Worrell drama

Nigel Cherrie speaks to Michael Worrell about an extraordinary finish to the 2002 event.

Sunday May 19th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: United States
Hollywood producers need a wake up call as one of the most remarkable long distance, small boat sailing events in the world has just finished on their doorstep with an Oscar winning storyline.

The American Worrell 1000 is one of the most radical sailing events in the world but this years event raised the bar further. Eighteen teams, sailing identical Inter 20 catamarans, set out from Fort Lauderdale in Florida 13 days ago on a north-bound sailing marathon and the outcome wasn't decided until the winning boat broke the line yesterday.

"I think it was probably one of the best events ever, both in drama and competition," event organiser Michael Worrell told madfor sailing. "It was the fastest overall as we beat time [for the 1000 mile course] by four hours and we set seven new leg records and the outcome of the race was in doubt right up until the finish.

"There was one second separating overall first and overall second at the start of the last leg. Volvo would pay for that kind of closeness," he said, tongue in cheek.

At the start of the final leg (there are 13 stages), Steve Lohmayer and Kenny Pierce on Tybee Island led Team Castol's Joseph Sonnenklar and John Casey by a mere one second after some 65 hours of close, exhausting racing. Alexander's on the Bay sailors Brian Lambert and Jamie Livingston looked secure for third overall, but not threatening to the leaders.

" Alexander's on the Bay were twenty minutes back at the start of the leg and it was a sixty mile sprint up a straight piece coast. There was no way they could have made up the time without something major happening."

And it did; 50-knot winds knocked the fleet of 20ft multihulls for six between Kill Devil Hills Beach in North Carolina and Virginia Beach, Virginia. "We had a major cold front move through yesterday about two hours after the start and that was sustained for two or three hours. All but the winners and one other boat came ashore and reduced sail or waited it out," explained Worrell from the finish line.

One of the many beauties of the Worrell is the almost unique 1000-mile stretch of pure soft sand beaches that run uninterrupted for the entire length of the ocean front course with 60-80 degrees F water temperatures. "There are a few park reserves and private islands but we view these as a sand trap on a golf course. There are enough to make it interesting," says Worrell. The crews can simply turn left and surf ashore if in trouble while a coastal road means their support teams can follow them all the way.

Allan Lawrence and John Van Der Vyer on Dimension Data braved and survived the brutal Atlantic breeze to win the leg in a time of five hours 54mins and 29secs (finishing ninth overall) but Alexander's on the Bay were only two minutes and 39 seconds behind.

That was enough to hand victory to Lambert and Livingston by one minute and 42 seconds from Tybee Island in a new race record time of 71 hours, 32 minutes and 55 seconds. Team Castrol lost over 53 minutes on that final leg. The celebrations and commiserations on Virginia Beach must have reached both ends of the emotional spectrum.

"As the drama unfolded, so did the outcome. The storm actually played a major role in the outcome of the whole race. The challenge of sailing the entire race, finishing the course, overlaid with the world class sailors is what the Worrell 1000 is all about." Four teams didn't last the distance, despite Worrell saying it was perhaps one the easiest races on record.

So how do you better this? "As a sporting event we're always looking for ways to grow. We're changing the boats next year [from Inter 20 to F-18] and we're also going to offer packages to encourage international participation," says Worrell, who was the first man to sail the course after a bar room bet back in 1974, surviving two hurricanes in the Atlantic en route.

The aim is now to bring an international flavour to the event, that is currently dominated by American teams.

The 2003 entry fee of just US $5,000 will include a boat charter, two hotel rooms for the entire race (18 nights) and a one-way vehicle rental. But it is not just a case of rocking up, there is a strict entry protocol for safety reasons that were vindicated by the fact there were no serious - life threatening - injuries in the final storm that pummeled the teams.

Volvo Ocean Race sailor Eleanor Hay was the last British sailor to compete [but not complete] the race as she teamed up with her Amer Sports Too watch leader Katie Pettibone last year. A huge storm on the third leg took them out. "I have a number of emails from British teams," says Worrell, not dropping names. He is also talking to campaigns from South Africa, Australian, New Zealand, Chile, Brazil, Holland, Germany - the list goes on.

Overall, Worrell aims to keep running the event from strength to strength. "I am happy, but not satisfied. As far as the potential of the event, it is very much a diamond in the rough," He said, going back to his golfing analogies.

"It has the potential in the United States to become the highest profile sailing event in this country," he adds, with a confident tone. He justifies that by comparing the media's love for the event against what he describes as "minimal coverage" for the Volvo in the US during its recent visit.

But the final promise for the future is tantalizing. "We haven't even scratched the surface of the event, yet."

See page two for the results.

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