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Marion To Bermuda Race - A First Time for Everthing Page 2

The Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race is one of the world's great bluewater challenges. The 645-mile event was born in 1977, and this year's running may be remembered as the toughest Bermuda crossing since the notorious 1979 race. Three major low-pressure systems created what some observers termed a "mini-Perfect Storm" and 21 of the 48 starters retired in the face of 20-foot seas, driving

MANNING UP

For David Risch of Marion, Massachusetts, owner of Corsair, a C&C 40, taking his 18-year-old son David on the race as a high-school graduation present was the fulfillment of a long-held promise. "I think that going out on the ocean gives you perspective. It's humbling and I want my son to have that experience," Risch said beforehand. Risch added that he and his fellow crewmember Robert Kostyla-joined by Kostyla's 23-year-old son, Chris-hoped for a male bonding experience with their sons that he referred to as "manning up."

"On the third day our navigator, Ron Chevlier, became ill," Risch said. As Chevlier's condition worsened, Risch and the crew followed protocol and called the medical professionals at George Washington University using their satellite phone. "Dr. Smith said to take vitals and Dr. Brown was concerned about head injury. They tried to do a thorough analysis as we described the symptoms." It would be two more days and nights before they reached Bermuda, where Chevlier was evacuated to Boston. "We were out in horrendous conditions. We discussed airlifting Ron to Bermuda; we discussed a boat-to-boat transfer," Risch said. "My son and Chris [Kostyla] took care of Ron and got him comfortable. I had thought this would be a chance for 'manning up' for the young guys, but it went well beyond that. They performed flawlessly."

Corsair was about 100 miles from Bermuda in winds of over 40 knots and 20-foot seas when they lost steerage. Each boat must carry an emergency tiller, but Risch had never before installed one. "Thank God the autopilot worked. We were out of fuel. We had so many other things to tend to that we let the autopilot do some of the steering."

With family and an ambulance waiting in Bermuda to take Chevlier to the hospital, Corsair sailed into St. George's on Wednesday evening. Chevlier was whisked off the boat by four paramedics and taken to the hospital. "We were so grateful to be there and that Ron was getting medical attention," said Risch, who received an Award of Merit for suspending racing and diverting in response to an emergency flare fired off by a French solo sailor who was later rescued by a passing cruise ship. "This was the kind of sea experience where you can't give up. We all saw and experienced the fragility of things."

RETURN OF KATRINKA

British expatriate Andrew Norris of New Canaan, Connecticut, completed his first-ever Marion to Bermuda race on an old veteran-the Bill Tripp Sr.-designed Katrinka, which was built in 1969 and recently restored by Norris at Brooklin Boatyard in Maine. Although his boat was a veteran of many Newport-Bermuda races, this was Norris's first-ever ocean crossing. "Three of us did the safety-at-sea seminar before the race and unfortunately I think that might have scared off my wife, who decided not to join us," said Norris. "Katrinka is robustly built. I think the boat is a testament to an old design that was built for stormy seas."

THE COOK'S TROPHY

For all of the firsts in this year's Marion-Bermuda race, someone always has to come in last. For first-time Marion-Bermuda sailor Ron Wisner of Marion, Massachusetts, who raced aboard his Rhodes 41 Hotspur, completing his first-ever ocean crossing in seven days and being the last boat to finish was an achievement. Receiving the Cook's Trophy for last place overall, Wisner reflected on sailing the 645 miles to Bermuda.

"We started out racing celestially," he said. "Unfortunately, we were late to the start, which we were really embarrassed about. We kept going and gave up the idea of celestial navigation. We reached that point where you're too far offshore to turn back. That point came for us while sailing under storm jib." Before the race, Wisner's goal was to get through the Gulf Stream. "For my first time, I have no regrets," Wisner said. "But it was one hell of a first time. We had a beat most of the way and that is our worst point of sail on this old design. We even had to tack to cross the finish line."

Hotspur's cook, Rick Higgins, had managed to serve the team fried eggs and sweet rolls each morning and for the last night he served smoked salmon. "This was my first ocean race," Higgins said. "With wind in the mid-40s and waves about 30 feet from trough to crest, I think we saw everything out there except hail and locusts."

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