SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil -- Chessie Racing was expected to arrive in second or third place in Leg 5 of the Whitbread Round the World Race today, crossing the finish line here with a controversy trailing in her wake.
But before the crew answers questions hanging over a crucial resupply operation in the middle of the 6,670-nautical-mile leg across the Southern Ocean and round Cape Horn, they must finish their battle for second place with Dutch boat BrunelSunergy.
With just under 200 miles to go, Chessie last night was trailing BrunelSunergy by just 17 miles, a gap narrow enough to offer the chance of a second-place finish for the Maryland entry if it can find the right winds as the two boats try to out-tack each other to the finish.
Already in port beneath the mountains and palm trees here is EF Language, the Swedish favorite, which finished late Monday night after 23 days at sea under skipper Paul Cayard.
When Chessie ties up alongside EF Language, it will have 24 hours to file a report with the race committee on the incident off Tierra del Fuego in which it picked up fresh water, food, fuel and supplies.
"They would like to get back and tell everybody what they did," said Bryan Fishback, shore manager for Chessie, yesterday. "But at this point they are still involved in the yacht race and don't want to get involved in it."
The Whitbread race committee will decide whether the Maryland boat, sponsored by George Collins, former head of the Baltimore investment firm T. Rowe Price, stayed within the rules.
Under the rules, boats in emergencies can anchor within a mile of shore and receive supplies of food, water, fuel and replacement parts. BrunelSunergy and Norway's Innovation Kvaerner received outside assistance for repairs in earlier legs without raising eyebrows.
The resupply of Chessie became necessary after the failure of its auxiliary motor, used for powering the water-ballast system, which provides stability for the boat, and the desalination machine, which turns sea water into fresh water. The racing yachts rely on desalination to make water. They do not carry fresh water because of the weight. The machines can make up to 400 liters a day.
The 12-man Chessie crew had been without the water-making equipment for six days when they made a rendezvous with a vessel off Cabo Buen Suceso, Argentina.
If there is a formal protest, either from the race committee or a competitor, it will go to the international jury, which will make the final interpretation of the rules.
"Whether it's going to materialize into anything, I don't know," Fishback said. "I have not been told there will be a complaint. Maybe there will. Maybe there won't."
The controversy surrounding Chessie has been fueled because after the resupply the Maryland yacht drew ahead of four other boats that had been vying to finish in the top three of this leg.
"We may as well have not risked our lives in the [Southern Ocean] by power sailing " said Merit Cup's skipper, Grant Dalton.
Andrew Cape, on American entry Toshiba, said: "The logical extension of this rule will be to take the bare minimum of provision in the next leg around Brazil so when you get hungry you just wave your anchor in the water while within a mile of shore and a waiting boat stocks you up."
Cayard, freshened and shaved after his arrival on EF Language, was more cautious yesterday.
"Maybe it's a rule that has to be reviewed," he said. "As the rules are today, it exists, and it's an option [to receive outside assistance]. I am not sure they [Chessie] did anything wrong."
Michael Wood, the Whitbread race manager, said in an interview here: "In sailing, the honor system is a very important part of yacht racing. At present, I don't expect the race committee will take any action on this."
At Chessie headquarters here, the chief concern is to counter any suggestion that Chessie cheated. The resupply was necessary and minimal, Fishback said, and the boat's subsequent performance was because of weather patterns, not fresh food or water.
"Our biggest concern with what Dalton [of Merit Cup] said is that the kids who are following us will think we have broken the rules. We have not. We have done nothing wrong," said Kathy Alexander, spokeswoman for Chessie Racing.
Classes of school children in Maryland and around the world are following Chessie, which is sponsored through Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore.
Meanwhile, Silk Cut, which was dismasted in the Southern Ocean portion of this leg, has retired from the leg. The British boat will receive 26 points, the minimum for Leg 5, and be allowed to continue in remaining legs.
Status: Day 26, Leg 5
Boat, Nautical miles to finish
1. EF Language, --
2. BrunelSunergy, 187.0
3. Chessie Racing, 204.0
4. Swedish Match, 298.6
5. Merit Cup, 307.0
6. Toshiba, 307.0
7. Innovation Kvaerner, 397.1
8. Silk Cut, 1,101.5
9. EF Education, 2,160.5
(as of 00: 8: 45 GMT)
Weather: Boats face adverse NE winds, 10-18 knots. A weakening front near 38S/40W to 29S/50W producing light winds, but not affecting NE flow. A weak low hangs around 34/S 46/W.
Note: Information compiled from Whitbread Round the World Race Web site at www.whitbread.org
Pub Date: 2/26/98