The 19th running of this gruelling, one-of-a-kind, open ocean race for 20-foot catamarans, with a record field of 29 teams, started yesterday at trendy South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida

Sailing identical Inter 20s, (20-foot, off-the-beach catamarans) in this event that is often described as a nautical Tour de France, the competitors race north in 13 daily legs averaging 70 to 80 miles, regardless of weather. The course includes every major beach resort from southern Florida to Virginia, a distance of 1,000 miles, with stops at 12 oceanfront checkpoint cities in 5 states before finishing almost two weeks later on Saturday, May 19th in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Called extreme before the term became widely used to describe events that pushed the boundaries of competition and endurance, the Worrell 1000 has traditionally attracted a small cadre of hard charging sailor/athletes. These are not thrill seekers looking for a quick fix, but world class competitors pursuing the black belt of beach catamaran sailing.

This year’s field is that and more. They are Olympians, world champions, and national champions. There are two females. They are also architects, engineers, accountants, college students, carpenters, and professional yacht racers. The oldest is 54, the youngest is 19. Their average age is 37.

In the eighteen races since the Worrell 1000 started in 1976, 202 teams have started and 122 have finished. In 1998, in a particularly rough race, twenty-one teams started and seven finished. Of the fourteen that failed to finish, ten were taken out in the infamous “Graveyard of the Atlantic” along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

At Cape Hatteras, in front of a stunned crowd, one team was literally slingshoted through the checkpoint finish line as their 20-foot boat propelled by huge storm seas performed a gravity defying pirouette as it cartwheeled to the beach.

Randy Smyth, 6-time winner of the Worrell 1000 and 2-time Olympic Silver Medallist, who unfortunately pulled out at the last minute for this year’s event described the race from his perspective, “It’s one of those races that it’s good that it only happens once a year. You forget how hard it is. In the early races in the 1970s, it was all about man versus the world. Now, it’s about how fast we can go and still survive.”