In Whitbread first, Toshiba earns leg disqualification U.S. boat penalized for starting engine

March 07, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil -- A five-man international jury yesterday disqualified the American yacht Toshiba, a prerace favorite in the Whitbread Round the World Race, from Leg 5 of the nine-leg 31,600-mile circumnavigation for "gross violation" of the rules.

Toshiba, skippered by Briton Paul Standbridge, was found guilty of starting its engine to clear weeds from its propeller and breaking its drive-shaft seals without reporting the incident to the race committee.

The disqualification from a leg was the first in the 25-year history of the Whitbread race.

"It's a technicality rule, and one we are paying a very high price for," said Standbridge, who said the Toshiba campaign would continue without change.

The jury's decision, after little more than an hour's deliberation, dropped Toshiba from fifth to sixth in the overall standings for the nine-boat fleet. Toshiba finished the 6,670-nautical-mile leg from Auckland, New Zealand, to this tropical port in sixth position and was awarded 65 points. Yesterday's ruling removes those points.

The seriousness with which Toshiba's action was viewed was reflected by the race committee's official complaint and the decision to fly in the jury. The only other jury hearing in this race was to hear a complaint by Toshiba against EF Language for allegedly failing to use navigation lights, but that protest failed on a technicality.

The jury yesterday found these facts against Toshiba:

The seals on the boat's propeller shaft were discovered to be broken on a routine check;

The engine had been started and put into gear to clear weeds from the propeller;

The use of the engine was neither recorded in the log book, nor was race headquarters informed until the crew made routine declarations at the end of the leg;

lTC Neither photographs nor video was taken of the broken seals for transmission to headquarters.

"No information was transmitted on the broken seals until the declarations were presented [when the crew arrived here]," said a statement from the jury, which disqualified Toshiba for "gross violation" of two rules, and "infringement" of a third.

Toshiba's standings change does not affect the overall fourth ranking of Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry, which has finished third in the past three legs. But it narrows the margin between Chessie and the next boat.

Chessie, with 399 points, had a 35-point lead over Toshiba. It now has a 27-point lead over Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, which benefited from the penalty on Toshiba, moving from sixth overall with 359 points to fifth with 372. Ahead of Chessie are Sweden's EF Language (507 points), Monaco's Merit Cup (411) and Swedish Match (404). Toshiba's points total dropped from 364 to 299.

It was the second major blow to the Toshiba team, headed by American Dennis Conner, since the nine-month race began in September.

After the first leg, 7,350 nautical miles from Southampton to Cape Town, South Africa, New Zealander Chris Dickson, a sailing champion since his teens, resigned as Toshiba's skipper, citing differences with the syndicate after the boat finished sixth. He was replaced by Standbridge, a veteran in his fifth and last Whitbread.

Standbridge and the Toshiba crew, who had waited in the shade of a thatched bar outside the hearing room in a seafront hotel here, left grim-faced without comment.

In a phone interview later, Standbridge said: "Everyone is disappointed, obviously, to lose points. But we will continue to battle on ."

With hindsight, he added, he should have informed the authorities. "No one questioned our honesty or integrity because we had admitted it," he said.

Seven Whitbreads have been sailed since the event was started in 1973. Previously, such a disqualification would have finished a boat's chances in the race, which was run on aggregate time. Some legs last more than 20 days, and to lose that time would have put a boat out of the competition.

This year, a points system was introduced, with each leg graded for difficulty and boats awarded points for the positions in which they finish. With four legs to go, Toshiba has an outside chance of a top-three podium finish.

"Disqualification for a leg has only become an option since we started doing proper scoring rather than doing it on time," race director Ian Bailey-Willmot said.

Leg 5 has taken a heavy toll. Two of the competitors, Britain's Silk Cut and Sweden's EF Education with its all-female crew, lost their masts and resigned from the leg, deciding to motor here.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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