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SCUTTLEBUTT #280 - February 15, 1999

Around Alone Race Operations in Charleston received word that both of Isabelle Autissier's emergency beacons were sending distress calls. Autissier carries both EPIRB and GPIRB units on her boat, PRB, as well as a small portable GPIRB she carries in an emergency bag on board.

Autissier's shore team in France has said that Autissier made voice contact earlier Monday. Speaking over a line crackling with interference, Autissier reportedly said she'd "capsized".

An emergency beacon registered to Autissier was activated Monday at 1423 Greenwich Mean Time (9:23 a.m. EST). Autissier was approximately 1,900 nautical miles west of Cape Horn at the time, at about 55 south, 125.5 west. The Race Operations Center (ROC) in Charleston, S.C. immediately polled the entire fleet and received responses from everyone but Autissier.

At 1730 GMT, via COMSAT email, race officials sent Giovanni Soldini to intersect with Autissier's last known position. Soldini was approximately 200 miles to the northeast at the time. (At press time, Soldini had arrived at Autissier's last known position, searching the area indicated by her GPIRB.)

Marc Thiercelin, who is currently in first place in Class I for this leg, was unable to turn around due to a gooseneck problem on his yacht. Class II skipper Mike Garside also checked in. "At best I'm still 3 days away," he wrote. "J-P and I are the closest to her upwind so I've gotta go for it. No further detail from ROC but Pacific Rescue Coordination Centre HQ in a Safety EGC suggested capsize. Brad [Van Liew] and I now on good regular HF radio sched. More later. Sea conditions here good and am able to sail quite fast."

Weather in the area is not good. According to George Caras of Commanders' Weather, Austisser is in the middle of fierce winds and high seas. "She is in 35 to 45 knots of wind, out of the west southwest. It is very rough where she is right now," said Caras. "I am sure the seas must be 25 feet or better. There is a very intense low at around 60 south, 115W and there is another one farther back 55S 145W. But the strongest core of winds will be around 55 S and east of 130, which covers her."

Her last known position showed her at around 55 south, 127 west. Caras said that if she is in trouble it is important that she be picked up as soon as possible since tomorrow's weather will be worse. "It is going to get worse out there," Caras said. "That low is going to move east and strengthen substantially over the next 24 hours. So by tomorrow that low is going to possibly be under 980 millibars and centered at 55S, 125W. Winds on the north side of it will be 40 to 45 knots gusting to as high as 55 knots. Sea will be over 25 feet."

Around Alone sailing commentator Mark Rudiger said that a low at 980 millibars could spell big trouble, even for a boat that was not damaged. He should know. He navigated the winning yacht in the last Sydney to Hobart race, a race which ended in disaster after a severe storm claimed six lives. "In the Sydney to Hobart storm the low was at 984 millibars," said Rudiger. "This low out there now is lower than that. On top of that, a 980 millibar low is worse in the Southern Ocean than in the Tasman sea due to the fact the air is so cold [and] the wind density is so much higher."

Rudiger said he was surprised to see Austissier dive so far south. "You know she mentioned before she left Auckland that one of the dangers on this leg was going too far south," he said. "So, I am surprised to see her so far down there at 55 S. I would be up higher, up around 51 or 52. The trouble with getting down that far south is that when one of these lows hits you like this you have to run for your life and try to get up north fast. But if you get damaged then you're just in for a horrible beating."

In this part of the world time is of the essence in any search and rescue operation. The cold water temperatures and vicious seas quickly wear down anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the water. The Around Alone race organizers know this only too well, and each boat virtually bristles with position reporting and other communication devices so that rescuers can zero in on their location if they become disabled.

The GPIRB incorporates GPS (Global Positioning System) technology and is accurate to a couple of meters -- in the Southern Ocean this is critical. The skippers also carry SARTs (Search and Rescue Radar Transponders), which are a middle distance distress signal. The SART works when triggered by the radar signal from another vessel. It then sends back a unique pattern of 12 dots. The first dot tells the other vessel how far away the stricken boat is and the remaining dots indicate the bearing. The SART is more visible the higher above the horizon it is, so the ideal placement, skippers were told, is in the rig.

In case the skippers must abandon ship in these frigid waters they must be prepared to float around for many hours or even days before they can expect a rescue. One of the race's key sponsors, Guy Cotton, has equipped the skippers with state-of-the-art survival suits should they have to abandon their boats and get into their life rafts or even into the sea. Patrick Jaquet from Guy Cotton demonstrated how to get into the survival suit and the features of the suit before the skippers left port.

But the first line of defense remains their fellow competitors. In this case, Soldini is on his way south to find Austissier. "I am sure that Giovanni is not happy about having to go down that far south," said Rudiger. "He purposely stayed up around 51 because he did not want to be down there. Now he has to beat his way down into that terrible weather."But this race has a long tradition of competitors risking all for their fellow racers. They consider it a moral issue that sailors must go to the aid of a competitor in distress.

