Day 01, Saturday September 26, 1998

Start of the race

BBGartmoreBow.jpg (19228 bytes)
Gartmore at start Foto Billy Black

The start of the fifth solo around the world sailing race, Around Alone, was set on Saturday 26, 1998 at 1200 hours local time. There were four hurricanes in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Last time such weather pattern was seen was over one hundred years ago.

Farthest away was hurricane Karl located near 30N and 51W and moving NE. Karl was followed by hurricane Ivan located near 38N and 38W and accelerating towards the ENE. Ivan brought hurricane force winds to parts of the Azores and later strong winds to the southern Bay of Biscay. Then there was hurricane Jeanne located near 20N and 39W and moving NNW. She may have remained separate from Karl, but still both headed away from the fleet. She later caused another threat of high winds in the Azores late Sunday and Monday.

The closest hurricane, Georges, had no bearing on the race. Early morning it was located near 25N and 84W and drifting WNW in the direction of New Orleans. All of this indicated a stormy weather in the central Atlantic through much of the upcoming week and all of that indicated that the tradewinds would stay weak.

With hurricane Georges further to the southwest than predicted, winds were lighter than expected and more easterly. The high pressure located near 37N and 70W moved southward across the race route the day after the start. It was expected that the fastest boats could pass south of the high pressure system with backing winds, but most of the fleet expected light, clocking winds. Charleston itself offered 12-knot easterly breeze with a little choppy but sparkling Atlantic Ocean for the start.

MSAllCompet.jpg (24733 bytes)  Foto Marek Slodownik
Some competitors before start

The original list of competitors had 20 entries. But as usual, not everybody was lucky and Bob Adams, Andy Darwent, Paul Thackabery and Chaniah Vaughan, all second class entries, did not make it. At the end, fourteen sailors from eight nations were ready to cross the start line for the first leg from Charleston to Cape Town. Two skippers decided at the last minute to postpone their start in order to continue last minute work on their boats.

BBHunterTvar.jpg (17277 bytes)  Foto Billy Black

Neil Hunter's boat Paladin II was dismasted inside the harbor on September 3rd by the tail end of Hurricane Earl. Neil was able to find a new mast, but it was only installed two days before. Hunter was still working on his rigging and he decided not to take any chances. Russian sailor Viktor Yazykov arrived at Charleston only two days before, and has not had enough time to repair and provision his boat, so he also postponed his start.

The competitors were divided into two classes by the size of their boats. In Class I boats are 51-60 feet long and in Class II boats are 40-50 feet. Both classes started together. Because the whole fleet was not ready on time for the start, the 10-minute warning signal had to be delayed long enough for the boats to approach the start line. In the end the starting signal went out at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (1615 Greenwich Mean Time).

BBNoBarriers.jpg (30822 bytes)   Foto Billy Black
South African skipper Neal Petersen, sailing his second class boat No Barriers was first across the starting line.Only moment later, Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini with his first class 60-footer Fila sailed past the starting buoys. Soldini was closely followed by Frenchman Marc Thiercelin on 60-footer Somewhere, who was then followed by English skipper Josh Hall aboard another top boat, Gartmore Investment Management. Next across was 50-footers sailed by France's J.P. Mouligne (Cray Valley) and Britain's Mike Garside (Magellan Alpha).

msstart.jpg (26694 bytes)  Foto Marek Slodownik
Then the Englishman Mike Golding followed on Team Group 4 and Canadian Sebastian Reidl on Project Amazon, Americans Brad Van Liew on Balance Bar and George Stricker on Rapscallion III, French woman Isabelle Autissier on PRB, Japanese Minoru Saito on Shuten-dohji II and Russian Fedor Konioukhov on Modern University for the Humanities.

The last to cross the starting line that day was Robin Davie aboard South Carolina. As the fleet was getting ready for the start, Davie still had shore crew aboard. After finally dropping them off onto a support boat, Davie crossed the start line half an hour after the rest of the fleet. Davie was already penalized by 272 hours for finishing his qualifying sailing after the 12 September deadline - just two days ago. Thirty minutes more would probably not make any difference for him.

BBFilaNarrow2.jpg (30596 bytes)   Foto Billy Black
Soldini was the only competitor who had not shortened down to a second reef and shortly after the start quickly overtook Petersen. But surprisingly soon Soldini was passed by Hall who positioned himself into the early lead of Class I boats, while Mouligne was soon in front of the Class II pack.

MSCrayValleyStart.jpg (13441 bytes)     Foto Marek Slodownik

A spectator fleet of several hundred vessels of every description soon was left behind the speeding fleet. The competitors had to use the breeze while they had it because light wind and slow going for the next several days was predicted.
Richard Konkolski

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