second overnight leg Sunday, they capsized.

They were again running about sixth in the leg from Isle of Palms to Myrtle Beach, S.C, when the weather suddenly closed in. Light airs, which had already carried Smyth and the other leaders safely onto the beach, suddenly escalated into 25- to 32-knot winds.

"We had sailed hard all through the night. We were in a really good position, crossing tacks with the leader. We weren't worried about the wind."

Deppe and Weaver were about seven miles out to sea and 12 miles from the finish line.

As Weaver described it: "There was a sudden build-up in the breeze in 20 minutes. We couldn't keep the boat attached to the surface of the water. We got lifted off and turned over. A big wave caught underneath our trampoline and flipped us over."

For two hours, they struggled to right the boat. The mainsail had torn off its luff track and was attached only at the masthead and its foot. It was threatening to break the mast.

Deppe, normally a foredeck sailor on racing boats, worked his way along the horizontal mast to cut the sail free. The problem was that the mainsail is frequently used to help right a capsized catamaran.

"We were running out of strength," said Weaver. "Once I got separated from the boat, it was moving faster than I could swim. Rick got me back. He grabbed my wrist.

"Then, a big wave just flipped us back over."

They were up and sailing again, but only under the jib. Four times, they had to beach the boat to effect makeshift repairs. The last 12 miles took them seven hours, but they finished, and will be on the starting line today at 10 a.m. for the run toWrightsville Beach, N.C.

"Our aim now is to finish the race," said Weaver.

They are currently in 18th position in the 19-boat fleet. The race is due to finish in Virginia Beach on Saturday.

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