`Betty' captures first leg of Volvo

ABN Amro One sets 24-hour speed mark



Days ahead of the original schedule and a little worse for wear, the Volvo Ocean Race boats are beginning to make port at the end of the first leg of their around-the-world competition.

The Dutch boat, ABN Amro One, crossed the finish line yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa, at 7:24 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, covering 6,400 nautical miles in 19 days, 24 minutes and 2 seconds.

"It's unbelievable to be here," said first-time Volvo skipper Mike Sanderson, who regrouped after a poor start in Vigo, Spain. "I am not sure if I could call it fun. It seemed very high stress."

Hostile conditions early in the first leg badly damaged two of the seven yachts and forced them to withdraw from the stage. A massive equipment failure nearly capsized a third, Ericsson Racing Team, which is limping into port at reduced speed.

But Sanderson's 70-foot boat, nicknamed "Black Betty," seemed bullet-proof, cruising at an average speed of 16 knots and setting a 24-hour world speed record for a monohull by covering 546 nautical miles, 8 more miles than the old mark.

Even a wave that destroyed part of the steering system and an electrical fire that forced navigator Stan Honey to rewire the boat on the fly failed to shake the experienced crew.

"The boat did an amazing job. ... We threw everything at it," said Sanderson at a dock-side news conference. "We love this boat and have always loved this boat. It is our baby. It had looked after us so well, but I am not sure if we looked after it as well."

Second place was claimed by ABN Amro One's sister boat, ABN Amro Two, which finished 5 1/2 hours behind the winner. Brazil 1, was expected to take third, with Ericsson in fourth and the under-funded Sunergy and Friends (formerly Premier Challenge) expected to finish around Dec. 7.

In his log, Simon Fisher, ABN Amro Two's navigator, described "life at the extreme" on board the speeding boat: "The whole boat is shuddering and shaking as we crash through one wave to the next," he wrote. "All the winches and blocks are screaming and cracking like cannon fire under the load. Water is pouring down the deck and into the hatch, so we have to bail out every half an hour or so ... "

Those conditions proved too much for the Disney-backed Pirates of the Caribbean and Spain's Movistar both of which are making the run to Cape Town inside cargo containers.

The former boat sprung a leak around its keel and the crew of the Spanish entry believes it struck a submerged object that damaged its keel and rudder and buckled the main bulkhead. Both boats, damaged on the first day of the race, sailed gingerly to Portuguese ports for repairs.

The Volvo 70 boats have keels that pivot from side to side, a cutting-edge characteristic that enhances speed and stability, but adds complexity to the design and structural integrity.

In what may be a troubling development for the "canting" keels, the Ericsson boat suffered a massive malfunction and nearly flipped Tuesday when its keel began to swing freely.

Although Neal McDonald, a veteran Volvo skipper, was able to joke about it later, he was less in a jovial mood when a hydraulic leak caused the keel to break free again hours later.

"Our job now is to make sure we finish in one piece," McDonald wrote yesterday with 565 miles to go.

All three damaged boats were designed by Farr Yacht Designs of Annapolis.

In-port racing will be held Dec. 26. The competitors will begin leg two of the eight-leg race to Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 2. The regatta will arrive in Baltimore and Annapolis in mid-April.


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