After 'flying,' team doused in Doldrums

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

Chessie Racing, the Baltimore-Annapolis entry in the Whitbread Round the World Race, spent most of the past week racing solidly in 4th place -- moving at a snail's pace on some days and racing at breakneck speed on others.

"We are absolutely flying right now. The gunwale of the boat is in the water, spray flying off . . . and pouring into the cockpit," watch captain and electronic mailman Grant Spanhake reported Saturday.

As Chessie approached the Doldrums on Saturday, Spanhake reported 15 to 20 knots of boat speed, clear skies, temperatures above 95 degrees on deck and 115 degrees below deck -- and Silk Cut (England) nearly 20 miles behind in 5th place.

By Sunday's report, however, Chessie was in the Doldrums -- "huge rain clouds, lightning, thunder, the wind swinging wildly with every passing cloud" -- and Silk Cut suddenly was within sight.

"I can see the shark [painted] on the bow and the crew in their wet weather gear on deck," Spanhake said, as Chessie and Silk Cut made frequent sail changes, each trying for a slight edge in speed and direction and each hoped to be the first to clear the Doldrums.

On Monday, the question on everyone's lips, Spanhake reported as Chessie sailed through some of the "heaviest downpours imaginable" was, "Are we out of the Doldrums yet?"

Suddenly, out of one rain shower, Silk Cut appeared and a tacking duel ensued, as each crew changed course back and forth hoping for an advantage. The battle continued through the night, peaking with six course changes in three hours after which, Spanhake said, "tempers were short."

"During a tacking duel, the off watch has to work the hardest," Spanhake said. "They get woken up and have to change bunks from one side of the boat to the other to keep their body weight [movable ballast] on the high side.

"They have to move all the sails and gear bags [more movable ballast] to the new high side as well. The process takes about 20 minutes. In essence, their sleep is nonexistent."

Since the tacking duel, Silk Cut has moved past Chessie into 4th place.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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