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BT Global Challenge starts from Sydney today

by BT Event Media on 11 Mar 2001
Challenge fleet prepares to set off from Sydney, on 6,200-mile leg to Cape Town, South Africa.

Hot and cold. Feast and famine. Conspicuously crowded, and then suddenly alone.

After two weeks in cosmopolitan Sydney, Australia – where the teams have patronised a smorgasbord of cafes sandwiching Darling Harbour; enjoyed Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” -- beneath the winged-roof of the famed Opera House; shopped in Paddington and scoffed lobsters at Doyle’s – at 1:00 today, they’ll charge through the bustling harbour [and, if the 1996/97 Sydney start is any measure, split hundreds of spectator boats in a manic, festival atmosphere] and sail into a dearth.

Sunday 11 March marks the start of Leg Five of the BT Global Challenge and the 6,200-mile quest from Sydney to Cape Town, South Africa. As 11 yachts get underway, the balmy weather will turn abruptly cooler. Fresh seafood, crisp salads, and gourmet Thai dinners will give way to freeze-dried rations. The stimulating cacophony of a city many millions strong will be replaced by the whistling of wind and the thump of the bow, assaulting the waves.

“The biggest challenge is having to go back to the Southern Ocean again,” noted TeamSpirIT skipper John Read. “Everyone has done it once. It’s like having been in a battle and having to go back and fight again. It’s not particularly pleasant.”

The return to the Southern Ocean will begin in Sydney Harbour, abeam Ft. Denison and Garden Island – where LG FLATRON lost its lead to BP in the final moments of Leg Four. Adjacent is an exclusion zone where the competitors can jockey for prime position before the strict start line. It’s a short one – in the 1996/97 Challenge two yachts collided here during the start. Add a spectator fleet estimated at nearly 1,000 – although some may be daunted by this morning’s rain -- and things could be chaotic.

“I went to look at the start line: it's minute, as is the start box,” said Olympic Group skipper Manley Hopkinson. “And if there's any decent breeze, controlling boats and turning in tight circles is going to be exhilarating to say the least. It's obviously lessons learned from the last one. It is going to be an exciting period.”

Plus, the crash between two competitors in Wellington Harbour has gripped the attention of the challengers. “We’re not going to push as hard as before, after the Quadstone-Kids incident,” said Logica’s Adam Tuffnell. “It will be a lot of hard work, with a lot of focus. It’s going to be close.”

The cannon will fire at 1300 hrs locally, under the auspices of Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, and the yachts will be escorted to Bradleys Head. From there they’ll round the specially-designated Wee Chay Buoy to starboard. This mark was dedicated by Richard White, chairman of Serco – which sponsors the Save the Children campaign – in honour of his son Chay.

“Getting out of the harbour will be the biggest headache of the leg,” noted Conrad Humphreys, skipper of LG FLATRON, which is leading the Challenge in cumulative points. But an ebbing tide will give the fleet a little boost, and the northeast winds of the morning are expected shift to southerlies late in the day.

Jasmine Georgiou, a Melbourne native and Logica team member, said, “It’s going to be the saddest leg start ever. The other ones were so exciting because I knew I was getting closer to home. Now I’m getting further away. The hardest bit was saying goodbye to my mother in Melbourne. I think I’d be very upset if my family were here to see me off, having to say goodbye.”

A different perspective was expressed by Annee de Mamiel, Olympic Group: “It’s going to be really sad to leave this beautiful harbour, knowing that we’re going into this vast, vast wilderness, but it’s going to be so packed with excitement as well. Going into the Southern Ocean is what it’s all about.”

Absent from Sunday’s start is Save the Children, already at sea since Wednesday and halfway to Hobart, Tasmania. Following the 18 February collision at the beginning of Leg Four in Wellington, the yacht was detained for vital repairs. The team is en route to Hobart where they’ll take on fuel and provisions. When the fleet abuts the island, Save the Children will get a green light from Race Headquarters, to join their colleagues.

Circumstances dictate that Save the Children will not be competing boat-for-boat with the remaining 11 yachts, but instead sailing in company with the fleet to Cape Town. According to International Jury spokesman Alan Green, Save the Children’s performance will be tracked and measured, and taken into consideration when redress is applied.

In concert, the dozen yachts will turn the corner below Tasmania, and forge across a successive 5,500-miles of uninterrupted ocean.

“Obviously this will be our second time going into the Southern Ocean,” noted Lin Parker, skipper of Isle of Man. “A lot of people saw quite a lot of winds and waves in the first Southern Ocean leg. One of my major challenges is to take that fear or apprehension away from them. It’s going to be colder this time, the chances are it’s even going to be windier this time. It’s going to be the toughest leg we’ve seen so far.”

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