PORTLAND (AP) – Extreme sailor Bruce Schwab’s attempt to become the first American to complete a nonstop around-the-world solo race reached a milestone Wednesday when his 60-foot yacht was lowered into Portland harbor.

After well wishes from Gov. John Baldacci and fellow circumnavigator Dodge Morgan, Schwab gave the signal to a crane operator to lift the 19,000-pound boat from its wooden cradle and gently place it in the water.

Schwab, 44, plans to depart in early September for Les Sables d’Olonne, France, where about 20 boats will assemble for the Nov. 7 start of the Vendee Globe race.

Morgan, who completed his 150-day around-the-world solo voyage in 1986, said Schwab’s quest puts him in the company of a special group of individuals who defy long odds and test the limits of human endurance.

Morgan labeled such people as “loony yea-sayers” and said they can be found in various fields of endeavor, intellectual as well as physical. Solo sailors, he said, are well represented.

“I know the challenge Bruce Schwab is facing,” he said. “It is much more than a sailboat race. It is perhaps the most extreme test of physical and emotional durability known.”

Morgan said Schwab will encounter the rage of the Southern Ocean, months of solitude and “an endless chain of instant unknowns.”

“I believe that these loony yea-sayers teach us all a lesson,” he said. “That lesson is, I can do it. It can be done.”‘

Baldacci expressed pride that Schwab had chosen Maine as the place where he reconfigured Ocean Planet, the boat in which he circled the globe in the 2002-03 Around Alone. Unlike the Vendee Globe, that singlehanded race is broken up into five legs, which allows for stops.

Baldacci said Schwab’s presence in Maine reflects the state’s shipbuilding heritage. The governor also praised Schwab’s plan to engage young people during the race by staying in contact with students and teachers on the Internet.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation sent messages wishing Schwab success in his adventure.

Schwab said Maine has a proud association with singlehanded sailing and he didn’t think he could have found a better place in which to prepare his wood-and-carbon-fiber yacht for the 25,000-mile race.

“I know I’m from away,” he said, “but Portland has sort of become my home over the winter.”

He thanked businesses that have provided financial support for the project and invited new sponsors to come aboard. Pointing to the narrow-beamed white hull, he said, “You’ll notice, we still have space in the middle there for a big logo.”

No American has ever completed the Vendee Globe, a quadrennial race that has a limited following in America but is watched closely by tens of millions of television and Internet viewers worldwide.

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AP-ES-07-14-04 1508EDT

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