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SCUTTLEBUTT #281 - February 17, 1999

-- Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini, who earlier today sailed into the annals of solo sailing history after rescuing Isabelle Autissier from her shipwrecked 60-footer PRB, contacted race officials here in Charleston this afternoon to report that all was well and that he was resuming course for Cape Horn. According to a spokesman at the Around Alone race operations center, who received Soldini's COMSAT satellite phone call at 1815 GMT, Soldini said, "Doing well in good seas. Very light wind here now. But soon there will be lots of wind!"

Soldini also provided further information about today's rescue operation, which took place shortly after he rendezvoused with Autissier at 1400 GMT. "[Soldini] said there was nothing in sight at the EPIRB position, so he turned northwest and found PRB in poor visibility about two miles from the original search sight," the official said. "He made two passes close aboard yelling for Isabelle with no response. On the third pass he threw a hammer at PRB's upturned hull and Isabelle appeared. She had been sleeping!" Soldini finished by saying that he and Autissier were enjoying a wine and cheese party in celebration of their unscheduled reunion aboard his 60-foot yacht FILA.

Late this afternoon, Soldini and Autissier were again en route for Cape Horn, less than 1,900 miles to the west. At 2000 GMT, FILA was positioned at 54 degrees 40 minutes South, 120 degrees 29 minutes West, and making 8 knots on a course heading of 065 degrees. From his remark about "lots of wind soon," Soldini was clearly aware of a significant low pressure system packing gale-force winds and large, accompanying seas, that was moving in from the west. Holding a northeasterly heading, Soldini is now making tracks to avoid the brunt of the impending storm.

Also late today, Autissier's shore team in France released a transcript from the rescued skipper that answered several questions about the incident. "Isabelle explained that the boat had been [knocked down to 90 degrees], in 20 knots of wind, following an [unexpected lurch] due to a problem with the boat's autopilot," said spokesman Eric Coquerel. "What is surprising, and what Isabelle still didn't understand this evening, was that the boat rapidly overturned [to a full inverted position] and stayed that way. Isabelle had just enough time to take refuge inside and send out a distress signal. Then began...a 24-hour wait [for Soldini to arrive]. When Gio threw a hammer at the hull to let Isabelle know she could come out, she exited by the escape hatch built in to the boat's transom."

At 1545 GMT, Autissier sent this email message to her shore team: "Well, here I am being a tourist in Italy... I'm not unhappy, the boat [lost control] in a moderate wind of 20 knots following an error in the autopilot... Normally one would sleep after this, but I'm recovering nicely. The boat [went over] more than 90 degrees and I was no longer able to go into the cockpit. It then overturned very quickly. I only had time enough to close the door [behind me as I dove into the boat's interior]." Autissier then waited patiently until she was awakened by the sweetest sound she ever heard: A tossed hammer glancing off the carbon-fiber hull of her upside-down boat. -- Herb McCormick

-- GALES AHEAD - The gale that rolled across the Around Alone frontrunners has pressed on, giving the competitors a brief breather before a huge storm system envelops the entire fleet. Ken Campbell of Commanders' Weather (official forecaster of Around Alone) sees a storm advancing that will blast the racers with winds in the 40- to 60-knot range, and 25- to 30-foot seas. This is expected to be the most severe weather of Leg 3 so far. The spiraling wind field is expected to affect the 10 remaining boats within the next day and a half, and the trailing boats will soon see their first gales. "Everyone is going to get hit with this one," he said.

