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Dodge Morgan's solo sail gives US a new seafaring hero

DODGE Morgan's fantastic voyage is over. Tired but triumphant, he sailed his 60-foot sloop, American Promise, across an imaginary Bermuda finish line and into the record books Friday, completing the fastest-ever nonstop solo circumnavigation of the globe.

As he arrived at St. George's Harbor, Mr. Morgan found himself the center of a celebration, as cheering crowds paid tribute to the man who had sailed 27,500 nautical miles in a record 150 days, 1 hour, and 6 minutes. He had sliced the former record of 292 days, set by British sailor Chay Blyth in 1971, almost in half.

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After nearly five months at sea, a long-haired, tanned, and happy Morgan told the crowd: ``I have made up my mind that the race I really want to belong to is the human race. I'm gonna stay ashore for a while.'' Someone then brought him one of his favorite foods -- a cheeseburger.

In a telephone interview from Bermuda, Morgan said he felt ``terrific, the same as when I left. America Promise performed extraordinarily well, even in the southern ocean,'' a place ``not fit for man nor beast.''

``If you have a choice, don't go there -- the waves were 50 feet high and 120 feet apart. You look at themand swallow your heart. But the boat lifts up over them and they go . . . screaming by. . . . It's a fascinating sight.''

His high point, he said, was rounding Cape Horn. ``It was done in beautiful weather with 18 knots of wind,'' he said. ``I hadn't seen land since I left Bermuda. I had seen only one ship . . . and that from a long distance.''

``Dodge had 11 knockdowns [when the boat was sent on its side by a wave, two to 90 degrees], dead calms where the boat sat still in the water, and gale-force winds so strong Promise managed one day's sail of 179 nautical miles -- under bare poles [without sails],'' says Bob Rice of Weather Services Corporation in Bedford, Mass., who kept in radio contact with Morgan as weather adviser.

``We have another folk hero on the horizon,'' says Keith Taylor, editor of Sail Magazine, ``and it's important, because this country lacks genuine [sailing] heroes like [Sir Francis] Chichester in England. Dodge Morgan is a welcome sight. He's done a phenomenal job.''

Maritime record keeper for the Guinness Book of World Records, D. H. Clarke, reached in London by phone, said: ``He undertook one of the hardest physical tasks I know of in sailing. Go take a look at a 60-footer -- it's a very large yacht to sail singlehanded. That makes the feat extraordinary.''

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Morgan, a self-made electronics entrepreneur who financed this trip himself, piloted his $1.2 million sloop south from Bermuda around the Cape of Good Hope, through the notorious southern ocean to the greatest challenge for a sailor -- Cape Horn. ``As I approached Cape Horn, the legend did get to me a bit.'' Morgan confessed. Storms in that area are notorious and at that latitude, icebergs lurk like demolition mines that can sink a ship in minutes.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in his Bedford, Mass., office, Bob Rice kept a lookout for both storms and icebergs. From the stacks of world weather-map printouts on either side of his desk, he fed Morgan, via marine and ham radio, regular updates on frontal systems and storms. Reports of icebergs by ships in the area or the US Navy were relayed immediately. The two talked for hours each week during the five-month voyage -- about as close as you can get to a ringside seat.

On one occasion, Morgan was forced up the mast for repairs and noticed a whale watch in progress. A whale, swimming alongside Promise, had turned on its side and in this case was watching Morgan dangle 100 feet in the air.

``The whale's mouth was open,'' Morgan chuckled over the phone, ``and he looked like he was grinning at me.''

Many hours were spent preparing meals, maintaining equipment, and trimming sails to make best use of wind conditions. He was able to sleep eight hours a day, usually two at a time, he said. He did quite a bit of reading and writing.

Intense loneliness was broken by the occasional flashes of life: three whales, 12 porpoises, many flyng fish, six kinds of birds, including Albatrosses, which he calls his ``constant companions.''

``At one point, Dodge said it would be hard to convince him that there hadn't been an ultra-high tide, and the world had vanished. I told him he should consider acquiring two of every animal,'' Rice says.

On-board cameras shot still and motion pictures of the voyage. (Negotiations for the movie rights are currently under way.) Two of the cameras were set to go off whenever the boat heeled beyond 45 degrees, and on at least one occasion, Rice says, they had to be shut off because they were running constantly.

Morgan's food was a 50-50 mix of freeze-dried and canned goods but, alas, he ran out of his favorite -- popcorn.

According to his wife, Manny, he spent Christmas ``opening Christmas food packages and sang Christmas carols to himself.''

Under the rules set by Guinness, no stops for supplies are allowed, nor can any be brought aboard. The sailor cannot set foot above the high-tide mark.

The passage must be port to port from a point north of the equator. Guinness's Clarke says there have been 120 singlehanded passages around the world. The first to circumnavigate the world in a small boat was Capt. Joshua Slocum, a New Englander, in 1894. The first to solo circumnavigate without stopping was Briton Robin Knox-Johnston in a 32-foot ketch in 1969.

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