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26 November 2001, 03:47 pm
On Track For Record
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New York To Melbourne Record Attempt

Sailing aboard their 53-foot trimaran Great American II, adventure sailors Rich Wilson and Bill Biewenga remained on track to break the sailing record from New York to Melbourne tomorrow, with a predicted early afternoon finish.

"We still have to negotiate the notorious rip tides at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay, but we think the biggest danger might prove to be lack of wind," Wilson reported by Iridium satellite telephone from the boat today.

Wilson, from Rockport, Massachusetts, is sailing with co-skipper Bill Biewenga, from Newport, Rhode Island. At 10:00 hours local time, he reported they were 115 miles from the historic Cape Otway lighthouse that marks the western entrance to Bass Strait, and the point where Great American II will turn northwards to the entrance to Port Phillip Bay.

They were about 190 miles from Williamstown in the Port of Melbourne where they will finish.

The two sailors departed New York City on September 19, just eight days after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, and have been at sea ever since then. They are out to break the 146-year-old record of 69 days, 14 hours, set by the American extreme clipper ship Mandarin as she carried prospectors to the Australian Gold Rush in the winter of 1855-56.

In a similar feat 12 years ago the two men sailed Great American II around Cape Horn, from San Francisco to Boston, breaking the record of the clipper ship Northern Light and setting a new mark of 69 days 20 hours.

Great American II is expected to complete her voyage off the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown at noon, or soon after, tomorrow, Tuesday. The club's race officer will record her time and Wilson has asked the World Speed Sailing Record Council in the Great Britain for official ratification of a possible record.

To beat Mandarin's time, Great American II must finish off Williamstown, before 5:21 PM, local summer time, on Wednesday, November 28.

Light head winds that Wilson and Biewenga encountered west of Cape Leeuwin jeopardized their chances of achieving a record. They picked up their pace over the past few days but now face the danger of being engulfed in the nearly-windless center of a high pressure system approaching from the west.

Calling from the boat today, Wilson was optimistic about their short-term chances. The boat was averaging ten knots speed under jib and mainsail with one reef, speeding down rolling six to eight foot seas, driven by an 18-knot southwesterly.

"We are now gybing downwind on our way to Cape Otway where we will turn northeast for the last 40 miles up the coast to the entrance of Port Phillip Bay," Wilson said. "After that, we'll have a final 36 miles to sail up the Bay to Williamstown at the entrance to Melbourne's River Yarra.

"We've been working real hard all night, changing sails and trimming, to keep the boat going as fast as possible. We're looking over our shoulders at a big high pressure area coming our way that threatens to swallow us up and leave us with no wind.

"Time is running out on us and we're trying to keep the boat moving towards Melbourne. Making our landfall at historic Cape Otway light will be a memorable moment for me - my first sight of land for weeks and my first view of Australia."

"If we can maintain this pace we should be able to finish off the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria in Williamstown at noon tomorrow, or perhaps a little later."

The two adventurers have been busy during their 65 days at seas. When they are not on deck and sailing the boat, they send regular audio and text reports, lessons, photographs, and videos, and answer schoolchildren's e-mailed questions. They accomplish all this with the aid of a laptop computer in the navigation station, linked to an Iridium satellite telephone.

The website tracking the voyage of Great American II is The Ocean Challenge voyage is one of 10 educational programs bringing real-life interactive learning experiences to school children through the World Wide Web.

Keith Taylor/News Editor
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