Whatever sea dishes out, pair bobs up for more

ON BOATING

Boating

May 25, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN STAFF

Occasionally, you meet characters who seem ideally cast for their roles on the water.

Rick Deppe and Tom Weaver are two such - young, confident professional sailors who make their homes in Annapolis, but travel the world to wherever there is a boat in need of their talents.

They are, as they will tell you, superbly fit and slightly crazy.

They've just been half-sunk, capsized, half-drowned and dismasted in rapid sequence during a 1,000-mile catamaran race along the Eastern Seaboard.

The dismasting was the second time within as many weeks that a boat they were sailing lost its "stick" off Cape Hatteras, one of the most treacherous stretches of the Atlantic.

It's enough to plant most people's feet firmly back on terra firma.

But not this pair of jokers, who find thrill in adversity and satisfaction out of setback - as long as it's on the high seas.

"It was just a comedy of errors," said Weaver, after they finished last in the 19-boat fleet competing in the 18th Worrell 1000 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Virginia Beach, Va., a sort of maritime endurance test.

Blue-water professionals, used to crewing on big boats in the likes of the Whitbread Round The World and the America's Cup, the Annapolitans were novices at handling highly strung, twin-hulled racers on the open seas. Their learning curve proved very steep, indeed.

Significantly enough, the race they lost was won - for the fourth time - by veteran catamaran racer Randy Smyth.

So new to the game were Deppe and Weaver, that they even forgot to put the drainage plugs in their cat's pontoons one day, and, 15 minutes into the leg, found themselves wallowing in the wake of a fleet rapidly disappearing over the horizon.

The spinnaker they bought for their boat was so big it eventually broke the pole and, even when flying, it actually slowed them down. Under the rules, the only way they could replace it was if it was declared an illegal sail. They took the enterprising step of protesting themselves, and bought a new one.

Almost every day of the 12-leg race brought disaster, and it was rarely straightforward.

When they took a not-unusual capsize, the complication was that the mainsail broke out of its track. The sail, now attached only at the foot and head of the mast, threatened to break the stick. Deppe had to risk swimming to the tip of the toppled mast to cut the sail free.

Then, as they sailed the penultimate leg from Cape Hatteras to Kill Devil Hills, N.C., their shore crew watched in horror as their rig finally snapped.

The watchers alerted the local rescue squad, but Weaver and Deppe, determined to finish what they had started, waved help away and set up a jury rig on the remaining mast stump.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, they were aboard Baltimorean George Collins' Chessie Racing when it lost its mast in a squall south of Hatteras during the Key West-to-Baltimore race.

Immediately after securing Collins' 70-foot Santa Cruz in Morehead City, N.C., they hitched up their 20-foot catamaran and set out for the start of the Worrell.

No wonder Mike Worrell, founder of the eponymous race for "plastic boats, iron men," recognized Weaver and Deppe as personifying "the essence" of the event he started after a 1974 barroom bet.

Throughout the Worrell, the undaunted duo seemed to be in their element. Though finishing last, they got the biggest welcome of any crew on Virginia Beach.

"What a reception," said Weaver. "All the competitors came out of the hot baths and jacuzzis they had been soaking in for hours. Even the Australians put down their cold beers to give us a round of applause."

Also on the beach to welcome them was Rob Emmet, an Annapolis sailing friend and president of Pyacht.com, their major sponsor.

Anyone who races at the serious end of sailing these days needs to be well funded.

Whether it's the $50million or more the fashion house Prada spent on getting the Italian boat, Luna Rossa, into the last Admiral's Cup, only to lose, or the $30,000 or so that Deppe and Weaver needed to come in last in the Worrell, cash is crucial.

Emmet's contribution to his friends was vital enough for them to change their racing name from Team Chessie to "Pyacht.com."

"The project was a kind of no-brainer for us," said Emmet, declining to reveal how much he gave the pair, except to say it was thousands rather than hundreds of dollars.

"The kind of investment we put into the program will pay for itself many, many times."

But how do sponsors feel when they fund failure rather than success? Not that it's fair to suggest Deppe and Weaver failed. Simply to beach their boat on the finish line after all they had been through was a supreme achievement. In 1998, 21 boats started and only seven finished. This year, only one boat failed to finish.

"The job these guys did was tremendous," said Emmet. "Down at Virginia Beach, everybody knew about Randy Smyth winning, but the big story was Rick and Tom on Pyacht.com. They're a couple of real characters. They held their heads up the entire trip."

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