Pressure grows for tighter safety rules in round-the-world races

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The Independent Online
The Australian government has asked for assurances from the organisers of gruelling round-the-world races that there will be no need for another rescue mission on the scale of the one that ended yesterday.

While the general consensus is that the Australian Navy and Airforce have had both invaluable exercise experience and a huge public-relations bonus, the cost of the operation has been considerable.

The British organisers of the Whitbread round-the-world race, which starts from Southampton in Hampshire next September, have been approached and the race director, Ian Bailey-Willmot, was anxious yesterday to assure the Australians and the rest of the world that strigent safety regulations would be imposed on competitors.

The Whitbread race is a series of sprints keeping the boats much closer to the mainland of Australia and away from the hostile southern waters around Antartica. "While nobody can guarantee that anyone going to sea will not need rescuing, we take our safety responsibilities extremely seriously," Mr Bailey-Willmot said. "So far, there has never been one occasion when a Whitbread competitor was rescued by anyone other than another Whitbread competitor."

He also pointed out that his race organisation goes back to 1973 and has enjoyed a high level of continuity, a high level of Royal Navy input, and consultation with other expert bodies for more than 20 years.

Alan Green, race director of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, which is a partner with Whitbread in the race, said three things helped Tony Bullimore and others who capsized during the Vendee Globe race: satellite beacons, which helped to pinpoint their positions accurately; water-tight compartments in boats, and the protective survival clothes worn by the competitors.

The Open 60 class of yachts which compete in the Vendee Globe - which was begun in 1989 by Philippe Jeantot and is still organised by him - are of widely differing design and the RORC's chief measurer, John Warren, yesterday pointed to the very broad-beamed hulls which have been developed as the possible problem in the boats' self-righting capacity. In Bullimore's case, where the keel had been broken off and the vessel lost stability, little could be done to right the yacht as the inverted mast and sails acted as a resistant keel.

Boat builders are seeking the perfect balance between strength and speed. Construction standards will be carefully examined when all of those rescued in the Vendee Globe race have written their reports.