The latest BOC Challenge, which started in Newport, R.I., on Aug. 30 with a 25-boat fleet, has already had one sinking, and several boats have had to make port for repairs. As the popularity of these races grows, so does the pressure on competitors to bend the rules. Just as it can be difficult to monitor marathon runners over a 26.2-mile route—remember Rosie Ruiz's allegedly subway-aided New York City Marathon finish in 1979?—it can be equally difficult to keep track of boats in the open ocean.
The use of Argos aboard round-the-world racers might have prevented one of sailing's most intriguing mysteries. In 1968, 37-year-old Donald Crowhurst of Bridgewater, England, started on one of the first singlehanded round-the-world races, aboard his 41-foot trimaran ketch. But while the nine-boat fleet sailed south and then turned the corner at the Cape of Good Hope, Crowhurst held back. He had begun ill-prepared for the race and he knew his boat wasn't ready for the circumnavigation. So for months he meandered through the southern Atlantic. It occurred to him that he could let the rest of the racers struggle through the entire race, and after the survivors came around South America's Cape Horn for the home stretch to Britain, he could take his place behind the leaders and still salvage a respectable finish.
As the race progressed Crowhurst radioed in ambiguous reports of his location to England. Boats in long-distance races are rarely within sight of anything or anyone, so there was no way to verify his position. But one by one the other boats dropped out of the race until Crowhurst's trimaran was inadvertently going to win the elapsed-time race, the $12,000 prize and instant celebrity.
As it turned out, Crowhurst never finished the race either. He was fighting a violent mental storm, evidenced in the logbooks he kept during his eight months at sea. One log was basically accurate and documented his thoughts and experiences as he pursued the scam; another was fabricated, relating Crowhurst's imaginary position as he supposedly sailed around the world. But the pressure of actually winning a race he had intended only to finish—and the visibility that a victory would bring—overwhelmed him. In one of his last entries, he wrote, "It has been a good game that must be ended." A ship later found Crowhurst's boat abandoned and adrift. One can only assume that he stepped off the stern into the sea. Crowhurst's scheme never would have worked if Argos had been in use, and indirectly, it might have prevented him from taking his own life.
In this year's Whitbread there were no catastrophes that required Argos. So the sailors viewed the system as merely a tactical inconvenience that they haven't yet learned how to outsmart. The yacht Lion New Zealand even joked about casting its Argos adrift in a raft attached to a 40-mile-long line. "With Argos," says Marriott, "all they can do is tamper with it to stop it from transmitting [while risking a stiff penalty], but they can't get it to falsify information."
Although the sailors joke about Argos, they know death is always a threat in blue-water ocean racing. And Argos has proven it can save lives. "We all had reservations to begin with," said Novak. "Now there will be no going back to the old way. I think the fleet would agree the change is for the better."
You'll get no arguments from Jacques de Roux. After bailing for two out of every three hours for close to three days, he was rescued by fellow competitor Richard Broadhead, a British sailor. Broad-head, using navigational fixes from Argos, had turned around and sailed back 317 upwind miles to find de Roux's barely floating boat.
Argos has obviously won the confidence of de Roux. The Frenchman has taken to the ocean once again and is now sailing to win this year's BOC.