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NEW YORK – Thirteen eccentric adventurers will soon attempt to sail solo through 28,755 miles of the earth’s roughest and most remote waters in the sixth annual “Around Alone” race.
But unlike many sailors who have previously circled the globe unaccompanied, the competitors in Around Alone 2002 won’t be completely alone after they depart on their seven-month odyssey this Sunday.
Their multimillion-dollar boats are fitted with monitoring devices that will capture location, weather and ocean condition information around the clock. That data, delivered in real time, will be scrutinized by race organizers and viewable to all on the Around Alone website.
Such precision wasn’t possible during the first nonstop around-the-world race. If it were, the greatest fraud in maritime history wouldn’t have happened.
In October 1968, Donald Crowhurst set out from England, a competitor in the Golden Globe race. A self-professed geek, Crowhurst carried aboard assorted parts that he planned to use to build a computer that would control his boat. He had intended to have the computer built prior to setting sail but ran out of time.
Eight months later, Crowhurst’s boat was found in mid-Atlantic with no one on board.
Crowhurst’s logs indicate he’d never managed to put together his computer. And at some point, frustrated by the limits of his vessel and its technology, he chose to hide in out-of-the-way areas of the Atlantic, but radioed messages that appeared to come from where he should have been if he had been sailing around the world.
It’s believed Crowhurst planned to hang a U-turn and head back to England at the appropriate time. In fact, he almost “won” the race but, perhaps convinced his hack wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, he disappeared just days before his radio messages indicated he’d be home.
Bernard Moitessier also almost won the Golden Globe that year, but became enamored of the world he found on the ocean. As he was nearing the finish line, Moitessier suddenly decided to alter his course and continue sailing. He eventually ended his nonstop 37,455-mile journey in Tahiti.
There’s slim chance of a Crowhurst or Moitessier story in this year’s race. Raymarine’s RayTech software will continuously poll each boat and gather data, which will be relayed back to shore via each ship’s satellite transmitter.
All competitors have on-board Internet access and their own websites. A few, like John Dennis, plan to stream video from their boats directly to their websites.
During the race, sailors will eat dehydrated food and drink whatever water they stowed on the boat. They will be exposed to some of the harshest weather the planet offers.
And despite autopilot systems that keep a boat on course and radar devices that scan and warn skippers of obstacles like icebergs, rocks and other boats, most competitors will only sleep in 30-minute segments for the duration of the race.
“Sailors still trust themselves far more than they trust technology,” said Robin Knox-Johnston, first to sail around the world nonstop and chairman of Around Alone.
Not every boat is completely tech. Some have fancy hydraulic controls that are intended to automatically right the boats should they flip in strong seas. But other skippers plan to handle any potential upsets simply by pumping and jumping.
Around Alone starts Sunday from New York Harbor. The race will end in Newport, Rhode Island, in April or May 2003.