Leg 2: Heavy on wind, waves and tactics To beat Southern Ocean, a crew must know when to 'exit' north to Australia

November 05, 1997|By GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE | GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAPE TOWN, South Africa - It's what the Whitbread Round the World Race is all about - the Southern Ocean, one of the wildest, coldest, most dangerous stretches of water on earth.

With just days to go to the restart of the race on Saturday, an air of anticipation has settled over the yacht basin here where the boats - and their crews - are being readied for the worst that nature can throw at them.

"Once you have done that, there's not much else," said Jerry Kirby, bowman on Chessie Racing, the Maryland entrant and one of nine lightweight 64-foot racing yachts waiting for the starter's gun at the harbor mouth here.

"It's just out-on-the-edge sailing," Kirby said. "When you take a boat like that into hard conditions and come back in one piece it's a real accomplishment."

The boats will be setting out on the second leg of their 31,600-mile circumnavigation, which will take them across 4,600 miles of the Southern Ocean and into the Roaring Forties as they race to Fremantle, Australia.

Lisa Charles, the American bowman on the all-female EF Education who will have to go up the 100-foot mast to resolve any problems aloft whatever the conditions, said: "There's a lot to look forward to. Everyone is excited to go and see the Southern Ocean and see how we get on down there.

"Half the battle is going to be to push the boat as hard as you can without breaking things. Things will happen much more quickly than they have in the past."

To withstand the conditions, Chessie Racing and the other boats have been equipped with heavier sails and new running rigging. Chessie also has had a satellite transmission receiver installed at the stopover to give Juan Vila, the Spanish navigator, constant weather data.

For Vila, who has sailed in two previous Whitbreads, the Southern Ocean presents a dilemma: How far south to go and how soon to turn north for Australia.

The farther south the more low pressures and high westerly winds to blow a boat toward Australia; but too far south the more danger of getting on the wrong side of the depressions and in the path of icebergs.

"That is a major tactical call and one you will be watching the fleet very closely on," said Paul Standbridge, the British skipper who replaced Chris Dickson at the helm of prerace favorite Toshiba after its sixth-place finish on Leg 1.

"You get on the freeway [the westerly winds] and you carry on 'round, but then you have to get off [to head north to Fremantle]. You get off an exit too early or an exit too late and there is a big deficit."

Standbridge, who will be crossing the Southern Ocean for the fifth time as a Whitbread racer, said: "I love the place. It's an ocean very rich in wildlife. This is a boat race, but one can enjoy the surroundings, the geography of the place. It's definitely iceberg country. There are dangers."

To counter the bone-chilling cold, Chessie's crew will have warmer gear and more food for the leg, estimated to last 19 days. On the 32-day Leg 1, Chessie's crew lost an average of 7 pounds.

To bolster them on their passage through the Southern Ocean, daily rations will be increased from 3,000 calories to 4,000 calories. Watches on board the Maryland entrant are to be rearranged to compensate for the increased dangers. Instead of having six men on deck and six men on stand-down, it will always have two of the off-duty crew sleeping dressed and ready for duty on deck.

Hans Bouscholte, skipper of BrunelSunergy, which finished last in Leg 1 after breaking its rudder when it was hit by a whale and also bending its mast, said: "The Southern Ocean - that's scary. Everyone is dreaming about it.

"In the Tropics it was very, very hot, and we couldn't sleep. We were talking to the guys [with previous Whitbread experience]. What is the Southern Ocean like? How dangerous is it? How hard do the winds blow - 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 knots? The stories just kept on growing and growing."

For Dee Smith, who will co-skipper Chessie on Leg 2, it will be his first experience of the Southern Ocean, but, like other sailors here, he is not fazed by its ferocity.

"For me," he said, "it's going to be the same as sailing down the coast of northern California in the spring time - big winds, big waves, boat and water, so let's go. Put the 'chute up and fly. I can't think of anything better in a sailor's notion of what to be doing."

Standings after Leg 1

Boat (Country).. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Pts.

EF Language (Sweden) .. .. .. .. .. .. ..125

Merit Cup (Monaco).. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..110

Innovation Kvaerner (Norway).. .. .. .. ..97

Silk Cut (Britain) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..84

Chessie Racing (U.S.).. .. .. .. .. .. ...72

Toshiba (U.S.) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...60

America's Challenge (U.S.)* .. .. .. .. ..48

Swedish Match (Sweden).. .. .. .. .. .. ..36

EF Education (Sweden) .. .. .. .. .. .. ..24

BrunelSunergy (Netherlands) .. .. .. .. ..12

*Withdrew from race

Race update

The Whitbread Watch is a weekly log of the Round the World Race. Look for it every Wednesday in The Sun.

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