- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

We're two miles out in the Atlantic off Miami Beach experiencing the full effects of stomach-churning 7-foot swells waiting the restart of the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, sailing's premier endurance test.

Menacing whitecaps topping wind-swept waves fill the horizon. It's a beautiful sight. Aboard the 72-foot yacht Calypso, things aren't so pretty for many of the automotive journalists invited by Volvo to witness the start of the sixth leg of the 875-mile race to Baltimore.

Designed to navigate more placid inland waters, the good ship Calypso is pitching and rolling in the unrelenting seas, providing some on board with a new definition for the word "heave." Others sit tight and hang on as waves occasionally break over the bow.

Though uncomfortable, these seas are minor compared to the 20-foot seas and freezing spray regularly faced on the Southern Ocean legs of the race by the 12-member crews of the eight 64-foot racing yachts competing in this 32,700-mile marathon race.

Each high-tech boat costs more than $1 million to build. The computer-designed hulls are built over a mold with an outer skin of Kevlar. The 90-foot masts are made from ultralightweight carbon fiber. Like a Formula 1 race car, everything has been designed for maximum speed and minimum weight. Inside, the crew's quarters are Spartan at best.

In every case, the balance between weight and strength is crucial. The result is a sleek racing yacht that can sail in excess of 30 mph fast enough to ski behind.

Run every four years, the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly known as the Whitbread) began in Southampton, England, last September and will end in Kiel, Germany, in early June. The first leg took the fleet to Cape Town, South Africa, leg two to Sydney, Australia, leg three to Auckland, New Zealand, leg four to Rio de Janeiro, leg five to Miami, with leg six ending in Baltimore.

Volvo is using the Baltimore stop to display its new XC-90 sport-utility vehicle, which goes on sale later this year. The midsized SUV contains three rows of seats for seven-passenger seating and is built on the large-car S80 platform. It features all-new sheet metal.

To address rollover concerns, the XC-90 features a low center of gravity just 3½ inches higher than the Cross Country. Yet, seating is 6½ inches higher due to an innovative floor configuration.

As a further safety measure, it will offer the world's first rollover stability-control system. Another first is an extended side curtain air bag that affords head protection to occupants riding in the third row of seats.

Volvo will also be displaying its special Ocean Race edition of the Cross County station wagon. Only 500 are being allocated for the North American market. They feature a special "ocean blue" color that is not available on any other Volvo model.

The cars also have a number of additional special details such as silver waistline molding, Volvo Ocean Race emblems on the front doors, door mats with the Ocean Race logo and skidplates both front and rear. They are only available with leather upholstery.

"We wanted to create a very special car. A combination of the estate car's traditionally practical properties and the tough, sporty attributes that mirror the spirit of adventure and freedom that is such an integral part of the challenge facing the Volvo Ocean race participants," said Steve Harper, the designer who headed the development of the ocean-blue model.

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet will be moored in Baltimore's Inner Harbor until April 28 in conjunction with Baltimore's annual Waterfront Festival where an Ocean Race Village has been created featuring many interactive sailing and educational displays.

For daily updates on the fleet's activities, go to www.VolvoOceanRace.org.

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