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A sail race around the world -- for a modest cup

(Page 2 of 2)



Bergt says the Alaska Eagle is constructed of welded aluminum; carries a 78 -foot metal mast; and has four cabins, storage tanks for drinking water, and a huge amount of freeze-dried food. "Our secret weapon," he claims, "is a French chef who has a reputation for making super meals out of this stuff."

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Bergt picked his crew from about 100 known sailors from various parts of the world who are experienced in this kind of acting and who are aware of the importance of being competitive at 3 a.m. Of the 12 members, 7 are from the United States, the others from South Africa, Holland, France, Sweden, and England. They will receive expenses, plus a living allowance.

Although some women applied and other boats in the race may have two or even three female crew members, Neil rejected them on the basis that a 200-pound man, needing all the strength he's got to do his job in a storm, is a better risk than a 110-pound woman.

During the race there will be port stops in Cape Town; Auckland, New Zealand; and Mar del Plata, Argentina, before the final leg is sailed back to Portsmouth.

While the Alaska Eagle is in the doldrums, according to Bergt, it may be possible to give certain crew members a day off. Most will probably go below deck and read or update diaries, or, with no shower facilities aboard, take a swim in the ocean.

One of the hardest things for landlubbers to understand about offshore ocean racing under sail is the concept of apparent wind as opposed to true wind.

"Even when mother nature doesn't seem to be disturbing the air, there is always some kind of breeze out there," Bergt explained. "In fact, it is possible for a good drew to get a boat moving in only one knot of wind. After that the boat will generate its own wind, depending on the angle it is being sailed, and we'll have a computer aboard to tell us the best possible angle."

Neil, who grew up in Alaska, made his first real money from a milk route; later he went from bush pilot to Alaska Airlines, where he was a captain at age 23. He gives the impression of being the kind of man who follows other people into revolving doors and comes out first.

Although Bergt has been sailing for only seven years and has never spent more than seven consecutive days on any boat, the idea of 144 days at sea holds no terrors for the chairman of the board of Alaska International Industries Inc. He has been training hard for this race for four months, including riding a bicycle 35 miles a day, five days a week.

Offshore ocean racing is considered a gentleman's sport, meaning that although all these sailing ships have engines, they will be used only in case of an emergency.

The race, which originated in 1973, is held every four years. Bergt has the honor of skippering the first US entry, and the Alaska Eagle will be among those boats favored to win.