'Still competitive,' boat to fix problems After finishing fifth in leg, Maryland crew has list of improvements to make

October 29, 1997|By GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE | GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- With its fifth-place finish in Leg 1 of the Whitbread Round the World yacht race, Chessie Racing has established itself as a competitive and reliable boat in one of the toughest high-seas challenges.

"The fact that we were as competitive for as long as we were tells us the boat is still competitive," said George Collins, chief sponsor of the Chessie program and former head of T. Rowe Price.

The 64-foot, white-hulled boat, decorated with the blue and green "Chessie" monster, arrived here after 7,350 miles of tough sailing, with less damage than it received in the 3,000 miles of an earlier transatlantic crossing.

"The repair list doesn't seem to be as great," said Collins, who has put about $5 million into Maryland's entry, most of it through Living Classrooms, the education foundation he founded. "It's a very good boat," co-skipper Mark Fischer said. "We made a lot of very good decisions in the building process."

Nevertheless, as Chessie ran before winds of more than 30 knots, endured squalls of up to 40 knots, battled through mountainous seas, and endured seemingly endless calm, it did encounter problems. Among them were:

* A generator that produced only 20 amps instead of the prescribed 50 amps of power. This meant they had to use the generator more than anticipated to keep the batteries charged. But the boat was carrying only enough fuel to allow use of two pints a day to run the generator, the reverse osmosis system for turning sea water into fresh water, and the pumping system for shifting ballast water, used to stabilize the boat, from side to side.

Water was rationed from the first week, use of the ballast system was scrutinized and satellite transmissions of videos from the boat were cut. The faulty generator will be renovated before Chessie sets out on the toughest leg of the race on Nov. 8 - the estimated 19-day sail across 4,600 miles of the Southern Ocean, through the Roaring Forties, to Fremantle, Australia.

* The tuff luff - a furrowed rail through which the headsails are run up to the masthead - that kept allowing sails to spring from the groove. This forced a bowman to go aloft each time a headsail was raised to secure it, a potentially dangerous operation with the masthead swinging several feet like a pendulum as the boat below pitches and rolls. It is estimated that Chessie's two bowmen went aloft more than 300 times in 32 days at sea.

"We could get [the sails] up, but we couldn't get them down," bowman Jerry Kirby said. "So every headsail change, we had to go up."

The tuff luff will be replaced and the headsails will be adjusted to better fit the track.

* A backstay shackle that snapped while the boat was running ahead of a 30-knot wind while flying its asymmetrical masthead spinnaker.

Luckily, the crew had rigged a safety strop, which took the strain, and were able to replace the shackle before the strop, which had started to fray, could break.

"Had we not had backup on it, we would probably have broken the mast," said co-skipper James Allsopp, of North Sails, Annapolis.

All the running rigging - halyards, sheets, shackles and pins - will be replaced before the next leg, and a strong backstay shackle with an extra purchase point will be installed.

One advantage some boats had were receivers for pictures from the public weather satellite. Chessie, to save weight, did not carry one. It relied on the race organizers to relay weather photos. The service proved unreliable. For the next eight legs, Chessie will be equipped with its own satellite image receiver.

Allsopp, who co-skippered Leg 1 to check the performance of Chessie's sails, said they were fine. One sail blew out when it was used in too high a wind. By the end of the cruise the sails, which on average were changed seven times each four-hour watch, were being used at close to 90 percent of potential, Allsopp said, adding, "We learned a tremendous lot."

One thing they learned: They should have carried a couple of heavier sails for the conditions they encountered. The Whitbread boats are allowed to carry 17 sails. "It would seem like a lot of sails," Collins said. "But some of those sails unfortunately have a very narrow groove [of effectiveness].

"The sail decision hurt us," Collins said. "One person told me [not having the right sails] cost us two positions, maybe three. Those are our engines. Those are what drives the boat at maximum speed."

For the fiercer conditions of the next leg, Chessie will have a heavier set of sails and a new asymmetrical spinnaker to be flown from the transitional rig, not the masthead.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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