Swedish boat sails into lead EF Language takes advice, starts fast

December 14, 1997|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FREMANTLE, Australia -- Sailing boldly with information his competitors lacked, American Paul Cayard helped the Swedish boat EF Language steal a march on the Whitbread Round the World Race fleet yesterday in the start of Leg 3 from Fremantle to Sydney, Australia.

In blustery conditions, Cayard out-sailed his eight international rivals in a series of hectic pre-start maneuvers to grab the favored windward end of the starting line. When the gun sounded aboard the Australian guided missile frigate HMAS Anzac, Cayard had EF Language perfectly positioned for the first short leg, a 4.5-mile spinnaker run toward the surfing beaches south of Perth, where tens of thousands of spectators stood in brilliant sunshine to wave and cheer them.

Cayard had on board the weather advice of Dr. Roger Badham, the Australian meteorological expert whose forecasts several times have been the difference between winning and losing America's Cup races and other big-boat regattas around the world.

Badham was the man all the Whitbread sailors wanted to talk to here in Fremantle. Cayard got to him first, presumably with a sack of gold.

As Badham predicted, the Fremantle Doctor, the cold south-southwesterly sea breeze, blew at 22 knots true yesterday as the 2,250-nautical-mile leg to Sydney began. All the boats quickly set their huge, multicolored masthead spinnakers and raced neck and neck toward the beaches of Perth. In an extraordinary spectacle, the 60-foot yachts raced cheek by jowl over the sparkling sea, at times so close the crews could have touched.

Six media helicopters clattered down the course at mast height with photographers hanging perilously by straps to record the action.

The boats were surfing at better than 15 knots down the short, steep, white-capped seas. That was tricky enough, but the racing skippers also had to contend with a huge armada of

ill-disciplined spectator boats, many of which chopped across the course and churned the water into a maelstrom that caused boats in the middle of the fleet to rear and plunge like rodeo riders.

Dozens of windsurfers, many of them here for the World Championships, risked their lives with slashing runs that repeatedly took them across the bows of the racing yachts.

The early leaders, EF Language, Monaco's Merit Cup and Swedish Match, did not have to contend with that turmoil. Even so, as the racing yachts converged at the first buoy, they were separated by just seconds.

Cayard, masked by wrap-around black sunglasses and with a baseball cap clamped down hard on his head, looked a picture of cool, as his crew doused its spinnaker with great skill.

Cayard smoothly maintained his boat's momentum, rounded the buoy without incident and set off on a broad reach toward the second mark, the red iron-framed Fairway Buoy, five miles out to sea.

Merit Cup was close astern, followed by Swedish Match and Toshiba, a U.S. boat whose crew had to contend with a wildly flapping spinnaker after a halyard seized right on the mark.

Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry in the race, was next, followed by Britain's Silk Cut, Sweden's EF Education, The Netherlands' BrunelSunergy and Norway's Innovation Kvaerner.

Chessie, with George Collins, the syndicate leader and former CEO of T. Rowe Price, on board as skipper for the first time in the Whitbread, appeared to be keeping pace. On the first two legs, the boat seemed to be footing faster than many of the boats.

The fleet rounded the Fairway Buoy in the same order, with EF Language just 13 seconds ahead of Merit Cup. Chessie swung round the mark 68 seconds behind the leader. Beyond the

Fairway Buoy lay Rottnest Island, which the boats were obliged to leave to port before heading south.

After 12 hours of racing, during which most of the bunched fleet traded positions, EF Language had lengthened its lead to 1.7 miles over Toshiba, which had moved into second position. Chessie had moved into third position, 2.6 miles behind EF Language. BrunelSunergy, in last position, was 20 miles behind the leader.

The fleet was heading toward Cape Leeuwin, where tacticians face their first big decision on the way to Sydney.

TTC Cayard may have the advantage again when the fleet arrives at (( the cape. Some boats may plunge far to the south of Cape Leeuwin in the hope of hooking into the powerful westerlies.

Most will probably turn left and follow the rhumb line across the yawning mouth of the Great Australian Bight to Cape Otway on the far side of the Australian continent.

Shortly before the fleet set sail, Dennis Conner, the syndicate leader of Toshiba, advised his crew to "turn left at Leeuwin and go straight down the [rhumb] line."

Conner said that there is "no place to pass inshore," and that if any overtaking is necessary, it would have to be done way to the south.

Badham, the meteorological expert, said: "I suspect the Europeans will want to go for the more aggressive southern model, whereas the others might be tempted to steer straight down the [rhumb] line.

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