Sunday, September 29, 2002
The "king" of sailing competitions is called simply "The Race," which is the subject of Tim Zimmermann's exhilarating book of the same name.
The Race is a crewed, nonstop, around-the-world event with no design restrictions on competing vessels. It begins in Barcelona, Spain, and ends in Marseille, France. It will be run next in 2004.
Since there have been sailing ships, masters of them have attempted to cover record distances during a 24 hour-period. In the 19th century, the clipper ship Lightning, on the Australia run, covered 436 miles ï¿½ an exceptional distance ï¿½ in one day.
More recently, blue-water sports sailors discovered catamarans, multihulled vessels that ride lightly in the water and have much less drag than conventional, single-hulled ships.
The aerodynamic and hydrodynamic characteristics of catamarans allow them to sail at speeds phenomenal for non-motorized craft, even faster than the wind that propels them. This has tempted many a racing sailor to try ever bigger catamarans, with taller masts and larger sail surface.
The dark side of catamarans is that in anything but mirrorlike ocean surfaces, they tend to dig their bows into the water and increase the risk of capsizing, making expert control of the sails essential for survival.
Because catamarans as large as technology will allow are the craft ambitious racers hope will help them achieve ï¿½ or even surpass ï¿½ runs of 700 miles a day, The Race has become the fastest circumnavigation sailing competition.
It's also the most dangerous ï¿½ not only because of the crafts' instability in certain sea and weather conditions. Since a major portion of The Race takes place in the Southern Ocean, where winds blow around the globe without any land barriers, mountainous seas pose constant threats for conventional ships and major risks for catamarans.
Past runnings of The Race have provided ample proof of the vulnerability of multihulled sailing vessels and the merciless nature of the ocean.
"The Race" will have readers on pins and needles even if they have never set foot on the deck of a sailing vessel nor dreamed of sailing the Southern Ocean.
The excitement it provides comes from an evenhanded and factual narration devoid of hype.