A high-tech racing yacht broke what experts called the last great sailing record Sunday, gliding under the Golden Gate Bridge to cheers and a cannon boom after a perilous 15,000-mile voyage from New York to San Francisco around the tip of South America.
Thursday's Child crossed into San Francisco Bay under sunny skies at 12:30 p.m. PST after struggling for several hours against an outgoing tide and a lack of wind to break the 135-year-old record set by a Yankee Clipper."It's beyond words," skipper and owner Warren Luhrs, 44, of Alachua, Fla., said after stepping on land for the first time since Jan. 31 when the yacht docked in the Falkland Islands for four days of repairs to her hull.
"It's wonderful to be here, but I don't think I want to do it again. Once is enough," he said.
Luhrs - wind-burned, unshaven and appearing exhausted at a news conference - said he was still shaken by a near-fatal incident shortly after the trip started when a 40-knot gale struck and crewman Courtney Hazleton, 32, was ensnared in the main sail.
"It chills me when I think about it," Luhrs said. "I was at the helm when the main sheet wrapped around his neck. It could have snapped his neck and I just yelled. But he slipped off at the last possible moment."
Hazleton, who called the incident "very sobering," said the boat also nearly smashed into the high cliffs of a tiny island off the Falkland Islands that appeared in the post-midnight gloom to be "a cloud bank," but he veered away in time.
Luhrs, Hazleton, and Lars Bergstrom, 54, sailed into the history books after 80 days and 20 hours at sea, easily breaking the record of 89 days, two hours set in 1854 by the tall-masted Yankee Clipper Flying Cloud.
The crew lived almost entirely on freeze-dried food, much of it tuna, during the 15,000-mile voyage, which began in New York Nov. 23, and went around treacherous Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
Flying Cloud's time has been called "the last great sailing record," and not everybody was thrilled by the prospect of it being broken.
In a letter in the San Francisco Chronicle Saturday, reader John Malone said that "without detracting" from Thursday's Child's impending feat, "to compare its time, a full-blown high-tech rig with no cargo and three crew, to the record of Flying Cloud would be like a company of mechanized cavalry, with jeeps and personnel carriers, racing up and down the Shenandoah Valley, then claiming they had beaten the record set during the Civil War by General Stonewall Jackson and his foot `cavalry.' "
In its 1854 voyage, Flying Cloud, a classic example of the Yankee Clipper cargo vessels that brought supplies to the Gold Rush country, carried a crew of 101 and normally flew 23 sails to power the 208-foot-long vessel.
By contrast, Thursday's Child is about a fourth as long, usually uses two synthetic-fiber sails and rigging, features internal ballast tanks and a satellite navigation system and weighs just 20,000 pounds.