For ocean sailor, worldwide journey hits home


April 21, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FOR VOLVO OCEAN racer Jonathan Swain, the parade of sail from Baltimore to Annapolis on Friday will be more than just a part of the public events surrounding the sixth-leg stopover in a 37,000-mile, around-the-world sailboat race. It will be a homecoming of sorts.

Although Swain, 35, was born and raised in South Africa, he's made his home for more than a decade in Annapolis. And it was no accident that Swain landed in America's "sailing capital."

He first moved to the United States with the intention of becoming a professional sailor. Swain sailed his first long-distance coastal race at age 10, and he had won many races before arriving in the United States. But he said it was in Annapolis that he made the right connections to help propel him into the world-class sailing arena.

Today, Swain is an accomplished professional sailor. He sailed the last Volvo Ocean Race (then called the Whitbread) four years ago, on Chessie Racing. This time, he's sailing with Team Tyco as a helmsman/trimmer, a rigger and a medic.

The boat sailed up the Chesapeake Bay on Thursday after a difficult leg from Miami to Baltimore in light winds. Arriving in Baltimore's harbor, Team Tyco was met by an enthusiastic crowd of supporters - despite heavy thunderstorms.

In this leg, they finished sixth out of eight racers. Their overall standing slipped from fourth to fifth. But with three more legs to go, their current standing isn't crucial because things can change.

For Swain's part, his wife and family were there to greet the team. His wife, Cary Swain, and 2-year-old son, Cameron, have traveled to ports throughout the race to meet up with him. Swain's father, John Swain, was also there, along with his wife, Vicky Swain, and niece, Chantel Fourie, to welcome the boats.

The senior Swain raced sailboats on a local circuit in South Africa, and he introduced his son to sailing. After his son settled in Annapolis, the elder Swain left South Africa and set up a canvas shop in Galesville to be closer to his son.

Of course, with the rigors of professional sailing, Swain hasn't been home much. The race started in Britain in September, and Swain has been away for most of the past two years training and preparing for the race.

He said the long periods away from his family are hard because of Cameron. "The first leg was 34 days, and it was quite hard," he said. "I couldn't wait to see him after 34 days. I don't think it's necessarily good for him either."

Swain and his wife are expecting another child, so it seems that races like these are going to get more difficult.

"With another on the way, events like the America's Cup become more attractive because you're going home every night," he said. "At the same time, I find ocean racing much more exciting."

But with today's modern technology, ocean racers can keep in better contact with family than in the past. Cary said they e-mail each other about once a week, and she and Swain's father track the race via its Web site.

"We know where he is every day because of the Volvo site," his father said. "You know what the weather's like, the height of the waves."

The site even gives the temperature inside the cabin of the boat. But the senior Swain said he doesn't worry about his son during the race.

"To him it's a job, and he does his job well," he said. "It's a very serious thing to them, and staying alive is very much their job."

Accustomed to Jonathan sailing off into the most remote parts of the world's oceans, Swain's wife agreed that she didn't worry about him either.

"I never worry because I know that it's a professional sailing team because I have faith in their skills," Cary said. "These guys are the cream of the crop in their game, so they better know what they're doing."

Nonetheless, Cary says it will feel good for the family to be together after such a long time apart. The boats will remain in Baltimore until Friday, when they sail to City Dock in Annapolis. Next Sunday, as thousands of people make the annual Bay Bridge walk, the boats will head out again for leg seven, a 3,400-mile sail across the Atlantic to La Rochelle, France.

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