Sailing: Kostecki pips Standbridge in the battle of the sluggers

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THEY slugged it out for the last 1,200 miles to the finish, never more than five miles apart, most of the time less than three, and only 1,000 yards, two minutes and 53 seconds separated them at the end.

At the wire here in the race for sixth place in the sixth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race, it was John Kostecki in Chessie Racing who had the edge over Paul Standbridge in Toshiba.

Kostecki, both legs bandaged after five days out of commission with a rash that became infected crossing the Equator, was all too aware of the value of those extra yards, which earned 11 extra points and kept Chessie in fourth place overall behind the leader, EF Language, Swedish Match and Merit Cup.

Kostecki, who could still finish second or third overall, was slowed by repeated spinnaker damage when the rest of the fleet was sailing fast. He also had to stop to allow crewman Antonio Piris to dive over the side and clear a length of rope from the rudder and propeller.

"It has been a full on match race which, perhaps, was even harder because it was for sixth and seventh instead of first and second. Anyone who comes second in a match race is disappointed," said Standbridge, who had hoped to finish in the top places to make up for Toshiba's disqualification from the last leg for failing to report use of the engine.

Standbridge, who still hopes to win at least one leg of the three remaining legs, has yet to decide who will be the 12th man for leg seven from here to Baltimore. "Dennis Conner [the syndicate head] is always welcome to join the boat and would be a big asset to the crew," he said.

The last two boats, Brunel Sunergy and the all-woman crewed EF Education, were expected to reach Fort Lauderdale overnight.

A tug has been sent to tow Tracy Edwards' crippled catamaran, Royal and SunAlliance, into the Chilean port of Puerto Montt. Edwards and her crew, whose non-stop round the world attempt ended when the boat's mast broke, expect to step ashore tomorrow after 57 days at sea.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE: (sixth leg, 4,750 miles, Sao Sebastiao, Bra, to Fort Lauderdale, US): 1 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 14 days, 19hr, 55min, 9sec; 2 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard +1hr 18min; 3 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz +3:18; 4 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad +12:04; 5 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton +15:42; 6 Chessie Racing (US) J Kostecki +23:44; 7 Toshiba (US) P Standbridge +23:47; 8 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner 115.6 miles to finish; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillousa 146.9.