BALTIMORE -- Underdog BrunelSunergy won its first leg of the Whitbread round-the-world race Wednesday, taking a contrarian course away from the Gulf Stream and the rest of fleet.
BrunelSunergy crew member Stuart Quarrie said the crew decided before leaving Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to forego the aid of the northward Gulf Stream. Instead, the crew headed further out to sea and came into the Chesapeake Bay on a northwest tack, betting correctly on a shift in wind direction to the northeast that would hamper those on a more northerly route.
"We went to the right straight up from the Bahamas to Cape Hatteras," said Quarrie, who blew kisses to the hundreds on shore as BrunelSunergy crossed the finish line.
The BrunelSunergy crew decided that if they took a route closer to the coast "we were going to be dead in the water," Quarrie said.
BrunelSunergy was met by dozens of boats and hundreds of spectators on shore as it passed Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore's harbor about 5 p.m. Swedish Match finished second and EF Language was close behind in third, finishing about 45 minutes behind. Innovation Kvaerner finished in fourth place.
Meanwhile, Maryland-based Chessie Racing finished in eighth place, six seconds behind seventh-place Toshiba and a little less than two hours after BrunelSunergy.
Despite the leg victory, BrunelSunergy remained in 8th place in the overall standing. If no challenges are filed, EF Language will remain the race leader, followed by Swedish match in second.
The 870-nautical-mile sprint to Baltimore -- the first Maryland stopover in the race's 25-year history -- was the second shortest leg in the race. But that didn't make it easy.
The boats banged and shuddered through pounding waves and nasty 25-knot headwinds as they followed the Gulf Stream up the coast, taking some of the hardest hits so far in the 31,600-mile race.
"I am being thrown around the (navigation) station as I write this," Silk Cut crew member Adrian Stead said via e-mail. "Sleeping in the bunks is like a roller-coaster ride at the fairground. You lie there with your feet forward and suddenly your stomach goes light as the bow leaps off a wave into the unknown."
Quarrie said seas during the leg were among the worst of the race.
"We were slamming around like mad. If you were standing up, it was easy to fall over, and it felt like the boat was going to break," Quarrie said.
The race began in Southampton, England, in September and is expected to end there May 24. The race's eighth leg will begin May 3, when the crews depart Annapolis for La Rochelle, France.
BrunelSunergy had managed to finish as high as second in Leg 5, but came in last in the first two legs and next to last in the third and fourth legs. The crew said in an e-mail during the leg that it was on a mission to prove wrong critics who said they could not compete in the race.
During the previous legs, sailors have battled fatigue, stomach ailments and broken bones on the open ocean -- often when they were weeks from port. They have dodged icebergs and fought near gale-force winds around the clock, all while surviving on rehydrated food and little sleep.