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Mega prize for mega-multihull race

The Oryx Quest 2005 attracts the fastest bluewater sailing vessels for a race around the globe

The Oryx Quest 2005 attracts the fastest bluewater sailing vessels for a race around the globe

Oryx Quest 2005, Tracy Edwards’ round-the-world race for mega-multihulls, was still on for a Feb. 5 start from Doha, Qatar, with four entries — including Steve Fossett’s Cheyenne — and a $1 million purse for the winner of the non-stop two-month sailing race.

Fossett announced Cheyenne’s entry in late December, but the American multimillionaire and adventurer won’t be aboard. Another American, David Scully — who helped start up Fossett’s multihull sailing program in 1993 and has set 13 world records with Fossett as watch captain — will skipper the 125-foot catamaran, the former PlayStation.

Other confirmed entries were Jules Verne Trophy holder Olivier de Kersauson sailing his 112-foot trimaran Geronimo; British multihull veteran Brian Thompson skippering the 110-foot Qatar 2006 — formerly Edwards’ Maiden II; and round-the-world racer Tony Bullimore, also British, sailing his 102-foot Team Daedalus, a 22-year-old catamaran that has been stretched several times to stay in the game.

Fossett, holder of the round-the-world sailing speed record, will be attempting the first solo, non-stop circumnavigation by a powered aircraft in January in his new Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. The sailor-balloonist-aviator definitely won’t be racing in the Oryx, said Fossett spokesman Stuart Radnofsky.

Edwards, a racing icon in Great Britain who has been knighted for her sailing exploits, said in a prepared statement dated Dec. 3 that her own personal financial difficulties were no longer an impediment to moving forward with Oryx, as scheduled. She said she had sold her 110-footer Maiden II to an unidentified owner for an undisclosed sum, and she had used those proceeds and funds she raised from personal sponsorships to pay off all her outstanding personal debts.

“I can now finally focus all my efforts on QISE [Quest International Sports Events, her sports company] and the successful promotion of the Oryx Quest 2005 that starts in Qatar on Feb. 5, 2005,” she said.

Edwards had planned to hire a skipper and campaign Maiden II, formerly Club Med, under her ownership as Qatar 2006 in the Oryx. Maiden II still will race in the Oryx as Qatar 2006 but under a new owner, with Thompson — who crewed nine years for Fossett — skippering her.

Loick Peyron, brother of Race 2000 organizer Bruno Peyron, had hoped to be the race’s fourth entry, but that appears unlikely now. American Cam Lewis, who skippered the 110-foot Team Adventure in The Race 2000, also had hoped to be on the starting line. “Right now we are not planning to enter, but things can still change,” said Team Adventure executive director Larry Rosenfeld in mid-December.

“I am delighted that Cheyenne will be on the start line for this new and exciting race,” said Fossett, in an Oryx press release. “It is sad that I will not be able to participate myself but have already committed to attempt the first solo non-stop round–the-world airplane flight in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. With Scully at the helm, Cheyenne and its crew will relish this new test against such tough competition, and I believe she is a strong contender to take the trophy and prize.” Radnofsky said Cheyenne was race-ready in Plymouth, England, and ready to be shipped by cargo to Doha before December’s end.

“With only eight mega-multihulls in the world that are eligible for this race, four boats at the start line was our minimum target,” said Oryx spokesman Nick Hayes. As part of the race sponsorship package, each team is given financial assistance to help get them to the starting line, he said. Cash prize for the winner is $1 million.

HSBC, an international bank that has been in Qatar for 50 years, is Oryx’s major sponsor. Hayes said the bank had committed almost $6 million to the race. The Kingdom of Qatar is host for what has been touted as the first major international sailing race starting and finishing in the Persian Gulf. Qatar, an oil-rich country smaller than the state of Connecticut, juts out of the Arabian peninsula into the gulf, across from Iran. Why stage a race out of Qatar? Hayes said the Al Thani family that has ruled the kingdom since the 1800s believes that sailing provides a “global language” for helping launch the “tourist, business and sporting aspirations of their nation.”

The Oryx Quest has run into some snags along the way. Besides Edwards’ financial woes and legal action by some of her creditors, she has been sued by Bruno Peyron, who alleges she stole the idea of starting and finishing a race in the Mideast from his organization, which put together The Race 2000. Edwards has countersued, saying Peyron’s suit resulted in collapse of the original sponsorship deal for the Oryx Cup. That litigation continues.

Oryx’s skippers will be aiming to win the $1 million and also break Fossett’s round-the-world record of 58 days, 9 hours, 32 minutes, 45 seconds set in 2003 on Cheyenne. Having broken 13 world sailing records, Fossett is working on aviation records now. On Dec. 6 he flew a glider a record 1,358 miles over Argentina in 15 hours, 42 minutes.