January 19, 1999 4:55 PM PST

Ellison recounts deadly yacht race

SAN FRANCISCO--Is Larry Ellison's excellent near-death experience coming to the silver screen?

The Oracle chief executive and avid yacht racer today said that filmmakers have approached him about making a movie depicting his experience winning--and surviving--the lethal Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race last month.

Ellison declined to elaborate on the film interest, which he acknowledged following a lunchtime address to the St. Francis Yacht Club here.

Ellison, owner and skipper of the 80-foot Sayonara, found himself in serious trouble when a forecasted storm turned into a hurricane last month. Six sailors from other vessels lost their lives in the disaster.

Forty-four of the 115 boats that began the race completed it.

In today's remarks, Ellison gave a riveting account of his recent battle with nature. Ellison's talk elicited gasps and sympathetic groans from his audience of yachting enthusiasts as the database magnate chronicled with precise technical detail the force of the gales, the height and angle of the waves, and the lengthening inventory of sails and other vital yacht hardware destroyed in what Ellison described as a full-fledged hurricane.

The standing-room only address benefited the American Red Cross, which is raising money for the families of the six drowned sailors.

Shortly after emerging from the eye of the storm, the Sayonara was hoisted on waves so steep that the vessel repeatedly found itself in several-seconds-long free falls above the churning sea. Ellison recounted seeing crew members suspended in mid-air before being dashed back to the decks.

One of Ellison's two dozen crew members went overboard without his harness, but managed to climb back on. Ellison's crew emerged from the storm whole but battered. Injuries included broken feet, ribs, and knees.

Ellison was seasick for the second time in his life, he said, and vomited more times than he could count. For three days he stopped eating, and for the last of these he stopped drinking water as well.

"I'm an acrobatic pilot, so I'm used to funny things happening in my inner ear," Ellison said. "But boy was I sick."

In response to a question from the audience, Ellison acknowledged that he thought he might die in the storm, though the exigencies of the moment prevented him from dwelling on the prospect.

"A stupid way to die"
"What a stupid way to die," Ellison said he thought at the time. "At least the professionals are being paid for this. I was paying to be there, so I felt especially stupid."

Ellison and the other racers expected stormy weather, which he said was routine for the Tasman Sea at that time of year. But nobody has forecast a hurricane, he said.

Ellison praised the 71 boats that withdrew from the race rather than complete it.

"This is not what sailboat racing is supposed to be about," Ellison said.

Ellison's next scheduled yacht race is the U.K.'s Fastnet, which he will sail with fellow yacht racer Ted Turner.

 

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