Autissier and Golding struggle for line honours while the same story is true of Mouligne and Van Liew in class 2

Long distance ocean racing is always an adventure. Sometimes, like now with Around Alone 1998-99, there is racing that can take your breath away. At the 0940 GMT position report, Mike Golding (Team Group 4) and Isabelle Autissier (PRB) were having the race of their lives.

Both doing 13 knots, the two veteran racers were just six miles apart in the distance-to-finish category with just over 600 miles to go to reach Cape Town. Their Finot-designed 60-footers have stood up to the test of a myriad of conditions during Leg 1 from the top to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Forty miles behind the two leaders is another pair of contenders, Marc Thiercelin (SOMEWHERE) and Josh Hall (Gartmore Investment Management), these two pushing hard as well. Thiercelin is celebrating his 38th birthday today, along with Class II competitor Viktor Yazykov (Wind of Change) who is 50 on this “Scorpio” day. “Power plus creativity-that’s your signature” is what the newspaper horoscope reads today. With those traits, Thiercelin has consistently kept his Finot 60 near or at the head of the pack for much of the past month.

And then there is Giovanni Soldini (FILA). After getting himself in “beeg trouble” at the beginning of the race by going too far north to avoid a weather system, he has spent most of the last week setting a blistering pace, including two record setting 24-hour runs approaching 400 miles, and making up much of the deficit between him and the leaders. Now he is reading the weather reports again and has gone farther south than the leaders to avoid a large high pressure system slowly creeping in between the fleet and Cape Town. But he’s adding miles and once more he’s slipping behind.

Serge Viviand, long time race supporter and former Autissier crew chief , arrived at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront marina, took a look at the COMSAT MobileTrac satellite tracking map being used by race organizers and said, “This Soldini is young man, yes? The young men always take chances!”

In Class II (40′ to 50′), another young man, in fact this race’s youngest at 30, Brad Van Liew (Balance Bar) has been giving the Finot’s a run for their money in his Lyon-designed refit of Newcastle Australia from the 94-95 race by pushing J.P. Mouligne (Cray Valley) every waking hour for the past two weeks. Mouligne is leading at this position report and he is 56 nautical miles ahead in the distance-to-finish column. But that’s not enough, with just under 2,000 miles to go, to be sure of anything.

Viviand looked at the two Class II dots on the computer screen and said with a chuckle, “I like this American. He doesn’t know these Finot’s are supposed to go faster.”

The race to the finish line across from Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront should be over before the beginning of next week. Right now the activity around the marina is picking up. French and Italian are being spoken in the bars. Boats are being arranged to meet the finishers. The marina village merchants are stocking their inventory of Around Alone merchandise.

Race Director Mark Schrader stood on the dock looking out the finish line on a beautiful, sunny spring day in South Africa and said, “We’ll be ready to meet the winner by Saturday afternoon. The rest is up to the weather and the skippers. What a race!”