Friday, June 08, 2007
BOC Round the World Race
A small hubbub of horns and shouting went up along the breakwater at Punta del Este, Uruguay, last March as Australian Aalan Nebauer limped his rudderless 50-foot racing sloop over the sunny horizon toward the mouth of the harbor. Punta, a resort town of beautiful palms and pines, usually sits empty this late in the South American calendar, abandoned by the summer hordes that fill the shoreline high-rises, expensive hotels, and garish all-night discos from December through February. This year, however, the buzz around Punta's docks had run into autumn as a fleet of battered and broken open-ocean yachts began arriving in late February after thousands of grueling miles at sea in the single-handed around-the-world race called the BOC Challenge.
Nebauer was late. Only a week remained before the April 1 start of the fourth and final race leg as he came into sight on a light sea breeze. He stood alone in his cockpit, waving to the half-dozen shore launches that had come out to meet him and grinding the winches to adjust the sails that, for ten sleepless days and nights, had been his only way to steer.
He raised both his arms and said something to the sky as his boat, Newcastle Australia, slid across the finish line, as the launches towed him to the docks, and as his wife climbed aboard and took him in a long embrace that put a warm ending on the 56 horrific days it had taken him to sail the 7,000 miles from Sydney, Australia, to Punta.
"It was a very bad day for a very long time," was the way Nebauer put it later that morning before a gathering of reporters, race officials, and the skippers who had preceded him into this last pit stop on the 27,000-mile voyage they had begun the September before. The race had taken them from Charleston, South Carolina, across the Atlantic in hurricane season to Cape Town, South Africa; from Cape Town through the storming rages of the Indian Ocean to Sydney; and from Sydney into the icy Southern Ocean, the only place on the planet where the sea rushes around the earth uninterrupted by land, until it delivers sailors into the most feared patch of water on the globe, the narrow strait between Cape Horn and Antarctica.
Nebauer had been forced to round the Horn under jury rig after a massive wave struck his boat and carried away the mast. He'd hung sail from an A-frame improvised of spinnaker poles and shambled into the Falkland Islands, where he replaced his mast and sailed off for what he expected to be an easy 1,000-mile push north to Punta. Three days later, something--he didn't know what--tore off his rudder.
"Physically, emotionally, mentally, it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," he said. "A nightmare. I read my Bible all the time to keep myself going."
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