ABN Amro One tastes sweet spray of success

`Black Betty' fast and first in Volvo around-the-world leg to Baltimore



After more than two weeks without a proper shower, Mike Sanderson felt the welcoming spray he has come to expect over the five months of the around-the-world Volvo Ocean Race: mist from a massive bottle of champagne.

Sanderson, the skipper of ABN Amro One, steered his boat across the finish line at Baltimore Light in Chesapeake Bay at 2:57 p.m. yesterday, completing the nearly 5,000-mile run from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that began April 2. The elapsed time was 15 days, 2 hours, 47 minutes and 52 seconds.

The second-place boat, Movistar of Spain, was 16.5 miles back.

ABN, nicknamed "Black Betty," dropped its green-and-yellow sails and motored to the arrival platform at the Inner Harbor to be greeted by a cannon salute from the USS Constellation and the crew's family members.

Accompanied by fire and law enforcement boats, the winner slowly picked its way up the Inner Harbor, its mast getting lost among the waterfront construction cranes. As an updated version of the Leadbelly blues tune "Black Betty" blared from speakers, the crew waved to the hundreds of spectators lining the harbor.

Standing on the dock, Sanderson shook the traditional bottle of champagne and sprayed himself and his crew before taking a swig and passing it around.

"The guys did an amazing job," Sanderson said. "I think you're going to hear a few boats come in after us, talking about the speed of `Black Betty.' "

The Dutch entry, designed by Argentine Juan Kouyoumdjian, has won four of five legs and three of four in-port races to build a seemingly insurmountable lead of 62.5 points, 22 points ahead of Movistar. Barring a major equipment failure, it is expected to be in first place when the race ends in June.

In third place, U.S. entry Pirates of the Caribbean roared from the mist at the mouth of the bay at 3:30 p.m. in 16-knot winds and 3-foot seas to make the 120-mile run up the bay to the finish line. The Disney-backed boat is skippered by Paul Cayard, one of America's most decorated sailors and winner of the 1997-98 edition of the around-the-world race.

As the sleek, 70-foot yacht crossed the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Cayard waved to spectator boats and gave a thumbs up. It was expected to arrive overnight.

"At the end of two weeks, you just want to get there," Cayard said in a phone interview from the boat. "It is nice to be inside the protection of the bay now and cruising up. We're American and we like Baltimore. We love Annapolis. It's a sailor's town. So we're looking forward to a couple of weeks here."

In a competition marred by major malfunctions, there was still time in the waning hours of Leg 5 for another. A drag race in 25 knots of wind among the last three boats, Brazil 1, Ericsson Race Team and ABN Amro Two - the leader's sister ship - quickly became a two-boat affair when the ABN Amro Two crew heard a loud crack and watched in horror as a six-ton portion of its rigging came crashing down.

The crew made temporary repairs, but lost valuable miles and slipped further into last place.

Leg 5 didn't start well for ABN Amro One. A headsail problem dropped the boat to last place, forcing Sanderson and crew to work their way back though the fleet.

"It was 5,000 miles to go, and we sailed conservatively for those first few days because we didn't want to be last," Sanderson said. "The biggest problem would have been if we had to catch up 150 or 200 miles. If we had to catch up 15 or 20 or 40 miles ... we felt we could deal with that."

Just before noon, ABN Amro One passed Thomas Point Light near the mouth of the South River accompanied by a flotilla of small motorboats. With winds at six to seven knots out of the northeast and tides just starting to run up the bay, it wasn't an easy run for the winner.

At 1:45 p.m., just one mile from the finish line, the wind dropped to a whisper, forcing ABN Amro One to briefly drop its anchor to keep from losing ground. A crew member climbed the mast to look in vain for wind.

Although Movistar was 25 miles back and facing the same conditions, Sanderson acknowledged he was nervous.

"For me, it's never over until the gun goes off. I kept worrying as the guys kept looking over my shoulder. `Is there someone there? You've got to stop doing that, you're freaking me out,' " said Sanderson, laughing.

He need not have worried. In an e-mail early yesterday morning, Movistar skipper Bouwe Bekking conceded the leader would be difficult, if not impossible, to beat.

"When you are fast, you always look smart, but still people can make mistakes, and ABN hasn't made many," Bekking wrote.

Each boat will be at the Port Covington Maritime Center marina for repairs and then be on display from April 27 to May 4 as part of the Baltimore Waterfront Festival. Then, the fleet will sail down to Annapolis for the Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival before the race restarts May 7 for a sprint to New York Harbor.



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