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15 November 2001, 08:21 pm
Calm and Headwinds
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New York to Melbourne Record Attempt

Rich Wilson’s 53-foot trimaran Great American II, bound for Melbourne, Australia in an attempt to set a new sailing record, is now in danger of losing out to calms and light winds after fighting storms only four days ago.

Sailing slowly in the Southern Ocean, 1,088 miles southwest of Cape Leeuwin, on the southwestern tip of Australia, Wilson, from Rockport, Massachusetts and his co-skipper Bill Biewenga, from Newport, Rhode Island, have been warned that they face two to three days of light headwinds during the coming weekend.

The two adventurers had been averaging 250 nautical miles a day since leaving the South Atlantic ten days ago, but two days ago their boat speed dropped dramatically and their daily run was only 164 nautical miles.

"This is an ugly weather pattern and it will be tough to maneuver through," warned veteran weather router and forecaster George Caras, of Commanders Weather, in an email to the boat today from his Nashua, New Hampshire headquarters. "There is no elegant way out of this," he cautioned, describing a complex routing pattern for the coming days. "It won't be pretty but you don't have an option."

Wilson and Biewenga set sail for Melbourne from New York on September 19, in pursuit of a sailing record set by the American clipper ship Mandarin, almost a century and a half ago. The Mandarin, an American square-rigged sailing vessel, logged 69 days, 14 hours, port-to-port in the winter of 1855-56,while carrying prospectors to the Australian Gold Rush.

To beat Mandarin's record, Great American II must arrive off Williamstown, Melbourne, before 5:21 pm, summer time, on November 28. The earliest the trimaran is expected to finish is November 24. Great American II was 2,301 nautical miles from Melbourne today, located at 42 degrees 45 minutes south latitude and 94 degrees 39 minutes east longitude. Her lead over the ghost of the Mandarin had narrowed to 751 nautical miles.

"We're making reasonable time right now as we work through a ridge of high pressure," Wilson said, in a satellite phone call from the boat today. "The weather ahead looks pretty squirrelly though and we are expecting unfavorable weather for the next week or so, first with light winds and then head winds. We're hoping that a low-pressure system coming out of southwestern Australia will give us a boost towards the finish. We've got our work cut out for us, that's for sure.

"The last 24 hours have been the slowest we've sailed for nearly two weeks, so we've given back some of our lead over the Mandarin. Now we're trying to keep hanging on.

"With fatigue setting in after 12,000 non-stop sea miles, I'm really hoping that some of that Australian enthusiasm and gung-ho spirit will drift out to energize us for the final push to Melbourne," Wilson concluded.

The attempt to break Mandarin's record is the latest education adventure program undertaken by Wilson's Boston-based sitesALIVE! web site at http://www.sitesalive.com. Using satellite communications, Wilson and Biewenga share their daily experiences with schoolchildren who link to an accredited curriculum delivered on the Internet to classrooms throughout the United States and Australia.

The Ocean Challenge voyage is one of nine educational programs bringing real-life interactive learning experiences to school children through the World Wide Web.
Keith Taylor/News Editor
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