"It isn't so much the wind that will hamper them," Campbell said, but the size of the waves. "Seas can be generated thousands of miles away. If there's no land to impede the seas they'll just keep on going. If you have strong westerly winds for thousands of miles, you're talking about a very large fetch." Fetch refers to the distance of unobstructed open water. "Each storm that goes by will increase that sea again. But it's all part of the territory down there," Campbell said. "It's exactly what you would expect for that part of the world." -- Betsy Crowfoot

STANDINGS (Distance to leader in Parenthesis) CLASS I: 1. Thiercelin (0.0) 2. Soldini (364.9) CLASS II: 1. Mouligne (0.0) 2. Garside (49.0) 3. Van Liew (129.9)

Event website:

GUEST EDITORIAL - by John Rousmaniere
The Tom Brokaw people, who had called six weeks ago to talk about the Sydney- Hobart Race, phoned again today to ask to interview me about the capsize of Isabelle Autissier's boat in the Around the World singlehanded race in the far South Pacific. The producer said she was especially interested in my critical observation in this morning's New York Times: "These boats are probably beyond the ability of one person to handle," I had said. "They are extremely unstable and would be a handful even if they had a full crew. But to put them out in the lower latitudes of the Screaming Fifties [of southern latitude], each with only one exhausted crew member on board, is like going into harm's way intentionally." The only way I'd change that would be to drop the 6th word from the end: "like."

The producer and I spoke several times, I was approved with the understanding on my part that I would repeat that comment and on hers that I would not criticize the sailors personally, and she and a film crew of two drove out to Stamford from New York. After half an hour or so setting up, they interviewed me for 15 minutes. She pushed me to repeat and elaborate on the critical point. I did so, stressing the dangerous mix of the wild boats, the vulnerability of singlehanders, and the regularly appalling weather down there. I praised the courage of Autissier and the rescuer, Giovanni Soldini, but added the suggestion that this bizarre race and its weird brothers have become stunts driven by sponsors, professionals, and commercial interests.

I held back from observing that if these boats are the triumphs of high technology that their promoters say they are, then why is it that they have such problems? (Autissier suffered a damaged mast two months ago, then capsized; and one of the putative rescuers could not turn back to her yesterday because of a broken gooseneck.) In this sad event, the triumph of technology to be reckoned with is that not of the boats but of Silicon Valley, which saved her hide with the communications revolution. Autissier, though upside down 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn, was able to report her capsize to France using a cell phone, and to pinpoint her location by setting off emergency beacons that alerted others through another satellite. Her rescuer Soldini received his instructions via e-mail - e-mail!! The only device older than a decade that played a part in the rescue was the radar with which Soldini hunted Autissier down.

Interview over, the crew and producer packed up, and back to New York they went. Two hours later the show came on: an homage to the brave French navigator, with not a breath of doubt about the race or the circumstances of her accident.

The producer very kindly and professionally called to apologize for taking so much of my time for no result. There had been a moment, she said, when it looked as though they would use one of my sound bites - the one that described the tough weather in the Screaming Fifties. She did not mention the sudden turn the story had taken from journalism to boosterism. -- John Rousmaniere

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Larchmont Yacht Club, February 13 - 14, 1999 -- The IC Dinghy MidWinter Championship Regatta travelled from its home in Annapolis for the first time this year, but little was lost by the change of locale. Racing took place at the Larchmont YC in Larchmont, NY on Long Island Sound, home to an active Interclub fleet since the boat was originally commissioned in 1946.

Forty teams braved small craft warnings and forecasts of near southern ocean wind conditions for the event. Saturday was sunny and cold with a westerly breeze of 15-18 knots with stronger gusts and much higher winds forecast with a coming frontal line in the afternoon. The Committee set a windward leeward course with a wide offset that had the effect of reducing the number of jibes downwind.

In the third race, chaos began to break loose. A strong puff on the run set many of the boats as close to a plane as the venerable design will come, however several of the boats which had held high on port jibe found themselves in trouble and several capsizes ensured, including a spectacular crash jibe flip by Larchmont skipper Anthony Law during which his boom snapped in half. Neal Fowler put another bullet on the board in this race and began to put a stranglehold on the regatta.

The fourth and fifth races saw a slight decrease in the chaos. Former Sunfish Class Champion Paul-Jon Patin won the fourth with Fowler second, however Patin was never able to become a factor in the regatta because he found himself rendering assistance to swimmers in several races. Ed Adams of Newport won the fifth race (Fowler's only double digit performance) to press Bowers in second.

