Chessie meets Merit Cup on cheating implication Suggestion is what unfurls sails of bowman Kirby

March 05, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil -- So angry was Jerry Kirby, veteran bowman on Chessie Racing, that he literally shook Grant Dalton, skipper of Monaco's Merit Cup, awake from his first night's sleep ashore in 27 days, and demanded: "Do you think Chessie cheated?"

What angered Kirby -- and other members of Chessie's crew -- was Dalton's e-mail suggestion that the Maryland boat in the Whitbread Round the World Race had gained an unfair advantage by stopping for repair parts and supplies on its way round Cape Horn to the Leg 5 finish here in this tropical port.

"No, I don't think you cheated," the bleary-eyed Dalton told Kirby, looming over his bed in the Merit Cup team's lodgings. The New Zealand skipper explained that his objection was to the rule that allowed Chessie to resupply, not to what Chessie actually did.

"I told him that what bothered us most was that Chessie is being followed by thousands of [school] kids, and we didn't want them to get the impression we cheated," said Kirby, referring to the boat's sponsorship by Living Classrooms Foundation, financed by George Collins, former head of Baltimore brokerage T. Rowe Price.

Chessie met a resupply boat off Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, after its auxiliary engine broke down, preventing it for nearly six days from using its water-ballast system, critical to the boat's stability, and its desalination system, which converts sea water into fresh water. It took aboard parts for the repair, water and fresh food.

Dalton said he thought that stopping and resupplying in emergencies during the 31,600-mile circumnavigation should carry a penalty to prevent boats from abusing it.

In his e-mail from sea, he said that rather than risk his and his crew's lives by power-sailing in the raging Southern Ocean, he could simply "have broken some stuff so we could call in on the way past the Horn for more supplies." Then, knowing where other boats were encountering weather problems, he could have chosen a better course to pass them.

When Chessie was resupplied, Merit Cup and three other boats -- Swedish Match, the United States' Toshiba and Norway's Innovation Kvaerner -- were stalled in high pressure almost 300 miles ahead on the leg. Chessie sailed to the east of them, caught the wind and arrived here in third position, ahead of them.

"I don't know how anyone could say stopping made us faster," Chessie co-skipper Dee Smith said.

Dalton has made no formal objection to the rule with the Whitbread race committee, but his comments reflect the pressures at play at this level of international competition with reputations of sports stars and millions of dollars in sponsorship at stake.

"Michael Woods, race manager, said the rules of the race were written to keep the boats competitive, safe -- and in the race.

"You don't want to lose boats," he said. "That's not good for the sailors or particularly the sponsors."

Of Dalton's suggestion of penalizing resupply, Woods said: "You are pressuring people to make poor seamanship decisions to be competitive. There are lots of situations where it would be prudent seamanship to come in and repair and get resupplied. If you penalize people for that, there may be boats that decide not to."

Sailing, he said, depended on "the honor system." But, he conceded, the Whitbread rule book keeps growing thicker. "I think it's unfortunate," Woods said. "But there is more money and more pressure on people to push the boundary of the rules."

The propeller shafts were sealed for the first time to prevent illegal use of engines. This was done under pressure from the crews, who were apparently suspicious of each other in earlier races.

The race committee this week protested to a five-member international jury against U.S. entry Toshiba's use of its engine on Leg 5, and British skipper Paul Stanbridge's failure to report the incident immediately, as the rules require.

Toshiba, in an official statement, said the engine was put into reverse to cut loose seaweed on its propeller, and attributed the reporting oversight to "an unintended procedural error." The boat's speed at the time the engine was switched on was 10 knots, though the engine can drive Toshiba at no more than 8.5 knots, the statement said.

"When the engine was engaged, the folding propeller blades did not open because the boat's speed exceeded 3 knots, thus there was no change in boat speed caused by the engine," the statement added.

The jury is scheduled to meet here tomorrow to decide what action to take against Stanbridge and his boat, co-skippered by Dennis Conner.

If the protest is upheld, the boat could be fined or expelled from the leg, or even the race.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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