R&R ends in Whitbread, with next stop Australia Chessie, eight others set sail today in Leg 2 start

November 08, 1997|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Everything is ready. The boats are shipshape, the crews rested and the atmosphere electric.

America's Challenge, withdrawn during the stopover here after its Mexican agent failed to pass on its sponsor funding.

Paul Standbridge, who replaced Dickson as skipper of Toshiba, the pre-race favorite that finished sixth in Leg 1, said: "First of all, we have to redeem Toshiba's position to a slightly better place. And I'm looking forward to some slightly better sailing."

To help the all-woman crew of Sweden's EF Education -- ninth out of the 10 boats in Leg 1 -- cope with the Southern Ocean, French skipper Christine Guillou announced she had recruited two "very strong" crew members.

"It will be very physical," she said. "But we are prepared mentally, and we hope to be OK."

For Knut Frostad, skipper of Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, which was third in Leg 1, the key question was: How hard can you push the boat in the Southern Ocean without breaking it?

"I think we will have our hands full with all the winds down there," he said.

To prepare for the impending trial of man and machine, Chessie, fourth in Leg 1, has been totally stripped, examined, cleaned and refurbished. In its wardrobe of 17 sails, the boat has five new sails, including a heavy Kevlar main better suited to the rough conditions ahead.

Chessie's running rigging -- the ropes, shackles and pins that secure and control the sails -- has been replaced, and its mast and standing rigging -- the wires and rods that support the mast -- minutely examined.

The boat went for a shakedown sail Monday in Table Bay. It found local wind conditions so variable that it was able to test all of its sails in a single outing.

"We thought we were going to take a couple of days," said co-skipper Mark Fischer. "It's kind of a wild place."

In the shadow of Table Mountain there was almost no wind, allowing the lighter sails to be tested. Across the bay, a valley thermal provided winds of up to 28 knots, putting the heavier sails to test.

Fischer canceled a second day's sailing on Tuesday to give the crew more time on land.

It gave Juan Vila, Chessie's Spanish navigator, one more day to pore over weather charts and wind patterns, trying to find the best course to set for the fastest sailing. Vila already has settled on short-term and long-term strategies for Leg 2, but these could change, depending on weather patterns.

"You set up a pattern before time," he said. "You have not decided exactly what to do, but you have pretty much a good idea of what to look for."

One complicating factor in this year's race is the presence of the El Nino phenomenon.

Fischer said: "In an El Nino year, it seems the systems come a little further north. There is nothing to indicate we need to dive deep south."

On board Chessie for the first hour of today's race will be George Collins, former chief executive of T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore mutual fund company, and chief sponsor of Chessie. He has invested an estimated $5 million in the campaign, mainly through the educational trust Living Classrooms, which owns the $2.5 million boat and its $1 million worth of sails.

Collins, 57, who initially planned to sail all the way around the world, decided at the last minute to leave the longest and toughest legs to younger men. He will do today what he did after the start of Leg 1 -- jump onto an escort boat after seeing Chessie across the start line.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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