The Magazine of South Carolina

South Carolina Takes on the World

Can Robin Davie and his yacht South Carolina win the "Around Alone" challenge?

by Dan Harmon


Pull one rope at a time. That's the answer, stated by Robin Davie, ocean skipper.

And the question is: How can a single individual (Davie or anyone else) expect to coax a 48.5-foot boat all the way around the globe under sail power alone?

There's every likelihood Davie will do it - for the third time in less than a decade - beginning September 26, 1998, and finishing in May 1999. Port of departure: Charleston. Destination: Charleston. West to east, 27,000 miles. One rope at a time.

Charleston is home port for the fifth sailing of the Around Alone race (formerly known as the BOC Challenge). Around Alone is significant for many reasons. It is, for example, the longest race on the planet for a solo competitor in any sport. It's also the only round-the-world race originating in the United States. It's clearly an international honor for Charleston to be named host port for the 30 competitors-some of the world's most clever and daring sailors.

South Carolina is more than the Around Alone base; it has a vested interest in the outcome of the race. Davie, a Cornwall, England, native and Charleston resident, will skipper the yacht South Carolina, the state's official entry. Owner Julian Vereker of Windex Yachts in England loaned the craft to Davie for the competition, with permission to modify it as necessary. Since the vessel's arrival from the UK last October, Davie and his colleagues have toiled day and night inside a Charleston naval yard hangar to prepare it for the test. Meanwhile, they've slowly but surely been raising the half-million dollars needed to fund the adventure.

In a May 1998 interview, taking a hurried coffee break from his labors below deck, Davie waxed optimistic. The 46-year-old former Merchant Navy officer reflected on his two previous BOC Challenge tries. In 1990-91, 28 yachts entered the race and 18 finished; Davie was 14th. In 1994-95, 12 of 20 starters finished; he was 10th. Both times, he pointed out, he had the oldest and smallest boat. This year, it's a very different story. The South Carolina is of an advanced WINDEXPRESS 48 design.

"We didn't have to build a boat this time, for one thing," he said. "We took an existing boat that was given to us. That was important.

"You've got to finish. That's the basic objective of the exercise. The objective for us this time, with a championship-class boat-which we have-is to win."

It takes a minimum of $250,000 to even consider preparing and supplying a boat for the Around Alone, $500,000 or more to be seriously competitive, Davie said. Some of his rivals will have invested more than $1 million in their entries. "What you actually can accomplish depends on the budget you have to work with at any given moment during the preparations," he explained.

Davie is grateful to his literally thousands of supporters whose contributions have ranged from bumper sticker and T-shirt purchases to yacht club and school sponsorships to major corporate-level donations. Thanks to them, he's confident in the odds this trip. "I've got as good a chance as anybody. Better than most."

At the moment, Davie is off to England for the preliminary Atlantic Alone race. Entrants in the round-the-world race will sail solo from Falmouth to Charleston, in part to test their craft for the longer voyage.

If the 25-year veteran of ocean sailing wins this time . . . what challenge will be left for him? Davie smiled. "Ask me when I get back."

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