At the next-to-last checkpoint, 210 miles from the finish, it became a race between two curiously handicapped boats: Australia and Cool Cat, sponsored by a cooler manufacturer. Because none of the Aussies had seen the U.S. East Coast before, they were definitely short on local knowledge. The members of the Cool Cat crew were sailing veterans, but they were short on manpower. The most experienced of them, student naval aviator Richard Wallio, had to report back to duty at the Meridian (Miss.) Naval Air Station twice during the race.
Confused by the profusion of winking, blinking markers, the Aussies put ashore twice to inquire where they were, but got little help. A lady they waked at 4 a.m. south of Cocoa Beach told them they had 80 miles yet to sail when they actually had about half that. Two days later, in the first light of dawn, when the Aussies emerged bedraggled from the sea seeking Myrtle Beach, S.C., two startled ladies informed them that the town was a half-hour farther along, then fled, without explaining whether it was a half-hour by boat or car or goat cart.
Australia, carrying full sail in the 25-mph winds, had worked out a nine-minute, 55-second lead on the reefed Cool Cat, at the final checkpoint near the tip of Cape Hatteras. After a three-minute, 25-second stop to get everything in order for the prolonged horror that lay on the windward side of the Cape, Australia took off, presuming Cool Cat would soon follow. Cool tarried for more than an hour and a half, to let the exhausted crewmen dry out and rest. As Australia struggled up the final northerly leg, the wind was gusting to 40. After rounding the Cape well behind the Aussies, Cool Cat slogged only four miles north, then the crew said to hell with it and repaired to a motel. After she cleared the Cape roughly two hours later, The Shack only went a half-mile before putting ashore.
At 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday, Race Chairman Worrell yellow-flagged the race by radio, but having no receiver, the Aussies carried on through a tangle of 10-foot waves. They capsized once but recovered in good order. Fisherman Curt Prentice, who watched Australia toward nightfall, reported, "They were traveling up and down farther than they were forward. Those boys must have doodads in their brains to be out in seas like that."
Several hours after dark, 84 miles from the finish, the head fitting of the Aussie mainsail failed. They struggled for shore under jib, barely missing the skeleton of a ship that had lain long in the notorious Hatteras graveyard. A wave came down on their stern with such force that the twin bows shot up and backward while spinning. In effect, the boat performed a gainer with a half-twist and landed upside down, her mast broken.
The storm persisted for another 24 hours. When it finally subsided, to complete the race Australia was trailered back down to a point five miles north of the tip of Cape Hatteras. Cool and Shack were advanced to the same starting line. After Australia set off toward the finish, the other two were held for the same time margin by which they had trailed Australia at the final checkpoint below Cape Hatteras two days earlier. Four other boats that had never rounded the Cape and had trailed the leaders by margins of from nine to 15 hours, were allowed to take off from the same starting line with handicaps ranging from 4� to 6� hours. To shorten a course is reasonable, but to allow boats to continue that haven't completed a portion of a course that their rivals have, makes no sense in any race. But then the Worrell 1000 isn't the sort of affair that can absorb too much logic and still retain its character. Put too much sense into it and it might end up becoming just another staid yacht race. It's too worthwhile an event to suffer such a sorry fate.