EF Language reads Leg 4 start perfectly Chessie in 4th place on Whitbread course

January 05, 1998|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SYDNEY, Australia -- American skipper Paul Cayard romped away at the start of Leg 4 of the Whitbread Round the World Race yesterday and showed why he is regarded as the 4-7 favorite to win the overall race.

Cayard and his well-drilled crew aboard Sweden's EF Language won a beautifully judged reaching start, hit the line bang on the gun and, with superior boat speed and great skill in sail-handling, quickly moved into the lead.

After 20 hours of racing on this 1,270-nautical-mile leg from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, EF Language had built a comfortable 3.2-nautical-mile lead over Britain's Silk Cut, which was in second position at today's first race report at midnight (GMT).

With a little more than 1,000 nautical miles to Auckland, EF Language was about 14 nautical miles north of the fleet, which is strung out over 44.5 nautical miles in the Tasman Sea. Norway's Innovation Kvaerner was third, 4.2 nautical miles astern of the leader.

Maryland-entry Chessie Racing, with skipper George Collins on board for his second leg, was 4.4 nautical miles farther back in fourth position. Monaco's Merit Cup was in fifth, the United States' Toshiba in sixth, Swedish Match in seventh, Sweden's EF Education in eighth and the Netherlands' BrunelSunergy in last place.

Four-time America's Cup winner Dennis Conner was touted as being Cayard's nemesis, but Conner, who had come aboard Toshiba as skipper only on the eve of the race, misjudged his boat's run at the start line, crossed three seconds early and had the humiliating task of returning to restart while the fleet charged down the harbor in a 13-knot easterly.

In every respect Cayard and his crew demonstrated the kind of professionalism success demands in this event. Yesterday, when most of his rivals remained tied to their docks with crews scrambling to cope with last-minute gear checks, Cayard and his crew were out on the race course practicing two hours before the start. They had with them Australian America's Cup skipper Iain Murray, who has won five world titles and numerous other championship regattas on Sydney Harbour during the past 20 years.

Cayard sailed the vital harbor leg four times, with Murray contributing his local knowledge to best position the boat for the ebb tide and take advantage of the light and shifty east-southeasterlies. That preparation paid off when at the starting line.

In a display of self-confidence, Cayard and his crew had precisely the right main and headsail combination up, while almost every other competitor in the nine-boat fleet was trying different headsail combinations right up to the 5-minute warning gun. Several boats even had men up their masts minutes before the start.

Just as the start gun was about to sound, Cayard was well-positioned just below the middle of the line with Conner on Toshiba slightly ahead and to leeward. If Conner had been able to start like that, he would have been in a legal position to play the spoiler, perhaps squeezing Cayard up and ultimately backwinding him.

But in his eagerness to maintain that position, Conner, who is usually an impeccable judge of time and distance, found himself over the line. The gun sounded and suddenly sounded again in recall. Toshiba sailed on for a few seconds in apparent disbelief, then slowly turned and made an agonizing retreat through the wash and turbulence left by a spectator fleet of nearly 500 boats.

Cayard was the first to break out his Code 0 reacher, an elliptical masthead spinnaker-headsail, which gave EF Language tremendous acceleration on the reach down harbor. Cayard had North Sails develop the Code 0 sail especially for him and, although its legality was challenged early on, it has been accepted and copied by his rivals.

Few other boats, however, seemed to be able to set the sail as cleanly as EF Language. Swedish Match made a complete hash of its reacher, and the sail billowed to leeward and acted more as a brake. Merit Cup also made a mess of its set, and although Chessie Racing successfully set its Code 0, it blew off the tack after a few moments and had to be hauled down. For several minutes, Chessie went bare-headed while its crew fought to douse the sail and drag a replacement genoa on deck. Merit Cup was left wallowing behind after a similar foul-up put its reacher trawling in the water.

The other competitors, BrunelSunergy and EF Education in particular, appeared outclassed.

Cayard had his Code 0 reacher rigged on an efficient roller furling system, and at the first mark near the Heads, the sandstone cliffs that protect the harbor from the Pacific Ocean, EF Language easily set a small working jib and rolled the reacher into a tightly furled column that came down as efficiently as it had gone up.

Cayard rounded the first mark 26 seconds ahead of Britain's Silk Cut and a minute ahead of Norway's Innovation Kvaerner. Then came Swedish Match, Merit Cup, BrunelSunergy, EF Education, Chessie and then Toshiba, rounding 3 minutes, 40 seconds behind EF Language.

The fleet is expected to arrive in Auckland on Friday.

Pub Date: 1/05/98

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