Silk Cut's Whitbread race secret Even with 4th-place finish, skipper Smith says yacht has the boat speed to win

November 26, 1997|By BRUCE STANNARD | BRUCE STANNARD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FREMANTLE, Australia - Whitbread sailors say success in their 31,600-mile Round the World Race boils down to three things: speed, speed and still more speed. Who dares wins, they say.

That's why, after two hell-for-leather weeks at sea in which he became the fastest mono-hull sailor in the world with a blistering 454-mile run in 24 hours, the deeply tanned, 42-year-old Lawrie Smith came ashore in Fremantle yesterday sporting not just a salt-stained mop of flaxen hair and a mask of ginger stubble but the sly look-at-me-go grin of a jockey who knows he's on a winner.

Smith brought the garish purple-hulled Silk Cut of Britain in fourth on the second leg from Cape Town, but after his wild dash across the Southern Ocean, he and his crew now know they have the boat speed required to win. With masterful understatement, Smith told the media he was "very happy with the boat speed, very happy with the crew."

His body language was perhaps more eloquent than he was. At his media conference, Smith sat back, relaxed, drew deeply on a cigarette and made light of the way he'd been to hell and back. The stainless steel stanchions right along the port side had been snapped clean off at the deck, but it was fun. Eight sails stowed on the windward rail had gone overboard and had to be man-handled back aboard, but that, too, was fun.

While howling 45-knot winds and huge seas obliged many of the other competitors to haul down their masthead spinnakers and tuck one, two, even three reefs in their mainsails, Smith, a legendary hard-driver, says he never once seriously considered doing so.

Even in the most atrocious conditions, he raced day and night under spinnaker and full main. While some might see that as foolhardy, Smith says his "no fear" approach is absolutely necessary to win. "And winning," he says emphatically, "is what it's all about. That's why we're out there."

Then, mischievously he adds, "The trick is that if you go fast enough, you don't feel so much wind. It's when you slow down that you get the problems. When you broach you get a lot of wind. We did a bit of that."

Although at this early stage the race remains very much wide-open, Smith's brilliant Southern Ocean performance so far points to Silk Cut being right up among the boats most likely to finish on top.

Paul Cayard's EF Language will be another. Cayard, a Californian, is one of the world's top sailors. He is also a man of intelligence and sensitivity. When he brought Sweden's EF Language ashore in Fremantle in fifth position, he a was man who obviously had been severely chastened by the hammering he and his crew have taken during these past two weeks.

Much to his credit, Cayard was big enough to admit that deep in the Southern Ocean all his America's Cup experience, all his ocean racing, all his international sailing laurels amounted to little more than a hill of beans.

"Down there," he said, "Paul Cayard was a novice. But I learned quickly. I learned that we have a very fast boat and a great crew, a team that does have the ability to pull itself out of the pack and claw its way to the front."

Although Cayard blames himself for "pushing the crew way too hard," watch captain Magnus Olsson, a veteran of three earlier Whitbreads, countered by insisting that "if you don't push the boat, you will never be a winner. In a way anyone who comes through the Southern Ocean in one piece is a winner," he said. EF Language, the Leg 1 winner, slipped to second place in the overall standings.

Right now, the Norwegian boat Innovation Kvaerner, which finished second on Monday, occupies the No. 1 position in the overall standings. Dennis Conner's U.S. entry Toshiba, skippered by Paul Standbridge, finished in third position on Monday and is in fifth place in the standings. But the truth is that with so much racing ahead of them, each and every one of the Whitbread boats is still entitled to keep their hopes alive.

While previous Whitbreads have been won by the yachts with the fastest accumulated time for all the legs from start to finish, the current race, the seventh to be held during the past 25 years, sees the introduction of a new system. Each yacht is being awarded points for the position it finishes each leg. The higher the finishing position, the more the points. Ultimately, the yacht with the most points, wins.

Standings Boat (Country) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Pts.

Innovation Kvaerner (Norway) .. .. .. .. .. ... 207

EF Language (Sweden) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 197

Silk Cut (United Kingdom). .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 168

Swedish Match (Sweden) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 161

Toshiba (U.S.) .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 157

Chessie Racing (U.S.).. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 132

Merit Cup (Monaco)* .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 110

America's Challenge (U.S.)** .. .. .. .. .. .... 48

EF Education (Sweden)* .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... 24

Brunel Sunergy (Netherlands)* .. .. .. .. .. ... 12

*Still sailing Leg 2 **Withdrew from race

More coverage

Television: Today, 4 p.m., Cape Town to Fremantle, ESPN.

Internet: For more of The Sun's coverage of the Whitbread, go to www.sunspot.net/whitbread/. Other sites include, www.whitbread.org.

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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