After nearly 7 weeks at sea, Bermudian skipper Alan Paris on Open 40 BTC Velocity crossed the finish line in Salvador, Brazil at 12:40:23 GMT yesterday in 4th place for leg 4 of Around Alone.
On March 7th Alan became the first Bermudian to round the infamous Cape single-handed after 26 days from Tauranga, NZ. Two knockdowns in 50 plus knots of wind right at the Horn made the skipper realize how vulnerable he was. "I was on deck taking down the mainsail when three waves came together and over we went. Suddenly I was looking at the surface of the water a few inches in front of my face."
Lightning struck twice when just north of the Falkland Islands the starboard D1, the lowest wire supporting the mast on the starboard side, snapped again. It was the same piece that had failed on Leg 3, which had forced him to stop in Tasmania. This time there was no place or time to stop so Alan made a jury rig and nursed the boat all the way to the finish. "I could not afford to lose my mast. I kept a reef in the main and never put pressure on the mast at all. I had to make it to Brazil." When BTC Velocity crossed the line this morning the first thing Alan did was give the mast a massive hug.
As for the final torturous approach into Salvador, Alan struck lucky this time: "Although I had 5 awful days where I was barely making any progress sailing parallel to the coast, while I was contemplating a 260 degree gybe, there was a 60 degree lift in the breeze, so I got my own private wind shift that allowed me to head straight to Salvador at 7 knots constant boatspeed without having to gybe." When greeted at the dockside by fellow skippers, Alan told them he had little preparation to do in the remaining two weeks: "The new rigging should be in Brazil by now, I just hope I get it cleared through customs. I have to put my radar back up again after I took it down when I saw it hanging by a single screw. Other than that BTC Velocity is in good shape and ready for the last leg to Newport."
Then there was one: Derek Hatfield with Spirit of Canada in Ushuaia. The Around Alone race committee has granted Hatfield dispensation from the rule regarding arrival in port 5 days before the scheduled restart of the next leg, subject to Spirit of Canada's compliance with regard to returning to the position at which the motor was started and making a stop of not less than 48 hours in Salvador before starting Leg 5. Spirit of Canada's start time for Leg 5, from Salvador to Newport RI, will be the official start time of the race at 13:00hrs local time on 13th April 2003. In granting this dispensation, Spirit of Canada will receive a 24 hr penalty to be applied to the elapsed time for Leg 5, for late arrival into Salvador.
Hatfield's quest to get his boat back racing by the middle of next week has been hampered by first hand experiences of dealing with Customs officials in Argentina, who seized the replacement given to him by Raymarine, despite full documentation for each piece, and only released them after King-Harken, the mastbuilder in BA, sent a courier with a sum of US$ cash to the airport. This week, Hatfield flew up to BA to have a meeting at King-Harken and conference call with Ted Van Dusen, the mastbuilder at Composite Engineering in Boston, and Josh Hall from team Pindar. "We want to ensure that we have the best mast possible so that I can drive the boat to peak performance for the remainder of the race. I just hope I haven't left any stone unturned."
Meanwhile the major story of the stop over is being played out at the docks next to the CENAB in Salvador da Bahia, where the Around Alone fleet are berthed. Bobst Group/Armor Lux sits next to Solidaires in port, Stamm's steed looks battle weary, whereas Dubois' machine looks immaculate, an indication of the different sailing styles of these two skippers. Thierry Dubois, still in reach of overall victory, has no wish to beat Bernard Stamm by default, but if Stamm is not careful he may just hand the Around Alone trophy to Dubois on a silver platter.
Fortunately, standing between Stamm and his quest for ultimate victory is a very competent shore team, numbering 5 for this last stop over, where normally there are just two. Now that the temporary repair done on the keel board in the Falkland Islands has been removed and the layers of filler and carbon ground away, it obvious how close Bobst Group/Armor Lux came to real disaster. The lever arm inside the boat that is used to cant the keel from side to side was almost broken completely through. In addition, the carbon eye beam that runs the length of the keel to take the massive strain when the keel is cranked all the way to windward, has also cracked badly and come loose from the main foil structure. It's not good news, but without hesitating the shore team with Bernard piled right in to fix the blade.
"We have opened up the keel to 1.5 meters under the water and redone the lamination," Stamm explained. "The temporary plates bolted on in the Falklands have been replaced by proper pieces fabricated by the Bobst Group team in Brazil." For the last two days the team here have been working on the lamination, which involves vacuum bagging new layers of carbon over the keel.
The shore team have now started to add micro-balloons in order to fair the blade below the waterline. New plates will be bolted to the part inside the boat and a lot of prayers will be said. The keel just has to last until Newport. A new one is on order. If Bernard is chastened by how close he came to losing his keel, it does not show. "Although it looks like this last leg is somewhat of a formality, in truth it is longer than a transatlantic race in itself." Stamm knows you can't win if you don't finish. When asked if he will push just hard enough to beat Thierry into Newport, Bernard replied: "It's very hard for me to do anything but go fast. I must win by as much as I can. No, I am not afraid that the boat can't take it. I built this boat with my own hands." Little surprise then that the French have recently nick-named Stamm 'Lead Foot' as there's no doubt that he will have his firmly pressed down on the accelerator all the way to Newport, RI.