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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Of Falling Stars, Whales and the Sea

All that separates the Odessa/The Moscow Times Challenge racing yacht from the leaders of the Whitbread Round the World Race is the doldrums.

That might not sound like much, but in fact the doldrums are a 2, 000-kilometer stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that straddles the Equator between Africa and South America.

The front-runners in the 50, 000-kilometer race have already crossed the doldrums and are tearing along the coast of Brazil, but the Odessa, which left Southampton, England, a week after the other yachts, has just passed the Canary Islands.

Although the Odessa is still about 2, 000 nautical miles behind the next boat - and some 2, 500 nautical miles behind the leader, the New Zealand Endeavor - the yacht, which is sponsored by The Moscow Times, may get the prize for most colorful dispatches.

In his most recent fax, sent to the race's headquarters in Southampton, Captain Anatoly Verba wrote that "there are plenty of stars, above and below, some stars fall from sky, some leave (sic) on deck after a wave is gone and glow for several seconds".

This is much more evocative than the dispatch sent by the U. S. Women's Challenge watch leader, Mikaela von Koskull, on Tuesday.

"We hope we are through the doldrums", she wrote. "If that is the case, then we've made good time".

The Moscow Times began sponsoring the Odessa at the end of September, providing food, equipment and pocket money for the Russian and Ukrainian crew.

The yacht had been moored in Southampton harbor without any money for food or repairs, and by the time sponsorship was secured and the boat was outfitted with new sails, the other entrants had already been at sea for six days.

The Whitbread Round the World Race, which began in 1973, takes place every four years. The first stop is Punta del Este, Uruguay; from there the yachts head to Australia, and make a number of other stops before returning to Southampton.

The Odessa/The Moscow Times Challenge's chance of winning this stage, or any other, are slim by any standards, and even after casting off on Oct. 1, the yacht has had its problems.

Since the boat left Southampton, it has been dogged by a slow-moving, low-pressure weather system that has forced the crew to battle southeast winds almost without cease.

As a result of the rough weather, the main halyard has suffered damage. The crew has spent the last few days repairing it, which has left little time for sleep, let alone dispatches.

To make matters worse, according to the captain, Wednesday was the first day warm enough for the crew to dry clothes.

Nevertheless, Captain Verba remains enthusiastic and optimistic. He wrote in Thursday's dispatch that the boat had passed within 30 meters of a sleeping whale, and that their view of Grand Canary Island had been "beautiful".

Next on the route is the doldrums, called such because there are no trade winds or strong currents in that part of the Atlantic. Although it might make for slow sailing, it will certainly be welcome for Verba and his crew.

And already, things are looking up. The Odessa/The Moscow Times Challenge may not be vying for the lead in the race, but that makes no difference to the captain and crew.

The last line of the dispatch reads: "Only 15 minutes ago, after 11 days of the race, we put a spinnaker on at last".