Chessie finishes wild ride of Leg 2 Maryland crew confident despite damage to keel on Southern Ocean

The Whitbread Watch

November 26, 1997|By BRUCE STANNARD | BRUCE STANNARD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FREMANTLE, Australia - Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry in the Whitbread Round the World Race, rolled into Fremantle on the back of a black rain squall just after dawn this morning, ending an exhilarating, exhausting 18-day passage across the treacherous Southern Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa

Five other Whitbread boats were already snug in the tranquillity of Fremantle Harbor as Chessie stormed across the line under a big blue and white spinnaker. Three other boats were still out there somewhere on a dark gray and rain-swept sea.

There were no crowds on the quay to welcome the boat, no flotilla of small craft. But the families of Chessie crew, many of them with small children, were there in force, braving the cold and wet to cheer and applaud as skipper Mark Fischer brought the boat alongside the dock.

When the lines were secure, bowman Eric Deppe was the first to leap ashore and take his 2-month-old daughter, Isobel, in his arms for the first time. Deppe's wife, Anastasia, gave birth in the United States while he was two days out of Southampton, England, on Leg 1, and this was the first time he had seen his child.

Chessie's crew were in good spirits, but Fischer was unable to conceal his disappointment at finishing sixth in a boat that clearly could have done so much better. Chessie had been up among the leaders two days out of Cape Town, he said, when around dusk, she struck what he believes was a whale.

"We never saw whatever it was," he said. "But it had to be something very large. We were doing 12 knots in 21 knots of breeze when there was an almighty thud and the boat rode right up in the water. It was as though we had run right up on a sandy bottom. It wasn't a hard object. It felt like something organic. We figured it had to be a very large whale."

Fischer said that after the collision Chessie was never again able to achieve the speeds it should have been capable of.

"We figured we had sustained significant keel damage," he said. "So we hove-to, and Jerry Kirby put on a couple of dry suits and jumped overboard to take a look.

"The water temperature was 4 degrees Celsius so he was very, very cold. Air trapped in his dry suits kept him so buoyant that he couldn't dive so he had to let the air out, and when he did that, of course, the cold water poured in. it must have been horrible, but he dived down and when he came up he immediately went down again. That's when we knew he'd found something.

"Sure enough, about 4 feet down he found the leading edge of the keel all squished up."

Squished? "Yeah, beat up, smashed, flattened," he explained. Fischer said he believes the damage cost him 5 percent in boat speed in light air.

The keel is to be repaired when Chessie is hauled out in Fremantle in two or three days. After a single day of R&R, Fischer plans to take Chessie back to sea. Five sails, three spinnakers and two staysails, exploded on the Southern Ocean leg.

"There's a Rolling Stones song that goes, 'she's shattered, she's in tatters,'" he said. "That explains exactly what our sails look like."

Replacement sails were made at North Sails in Annapolis and flown to Western Australia. Fischer is eager to test the new gear on the boat before they are submitted for official measurement.

Despite his disappointment, Fischer remains entirely confident that Chessie is still able to win the Whitbread. "Before the collision with the whale we were racing neck and neck with Swedish Match, Silk Cut and EF Language," he said, "so we know we are on the pace. In the Southern Ocean we were doing BTC 26 knots in 42 knots of wind.

"We learned a lot about our boat and about ourselves in the Southern Ocean," Fischer said. "Chessie is excellent in light air and terrific in power reaching. It's been a steep learning curve, but we're hanging in there. I think you will see us sail very much better from now on."

Chessie Racing syndicate chairman George Collins plans to sail the next leg, from Fremantle to Sydney.

Update

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

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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