Chessie's risk-taking may pay off yet Maryland entry took a flier and paid big price, but has made up 130 miles on fleet

The Whitbread Watch

May 13, 1998|By PETER BAKER | PETER BAKER,SUN STAFF

When Chessie Racing left Annapolis 10 days ago on the penultimate leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race, team founder George Collins advised the skipper and crew, "Don't be afraid to take some risks out there."

During the past few days, Chessie skipper John Kostecki and navigator Juan Vila have taken a flier, crossing the track of the fleet and positioning themselves well to the north, gambling they can race farther and faster than the other eight competitors.

As of today's first position report at midnight (GMT), Chessie was in last place, 73.3 nautical miles behind leader Merit Cup.

But at the noon report Monday, Chessie was more than 200 miles off the lead as the Maryland entry moved northeast, looking for favorable winds. During the next 30 hours, race headquarters reported, Chessie rode the lower edge of a strong low pressure system at boat speeds of 12 to 16 knots and gained more than 130 miles on the leaders.

Britain's Silk Cut, which was sailing in sixth place this morning, also has worked north of the fleet and has made gains similar to Chessie's.

Merit Cup and Toshiba are sailing in the middle of the 200-mile north-south spread of the fleet and up against a wall of high pressure and light winds. As Chessie was averaging knots in the teens, Merit Cup, at one point, was making 2 knots, and the leaders' average has been 8 to 10 knots.

"This low pressure will bring relief to the backmarkers as the front boats are trying to climb/go through the wall," said Innovation Kvaerner navigator Marcel van Triest. "As we collect every crumb of information to predict this, the weather routing shows Merit Cup 5 miles ahead and Silk Cut 5 miles behind in about four to five days.

"Chessie and Silk Cut fans, don't despair yet."

George Caras of Commanders' Weather, the Whitbread routing service, said the high pressure system blocking the leaders should pass south by today and winds should pick up west to east from the southwest.

"In a nutshell, they could all have good wind on Wednesday of 15 to 25 knots," Caras said. "For the northerly boats, boat speed could be as high as 30 knots."

Earlier in the leg, Paul van Dyke reported from Chessie that sailing conditions had been "smooth" as the crew sailed on the southern edge of the fleet until crossing the foggy Grand Banks and the lower perimeter of the iceberg zone.

"It is cooling down outside with the water at 39 degrees and the air temperature at 46 degrees," van Dyke wrote in an e-mail Saturday. "Tonight should be the coldest by far. We suspected we spotted an iceberg on our radar screen, but due to low visibility we could not confirm it visually.

"I know all you Chessie people are not happy with the position of the bright green box on the leader board. Neither are we."

By Sunday, Chessie watch captain Dave Scott reported by e-mail that the mood aboard was "not very upbeat."

"When we make gains on the fleet it is a matter of a mile or two," he said. "When we lose miles it is in the double digits. We have been sailing the boat hard . . . and we have the boys down in the nav station scratching their heads in search of passing lanes. Juan has been known to find something others might miss."

With its prospecting move northeast across the fleet, Chessie has, for the time being, struck it rich. The question is whether it will continue to pan out.

"A front is heading our way this evening, so we are preparing for a night of heavy air reaching," Chessie crew member Jonathan Swain wrote yesterday. "This should enable us to close the gap between us and the leaders."

Throughout the leg, reports from Chessie and other crews indicate abundant marine life - dolphins, seals, whales and sharks.

"The day was quite uneventful until the afternoon watch snagged something on the rudder," Swain said yesterday. "After a look . . . it was decided that we would have to douse the spinnaker in order to clear the rudder . . . and Jerry Kirby prepared to jump over the side if need be.

"Luckily for him he didn't, as it wasn't a tire as we first thought, but a fair-sized shark, which was trapped around the rudder. Once the boat had stopped, the shark disappeared."

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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