When millionaire options trader Steve Fossett learned to race a sailboat, he did so not on a 14-foot dinghy but on one of the world's fastest boats, Lakota, a 63-foot trimaran. Fossett has never been overly cautious. "It's not completely knuckleheadedness, it's calculated," says boat designer Gino Morrelli. "For him, sailing isn't necessarily a passion, it's a goal."
When Fossett and his 12-man crew departed Isle d'Ouessant off the coast of France in February aboard Cheyenne, a sleek catamaran with 125-foot carbon fiber hulls, his goal was simple: to break the around-the-world record. Last Monday he returned to Isle d'Ouessant 58 days, 9 hours and 32 minutes after he left, nearly six days ahead of the old mark, set by French sailor Bruno Peyron in 2002.
The 59-year-old Fossett also holds numerous world records in gliding, flying and hot air ballooning. (In 2002 he became the first man to fly solo around the world in a hot air balloon.) He succeeded on his most recent quest because he had a good crew—and some good luck. After sailing south from France, Cheyenne reached the often unforgiving Southern Ocean, where waves that can reach 40 feet hit only 20 and winds that can gust to more than 60 knots peaked at 40. After a difficult approach to Cape Horn and a successful passage between the Horn and Antarctica, Cheyenne headed back north, skirting a hurricane off Brazil and then getting an extra push from the storm's outer winds.
Fossett also avoided a host of potential problems he had little control over. "A broken fitting, a stray whale, electric failure, a worn sail, so many things could bring this roller coaster ride to a sudden halt," watch captain Dave Scully wrote on Day 25, 1,300 miles south of Australia. Just last week a pin slipped from its rigging—"The fate of the trip has been hanging by a mere 25 mm of broken bearing," noted a crew member—but the bearing was repaired and the catamaran caught a brisk trade wind on its home leg. Last Saturday, wrote Scully, Cheyenne was "buffet[ing] through the moderate swell like a bullet train through a pile of teddy bears."
Fossett now turns his attention to yet another feat of endurance—one that will tax his will but not his wallet. On April 25, three days after his 60th birthday, he plans to run the Big Sur International Marathon.