Americas' Sail '98 more than just a race
Competition used as a venue to promote international friendship

By Francis Zera

Americas' Sail traces its beginnings back to 1989, when Frank O. Braynard, one of the founders of Operation Sail, came up with the idea for the "Four Sisters Project," which would try to bring together four ships built from the same plans - the Gloria, Guayas, Cuauhtemoc and Simon Bolivar - for regularly scheduled tall ship races in the Western Hemisphere. The Rev. William Wendler, now president and CEO of Americas' Sail, volunteered his help, and sculptor Anthony Fabbricante created the Americas' Sail trophy.

As the plans progressed, organizers said they saw a need to expand the event to allow participation by any ship in the Western Hemisphere.

"Americas' Sail is a cultural exchange program," Wendler said. "Everyone's going to have a good time, but the important part is that everyone is going to have a good time together."

The first Americas' Sail event was held in 1995, and 23 ships participated. Host ports for that event were Norfolk, Va., Greenport, Oyster Bay and Sag Harbor, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn. Venezuela's Simon Bolivar was awarded the Americas' Sail trophy for winning the event.

For Americas' Sail '98, organizers decided to make the event less of a race and more of a test of seamanship skills, according to Wendler. There were two ships competing for the trophy this year: the Simon Bolivar and the Argentine naval training ship Libertad. Wendler said any vessel participating in Americas' Sail could vie for the trophy, but the two South American ships were the only ones able to compete in all of the events.

The trophy will be awarded based on a series of events that began in Savannah July 6. Tim Pierce, a member of the Americas' Sail board of directors, explained the competition. The most important part of the competition was the "predicted log," which consisted of a 40-mile course in the open ocean. "The ships' crews had to predict how long it would take them, under full sail, to complete the course," he said. Variables included tides, currents and unpredictable winds. The ships were also awarded points for how close they came to crossing the starting line within a minute of their assigned time.

Points are awarded for each event, with crossing the starting line on time worth 100 points and the predicted log also worth 100 points.. Five seamanship contests on Long Island, N.Y., will be held later in the week. The ship that amasses the most points wins the trophy, which stays with the winning ship until the next Americas' Sail event.

The Libertad arrived at the start line 90 seconds late, earning the ship 99 points, and the Simon Bolivar was 55 seconds early, earning the full 100 points. Both ships earned the full 100 points for the predicted log, crossing the finish line within one minute of their predicted times. The Libertad was 40 seconds late and the Simon Bolivar was exactly one minute late.

The Long Island events will include timed knot tying (20 points), rope throwing (20 points), sailing dinghies (100 points), lifeboat rowing (40 points) and water pumping (20 points) competitions between sailors from the two ships.

"I am very happy with the race. My crew is also very happy, said Capt. Jorge Godoy of the Libertad. "Since we touched the soil of this country, we have been shown great cordiality.

Americas' Sail's goals, according to their charter, include putting on a quadrennial event showcasing the discipline of modern sail training while offering opportunities for friendly cross-cultural exchange. The organization also tries to bring the event to smaller communities, which are often more representative of life in the host country, than the larger cities usually selected for tall ship events.