After 110 days at sea, solo sailor Bruce Schwab was poised to cross the finish line of the Vendee Globe race early Friday in southwestern France, becoming the first American to complete the world’s most grueling yacht race.

Rain squalls and winds blowing the wrong way forced a one-day delay in Schwab’s arrival in Les Sables d’Olonne, where friends and well-wishers awaited his arrival. But the triumphant skipper’s frustration was set to end when he steers his 60-foot Ocean Planet up to the dock.

Schwab, who set completion of the 25,000-mile course as his goal and will finish ninth among a starting field of 20 boats, becomes only the second American to sail around the world alone without stopping.

He said in a telephone interview and an e-mail exchange that he was gratified by the outcome of an endeavor he undertook on a shoestring budget with no major corporate sponsorship and heavy reliance on volunteer help and in-kind contributions.

Because of debts owed by himself and his nonprofit foundation to finance the venture and lack of insurance coverage for Ocean Planet, Schwab said he was compelled to sail “very conservatively.”

“We weren’t able to afford insurance and have a lot of loans secured by the boat – there was a lot on the line besides my ego,” he said.

Although it has a limited following in the United States, the quadrennial Vendee Globe is watched closely by tens of millions of television and Internet viewers worldwide. This year’s winner was Vincent Rio of France, who finished in a record 87 days.

Ocean Planet, launched in 2001 in Portland, Ore., was built specifically to compete in the Vendee Globe, with a narrow-hulled design that emphasized ease of sailing and safety over blistering performance.

The Vendee Globe was the second around-the-world solo race for Schwab, 44, a lifelong sailor from Oakland, Calif., who has spent much of his career as a rigger and in other boatyard jobs. He sailed Ocean Planet in the 2002 Around Alone, a five-leg race with stops along the route.

Schwab said the storms he encountered this time were more intense than those during the Around Alone. “I was pretty intimidated a few times, genuinely spooked,” he said.

He said he was buoyed by the huge crowd, estimated at 300,000, at the starting line, as well as by the responses from thousands of children and adults who followed his progress over the Internet.

Although Schwab doubts that there is another around-the world solo in his future, he said he would enjoy putting his experience to work by organizing and managing a campaign that might have a shot at winning the next Vendee Globe in 2008.

“But I don’t see myself as the jockey’ again,” he said. “I’m a preparation’ guy, and a lifetime sailor, and in the end that is why I succeeded without a big sponsor,” he wrote. “But there are a couple of guys that might be able to sail faster if I set them up with the right boat and program.”

Schwab prepared for the race in Portland, Maine, where he divided his time between working on the wood-and-carbon fiber sloop and raising money for the race. He plans to return the boat to Portland this spring.

The refinements on the Ocean Planet were made at Portland Yacht Services, where volunteers drifted in periodically to help Schwab. The yard’s owner, Phineas Sprague, was among the contingent of Schwab supporters who gathered at Les Sables d’Olonne to greet the skipper.

The race began Nov. 7, with the boats sailing south to the Cape of Good Hope before heading into the treacherous Southern Ocean. The route carried them south of Australia and to within a few hundred miles of Antarctica before it rounded Cape Horn for the final run back to France.

The only other American to make a nonstop solo circumnavigation was Dodge Morgan of Harpswell, Maine, who did it in 1985-86 in 150 days. Morgan was among the speakers at last summer’s ceremony in which Schwab’s boat was lowered into Portland Harbor.


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