The sixth race once again saw the fleet pummeled by some spectacular puffs. Bill Lynn was one of the victims when an out of control competitor caused him to capsize at the leeward mark. Two other boats had already flipped on the run and several others escaped from close shaves. Bill Tripp won the race, but with Adams in second and Fowler in fourth there was no room to move up. With all of the crashboats occupied and fully 25% fleet retired due either to capsize or breakdown, the Race Committee elected to call it a day and try to save something for Sunday's predicted lighter winds.

Unfortunately, forecasts are notoriously inaccurate, and Sunday, far from bringing more sailable conditions brought - in addition to frigid temperatures - a gusty northerly with puffs in the mid-30's and shifts all over. The Race Committee postponed for an hour, but with no sign of a decrease in the wind, packed it in and called it a regatta, giving Neal Fowler an additional feather to add to last spring's National Championship. - Andrew Besheer

1. Neal Fowler, Mike Collins - Hyannis: 1,3,1,2,(14),4..11
2. Jim Bowers, Myrna Fong MacRae - Winthrop: 3,1,9,4,3,(11)..20
3. Ed Adams, Carol Cronin - Newport: 7,(9),6,6,1,2..22
4. Kerry Klingler - Larchmont: (18),4,3,8,4,5..24
5. Bill Tripp, Joanie Tripp - Larchmont: 2,8,7,(21),7,1..25

For the full story:

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 Paul Cayard -- It is great to know that Isabelle is safe. It is extremely dangerous down in the Southern Ocean but as sailors we are fortunate to have technology that helps us locate someone in such a remote part of the world. In the Around Alone Race the sailors must really look out for each other because when something does go wrong you are all alone and you need your competitors to help.

-- From Tom Farquhar (Re OCS technology) -- The technology is certainly changing quickly. If Paul Henderson is right and the RC can know + or - two feet where the boat is, that's progress. Personally, I would like to see it work in a racing environment before getting too excited. Pager technology is inherently less good than some "broadcast" technology, since, as far as I know, pages are serially transmitted, and takes a while for each transmission. Everyone's life will be easier when we have a "go/no go" light on each boat, and the RC can freeze that data at the start. Such technology might make I, Z and black flags obsolete, but only if the cost is tiny. It will also require that we revisit some of the rules regarding starting, for example, if the sensor is in the bow of a 30-foot boat that is approaching the starting line from the course side just before the starting signal, under the current rules she would be OCS but the light would be green.

-- From Geoff Jarvis, Vancouver, BC -- I would gladly welcome a pager system or some way for dinghy sailors to know they are OCS. However, we should be careful that when we introduce such technology, that the responsibility of starting correctly remains squarely on the shoulders of the competitor. If perhaps, the paging system failed for one or two boats, would they have a right to redress? I would hope not.

In my opinion, the heart of the problem does not lie with the RC's ability or inability to communicate with an OCS competitor, but with the competitor's ability to know whether he/she is OCS. Rather than working towards an improvement in the swiftness of punishment (faster informing of OCS through paging), we should be working towards a system that prevents competitors from being OCS unnecessarily.

-- From John Mandell-- I have an additional comment re OCS hails that I haven't seen mentioned. One good reason for OCS hails (arguably the best) is to benefit clean-starting competitors by expediting the removal of OCS boats (who are essentially not racing at this moment) off the air of still-racing (and gasping) boats directly beneath them. Further up the course, these non-racing boats may further disturb the racing fleet. Once you justify the existence of a hail, doing it over the radio is simply an efficient, unambiguous way of communicating with the fleet. And, like you said, if the SIs are written correctly, no redress is possible related to the timing or order of hails. As a competitor, I consider efficient hails a mark of a courteous, considerate Race Committee.

