Down stretch, Swedish Match holds slim lead Boat ahead by 2.3 miles as Leg 3 finishes today

December 22, 1997|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SYDNEY, Australia -- Swedish Match was clinging to the lead as the 2,250-mile Leg 3 of the Whitbread Round the World Race nears an end in the closest leg of racing in Whitbread history. With less than 160 nautical miles to go, the Swedes were leading the nine-boat fleet up the southeastern coast of New South Wales toward a finish here today.

In a passage in which the leading boats swapped places often, the Swedes had a 2.3-mile lead over EF Language in the leg that began in Fremantle, Australia.

With a victory, Swedish Match, the decisive winner of Leg 2 across the Southern Ocean, would move to third in the overall standings with 266 points. Sweden's EF Language, on a pace to finish second, would gain the overall standings lead with 289 points, ahead of Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, the current standings leader.

In no other leg in the Whitbread's 25-year history has the racing been so close. After more than 2,000 miles on Leg 3, the fleet last night was only 12.3 miles apart from leader to last-place boat, the Netherlands' BrunelSunergy.

A battle for third was shaping up among Maryland entry Chessie Racing, Innovation Kvaerner, Monaco's Merit Cup and Britain's Silk Cut -- all within 2.5 miles.

Swedish Match skipper Gunnar Krantz, as he did on the last leg, took his boat on a southern course, away from most of his rivals. While competitors who opted for northerly courses became victims of baffling calms and wind shifts, Swedish Match maintained steady, consistent speeds and was able to sail swiftly under gennaker, main and staysail.

The Swedes have shown their seamanship as well in overcoming a buckled mast as they entered the treacherous waters of Bass Strait between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania.

Krantz reported the mast between the deck and the mast step had bent under compression.

"With full runner tension and the main cranked on hard, the compression loads [in the mast] are enormous," Krantz reported. "Jumping waves with this set-up makes it worse."

The Whitbread fleet earlier split into three groups as the boats raced across the South Australian Basin. The U.S. boat Toshiba, Chessie Racing and Silk Cut were farthest north with Merit Cup and EF Language 54 nautical miles to the south. BrunelSunergy, EF Education and Swedish Match were another 50 miles south, and Innovation Kvaerner was 33 miles farther south.

For skippers who chose the northern routes, the strategy paid off well as they crossed the South Australian Basin, but as they entered Bass Strait they encountered fluky conditions.

EF Language's American skipper Paul Cayard was one of those disadvantaged. Cayard looked set to clear King Island at the entrance to Bass Strait when the wind shifted and put the island, the scene of many shipwrecks, in his path. Tacking north to clear the island's rock-strewn shores cost him time and distance.

In addition to the tight racing, there has been drama as well.

At midnight local time yesterday, south of King Island, Innovation Kvaerner's bowman Alby Pratt was washed overboard. Skipper Knut Frostad immediately ordered the boat's engine started, hauled down his sails and headed back to where the strobe light on Pratt's wet-weather suit was blinking. Pratt was hauled aboard in only seven minutes and was reported to be in good condition.

Bass Strait also served up high-wire danger for the all-women crew on EF Education. Preparing to jibe at night, the crew flashed a light into the rig and discovered a checkstay and a running backstay disconnected from the rig and being held by only a bungee cord.

Leah Newbold was hauled to the masthead to try to secure the rigging. But as the boat came off a succession of steep seas, she was flipped upside down and tossed like a pendulum between the rig and the mainsail.

After shouts to her failed to get a response, it was thought she may have lost consciousness. Eventually a low voice from 85 feet up was heard to ask, "Please, get me down." She was bruised and is recuperating on board.

Update

Status: Day 8, Leg 3

Standings:

Boat, Nautical miles to finish

1. Swedish Match, 224.6

2. EF Language, 228.5

3. Innovation Kvaerner, 236.6

4. Silk Cut, 236.9

5. Chessie Racing, 237.1

6. Merit Cup, 237.2

7. EF Education, 244.1

8. Toshiba, 244.3

9. BrunelSunergy, 247.5

(as of 00: 06: 52 GMT)

Boat beat: The fleet is hopping 1.5 nautical miles off the coast of Australia, keeping close to the shore to avoid the strong southerly tide. Swedish Match regained the lead this morning and has extended it to 3.9 miles from EF Language and it is 3.5 miles southwest of Rame Head.

Weather: Winds between the trough and front, light with speeds under 10 knots.

Note: Information compiled from the Whitbread Round the World Race Web site at www.whitbread.org

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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