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9 February 2003, 01:33 pm
Fleet Receive the Best Send Off Ever
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©Thierry Martinez

Around Alone - Leg Four

The Leg 4 restart of Around Alone 2002-03 from Tauranga, New Zealand for the remaining 11 racing yachts was breathtaking, with at least 300 craft - jet skis, kayaks, yachts and motor boats - on the water and 5 helicopters overhead.
A 15 minute delay was imposed in order to safely clear the starting zone off Mount Maunganui. At 12:15 local time New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark fired the start gun from the naval vessel Moa and for the fourth time in a row it was Canadian Derek Hatfield sailing Spirit of Canada who crossed the line first midway, followed closely by native Graham Dalton on Hexagon at the port end. Alan Paris on BTC Velocity was third across the start line, but he was soon rolled by Bobst Group - Armor Lux, Solidaires, Pindar, Ocean Planet and Tiscali, all bunched at the pin end, taking advantage of a faster sailing angle in the fresh 10 - 15 knot North Westerly breeze.

Dalton then took a puff of wind and screamed into the lead at 15 knots. Hexagon showed her fluorescent keel as the boat heeled right over closer to the wind, but the chase was on as the boats at the starboard end soon unfurled their spinnakers as they raced into clearer water ahead of the mass of sea-going spectators. In typical style, Swiss race leader Bernard Stamm majestically powered past Hexagon to windward by the time they reached the second marker buoy along Papamoa Beach. However, Stamm suffered a slight incident when his autopilots failed and the boat suddenly rounded up into the wind. The master skipper got the boat back under control within moments and as the last of the chasing craft turned back he was already in a commanding lead.

French skipper Thierry Dubois on Solidaires and American Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet were enjoying a close race just behind, followed by Italian Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali and then Britain's Emma Richards on Pindar. (Simone's face had been painted with Maori war markings before the start, and four of the local Maori's in full traditional war dress were performing a Haka on the bow of his boat on the way out to the start line.)

Further back Brad van Liew on the helm of his stunning red, white and blue branded Open 50 Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America soon took his familiar place at the front of Class 2. Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal hoisted a beautiful spinnaker once clear of the spectator boats buzzing around and overtook Spirit of Canada coming up to the second marker buoy. Both Alan Paris and Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of yukoh brought up the rear, still being chased by a few last boats and two helicopters circling overhead.

"This was really incredible," Prime Minister Helen Clark said at a reception after the start. "I could really feel the emotion in the air and I will be thinking about the sailors tonight when I get back home and they are still out there and will be for a many days." Certainly the skippers will have left the warm shores of Tauranga buzzing from the best send-off they have ever received. Now 7,880 nm of Southern Ocean lies ahead of them, with the next sighting of land being Cape Horn at the tip of South America. The ETA of the first boat into Salvador de Bahia is around the 8th March 2003.
Event Media/ISAF News Editor
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