--From Elizabeth Meyer -- I doubt the America's Cup will ever be sailed in one design boats because it is seen as one of the ultimate development venues for race boats. But a certain commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron once proposed a new international sailing competition with the following format:

An international design competition is judged by a rotating committee of designers. Designs can be for anything - multihulls, large boats, small boats, whatever, but the design must be able to be built cheaply. Only one design is chosen and announced with an approximate per boat cost published. Any country can challenge. When all challenges are in, the boats are put out to bid at yards in the participating countries. Each component of the boats is built at only one yard - components could be broken down thus: hulls and decks, masts, rigging, winches, electronics, sails. The parts are assembled in the venue country and the teams arrive. The racing is a combination of team racing, fleet racing and match racing in a round robin series. There is no differentiation between professional and non-professional crew, but each team must have 20% of its crew under the age of 20. Payment to crew is limited to expenses plus a pre-agreed price for each position. Obviously, since no one gets the boats in advance, practice is limited to a two-week period on the boats in the venue country before the even begins. Any sabotaging of boats between rounds results in expulsion from the event.

Just imagine it, simple and sweet, fun and cheap racing in some really wild boats - huge Sidney 18's, bilge boarders, multi hulls, whatever. I loved the idea. Unfortunately, the idea was grabbed by a certain other yacht club and altered until it was unrecognizable as the RYS concept. The resultant event has not yet been sailed.

-- From Craig Fletcher -- I was just sitting here writing big brother (US Sailing) to apply for amateur status and realized that I have had it. I have to give $75 to an organization I loath to tell me I'm an amateur in a CORINTHIAN sport. Topping that off with the DRYC only at night life jacket LAW in the same week. This makes no sense. I'm looking for guidance, what is a boy to do?

Immediately after I issue tomorrow's 'Butt, the curmudgeon is off to navigate Harry Smith's J/160 on Del Rey YC race to Puerto Vallarta. And because I'm doing the MEXORC Regatta after the PV Race, I'll be away from my computer for two weeks. Normally, I get 40 - 60 email messages per day. Unless that slows down dramatically, my mailbox at Earthlink should explode by about the following Tuesday, scattering my email violently through cyberspace. It's possible there may not be anything readable remaining to by the time I return on March 4. Consider yourself forewarned.

(The following are excerpts from DEFENCE 2000, which is available from -- US $48 per year.)

-- "The big black boat will go into the contest as the underdog. The US in general and the New York Yacht Club in particular believe having the Cup in New Zealand is just a temporary aberration in the history of the event" Alan Sefton, Executive Director, Team New Zealand.

-- Special arrangements are being made by the New Zealand Government to ensure that children of the competing syndicates that are in New Zealand for several months will still get their schooling. The Ministry of Education are expecting at least 150 children in port from September onwards, of which 90 will not have English as their first language. Some of the Prada (Italy) syndicate children have already enrolled in a New Zealand school, but they may all be together in one centre. The Department is looking at opening the vacant teacher's centre in Herne Bay, which will be re-labelled the "International School." What a great opportunity for their kids. Let's hope they make the most of it!

-- Most Auckland boatyards have more work than they can handle and it is going to get worse. Big money is being spent. Race repair crews from the One Alone race who were in port January through last Sunday, said they have been delighted with what they found here. Scott Wallace, project manager for Gartmore Investments, made the comment that the facilities in Auckland are equal to the best in France, the UK and the US. The level of knowledge and the materials are all here, and the prices are fair. "After all," he said "New Zealand is the Sailing Capital of the World."

-- You can buy a personally autographed Conner art work labelled "impressionist yachting" from Dennis, direct at the shop on his base at the America's Cup Village this month. We wouldn't have thought that Dennis had the artistic touch, but the one-offs have been produced using a technique of screen printing called serigraphy. Previously, signed Conner prints have sold for as high as US$800 overseas, but reports indicate that he has not set his sights as high in New Zealand. Money raised goes into team coffers.

Even a turtle has to stick his neck out to get ahead.