Thursday, April 25, 2002

Racing around the world

Published in the Current

Peter Pendleton, formerly of Cape Elizabeth, can truthfully call the sea his home. At 30, he is a professional sailor racing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Pendleton went to middle school and high school in Cape. “I grew up sailing at the Portland Yacht Club in Falmouth,” he said. He started in the sailing and racing program for little kids, and eventually dropped out of college after a couple of years to be on the water.

“I started to sail professionally more than I was actually in the classroom,” Pendleton said.

He started on the pro sailing circuit in Europe, with non-stop work. “It was regatta-regatta-regatta-regatta,” he said.

He has captained several racing boats, and has managed to become part of a team of sailors. “You hook up with a bunch of guys,” he said, and get approached by the owner of a racing boat who wants you to sail it.

“I hooked myself up with a bunch of guys from New Zealand,” he said, and was part of the crew of Young America, which broke in half trying to win back the America’s Cup from the New Zealand team in Auckland in 1999.

Prior to the Volvo Ocean Race, Pendleton was in charge of building the boats for two Nautor Challenge teams competing in the race. “We built two boats in six months,” he said, the fastest Whitbread-class boat construction ever.

The Volvo race began in September from Southampton, England, with a 28-day first leg to Cape Town, South Africa. Pendleton’s boat, Amer Sports One, took second place in that leg, but only managed fifth place of eight teams on the next leg, a 24-day sail to Sydney, Australia.

“We had a guy that actually became very ill on the boat,” Pendleton said. The Australian Navy delivered medical supplies to the boat at sea, and then the boat came in toward land near Perth, in western Australia, to get the sick man to medical care.

“We were a man down for about 2,000 miles,” Pendleton said.

The third leg, a nine-day trip to Auckland, New Zealand, via Hobart, Tasmania, brought Amer Sports One in second place, but there was a lot of strange weather.

Large forest fires were raging outside Sydney at the time, Pendleton said, which meant there was smoke and a lot of hot air in the area. “We started the race and came offshore and got hit by a tornado,” he said.

The fourth leg was to Rio de Janeiro. The boat was in second place until 30 miles from the finish, when “we put ourselves into a nice no-wind hole and watched the whole fleet sail by.”

But for most of the trip, things were going very well. “The best sailing that I’ve ever done in my life was our leg four,” he said. The route took him below 60 degrees South latitude, into the Antarctic Convergence, with temperatures in the single digits and the wind at 30 to 40 knots.

“When we were going downwind, we were going really fast,” Pendleton said. “That was the most exhilarating sailing I’ve ever done.”

It helped that there were giant icebergs to be avoided amid the darkness and in heavy weather. “This is the most scared I’ve ever been but this is great,” Pendleton remembered feeling.

The race will go through Miami, Baltimore, La Rochelle, France, and Goteborg, Sweden, and will finish with a 24-hour race to Kiel, Germany. Pendleton said he expects to finish June 19, and he’s not sure what he’ll do then.

“It’s been really tough on my wife,” he said. She is at home in Annapolis, Md., with a 10-month-old boy and a four-year-old daughter.

In the last 10 years, he said, he hasn’t been home much. Often it’s three weeks away for every week at home. And in the past year, he has spent 30 days at home.

“That’s what sailing does. It’s really hard for me, especially with the kids growing up,” he said.