After an heroic effort, Robin Davie retires from the Around Alone; Thiercelin takes off

In hindsight, perhaps it was inevitable. No one ever doubted Robin Davie’s courage, or skill, or resilience. After all, the two-time Around Alone veteran had displayed his undaunted spirit on countless occasions, most notably in the 1994-95 edition of the race when he rounded Cape Horn with a makeshift, jury-rigged mast in place of the one that had failed in the Southern Ocean. No, it was clear from the outset of this year’s event that Davie’s biggest enemies were time and money, or, more correctly, the distinct lack thereof. Today, it all caught up with him. Two days after arriving in Auckland – but well over a week past the mandatory cut-off date for continued eligibility – Davie announced his official retirement from the 1998-99 Around Alone race.

Race director Mark Schrader was the first one aboard Davie’s 50-foot yacht South Carolina after it crossed the finish line. His jaw hit the deck as he took in the scene of carnage that surrounded him. “The engine was seized up, so his electronic autopilots weren’t working,” Schrader said. “Both headsail furlers were broken. The mainsail was split right in two. The wind vane had sheared off. The rudder shaft had failed. He had lashings and Spanish windlasses from one end of the boat to the other. It’s fair to say there’s not another sailor in the world who could’ve gotten this boat, in this condition, in here safely. It’s extraordinary. It must’ve been absolute torture out there. I’ve seen Robin do some amazing things over the years but this takes the cake.”

Davie fought an uphill battle from the get-go. He was late for his qualifying sail, then lost his rudder on Leg 1. Remarkably, Leg 2 proved even more difficult. “Every day something went wrong,” Davie said. “Some days were wronger than others. I’ll have every confidence in the boat once we get things right. But it was an amazing accumulation of things.” With that, Davie announced that he was retiring from the race. “It’s a reality and a necessity,” he said. “We need the time to put the boat back together properly. I just hope all my sponsors and supporters understand. I still intend to complete the circumnavigation [in an unoffical status]. I plan to sail back to Charleston by May via Cape Horn, and I intend to enjoy the voyage and to continue filing my stories via COMSAT email to keep everyone informed of my progress. It’s disheartening to be out of the race, but I’m here, on two legs and two feet, and that’s the important thing. Now it’s time to move on to the next stage.”

Davie’s retirement leaves the Around Alone fleet at eleven strong. At 0940 GMT, the leader of the pack continued to be Marc Thiercelin, who had opened his lead over Isabelle Autissier, now in second, to 80 miles. By beating his rivals to the westerlies associated with the trip’s first significant cold front, Thiercelin almost instantly opened up his biggest lead thus far. Furthermore, at the early update he was averaging better than 17 knots, and was a full three knots faster that Autissier, third-place Giovanni Soldini, and Josh Hall. Hall, hammered by the flu, lost two places overnight, and trailed Thiercelin by 120 miles early today.

In Class II, at 0944 GMT, Brad Van Liew had overtaken Mike Garside and regained the lead in the battle of the 50-footers. J.P. Mouligne continued to hang on to third. But all that could change very quickly. Van Liew and Garside have split tacks just west of the remote Chatham Islands – the American skipper is trucking south in the wake of the Class I boats, while the Brit has tacked east to go north of the islands. “If I get this right I could widen my lead,” Garside reported. “Get it wrong and I will hand it back sharply to Brad, [and] J.P. will be back in the running sooner than either of us expects. But the die is cast. Just do it!” The immortal Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Garside today is gambling that the option he’s taken is the right one…