Meeting with whale sends Chessie back to the pack Re-inspection reveals damage to boat's keel

November 18, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry in the Whitbread Round the World Race, started the second leg of the race in last place, moved up to second for a time and, after hitting a whale last week, began to slip into the middle of the pack.

Co-skipper Mark Fischer said in a report to race headquarters that the team's Whitbread 60, Chessie, is neither leaking nor heavily damaged as a result of the whale incident, which occurred Wednesday near the Prince Edward Islands and first was reported to be a seal.

"Chessie was running before 21 knots of breeze with the spinnaker up sailing at 12 to 14 knots, when suddenly there was a loud thud," Fischer reported by e-mail. "The crew was thrown forward as the boat slowed, but only momentarily. The boat surged forward again and was back to sailing, almost as normal."

The crew immediately checked for damage and leaks, found none and resumed racing.

"[But] having paced side by side with EF Language and Silk Cut for days, the crew found it a bit disconcerting that we didn't seem to have quite the same speed as before," Fischer said. "We watched anxiously as EF and Silk Cut slowly slipped away."

Fischer said a computer analysis of Chessie's performance after the incident confirmed "the boat was performing below its historical standards," and the skipper asked for a volunteer to go over the side to inspect the keel and rudder for damage or obstructions.

Bowman Jerry Kirby, dressed in two dry suits and several layers of fleece clothing underneath to protect against the effects of the 45-degree water, found the leading edge of the keel blunted, leaving a ragged edge for a depth of 4 to 5 feet and a small crack at the top of the keel, where it meets the hull.

"Apparently, the contact of a couple days prior was with a whale," Fischer said. "While we had originally optimistically hoped for a run-in with a sleeping shark or seal, the damage to the leading edge of the keel was much larger than that."

The team reports that the damage will be repaired at the end of Leg 2 and that currently it has "a solid boat with a solid keel."

"Instead of relying on boat speed, our only weapons will be tactics and patience while we work our way through the remaining miles to Fremantle, Australia," Fischer said.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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