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A worthy champion languishes

The worthy yacht Bluz looks rough.

Rust shows through the white paint, and the design obviously treasures function and strength at the expense of aesthetic appeal.

Below decks, damp canvas offers up the distilled odor of sea voyage: a distinct blend of salt-water mildew, diesel fumes, and the fug of almost five months aboard a boat. The 27-foot sloop has traveled almost 8,000 miles the hard way: a man harnessing the power of the wind alone.

When Ivan Kirichenko set out from the Sea of Azov (in the Ukraine, connected to the Black Sea) in late August, he was a citizen of the Soviet Union. He was taking advantage of the economic and political freedoms of life under Gorbachev to chase his dream of crossing the Atlantic solo.

A shipping company called ASCO sponsored Kirichenko, and their name is carefully painted along the side of Bluz, in the best tradition of the new capitalism.

He had no radio, so Kirichenko learned that his Ukraine had become a sovereign country only when he reached Gibraltar, off the coast of Spain.

On Jan. 1, when he made landfall in Miami, Kirichenko was welcomed with Ukrainian flags. He is the first Ukrainian to make a solo trip across the Atlantic, and Bluz is the first boat to retrace the path of Columbus in this 500th anniversary year.

He concluded his odyssey with the 400-odd mile trip from Miami to Tampa, in the interest of promoting joint U.S.-Ukraine business, and because of Davis Island Yacht Club's reputation for welcoming foreign sailors.

Now Kirichenko is in New York. He is going to write a book about his historic voyage. He also plans to build a string of hotels near his sea-side hometown of Mariupol, depending on the financing he can attract here in the States.

Meanwhile, the weather-beaten Bluz sits at the Davis Islands Yacht Club. Sometime this week, according to the club's Hank Pomeranz, Bluz will be dismasted and shipped home, wherever home might be. The boat will go on display at a museum somewhere in what was the Soviet Union.

It's become a familiar story, what with the cosmonaut waiting to land, and the medalists in Albertville standing at the podium without an anthem or a national flag. The boat carries a cargo of relics from a country that no longer exists.

If ever a boat looked forlorn or uncertain, it is this sturdy, weather-beaten little craft, named for the American music Kirichenko loves best.

On the tube: ESPN's coverage of the America's Cup trials continues Friday night at 10.

Valentine's Day on the water: This weekend, the annual Valentine's Day one-design regatta hosted by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club has annexed the SR Max Midwinter Regatta. The SR boats, designed and built by St. Petersburg's Glen Henderson, were slated to race on the Gulf of Mexico, but a last-minute change of venue puts the boats on Tampa Bay Saturday and Sunday. Sonars, Lasers, and youth sailors in pram dinghies will race off The Pier in St. Petersburg. Call 822-3113 for more information.

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