The 'real Whitbread' arrives in full force Winning skipper Cayard pronounces race official: "no more Princess Cruises'

October 22, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Late last week, as EF Language began to pull away from the leaders in the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy, skipper Paul Cayard said in an electronic mail report to race headquarters in England: "This is the real Whitbread now. No more Princess cruises . . . We are flying."

Cayard of San Francisco and EF Language (Sweden) won the first leg of the race from Southampton to Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday, and the 31-day, 7,350-nautical mile journey was an eye-opener.

"I have been thinking about how to describe this to my friends and family," Cayard reported, while EF Language surfed through 15-foot seas in 30 knots of wind on the sprint from the island of Trindade across the South Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town.

"No words can do the experience justice. . . . The violent jerking of the boat throws the people out of their bunks. On deck you can't tell if this thing is a boat or a submarine."

During the past week, the "real" Whitbread has indeed kicked in, as the 10-yacht fleet finally has encountered wind speeds and sea conditions that have tortured bodies and battered boats.

On EF Language, Cayard reported, with the deck under 3 feet of water at times, crew were washed away until their safety harnesses brought them up short. The Swedish entry hits 30 knots of boat speed often enough that "18 knots seems parked."

As each of the boats began to encounter heavy weather, sail trim became crucial, increasing speed or slowing slightly to keep the bow up and the yachts riding over the waves rather than through or under them.

On Saturday, skipper Ross Field, a Whitbread veteran, reported America's Challenge had covered 104 miles in 6 hours, "riding the pressure and surfing at high speeds."

"We were blasting along. It was 2 a.m. and everyone was huddled down aft to keep the bow from burying itself," Field said. "Waves were pouring across the deck. . . . I don't know exactly how fast we were going, the speedo was underwater."

Field estimates the U.S. entry was making 25 knots through the darkness when a 50-knot gust overpowered the boat, knocking it down until the mast and sails were parallel to the sea.

"I was literally swimming along the cockpit floor; the boat was completely submerged," said Field, who won the Whitbread 60 Class with Yamaha in the last Whitbread. "The boys had to drop the main to recover and we lost about an hour and half cleaning up the mess. It was a night of total destruction, but we survived."

Damage to the boat was limited to the loss of the spinnaker they were flying and another spinnaker that was washed off the deck.

"We just held on too long. But now we know the limit," said Field, who was named skipper of America's Challenge only days before the start of the race. "It's another part of the learning process with a new boat. Everyone else had the chance to explore the limits before the race -- we're doing on-the-job training."

America's Challenge was the last boat to reach Southampton and the last to complete its funding for the race.

Last Friday, Field's son, Campbell, had the tip of an index finger cut off when it became caught in a winch as the crew furiously trimmed sails.

While Field and company were strongly challenged by the conditions of the last week, Lawrie Smith and Silk Cut (England) reveled in it, at least for one 24-hour period.

Picked by British bookmakers as a favorite before the start, Silk Cut had sailed in fifth place before overtaking Chessie Racing and holding onto fourth for the past week.

During the weekend, Smith and navigator Steve Hayles got their acts together, and during a 24-hour period sailed 417.2 nautical miles, the only 400-plus mile day of the leg.

On Oct. 15-16, when Cayard had EF Language flying, the Swedish entry logged 798 nautical miles in 48 hours.

In the last Whitbread, Smith and Intrum Justitia set the speed record for a monohull with 24-hour run of 428.7 nm in the Southern Ocean. (The 435 nm run by Chris Dickson and Toshiba in the North Atlantic this summer has not been ratified as a record by the World Speed Council.)

While the lead boat is in Cape Town nearly on schedule despite light and contrary winds during the first three weeks of the leg, the boats toward the back of the fleet have between 700 and 1,100 miles to go for two to five days.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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