"We could tell them [to do it], but we don't even have to," said Media Director Dan McConnell. "These people know when they go out there that their lives are in some regards in the hands of their competitors. They all feel that moral obligation to do it," McConnell said -- Stephen Pizzo, Quokka Sports Senior Editor

Around Alone website:

The Cruising Club of America's Organising Committee for the Newport Bermuda Race is up and running, preparing for the start of this biennial ocean racing classic which was first sailed in 1906. Still one of the world's premiere sailing events, the 2000 start will be on June 16th off Newport, Rhode Island, 635 miles straight across the Gulf Stream to Bermuda.

Organised in concert with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the race offers strong competition in a variety of racing and cruising classes, and crossing the Stream presents a unique navigational challenge. It's open to single-hulled sailing yachts, 35 to 80 ft LOA with US IMS or AMERICAP certificates.

The race is part of the five-race Onion Patch Series, open to individual entries and teams representing clubs or other sailing organisations. Races 1 and 2 of the Onion Patch Series are the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta on June 10 and 11; Race 3 is the Newport Bermuda Race; and Races 4 and 5 are the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club's Anniversary Regatta in Bermuda on June 23rd. -- George Bauer

For more information:
E-mail the Committee:

What do the RYA British Sailing Team, the US Sailing Team, Chessie Racing's Whitbread Team, the French Sailing Team - Sydney 2000, the Royal Swedish Sailing Association, the 1997 US Admiral's Cup Team and Team Curmudgeon have in common? Answer: they've all selected Douglas Gill as their official supplier of sailing clothing. Quality, comfort and value are what separates Gill from the others. To learn more:

We read all of our e-mail, but simply can't publish every submission. Those that are published are routinely edited for clarity, space (250 words max) or to exclude personal attacks.

-- From Chip Evaul -- I agree with Don Becker that the America's Cup has never been about affordability or equality of equipment, and probably should not be sailed in one-designs. However, it is radically expensive by any reasonable measure. To use his own example: fielding a viable entry for the Indianapolis 500 has been recently done for well under a million dollars; and top-notch teams rarely spend more than three or four million... If we are to believe most reports, you wouldn't be able to launch your single new AC boat in Auckland Harbor for under 10 mil, much less race competitively.

Both Indy and the AC enjoy the highest public profiles in their respective sports, but Indy reaches a world audience 10 times greater than the AC. If you were a potential sponsor, on which sport would you choose to spend your promotional dollars?

-- From Tim Prophit -- We must have paradise in the Midwest too. From Western Lake Erie, Lake St.Clair (DRYA), Lake Huron, and even our midwest rival, CYC (Chicago), all these RC's communicate more than adequately with racers via VHF. Coincidentally (or maybe not), it is also quite common to hear hails of "thanks race committee!" from racers as they cross the line.

-- From Lawrence Harasym -- There are arguments to be made in support of a "one-design" America's Cup as well as against it. (God forbid we have a thousand letters sent to the Curmudgeon regarding this topic.) However, I am compelled to respond to Mr. Becker's comment that the "competition [is] between countries and their technology." Please let me know which of the syndicates, who have their funding in place, are only represented by crew members (and designers) from that country? Most of the syndicates are multi-national teams - is this what the America's Cup is supposed to be?

I am in agreement with Mr. Becker in that it has always been my understanding the America's Cup was to be between countries that were represented by designers, builders and crew members from that country; hence the current keeper of sailing's holy grail. Unfortunately, this has rarely been the case since 1992. It's a shame that the once important "national pride" with winning the Cup has been replaced by who can get General Motors or Fox Sports Net (sorry, bad example) to sponsor them.

Finally, as a footnote for all the America's Cup history "experts," the 1934 Cup should have an asterisk next to it. Endeavor's crew went on strike before the Cup and was replaced by amateurs which, some may say, was the only reason why Rainbow was able to retain the Cup for the United States. The reference to this bit of Cup history, Mr. Becker, doesn't really seem to support your point.

The California YC is holding a seminar on the Americap rating system this Thursday, February 18, 1999 at 7:30 P.M. This new rating system provides an option for those boats whose performance changes dramatically with different course and wind conditions. Standard ratings already exist for over 700 yacht designs, which allows us to implement this new system with minimal cost to owners. The panel for this seminar includes noted yacht designer Alan Andrews, Frank Whitton, southern California Americap measurer, and Jack Mallinchrodt, long time technical adviser on IMS and Americap.

Camet International is offering discounts on their great, quick drying, sailing shorts and foam pads when you order them for the whole crew. Trust me - these shorts are the most meaningful improvement in sailing gear since the roller-bearing block. And they also look great after the racing at the prize-giving celebration. Check them out on the website and then contact Camet for the details (619/224-6737):

Another fine Auckland day which as many of you know means one thing, Wind! Today was typical with NE winds from 20-25 knots. In the America's Cup conditions like today will be at the upper limits as the Race Committee may postpone racing if the winds are to strong. For us San Francisco sailors it is very hard to stay ashore when the conditions are like today so what else to do but head out to the racecourse for another tune-up match with our friends America True. Once again the Bucklands Beach Yacht Club sent out a boat and Race Management team to give us a race. Unfortunately America True had some technical problems with their boat and had to return home just prior to the start. Without our training partner we decided to salvage the day by sailing the course and working on some new boat handling techniques on our own. The day proved again fruitful and we returned home safe and in one piece. -- Morgan Larson, AmericaOne

Holding on to anger only gives you tense muscles.