EF Language is first in Whitbread Leg 3 Chessie 3rd

5 finish within 10-minute span

December 23, 1997|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SYDNEY, Australia -- In the closest sailing in the 25-year history of the Whitbread Round the World Race, the 2,250-nautical mile Leg 3 from Fremantle, Australia, ended in spectacular fashion on Sydney Harbour early today with the first five boats finishing within 10 minutes.

American Paul Cayard snatched victory in the last few miles when he sailed Sweden's EF Language past Swedish Match in a 25-knot southerly blow to finish 5 minutes, 8 seconds ahead.

Chessie Racing, with tactician John Kostecki at the helm, was 53 seconds away and finished third. It was the Maryland entry's first top-three finish in the race.

Cayard, bearded and tired after 9 days, 9 hours, 9 minutes, 20 seconds at sea, declared this to have been by far the tightest ocean racing he had experienced.

"A result like this is great for our sport," Cayard said. "Ocean racing just doesn't get much hotter than this." The first seven boats finished within 26 minutes.

News of the tightly bunched fleet prompted a flotilla of spectator boats after midnight to escort the racers into the harbor.

They bobbed about on a lumpy sea for an hour before the red, white and green navigation lights on EF Language were spotted in the gloom. Like the eyes of jackals close on its heels, the lights of its rivals winked close astern. Beyond the top three finishers were Monaco's Merit Cup, Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, the United States' Toshiba and Britain's Silk Cut. The Netherlands' BrunelSunergy finished 25 minutes later, and the all-woman crew on Sweden's EF Education finished 47 minutes later.

At the finish off the Opera House, Cayard's Swedish cheering squad waved orange battle flags and red phosphor flares.

It was an impressive victory and one that puts EF Language at the top of the overall standings with 302 points. Innovation Kvaerner, which led after two legs, is in second place with 267 points. Swedish Match moved up one notch to third with 253 points.

At the post-race news conference, Cayard was asked why the race had been so close.

"It was an incredible meteorological anomaly, really," he said. "There were several situations out there that should have spread the fleet out, but they didn't come to fruition. Everything balanced out perfectly, and the result was one hell of a boat race.

"We were behind Swedish Match until Point Perpendicular, about four hours south of Sydney. Both of us were wearing masthead spinnakers. We both peeled to fractional kites, and we just got ahead of them when our spinnaker blew up with a bang. I thought, 'Oh, oh, there they go,' but just then we got a little breeze, and we managed to keep our nose in front."

Swedish Match skipper Gunnar Krantz said that he had been obliged to "play safe" and nurse his boat because of structural damage to the mast below deck.

"Both sides of the mast between the deck and the step were badly buckled by the compression," he said. "The heel was so badly crushed that we figure the mast ended up being about 50 millimeters shorter. The result was that the whole rig went slack. That meant we had to use a lot less tension in our running backstays while we nursed the rig along."

Chessie skipper George Collins praised his crew, which moved up two places in the standings, to fifth, with 213 points.

"These guys are pros," he said. "I'm just the amateur around here. I'm the skipper, but I listen to them."

Collins said he was "just thrilled to come home third."

"It sure beats coming in fifth, sixth place," he said. "We needed something like this to sneak back in this race. I figure we're on track."

Collins said he has decided to sail on Leg 4 to Auckland, New Zealand. "I'm also going to do five and seven," he said. "I was going to do the sixth leg [from Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.], but it's just too long to be away from personal business."

Collins said his biggest contribution had been in keeping the crew calm and focused.

"When things start to go to pieces, you won't find me screaming," he said. "I've been through too many problems in my life to start screaming."

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Whitbread update

Leg 3 final standings:

1. EF Language

2. Swedish Match

3. Chessie Racing

4. Merit Cup

5. Innovation Kvaerner

6. Toshiba

7. Silk Cut

8. BrunelSunergy

9. EF Education

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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