Nature calls upon sailor's wits First a run-in with a whale, then a fighting flying fish, now a crew needs a toilet

The Whitbread Watch

October 08, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Nearly three weeks into the Whitbread Round the World Race, the leaders still are some 3,600 miles from Cape Town, while the back of the 10-boat fleet have more than 4,000 miles to go, and there is continuing concern that the first leg will become truly a race for survival.

"It is already apparent that this leg will take longer than original estimates," Grant Spanhake, watch captain on Chessie Racing, said last week. "With weight being such a premium for speed, we carry only the minimum amount of fuel to make it to Cape Town. . . . So rationing started to ensure we make it all the way with instruments and water."

Although each boat races under sail, diesel fuel powers the generator that runs the freshwater maker, the water ballast systems and the electronics that allow weather forecasting, tracking and communications.

Spanhake estimated that Chessie will need three to four extra days to reach Cape Town.

But for Brunel Sunergy (The Netherlands), which is limping along in last place after it broke its rudder during a run-in with a whale, the leg could take longer.

Skipper Hans Bouscholte said his boat hit a 50-foot whale at 10 knots Sunday and a two-foot portion at the bottom of the rudder was snapped off.

"There is no leakage, but we are having some control problems," he said. "But with this amount of wind [12 knots at the time], we are still able to sail the boat safely."

The options for the Dutch boat are to put into Recife, Brazil, for repairs or to sail to Cape Town using the broken rudder until it fails and then fitting the emergency rudder. The emergency rudders, however, are not built for high-speed sailing.

While Innovation Kvaerner is still leading the fleet, there are problems aboard. First, the team left its soap, shampoo and razors on the docks in Southampton. Now, the toilet aboard has broken.

Nick Willets, boat builder aboard Innovation Kvaerner, said the crew "will be without the toilet the rest of this leg."

In nice weather, Willets said, the crew will "do the business right over the back of the boat. What happens if the weather cuts up rough? I guess we'll just have to use the bucket downstairs."

Aboard Toshiba, the Chris Dickson-Dennis Conner pre-race favorite that is languishing in 6th place more than 330 miles behind the leader, a small electrical fire and an incident with a pugnacious flying fish kept the crew busy and mood light.

"Hopefully minor and repairable," Dickson said of the electrical system flare-up, "as no generator means no water maker and that means no water and that means 12 thirsty sailors in about 12 hours time."

Toshiba, as have many of the boats, has encountered large number of flying fish, which by nature surge from the water in long arcs, sustaining flight with large pectoral fins.

Dickson reported "a little drama [Saturday] night as the helmsman was happily steering the boat on a very dark and moonless night.

"Shirt off and all concentration, wind about 15 knots and boat speed about 12," Dickson said, "when -- whack -- I was punched in the face by a flying fish doing 20 knots in the opposite direction. . . . Left me close to seeing stars. . . . A black eye and bruised eyeball were soon forgotten, but the fishy smell has taken a little longer to get rid of."

The Equatorial heat of the Doldrums has been a problem for many of the crews.

"The heat is slowly taking a harder grip on the crew as we approach the Equator," reported Swedish Match (Sweden) skipper Gunnar Krantz. "Producing water for 11 crew that drinks 5-7 liters per day, minimum, is a big job for the little engine."

Meanwhile, as living conditions aboard the 60-foot racers became less bearable, tension was building on some boats, including Chessie, which managed to win the gamble of the week as the leaders passed the Cape Verde Islands late last week.

While Innovation Kvaerner, Merit Cup and EF Language chose to pass west of the islands, the race office in England reported that "only scrappy Chessie Racing, which has stubbornly held fourth place for days, took the gamble and shot between the islands."

"There was a lot of tension aboard," Spanhake reported as Chessie neared the islands. "Jim Allsopp, our tactician, and our navigator, Juan Villa, made the call to pass to the East."

Paul Cayard, skipper of EF Language, said, "We got hammered by doing the conservative thing. . . . Now it looks like we are getting hammered by Chessie, who did cut through the islands."

Scoring system

Each boat will be awarded points for the position in which it finishes each leg. Each legis graded for length and difficulty.

Points for Leg 1:

1st, 125; 2nd, 110; 3rd, 97; 4th, 84; 5th, 72; 6th, 60; 7th, 48; 8th, 36; 9th, 24; 10th, 12.


South of the Equator, winds will be south to southeast at 8 to 16 knots and will increase during the next 24 to 36 hours. Just north of the Equator, squalls are expected and winds will be variable. This can adversely affect the boats back in the pack.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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