Balance of Volvo hanging in wind

Slow going is expected for 100-mile finish run in light bay conditions


April 17, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

With one eye on the competition and the other watching the Gulf Stream, the skippers of the eight boats competing in the sixth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race are lining up for the final day's sailing into Baltimore.

The end of the 875-mile leg from Miami can't come soon enough for the crews, which have spent much of the time changing sails to try to match fluky wind conditions.

The race has three distinct groupings of boats: News Corp, illbruck Challenge, Amer Sports One and ASSA ABLOY in the lead group; Tyco, SEB and djuice dragons in the second; and the all-woman entry, Amer Sports Too, alone and far behind.

Light winds are forecast in the Chesapeake Bay, and unless the boats catch the incoming tide, it may be slow going for the 100-mile trip to the finish line. Unless things change, the Volvo race committee estimates the winning boat will arrive here early tomorrow morning.

Roger Nilson, aboard Amer Sports One, said most of the boats had used three different spinnakers since the start, trying to find something to match to the conditions. The problem is being compounded by the fact that some boats chose to carry fewer than 18 sails to save weight and gain speed.

In an e-mail Monday, Nick White, the News Corp navigator, noted that each boat seemed to be getting its turn at a puff of breeze, only to have it disappear and favor another boat.

"The only reason this will be a record time to Baltimore is that this is the first time from Miami to Baltimore," he said jokingly.

Yet, News Corp was able to find enough wind and help from the 3-knot Gulf Stream to slip into the lead yesterday, an unfamiliar place for the entry owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch and adorned with the face of Bart Simpson.

Skipper Jez Fanstone's aggressive sailing - making up four miles in 12 hours - pushed overall race leader illbruck Challenge into second place.

Illbruck, with American John Kostecki at the helm, had fought back from a poor start in Miami on Sunday to overtake ASSA ABLOY and grab a slim lead Monday. But Kostecki's lead then vanished overnight.

Miami may be far behind them, but skippers and crew can't stop talking about the bizarre restart on which six of the eight boats jumped the gun and were called back to try again.

Stig Westergaard, the helmsman aboard djuice dragons, took the blame for what he called his boat's "pitiful start."

"[I] didn't take notice of our starting area getting cramped with our competitors," he wrote in an e-mail. "Got us too close to the line without leaving room to bail out. ... On top of that, we might have fouled one of the other boats. We possibly could have gotten out of it, but didn't dare to chance it. So we did a 720 [degree penalty turn] after the last gate. A true example of how not to do it."

Westergaard was correct. Amer Sports One skipper Grant Dalton lodged a protest, as did ASSA ABLOY against illbruck. Both will be sorted out when the boats reach Baltimore.

The best viewing of the finish during daylight hours will be the lawn at Fort McHenry. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and parking is limited. If the winds die, the race committee can move the finish line south to the Bay Bridge.

The Volvo will leave Baltimore on April 26 for a Parade of Sail to Annapolis. The restart of the race and the 3,400-mile seventh leg to LaRochelle, France, will be April 28. From there, it's on to Goteborg, Sweden, and the finish line at Kiel, Germany, about June 9.

Volvo events

Today, 11 a.m.: Baltimore Waterfront Festival opens.

Tomorrow: Storm Trysail Hemingway Cup finish, at Rusty Scupper, Inner Harbor.

Friday, 5 p.m.: Volvo Ocean Race Welcoming Ceremony at Harborplace Amphitheater.

April 25, 6 p.m.: Volvo Ocean Race prize giving, Power Plant Live.

April 26, 10 a.m.: Maryland Maritime Festival opens, Annapolis City Dock.

April 26, noon: Blessing of the Fleet and Parade of Sail to Annapolis, Inner Harbor West Wall.

April 26, 5 p.m.: Annapolis welcomes Volvo Ocean Race fleet, City Dock. April 26, 6 p.m.: Annapolis/Eastport Volvo Ocean Race party, Eastport Yacht Club.

April 27, 10 a.m.: Volvo Skippers Forum, Annapolis City Dock.

April 27, 10 a.m.: Restart Festival at Sandy Point State Park opens.

April 28, 9 a.m.: Bay Bridge Walk.

April 28, 10 a.m.: Restart Festival at Sandy Point State Park.

April 28, 10 a.m.: Blessing of the Fleet, Annapolis City Dock. Volvo fleet leaves dock for starting area of Leg 7 to LaRochelle, France.

April 28, 1 p.m.: Restart of Volvo Ocean Race, Leg 7, Annapolis to LaRochelle, France, just north of Bay Bridge.

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