Dream Comes True For SA Sailors In Challenge

Two South Africans set off this week in the gruelling eight-month, 27 000-mile BOC Challenge

SAILING: Jonathan Spencer Jones

AFTER months — and in some cases, years — of preparation, the fourth BOC Challenge single-handed around the world race got under way in Charleston, USA, last weekend with a rousing sendoff from some 2 000 spectator craft.

Those months have taken their toll, however, and several entrants have had to withdraw — including BOC Transatlantic race winner Yves Parlier on Cacolac D’Aquit-aine, who cited as his reason lack of funds — leaving a final lineup of 20. Of these, nine are in the faster 50 to 60-foot Class I and the remainder in the 40 to 50-foot Class II.

South Africa is represented in Class I by Jean- Jacques Provoyeur sailing Bertie Reed’s 60-foot Ben Vio (ex-Grinaker) and in Class II by Neal Petersen on the 40-foot Oude Molen Reserve. And for both, the race is the fulfillment of a dream — for the former since he built the yacht for Reed, and for the latter for almost as long as he can remember.

While Petersen has covered many thousands of miles singlehanded, Provoyeur on the other hand had done virtually none before setting off from Cape Town on his race qualifier. But, said his wife Christine when she met him on the completion of that: “I need not have troubled — the excitement in his eyes and fulfillment on his face spelt it all. He was happy and at one with his boat.”

This qualifier served as a valuable shakedown for skipper and boat alike, in particular as Pro-voyeur had lightened Ben Vio by more than a ton for the race. He was delighted with the performance, averaging more than 200 miles a day between Cape Town and Barbados.

Finally taking “the plunge” to get some new sails – – the main sail started disintegrating on the qualifier — and after doing other repairs to Ben Vio in Charleston, Provoyeur could say that “I feel she has never been this race-prepared in all her history”.

While some of the new boats are “awesome and on paper must be much faster than Ben Vio”, said Provoyeur, he feels that the race “will depend on good tactics” and he hopes to gain extra time at night when the other competitors are tired.

Sponsorship, too, remains a problem for him — indeed, “sponsors names are as prolific on those boats as non-existing on ours”, he said — but for Petersen, who had also been battling to find a sponsor, a last-minute offer from Gilbeys has enabled him to buy a new suite of sails and accordingly push his boat to its full potential in the race, which he was unable to do in the Transatlantic race.

Among the other competitors in Class I are 1990/91 BOC Challenge winner Christophe Auguin sailing Sceta Calberson — and the only woman entrant, Isabelle Autissier on Ecreuil Poitou Charentes 2, who in the last BOC became the first woman to complete the event and who, with a crew of three, in May sailed Ecreuil from New York via Cape Horn to San Francisco in just over 62 days, breaking the previous record by eight days.

The Class II lineup includes Nigel Rowe on Sky Catcher. He was instrumental in initiating the Challenge and has served on the race committee since its inauguration. Briton Niah Vaughan on Jimroda II, a construction surveyor, has worked on contract in South Africa besides other locations in the world.

Also in this class are the youngest entrant — Petersen at age 27 — and the oldest, Briton Henry Mitchell at age 70 on the 40-foot Henry Hornblower.

The four-leg race will take the competitors from Charleston via Cape Town, Sydney and Punta del Este before returning back to Charleston some 27 000 miles and eight months later. The first leg to Cape Town is about 6 300 miles and the first yachts are expected towards the end of October.

With a 15-knot wind to send the fleet on its way and a continuing fresh southerly, the sailors have enjoyed near-perfect conditions during the first few days at sea. Early leaders in Class I are Americans David Scully on Coyote and Steve Potengill on Hunter’s Child, and in Class II Australians David Adams on True Blue and Alan Nebauer on Newcastle Australia.

Early casualty Italian Simone Bianchetti aboard Town of Cervia had to return to Charleston to fix autopilot problems and a leak before restarting. Another Class II entrant, Floyd Romack sailing Cardiac 88, is to start one week late after attending his daughter’s wedding.

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