Race, like weather, heats up Week in review



With the freezing furies of the Southern Ocean weeks behind them, the fleet in the Whitbread Round the World Race has entered Leg 6 from Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and during the first four days the racing has been as close and heated as the weather.

"It is hot out here. Water temperature is now 88 degrees. . . . Inside the boat it is real hard to sleep," reported Paul Cayard, skipper of Sweden's EF Language, in an e-mail yesterday. "We have the fans going and all the hatches (which isn't many) open."

For the next 1,500 nautical miles, the weather will get hotter as the fleet crosses the Equator and enters the Northern Hemisphere for the first time since early last October.

"This leg is the only one in the Whitbread where we start in a hot location, go to a hotter location and finish in a hot place," watch captain Dave Scott e-mailed from Chessie Racing, which led the fleet for an 18-hour period earlier in the week, fell to fifth, then moved up to third in today's first position report at midnight (GMT). "We are traveling very light in the manner of extra clothes and foul weather gear. . . . For the 20-plus day leg, we each have only one to two extra shirts and a pair of shorts."

Without heavy gear and clothing required for the previous legs in the race, Scott said, Chessie has been able to sail fast in the light to medium winds the fleet has encountered since the start on Saturday.

rTC "Usually, when we leave for such a long leg, we can never get the boat up to the targeted boat speed for the given true wind angle and wind speed," said Scott, who noted the heat index inside Chessie had reached 105.7 degrees. "From the outset of Leg 6, we have managed to hit the required numbers."

Since the start of the leg, the fleet has been spread in three loose groups across 30 miles as the nine boats worked to round the hump of Brazil and find the trade winds.

At today's second position report at 6 a.m. (GMT), Norway's Innovation Kvaerner was in first place, 40 nautical miles ahead of last place Swedish Match.

Between midnight and 6 a.m. yesterday, the Netherlands' BrunelSunergy moved from last to fourth place and then moved past Chessie into third by yesterday's noon report before falling to sixth early today. Innovation Kvaerner, Britain's Silk Cut and BrunelSunergy, as the westernmost group, picked up a rising southerly before it reached boats farther offshore to the east.

Tactically, the boats that hit the trade winds first and can cross the Doldrums most easily will be hard to catch. For the first few days, at least, the leg has been a drag race - except when squalls blow through and shifty winds force quick sail and course changes.

Recife, at the northeastern tip of Brazil, marks where the racers ,, expect to enter the Doldrums, the convergence zone to either side of the Equator that is marked by erratic winds and frequent but brief squalls.

While the sailing conditions are warm and the racing has been spirited, several crews have managed to avoid disaster through quick thinking and teamwork.

On Monaco's Merit Cup, bowman Jarred Henderson free-climbed from the hounds to the top of the mast to retrieve a wayward halyard as the boat sped through choppy seas in 25 knots of wind.

EF Language reported the closest encounter with disaster as strong winds and a rogue wave arrived simultaneously. "Somewhere along the road, in the black of night, we got a 37-knot puff coupled with a steep wave and buried the bow three feet under water," Cayard reported in Sunday's e-mail. "I thought she was gone. . . . The rig, that is."

While the mast and rigging stayed up, the incident swept six bags of sails stacked on deck overboard and ripped away all the starboard stanchions. Cayard said the crew recovered all six sails, but in the interim they lost six miles.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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