Jury disallows Conner's protest If upheld, complaint could have been costly to leader EF Language

The Whitbread Watch

January 14, 1998|By BRUCE STANNARD | BRUCE STANNARD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The Whitbread Round the World Race international jury dismissed a protest yesterday from Toshiba skipper Dennis Conner that could have had disastrous consequences for race favorite Paul Cayard, skipper of Sweden's EF Language.

Conner had alleged that Cayard failed to display his navigation lights at dusk last Thursday as eventual leg winner Merit Cup, Toshiba, Chessie Racing and EF Language raced down the coast of New Zealand toward Auckland in a close tactical situation on Leg 4 from Sydney.

Conner claimed that U.S. entry Toshiba, which was two miles from EF Language, was disadvantaged by not being able to keep visual contact with the boat. The implication was that Cayard had knowingly failed to display his lights to confuse other competitors and his America's Cup archrival Conner, in particular.

Conner was the only skipper in the nine-boat fleet to lodge a

protest. Had the case been proved, the jury could have penalized Cayard up to four places (up to 40 standings points) in the Leg 4 results. Apart from any psychological blow that may have struck at Cayard and his crew, which sits atop the overall race standings, such a decision could have made a profound difference on the overall race outcome.

The jury's decision has done nothing to lessen tension between the rival Toshiba and EF Language camps. Cayard has been frustrated and angered by what he considered the waste of so much of his time, but Conner remains unrepentant.

"This is war!" he said.

The jury found that Toshiba sent a Saturn C message to EF Language and copied the message to the Race Committee, advising that it intended to protest EF Language. But there was no record indicating that the message was received by EF Language.

There was, however, an error message on Toshiba's computer indicating "delivery not confirmed." No further action was taken by Toshiba to ensure receipt.

The international jury found that it was not satisfied that Toshiba took reasonable steps to ensure that EF Language was informed of the intention to protest as required by the racing rules. It therefore declared the protest invalid.

In a statement released after the jury's decision, Cayard said: "Had the case been heard, I feel quite confident that EF Language would not have been penalized. EF Language displayed [its] running lights at sunset as usual, and the lights were fully functional at the time of the alleged incident.

"I am surprised that Toshiba went ahead with this protest in the light of the weak case that they were presenting. This episode wasted too much of my time. I am very focused on Leg 5 and the second half of this race."

Cayard suggested that spectator boats or other competitors such as Chessie Racing could have come between Toshiba and EF Language, obscuring the view of the running lights.

Cayard also had one more barb for Conner. In addition to Toshiba's difficulties notifying EF Language, his statement said: "They were also confused about their position at the time of the incident listing a position on the protest form 13 miles southeast of where they actually were . . . on Jan. 8. . . ."

The exchange between Conner and Cayard serves to highlight the extent of the real tensions below the surface as the cream begins to rise to the top of the Whitbread Race fleet.

Race update

The Whitbread Watch is a weekly log of the Round the World Race. Look for it every Wednesday in The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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