Summer has arrived in Western Australia, and during the December races the notorious Fremantle Doctor made several appearances. They say the Doctor is an afternoon sea breeze from the southwest that relieves the pain of a heat-oppressed population. That's true, but the term breeze is a bit misleading. The Doctor can be gentle, but it can also tear across Gage Roads, the 10-mile-wide stretch of Indian Ocean where the America's Cup races are being held, like an express train, wreaking havoc with spinnakers, booms and even the nimblest crewmen.
One day when the so-called breeze was blowing 35 knots, John Spence, 22, the mastman on Heart of America, was belowdecks getting ready for a spinnaker change. Suddenly he found himself overboard. "When they hauled the new spinnaker up," said Spence, "as soon as it filled, it sucked me out of the hatch. It was like taking the elevator up to ladies apparel."
When the Doctor checks in around Dec. 28, the four survivors of the challenger series should expect similar roller coaster rides. In America's Cup racing, even the mighty can be dunked in the twinkling of an eye. Just ask the New York Yacht Club.