For most of the first five days of Leg 5 in the Whitbread Round the World Race, Chessie Racing held first place, fighting off challenges from each of the other top five Whitbread 60s as the nine-boat fleet sailed south along the east coast of New Zealand in light to moderate winds and tropical seas.
But by Day 6, last Friday, Chessie was beginning to fade as the leaders sailed toward the latitudes of the Furious 50s and the winds and seas began to rise. At today's second position report at 6 a.m. GMT, Chessie was in sixth place, 134 nautical miles behind leader EF Language.
"After racing halfway around the world, there are few secrets left," Chessie Racing skipper and founder George Collins said last Friday, while in Baltimore. "I think we are devilishly fast in light air - maybe too fast and at the expense of performance in heavier conditions."
Since Friday, the Southern Ocean has roiled the fleet, and damages have mounted aboard the Maryland entry. Two days ago, the water ballast and freshwater systems went out, and since then the mainsail has been damaged and the radar system has broken down.
Last night, bowman Greg Gendell of Annapolis suffered a gash in his leg during a sail change, which required seven staples to close, according to Chessie Racing press officer Kathy Alexander.
Reports from on board Chessie indicate that the extreme cold temperatures prevented Gendell from immediately realizing the extent of the injury, and he went to his sleeping bag without treatment.
When awaking for his next watch, Gendell realized the extent of the gash and was treated by onboard medic Jerry Kirby, who contacted Dr. Robert Greenfield of Annapolis to consult on appropriate treatment and antibiotics. Greenfield is one of the volunteer doctors and nurses who taught the Chessie crew first XTC aid procedures before the race. Gendell is expected to recover quickly.
The loss of the fresh-water maker and water ballast equipment has meant the crew has been unable to prepare their freeze-dried meals or trim the boat properly for the riotous sea conditions of the past several days.
While the damaged mainsail is repaired, the radar is out of commission and the water ballast system inoperable, Alexander said Chessie will sail a more northerly route to avoid icebergs and minimize further damage aboard.
Crew member Paul Van Dyke said by e-mail that on Saturday the ocean "jumped up and smacked us around a bit." A spinnaker sheet jammed in a winch, the helmsman lost steerage and Chessie spun viciously into the wind.
"The spinnaker was flogging, the rig was shaking and we actually started going backward," Van Dyke wrote.
On Monday, Chessie trimmer/ driver Jonathan Swain reflected on wind, waves and weather that quickly "humbles one."
"It was definitely some of the wettest sailing I ever have done," Swain wrote, noting occasional snow flurries. "Ice cold water continuously coming across the deck in mounds of spray as we surfed along at 20-25 knots. . . . I believe we now have a new top speed record of over 30 knots, but there was just too much spray to see the instruments."
Swain also noted a problem with a fundamental source of comfort.
"We did have one break-down which some people may find humorous," Swain said. "The toilet is now officially out of order and probably will be for the duration of the leg."