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23 May 2003, 11:21 am
Great America II Nears New York
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China Tea Trade Clipper Ship Route

It's a down-to-the-wire race for the trimaran Great American II and her two crew members as they prepare to finish their Hong Kong to New York sailing record attempt at the Statue of Liberty early next week.
Today, the 53-foot trimaran was south of Bermuda and 1,230 miles from New York as Rich WILSON and Rich du MOULIN plotted their route through three storm systems blocking their path. The two have been at sea 66 days in their attempt to eclipse the record of 74 days, 14 hours set by the extreme clipper ship Sea Witch in the China tea trade a century-and-a-half ago.

Steering and navigating their boat on alternate four-hour watches, the two adventurers are matching their progress against the log of the 196-foot square-rigger Sea Witch, renowned in history as one of the fastest clipper ships ever launched. The modern-day sailors currently hold a narrow lead over the ghost of the clipper, after trailing several times during the long, arduous voyage down the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope and up the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're very, very close in the challenge for the record," said du Moulin, in an email from the boat today, transmitted via satellite. "Yesterday's analysis showed Great American only 142 miles closer to New York than Sea Witch. That's less than a day's sailing, or only 11 hours difference when each of us is at maximum speed - two great sailing vessels, 154 years and 142 miles apart!"

Skipper Rich Wilson reported that last night a blade blew off one of the windcharger turbines they use for generating electrical power for navigation and the ship's autopilots. "We shut it down and pressed ahead, trying to reach favourable north-easterly winds on the north side of an approaching cold front," he said.

The tactical puzzle facing the two sailors requires them to ride the favourable currents of the Gulf Stream while avoiding any counter current or back-eddies that could bring them to a standstill if the wind goes light. At the same time they must pick their way through the storm fronts marching up the coast.

Over the last 24 hours Great American covered 200 miles. From the pages of Sea Witch's log, preserved in the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, Captain Robert "Bully" Waterman had a different story as his ship logged only 91 miles. "Blasted light winds from northeast to southeast," he curtly noted.

Some 360,000 schoolchildren are following the adventure of Great American II on a daily basis through the sitesALIVE! educational program at www.sitesALIVE.com, part of the sitesALIVE Foundation. Students have been schooled in math, meteorology, the hard lessons of life at sea, and a myriad of topics through the unique Internet-based programs Wilson has created around his record runs across the world's oceans. Some of these students hope to be in New York when the vessel reaches its final destination early next week.

"If you love geography, history and the outdoors, this voyage qualifies as an adventure," du Moulin said in his email. "We have sailed the South China Sea, Java Sea, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, and North Atlantic. We passed through the Sunda Strait and by Cape Aguhlas and Cape of Good Hope. We saw St. Helena volcano at night and have viewed the great constellations of both hemispheres. There were waterspouts, sea snakes, and a million birds and flying fish. We covered more than 180 degrees of longitude, and 140 degrees of latitude while crossing the equator twice.

"As the voyage has progressed, my respect for the Sea Witch, Captain Waterman, and his crew increases steadily. It is simply amazing what they were able to accomplish with their old technology and lack of external information about weather!

"The power of the Sea Witch in heavy seas and strong winds is still awesome, and it was carrying cargo! For me it was essential to have the Sea Witch as a competitor. Without the competitive element, I am not sure I could have handled this long voyage. Every day I look forward to Rich Wilson's noon position from which I derive a 24-hour comparison with Sea Witch.
Keith Taylor
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