SOUTHAMPTON, England -- What's tougher than sailing around the world in a sleek yacht?
Try shipping the supplies necessary to keep a fleet afloat.
"It's kind of like a family vacation . . . times 10," says Bryan Fishback, the project and shore manager for Maryland-based Chessie Racing, one of 10 teams in the Whitbread Round the World Race.
When the yachts left Southampton on Sunday, bound for South Africa, the hard work began for the shore crews left behind. They had to clean up, pack up, getting ready for race legs in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the United States, and back again in Europe.
The Whitbread isn't just a race -- it's a traveling circus, in which supplies and personnel are dispatched across the globe.
The 12 racers on board the boats get the glory. The grime is handled by the shore crews, a dozen or more full-timers and volunteers who move gear, repair boats, and handle the travel details for friends, family and crew members.
"The sailing is more rewarding," says Fishback, a 37-year-old naval architect who was part of the team that built the Chessie Racing yacht. "At sea, you have a chance of winning the race and going fast," he says. "On shore, there are the frustrations of living life. Bills coming in. People missing planes and trains. You're in charge of a household."
Fishback took the shore crew job so he could travel the world with his wife, Kerry. While the competitors are in the Atlantic, the Fishbacks will be at the Pyramids in Egypt. When the racers hit the rough water in the Southern Ocean, the Fishbacks will be sampling the natural splendor of New Zealand's South Island.
But don't be misled. Running a shore crew is a tough job.
"Think of a pit crew in NASCAR," Fishback says. "If a boat breaks, we have to turn it around, fast."
What happens is the supplies don't show up on time?
"It's a mess," Fishback says. "You've got to make your own sails. You have to bring in gear from America. It can get pretty expensive."
The teams literally work out of storage containers, the kind that are often latched to the back of trucks or placed on trains. Each team crams $75,000 worth of gear into two containers, which are shipped to the various ports the teams will reach over the next nine months. Total transportation costs will top $100,000 a team.
The containers are part work-shop, part storage shed. They're jammed with tools, sails, engines, winches and deck gear. They've got enough rope to cover two miles. And enough spare parts to rebuild half a boat.
One of the Chessie Racing containers even has a beat-up reclining chair, courtesy of John Patton, a recent college graduate who latched on to the crew to travel the world.
"Our containers are a little friendlier than others," Fishback said. "We've actually painted ours inside. And we've got storage closets. Sometimes, you've got to sleep in these containers."
And when the race is finally over? Fishback is already planning for a life away from racing.
"I'll go to school to study architecture," he says. "I'm getting away from boats."
Pub Date: 9/24/97