Dangers of sailing are made clear

ON THE WATER

June 18, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY

The Maryland sailing community was, a mere month ago, enjoying a warm feeling of success that came from a smooth stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race and the opening of the Sailing Hall of Fame in Annapolis.

Since that time, nautical disaster has struck twice in the Volvo race and once close to home with the loss of Capital publisher Philip Merrill in the Chesapeake last weekend.

The possibility of death at sea is nothing new to mariners -- but the losses have cast a somber mood in sailing circles.

"If you are a sailor and talking to sailors, you are talking about these events," said Dick Franyo, the owner of the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport. "They are very sobering events."

The Volvo Ocean Race, scheduled to end yesterday in Gothenburg, Sweden, recorded the most disastrous leg in the 33-year history of the event after the boats left New York in the middle of last month.

First, Hans Horrevoets, a crew member on ABN AMRO TWO, was swept overboard in 16-foot waves May 18 and died.

There are no chase boats following these ocean yachts around the globe, but the crew was able to recover the body and continued racing to England.

Three days later, movistar, a Volvo yacht that had three previous breakdowns, including nearly sinking 200 miles south of Cape Horn, began taking on water and the sailors decided they had to abandon their boat.

A distress call went out and ABN AMRO TWO -- the crew still reeling from the loss of a team member -- sailed to the rescue and the 10 movistar sailors rode into Portsmouth on the competitor's boat.

"Obviously, the Volvo Ocean Race ... it was not a picnic sail," Franyo said.

"It is the real deal, and people forget that with all the carnival and fun and parties," he said. "These [sailors] are people that live with the danger that something can happen."

But that is ocean racing. Not something most sailors do.

Last weekend, the reality hit home when longtime sailor Merrill disappeared. His boat was found with the sails raised just off Plum Point, setting off days of searching by recovery crews.

"I think we all talk about it, and we all realize it is a very dangerous and strenuous sport," said Gregory H. Barnhill, a sailor and president of Ocean Race Chesapeake, the organization that is host to the Volvo race when it comes here.

Sailing never has been a sport without peril, and many famous people have met watery deaths.

Seventy-five years ago, Sun publisher Van-Lear Black died after disappearing from his yacht.

He "fell from the after deck of his yacht while homeward bound from New York," according to a Aug. 20, 1930, front-page article published in The Sun.

However, if the mood among the sailing set is a bit low this month, the recent deaths won't cast a permanent pall on the sport.

"If somebody has a passion, ... they are going to pursue it," said Lee Tawney, a secretary for Ocean Race Chesapeake. "They are not going to let the fear of something happening overcome that passion. I think that is an important lesson."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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