Ocean racers sail away

Seven vessels parade to Annapolis, where they'll start the next leg

May 05, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

With banners flying and music blaring from the shore, the seven Volvo Ocean Race boats untied from their docks in Baltimore and began a 31-mile voyage to Annapolis just before noon yesterday.

There were plenty of sails but not much wind to fill them as the vessels left Baltimore yesterday in a colorful parade - cheered by fleets of spectators on land and water on their journey to Annapolis and a grand welcoming celebration.

"This is possibly the best stopover the entire race," skipper Paul Cayard said through a loudspeaker from the deck just before steering the Pirates of the Caribbean racer out of its slip by the Inner Harbor's south shore. "It's fantastic to have so many people here."

The sleek, 70-foot yachts circled in the Inner Harbor a few times as spectators waved and cannons blasted.

The five-hour trip served several purposes: It delivered the boats to Annapolis, where they will be docked until Sunday morning, when the next leg of the eight-month race begins, and gave Volvo organizers a chance to give sponsors, wives, girlfriends and other guests a chance to ride on the multimillion-dollar vessels.

As the boats circled, Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael gave the order to hoist the mainsail. Five people are needed to carry out this operation, and Grael invited the guests to help. Four female guests stood at two posts and moved winch handles in a circular motion to bring up the sail, while a crew member alongside them pulled the rope attached to it. It was backbreaking work, and several guest changes were needed before the sail reached the top of the mast.

The trip, though a much-heralded parade of sail, did not involve much actual sailing. Brasil 1 motored down a narrow shipping channel, and its crew didn't shut down the engine until passing Gibson Island and the mouth of the Magothy River.

"Yes, we're worried about running aground," said Marcel Van Triest, navigator aboard Brasil 1. He kept a close eye on the yacht's depth reader and occasionally stood to motion for the helmsman to keep the boat in the channel.

Grael, the skipper, is a celebrity in his home country of Brazil. He wore layers of sunblock, and his hands were rough, like cracked leather. He had an easy manner and cuddled a bit with his wife - whom he sees only during stops in the race. The seven boats have all-male crews.

Brasil 1 is the only national boat in the race; the others carry names of corporate sponsors. The yacht was built in Brazil and has five Brazilians among its 10 multinational crew members.

All the Brazilians have competed in the Olympics, but none had ever sailed in a round-the-world race. The five non-Brazilian crew members - brought the ocean racing experience.

The official language on the boat is English, but yesterday much of the chatter was in Portuguese mixed with some Spanish.

Grael allowed guests to take turns steering the yacht at one of the two wheels in the stern - or back - of the boat. Brasil 1 responded quickly to small adjustments at the wheel - surprising a Sun reporter who took a turn at steering.

For the crew members, the trip was easy and relaxing under the bright and mostly cloudless sky. It was one of the few times they were just sailing - not racing or practicing maneuvers. At one point, Brasil 1 pulled alongside the 250-foot-tall ship Stad Amsterdam, from the Netherlands, which had joined in the parade. The Volvo sailors paused to marvel at its three masts and web of ropes.

In the brief passage through the deeper bay waters, the crew raised a second sail and cut the engine. Almost immediately, crewman Andrew Meiklejohn put on a harness and was hoisted to the top of the mast to check a fitting. When that job was done, Meiklejohn scooted out to the bowsprit - a pole that projects out from the front of the boat - so he could fix a line.

"This is as easy as it gets," Meiklejohn said. "It's all dry, and there is no wind."

Brasil 1 is in fifth place overall, and, like many of the other Volvo boats, has had its share of breakdowns. Just hours into the second leg of the race - from Cape Town, South Africa, to Melbourne, Australia - a crack developed on the hull, and they had to return to Africa to fix it.

Later, on the same leg, a titanium pin broke, causing a support wire to go slack, and the 103-foot mast snapped in half.

"It was a total surprise," said Van Triest, the navigator. Nobody was hurt, but he said the deck was covered with carbon fiber splinters. "They are like pieces of glass, and they cut anything," he said.

Spectators aboard hundreds of boats had convened at the mouth of the Severn River to greet the racing boats as they neared Annapolis. They snapped pictures, cheered and honked air horns at the Brazilian boat.

"The people down here are either really keen [about sailing] or really, really polite," Van Triest said, smiling.

On the way through Spa Creek toward Annapolis City Dock, the first Volvo boat in the parade - Movistar - stopped suddenly and tilted to the side.

To avoid running aground, Grael quickly ordered everyone to the starboard, or right, side of the boat and swung the canting keel - a movable fin under the boat - to port, or left. Although it looked odd, moving though the water on a tilt meant the boat could go through shallower waters without running aground.

At City Dock, sailing enthusiasts lined the piers. Some brought their dogs, and others sported their Mount Gay Rum caps, popular among the boating set.

Stuart Amos, a board member of Ocean Race Chesapeake and guest on Brasil 1, explained the purpose for the stop there: "The way we think about it is Annapolis is very much for the sailors and Baltimore is for the sponsors."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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