A battle shapes up down under The Whitbread Watch


As the nine boats battle in the Whitbread Round the World Race, another contest is being settled beneath the waves.

It is the battle of two keels - the T-shaped and the L-shaped. It is a battle that was fought inconclusively in the testing tank before the raceand, so far, during the first and second legs, from Southampton, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, and from Cape Town to Fremantle, Australia.

Of the eight boats designed by Bruce Farr and Associates of Annapolis, five - Swedish sister yachts EF Language and EF Education, Monaco's Merit Cup, Britain's Silk Cut and the United States' Toshiba - have T-keels.

The other three - Chessie Racing, the Maryland entrant, Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, and Sweden's Swedish Match - have L-keels. The ninth boat, Holland's BrunelSunergy, designed Judel/Vrolijk, has a keel closer to a T than an L.

Much money and thought went into keel selection, a crucial element in the handling and speed of each boat, with six of the syndicates funding tests by Farr to find out which was better.

"It wasn't such an easy decision," said Magnus Olsson, who chose the T-keel for EF Language. "The report [from Farr] said more or less that there aren't any real differences."

"You could go any way you want," said George Collins, chief sponsor of Chessie Racing, who chose the L-keel for Chessie. "It was each syndicate's decision on which way to go."

The T-keel has a heavy bulb to stabilize the boat centered on its fin with equal protrusions fore and aft. For the L-shaped keel, the fin is moved slightly forward so its leading edge matches the bulb's front, leaving most of the bulb to the aft, much like the head of a golf club.

Theoretically, the T-keel should have less drag ,giving the boat better speed downwind, and the L-keel should have more lift, giving the boat's sails greater sideways resistance and allowing the boat to sail closer to the wind.

"It remains to be seen if that proves out," said Mark Fischer, co-skipper of Chessie.

Of the first six boats to finish Leg 1, four had T-keels and two had L-keels. Of the first six boats to finish Leg 2, three had T-keels and three had L-keels, including the first- and second-place finishers.

One undisputed advantage of the L-keel is that it sheds seaweed, a frequent impediment for racing yachts, much easier than the T-keel with its forward T-section for the weed to snag on at the bottom.

Although the boats have been unusually spread out in both legs so far, the gaps are mainly because of weather and sail selection than boat speed, suggesting keel selection played little part in the results.

The winners of Legs 1 and 2, Paul Cayard aboard EF Language and Gunnar Krantz aboard Swedish Match, attributed their victories to weather conditions at key stages of the legs.

Because most of the Whitbread is sailed in downwind conditions, especially in the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean in Legs 2 and 5 (Auckland, New Zealand, to Sao Sebastiao, Brazil), T-keeled boats, in theory, should have the advantage. With their fins farther aft, the T-keeled boats have less drag.

"It's like having a dart - the farther back the feathers, the straighter the dart flies," EF Language's Olsson said.

Bryan Fishback, Chessie's shore manager, said of the L-keel: "If you want to generalize, it could potentially be a problem, a problem in the sense that it may not be quite as quick. . . . What we have seen to date is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between the boats."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.